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

While you were out

A commenter and friend suggested that I blog about what I’ve noticed or experienced as a result from actively curbing the role of gadgets in my life. It’s a subject that I’ve thought about many times and a positive effect I experience daily, but still it sent me off into a world of reflection. What has this change meant to my daily life? What have I noticed or been present for that I likely would have missed before?

While I’d like to say that I’ve spent lots of introspective time walking in the woods or drinking coffee at daybreak, my reclaimed continuity is not so picturesque or even overt. In reality, the peace I’ve found is invisible to the naked eye. And I’m not always as disciplined as I’d like—nor as Zen. But still, I’ve definitely seen an increase in things like reading, listening to music, and a lot of experiencing the moment.

For me, the insipid nature of the smartphone (and a lot of times, social media) is in the way it preoccupies the mind and the small moments. These are the times I notice most often. Waiting for the train the pass. Standing in the checkout line watching people. Zoning out on a short walk. It’s partially the observations or thoughts I’d been missing by racing to check in on the iPhone, but partially it is the cognitive reset. I was overstimulated and overheated—so now that I’m allowing myself to just be in those moments, I find my thoughts to be more even, my feelings more available, and my self more centered. I have noticed all sorts of things about myself and my habits that I had been missing.

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Beyond myself, I experienced my wife and child in a way I had not been. I think gadgets and a lot on the Internet are rationalized as discovery or communication—when they are plainly escape. The stresses and routines of both marriage and parenting a toddler definitely require patience and focus, and by putting down the phone, I have felt more present and able to experience the exquisite moments, as well as to be accountable for the more mundane. Domestic life isn’t always thrilling, but it is worthwhile and rich (if you are there for it).

While I have in no way transformed into a Henry David Thoreau, I have had countless realizations about self, about the world, and about human nature… realizations I don’t think I would have had otherwise. As someone that observes the world and communicates for both a living (public relations) and a hobby (songwriting), it’s hard now to understand why I’d allow myself to be hypnotized to the point of really being numb. I guess it happens slowly and becomes gradually acceptable so you just sort of get lazy or indifferent to it. But I can plainly see now, that it was diminishing my creative abilities.

I hesitate to write about this next observation although it is one of the most frequent and apparent contrasts. At the risk of sounding like a righteous ex-smoker, the primary thing I notice now that I missed before is how a good number of people around me are just sort of checked out. I started The Off Switch for me and—like my vegetarianism—have no interest in imparting those views on others… but sometimes I do want to pull a Louis CK and shout people down, “Hey! The fleeting, finite miracle of life is rushing by. Get your fucking face out of your phone!” But I don’t because a) that’s not my business, b) that was me a year ago and still is me on occasion, and c) that’s not my nature.

Still, I have to say that it is almost overwhelming how much people in the world, sitting across from one another, over dinner, at home on the couch, in parks and in cars, are avoiding true connection, evocative conversation, enlightening observation, and sublime sensation in favor of whatever random task they tell themselves is demanding their action online. I’ve come to believe that Facebook and smartphones are the opiate of the masses. It’s like something out of Idiocracy or 1984. I don’t think there’s much sinister at work, but it is harmful nonetheless. People are wasting big chunks of their days jumping down internet rabbit holes or grasping their ‘precious.’ I’m not judging but I am staying vigilant for myself. There’s so much out there to see, hear, smell, feel, and taste and really… there’s not an app for that.

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