Control Your Digital World

“The world is too much with us.” With these words, the early 19th century poet William Wordsworth lamented our disconnection with the natural world. Fast forward to 2022 and:

  • 43% of Americans report that they “constantly” check their phones…and yet, nearly a quarter of these folks find doing so “stressful.” 
  • 44% of the “constant checkers” also report feeling “disconnected” from family and friends, even when in their presence…and yet, 35% of this group are less inclined to get together in person because of the availability of social media. 

In other words, we “know better,” but don’t “do better.” But, there is some good news here: 65% also agree that taking a break from all that constancy is good for us. 

I agree, even as I drag my phone with me as I sit on my veranda to observe the comings and goings of my backyard bird menagerie. Guilty as charged!

As with any change we want to make, intention is the starting point. What needs to follow is a clear plan of action to help wean us from a behavior that we want to eliminate or reduce. When it comes to technology, that can be really hard. Maybe it’s the fear of missing a work email, or the fear of missing out (FOMO) that justifies and reinforces the constancy of our connectivity. Or it could be the awareness that others expect us to respond instantaneously. Or maybe it’s just become a habit as the urge to check can be very well entrenched. Identify what keeps you enslaved to your phone and own it. Then consider the following steps to strike a healthier balance between real time and digital time: 

  • Be the boss of your phone – Remind yourself that you own this mere device; it doesn’t own you. You decide when and how you use it.   
  • Create physical space between you and your phone – Unless you are in the middle of your workday or awaiting a call from your doctor, don’t have your phone attached to your hip, wrist or within arm’s reach. Remember when we all had house phones? We did just fine. 
  • Identify phone-free times and experiences – I do not check my phone when I am at lunch with a friend, taking a long morning walk or gardening – especially not gardening because nature is an incomparable companion. What opportunities for phone free time will you claim? 
  • Get a teddy bear – In other words, please do not sleep with your phone. It is false comfort at best! Place it in another room, or at least far away from your ZZZ zone.
  • Seek out non-digital activities – I know a middle-aged man with a mental illness who has been addicted to virtual sports for many years. He recently started growing tomatoes. To hear him express his delight in this activity is heart-warming, as it has opened up his world in unimaginable ways.
  • Distinguish between friends and followers – As one person put it, “there is a big difference between real friends and ego-satisfying followers.” We do well to remind ourselves of this truth.
  • Set expectations with family, friends and co-workers – Resist the pressure to be available at all times. Prove to yourself that you are the boss of your device by letting others know your boundaries. I love the fact that the people I work with around the country never expect an email on the weekend, even if they sent me a question at 8pm on a Friday night.
  • Declutter your home screen – Minimize that come-hither distraction with the same rigor you bring to decluttering your home. 
  • Unsubscribe from mailing lists – This is another digital “housekeeping” tip that puts you back in control of your time.  

And when you do check Twitter or Facebook, set a time limit. When time is up, that’s your cue to get up, take a deep breath, look out the window and soak in the glorious world around you. That advice is as pertinent today as it was in Wordsworth’s day.

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