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

Archive for May, 2011

Two steps forward, one to the side

It has been nearly 4 months since my last confession… I mean, blog posting. Since this is a blog about de-teching there will be no apologies, but for my own edification, I wanted to examine why I have taken some time off.

In the time since my last update, I have had a number of realizations about how technology figures into my life and—moreover—how my use of technology figures into the lives of people around me. Initially, the modifications I made to my gadgets and how I used them were driven by the reality that I had given myself over to the digital things and my quest to reclaim myself from them. I was connected to the ones and zeros, but not to myself or my loved ones. The first 6 months (chronicled in the posts below) were spent paring down and scaling back and generally pruning things back to a manageable scale. I was more centered and present than I had been in years.

Inevitably the pendulum swings. At work, we landed a series of very big accounts in the midst of an already busy time. Not only did this cut out much of my blogging time, it meant that I had to work in the evenings and through the weekends to get all of this covered. That’s not to say that I fell off the wagon, but I was forced to reconsider my initial ground rules. Aside from shutting off email at night, I had to face the fact that my phone just wasn’t going to cut it.

When I started all of this, I was determined to kill my iPhone. I was fed up with having this uber distraction machine on my person at all times. It had become a constant source of distraction with its buzzing, apps, and general Swiss Army Knife usefulness. So I found a suitable other phone on Craigslist for $50, put the iPhone on eBay, dumped my AT&T plan, and set myself free. I still had the ability to take photos and post to social media (the latter via text), but mostly the new phone was clunky and something you wouldn’t want to use unless you had to.

I attempted several times to sell the iPhone (3GS) on eBay only for it to be “purchased” by scammers repeatedly. If there were legitimate bidders, they weren’t given a fair chance and I just eventually gave up and vowed to sell the iPhone elsewhere soon. Cut back to March when I got so busy at work. It was a crazy day during the South by Southwest conference that consumes my city for 10 days (formally) each March and I was implicated into the heart of darkness working for two clients on “SXSW” intensely. What started as a seemingly simple request turned into a big realization.

I had snapped a photo on my lobotomized Nokia smartphone and later, a client texted and asked for the photo for a news story that was posting online. Since my phone only had a voice/text plan, I had no way to just email or text that over so—trapped in the tradeshow booth in the convention center, I spent no less than an hour attempting to get the phone to somebody’s computer. I tried bluetooth, I tried finding a cable… but it was useless. Of course, the client did not understand why I just couldn’t send it over even though I tried to tactfully explain my set-up.

This was part of a larger trend for me. Due to aforementioned reasons (work, kid, kid’s diabetes, etc.) I really do need a certain level of connectivity. What I realized that day was that I had isolated myself for the sake of peace of mind to the point that I was significantly putting others out. I was certainly prepared to inconvenience people a little when I started down this path, but I had hoped that in terms of ongoing bother for them and for myself—that it would work itself out. Fairly quickly, I saw that I was investing an inordinate amount of time and energy to make my phone do basic things that were—in the end—not satisfactory.

I know this may seem like a lot of rationalization, but I have thought about it for a few months (before and after) and I don’t believe it is. In the midst of the craziness, I popped the SIM card out of the Nokia phone and stuck it in the old iPhone. Mind you, this is the same month-to-month voice/text card that I had been using. This did not suddenly enable me to access the internet or email on the go or all of the apps. What it did was making syncing my calendar and address book simple again and allowed me to take decent photos of my kid and easily get them off the phone. Thanks to the wireless aspect of an iPhone, I don’t have to plug it in for most things and there’s a lot less crap to keep up with as well. I was, in a word, relieved.

I told myself that I’d try it for a week and see what I thought, but it was just so much simpler I knew instantly that it was the right decision. To adhere to my other rules, I did not install any social media or other distraction apps (which would have only functioned in a wireless network anyhow) and I moved all the built-in) email and internet apps into a folder called “distractions.” Honestly, this change has felt like a really healthy one and I feel like it is progress. Sure, I got a little teasing, but it was just so much easier to deal with. And thanks to my 6 months without it, I had broken myself of the compulsion to check it all the time. And since it isn’t web/data capable, there’s nothing to check.

In this way, I up-cycled what was cast aside to be recycled. And that’s good. What I’m still struggling with is workload and how to manage that within boundaries. I’m happy to say that after a couple of months of working nights, I am imposing that restriction again as much as is feasible. But I’m still struggling with grabbing the iPad just to check on some whimsical factoid or to have a look at Facebook. I’m aware of it and I’m cutting that back slowly as well.

One of the really great things about going to an extreme even for a finite period is that you have a frame of reference. So while being gadgetless in a Zen-like state may not be attainable on an ongoing basis, I am now keenly aware of the bad habits and where the off switch is. For me, at least with the dumbed down iPhone, it is two steps forward and one step to the side.

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