Like a lot of other social media addicts, I fear my brain may be changing.
Constantly feeding my brain with a diet of high calorie online information and ideas, I am finding it increasingly difficult to switch the darn thing off. Hyped up on the sorts of epiphanies presented through TED talks, I sometimes have difficulty concentrating on the less stimulating conversations that make up the bulk of every day life. Where I used to read a novel a week, I am struggling to read fiction of any length and have a general feeling that I am skimming along the surface of things without time to reflect and dig deep.
Of late, I have been imposing some discipline on my exposure to the online world and using some tools to restore myself to my pre-Twitter state. Heres’ some tips that I hope those similarly afflicted will find helpful
1. Delete all social media apps and email from your phone
Having access to the perfect distraction tool on a device that I carry everywhere means that I am never bored. Therein lies the problem. Being constantly exposed to other peoples’ amazing ideas online, I have no time to allow ideas of my own to bubble up from the deeper recesses of my subconscious in those quieter moments of inactivity. 3 months ago I deleted all social media apps from my phone. The temptation to constantly check your Twitter feed wanes very quickly once it is not immediately available to you. Although I still check my Twitter and RSS feeds regularly on my desktop, I’m not doing it while waiting for the kettle to boil or while sitting in traffic on the way home from work.
Once I deleted social media apps from my phone, I found myself checking and rechecking my phone for (and responding to) email messages. Although removing email from my phone seemed like the natural next step, I was afraid of missing something important. I therefore initially signed up to a service called Awayfind. Away find is an email filtering service that will alert you (by text message) if you have received an important email – without the need to have to open your email client. You can set it to let alert you if certain person has emailed you (I couldn’t really think of anyone who I needed to add to the list) or pre-specified topics you don’t want to miss (I couldn’t think of any). Once I realised that I was unlikely to miss anything important I relaxed. If you call checking your email a few times an hour on my desktop relaxed.
2. Buy a disposable phone for vacation use
Fans of the series ‘The Wire’ will be aware of the concept of ‘a burner’ phone. A ‘burner’ is a basic ‘pay as you go’ mobile phone purchased by drug dealers to be used only a couple of times and then to be disposed of. Difficult to trace, lacking even basic internet access, and with a keyboard small enough to make it almost impossible to send text messages. I have taken to using a ‘burner’ on vacation’ leaving my iPhone turned off, to limit (to zero) the number of calls I get from work and any temptation to reinstall social media apps or email. Not sure if Marlo Stanfield would be impressed, but it gives me some proper head space for a few weeks a year.
3. Try Freedom.app
How often have I sat down to write a blog or prepare some slides for a presentation and found myself 30 minutes later on some Website that has nothing to do with what I’m writing about and not even realizing how I got there. There’s a nifty app called Freedom (Mac only) which allows you to disconnect your computer from the internet if you want to avoid being distracted when you have some real work to do.
4. Get Some Headspace
It is ironic that the thing I have found the most use in calming my internet addled brain is an app I downloaded from the iTunes and which I run on my smartphone. Developed by an ex Buddhist monk, Andy Puddicombe its called Headspace and it allows you to meditate every day, without recourse the chanting of a mantra, the use of wind chimes, incense or the Andy’s physical presence in your sitting room. Its available to download, free of charge (for the first 10 days) from getsomeheadspace.com.
Although, by most standards I am probably more connected online than most, putting some distance between myself and the the online world has allowed me a greater sense of control over my online activities, a bit more downtime and having stepped back made me realise quite how hectic it had got. I’m getting back into reading fiction (ok, some short stories) too and trying to reground myself in the real world. Thats where the really good content is….