Mindfulness & The Big City: Controlling The Flow

I was going to write my blog this week on the beauty of trees and the majesty they add to our lives, but the problem is, I haven’t seen any trees this week. I’ve been to busy playing with my iPhone.

Yet I am the first to decry the plague of the digital age: everyone is always glued to their phones. Friends are made on Facebook, Tweets have replaced in-depth conversations, and Instagram impels the social climate. In Tokyo, the city has had to pass an ordinance to stop people from texting while walking because people were getting hurt. Internet addiction has grown rampant among my students at school, and I worry how the digital revolution may be permanently reshaping our sense of socialization, shortening our attention spans, and impairing our memories.

But I do it, too. I excuse myself from dinner to go to the bathroom to look at my phone. I check my messages right before bed and first thing in the morning. I hear the most important social updates from my friends on their Facebook newsfeeds, and I don’t know how to meet up with people without using my iPhone anymore. The pressure of answering emails forces me to multitask at work, so that I feel scattered and exhausted at the end of the day.

Why can’t we stop playing with our digital devices? Perhaps it is an innate desire to seek novelty hardwired into our brains as Homo sapiens. Perhaps it is the dopamine hit floods our brains when we surf (dopamine is the neurotransmitter associated with addiction, which could help to explain why youngsters in Asia and America have died because they cannot leave their games long enough to eat.) Perhaps it is the desire to feel connection with fellow humans, enabled by technology that expands the possibilities to connect into the infinite.

Whatever drives our obsession, technology is here to stay. Technology has its advantages. Many of us enjoy a quality of life today that would have been unimaginable to previous generations. We have access to information from around the world through the net, and we can keep in touch with friends and loved ones on different continents. Technology can help us manage our lives like never before. The challenge for us is to use technology mindfully to maintain balance in our lives.

This week I have tried these tips to find that mindful balance in my life:

No technology for one hour before bedtime. Many of us have experienced poor sleep after too much screen time at night. Why? Jessica Schmeier explains in Scientific American, “The light from our devices is “short-wavelength-enriched,” meaning it has a higher concentration of blue light than natural light—and blue light affects levels of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin more than any other wavelength.” Furthermore, surfing the internet and/or using social media at night has an arousing effect on brain waves, right at the time the neural net needs to be powering down. Technology can have a massively disruptive effect on our circadian rhythms, and people are sleeping less.

Take a breather an hour before bed. Also consider downloading and installing a free blue light filter on your computer to minimize the harmful effect of blue light at night.

No technology at the dinner table. While texting, messaging, and surfing during meals has become an accepted social practice, it is not a healthy one. Studies show that people who eat slowly and mindfully eat less and more nutritiously. Take mealtimes to enjoy the company of the people you are with and feel grateful for the food you are consuming. The cyber-world can wait until after you have finished chewing.

Consider taking a tech-free 24-hour-challenge once a month. Studies have shown that checking messages and looking at the internet causes levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, to rise. Break the cycle by giving yourself a 24-hour break.

Although I found it hard to convince myself that my job, my family, and the universe would go on perfectly well without me, I tried this on Friday. I was surprised to discover in how many different ways I need technology. My phone is not just a phone anymore, but rather my music player, alarm, navigator, weather forecaster, appointment minder, camera, and so much more. Feeling the gaps that I had been filling with technology allowed me to use the technology more mindfully on Saturday.

Let the batteries die. Whereas I was once a slave to a tangle of chargers and battery boosters, I have started letting my battery die when it dies. This serves as a natural timing device for how much of my life I want to spend with my phone, and I pause to consider the necessity of opening my phone. Although it feels like a necessity to stay connected, I am finding that actually very little in my life can’t wait until tomorrow.

Feel gratitude for the advantages technology has brought. Many of us can thank technology for a quality of life that our grandparents never could have fathomed. Take a moment to feel grateful for the digital miracles in your life. As David Steindl-Rast explains in his TED talk, the act of feeling grateful will in itself make you happier. After your 24 technology vacation, have a look at his TED talk here.

We all have different ways of finding peace and balance in our lives. Take a moment in the comments section below to share your tips for using technology mindfully.

References Schmeier, J. (2015, September 1). Q&A: Why Is Blue Light before Bedtime Bad for Sleep? Scientific American. Retrieved from this link here.