A quest to tame technology-driven interruptions and distractions in my daily life.

Folding a Fitted Sheet

Exorcizing an abundance of gadgetry, connectivity, and bad tech habits from one’s life is about as tidy a proposition as folding a fitted sheet. As opposed to the relatively straightforward realization that the smartphone, the apps, the laptops, and the associated bother were taking away from my experience of life, the process of actually getting rid of them and transitioning to alternative modes has been long and tedious.

As detailed in other posts, I have navigated the treacherous waters of canceling my cell phone contract, selecting a month-to-month alternative, prepping and selling my iPhone on eBay, and identifying a suitable handset that would be easy to use but capable of being lobotomized appropriately. Selling the laptop was easy enough. 

It would have been much simpler had I just been getting rid of a cell phone or laptop altogether, but due to professional and personal obligations, it wasn’t that cut and dry – so there were still a lot of capabilities I wanted to maintain, even if modified, and it took a lot of research to sort it all out. Those include: ability to sync contacts/calendar/photos/music to a Mac, a QWERTY keyboard for texting, and some modicum of simplicity. For those interested, here’s what I switched from/to:

– iPhone 3GS => Nokia e71x
– AT&T 2-year contract with unlimited data => PureTalk USA unlimited voice/text only
– MacBook 13″ => iPad 3G (plan not activated) at home and for travel, iMac at the office

So, that’s the stuff. Certainly, the limitations inherent in each are meant to keep me honest, but really the whole shift in gadgets is a just catalyst as a part of a larger change the way I use technology, and the interruptions it causes in my thoughts and experiences.

Now that the transition is complete – with the things, at least- I feel tremendously relieved. Not just from the arduous task of the decisions and process outlined above, but from the near constant compulsion to check-in, update, synchronize, and to ‘knock out’ hundreds of little tasks per day at odd moments.

A friend pointed out that, along with distraction and escape, having the Internet in my pocket and a computer on my back was creating a lot of over-stimulation. The notion seemed almost absurd – if not quaint – when she first said it. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how right she was. 

With the onslaught of affordable and connected gadgets, social networks, and great web content, my life had become overtaken with what amounts to an amalgamation of the boob tube, video games, a stock ticker, and an overbearing gossipy friend. Not unlike a frog in a boiling pot, things had become unpleasant and so the process of unplugging and simplification has been really, really nice. 

It is hard to describe the changes in me. The difference is what I imagine in those who quit smoking or sober up. I feel more clear headed. I can concentrate better and connect more deeply. I feel infinitely more relaxed. Moreover, I often find myself deeply exhaling in the way one does after a good long sobbing session. 

But now that I’m becoming more acclimated to the sensations of relaxation and focus, my mind and soul are revisiting thoughts and memories and sensations that have been long forsaken. Whereas before, an unoccupied moment would be seized as an opportunity to pull out my phone to do something digital, I now observe my surroundings, reflect on the past, or just breathe. Not saying that I’m Mr. Zen all of the sudden, but by comparison I do feel like I’m transported to 5 or 10 years ago before all of this mess took over.

This weekend, I visited my brother in New Orleans in celebration of his 50th birthday. It’s a city I’ve visited 15-20 times before in college and on various road trips, and this time I found myself reflecting on those experiences and really taking in my environment. It was my first chance since all of these changes to get out of my routine to just discover and also to unwind. My reward was a interwoven sequence of long meals, lively conversation, and some extended ganders at architecture and people. It’s the sort of stuff I would have thought I was doing before, but this time I was in it.

So good.          

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