I love the internet. I have a serious Buzzfeed problem (I’m Mollie, and I’ve taken a quiz about which Disney princess I would be based on my preference for snack foods). I cruise Twitter, I scroll the news, and I get sucked into my screens just like everybody else.
But it isn’t… great.
I don’t think I’m going to surprise anyone, but I’m going to argue that the world of constant connection and instant information that we now live in is pretty toxic. Now, of course, there are benefits. I get to see the faces of my family members – faces that I see in life far less than I would wish – and I am so grateful for that. I have information at my fingertips at all times, and can look up where to get my flat tire fixed, the closest coffee shop, or new treatment strategies for my clients – literally ANY time I want. That is absolutely amazing.
But there are times that it really isn’t. Like when I feel like I’m supposed to be available to anyone at any time, and have to stop what I’m doing and respond. Or when I find myself with a free hour and I just keep refreshing meaningless pages. Scrolling past information without looking at it. Just filling time. There’s some part of me that keeps saying “get up and do something” and I just keep scrolling as the thought passes by. And it’s terrifying.
So, I’m working on being more mindful of my screen time, and having better boundaries for it. It’s hard. And I think it’s worth doing anyway. Here’s how you can join me:
Set an unplug time (every day).
You could do this just about whenever you want. Maybe for the hour before bed (maybe even for the hours – plural! – before bed). Maybe during meals. Pick a time that you are going to put your phone/computer/tablet away, and stick to it. Technology is amazing – if you are worried about emergencies, you can set it to only ring through from certain numbers, or to always ring if someone calls twice in a row!
Make a commitment to not be looking at your phone while someone is talking to you.
This one is simple, but not necessarily easy. But when someone is talking to you – like, a human being standing in front of you – you can put your phone down. Commit to being present when someone is speaking to you, and turn off your screen. Take care of your face to face relationships.
Don’t stare at screens while you eat.
This crosses paths with mindful eating, too. If you go out to lunch, sit quietly and look around you. If you’re eating dinner – put your phone away! (See #1 – what a great unplug time!) If you’re having a snack… Literally any time you are consuming food, you can put your phone down for a second to actually notice what you’re doing. Eating is actually quite stimulating on its own!
Let other people know.
Folks in our lives now expect us to be immediately available at all times. This is often not necessary in our relationships, and not very healthy. We need time that is just our own, without the interruption or intrusion of others. (Some reading this post will remember a time when you left a message on someone’s home answering machine, knowing that it could be a day before you heard back – and you were fine with it!) Remember, however, that if you plan to make a big change – like not responding right away to texts, when you’ve historically responded immediately – it would be a nice courtesy to let folks know.
Be more understanding of others’ boundaries in electronic relationships.
We are all guilty of being a little disrespectful here; we assume that if someone got our message, they owe us a response (hands up if you’ve ever been infuriated by seeing that a message was “read” but not getting a response). I will agree that it is respectful to respond to others, and not very kind to ignore messages entirely. However, assuming that we can get ahold of someone else, and even worse, assuming that they are supposed to drop what they are doing so that we can have the satisfaction of a quick response, is actually quite intrusive. Try to help others practice good boundaries as well, and be patient with your relationships.
Do you want to check Twitter today? Cool. Did you need to check it 19 times? Eh, probably not. This article isn’t about shaming the internet, nor is it about trying to return to a time when smartphones/the internet/social media didn’t exist – they do. And it’s okay. But (sweeping statement here) I would argue that we ALL need to set some boundaries. Stay up on news, check social media accounts, watch and post cat videos, it’s all good. We just probably don’t need to do quite so much of it.
Catch yourself in less-than-mindful screen use, and redirect.
You’re going to violate these guidelines. No shame; it happens. But when you catch it, stop. Commit once again to practicing mindful use of your devices. We can all do better.
Author: Mollie Burke
Dr. Burke is a Psychologist at Hope Springs Behavioral Consultants. Her theoretical orientation is Existential-Humanistic. She acknowledges the inherent struggles, difficulties, and hardships of life. However, her approach also emphasizes the incredible ability of human beings to endure these issues to lead purposeful and intentional lives. Basically, she believes that life is hard, but humans are amazing. (We think she is pretty amazing too.)