17 Oct 2017

Mindful tech vs the compulsive check

From Nine To Noon, 11:20 am on 17 October 2017

Working on a less addictive relationship with our devices sounds like a good idea, but where to start?

When you next automatically go to grab your phone, take a moment to notice how you're feeling.

The more conscious you are of what drives the impulse, the more you'll see that you have the 'space for choice' in these moments, says David Levy.

He's a computer scientist, self-taught bookbinder and the author of Mindful Tech: How to Bring Balance to Our Digital Lives.

Many of us are now trained to be hamsters on the wheels of productivity and consumption, living with a 'stopwatch mentality' in which every moment is on the clock, David says.

If we do have a moment of space, we'll often quickly and habitually rush to fill it with something on our phones.

But by always rushing to fill the space – and temporarily evading the thoughts or feelings that bother us – we push away opportunities both for creativity and to relate deeply to other people, he says.

One of the exercises in Mindful Tech involves checking in with what's happening in your mind and body as you're emailing, texting or on social media once every day for a week.

Make note of how you feel in those moments.

"What's going on with your breath? How is your posture changing? What is your emotional state and how does it change?"

This not only reveals your habitual patterns, but you'll also be able to better see the 'space for choice' you have in these moments, David says.

When you do catch a moment of mindfulness, it can also be helpful to ask yourself what your intention is right there and then, especially if you're someone who tends to 'lose time' on the internet.

"There's nothing wrong with looking at cat videos on YouTube if that's really your intention."

David Levy is Professor at the University of Washington's Information School. He's been working with computers since they were "giant machines behind glass" but has also always loved reading and having time to think.