Control Your Gadgets So They Don't Control You

Written by Brian Dean Williams

Tweets, emails, texts, Facebook updates ... there are plenty of digital distractions competing for our attention these days. If you’re like me, the constant buzzing and beeping of your smartphone can leave you feeling stressed and your attention scattered.

While technology and social media have allowed us to connect with others in previously unimagined ways, they can also disconnect us from our intentions, values, and even the loved ones who are physically present with us.

I’m the father of a 14 month-old toddler. At the local playground many parents (myself included) are preoccupied with capturing the experiences of our kids on our phones or tablets, posting the evidence online. As a result, we're not as fully present with our kids as we might be.

For many of us, checking a device has become a default activity – something we do unconsciously when we’re bored or want to avoid something unpleasant. It’s not that technology is inherently “bad,” but rather our relationship with it may simply need a “reboot.”

So here are some suggestions for cultivating a more conscious relationship with technology: 

1. Take a pause for the cause. 

As technology and social media use expands, we may feel obliged to reply to messages immediately. It may even be important to do so at times. And it can be overwhelming. If you find yourself getting whisked along in the stream of information, it might be time to put down the phone, or shut the lid of the laptop, close your eyes, and pause. This is an act of compassion to yourself.

2. Check in with yourself. 

Check in with what’s happening internally with curiosity and kindness – how’s the heart rate? Is there perspiration present? Any tension in the body? Can you soften around it? What about the mind? How active or calm is it? How much acceptance can you bring to whatever is happening? Can we bring this same sense of importance and attention that we give to others, to our own direct experience? It’s easy to get drawn into another person’s story, needs, and intentions – but what about connecting with our own? Can we rest attention in whatever experience is arising for us in the moment?

3. Practice meditation and extend it to your interactions with technology. 

A regular meditation practice has great potential to transform how you relate to technology, to yourself, and to life in general. There are plenty of free online mp3 guided meditations to get you started, including one on my website, here, or even better, you can connect with a local class or residential retreat.

Practice does not have to end on the cushion! You can extend this same quality of kind attention, acceptance, and restfulness to your interaction with technology. Keeping about half your attention with the device and its content, and half your attention with your internal experience – opening to the sensations in the body and the thoughts that arise as you give and receive information.

4. Check your intentions. 

Most of us have sent emails that we wish we could take back, or posted something on Facebook that later embarrassed us. What would it be like, before hitting send, if you paused and consciously asked yourself: what’s my intention here? 

In Buddhism, we call it Noble Speech: is what you’re about to express true? Is it helpful? Is it timely? Is it kind? Will it do harm to yourself or others, or will it bring happiness? Reflecting on this can help us to respond from our core values, rather than simply reacting from conditioned patterns. The result can be less stress and greater harmony in our work and personal relationships.

5. Take a tech holiday. 

How liberating it can be to turn off a device! There's no written rule that we need to respond to digital media 24/7. What would it be like to gift yourself with one day a week to be completely tech-free? Or turning off the smartphone before you go to sleep? Perhaps a whole week’s vacation from technology?

Taking these periods of intentional abstinence gives us a chance to pause and reflect. The internet is not going anywhere, and it will be there when you return! In the meantime, you’ll have the opportunity to reflect and turn your attention inward to yourself, and within your interpersonal relationships with your partner, children, or friends.

I wish you greater ease and happiness in your interaction with social media and technology!

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