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Mindful Living Through the Intelligent Use of Technology


When I launched The Privacy Guru blog in 2014, I sought to help people bring their intellect and awareness together in order to make mindful choices about online privacy and technology use. Along the way, I’ve shared tools and techniques to demystify complex privacy issues in order to make it easier for you to make informed decisions aligned with your personal values.

In the spirit of this continuing mission, I’d like to share some practical tips and perspectives this week for mindful living through the intelligent use of technology.

Reducing Tech-Based Anxiety

You may have felt a strange twinge of anxiety in the last ten years if you’ve ever forgotten your smartphone at home. It can almost feel as if a part of your body has been left behind. If this experience has ever left you feeling uneasy, you’re not alone.

In the Forbes article “The Anxiety-Inducing Habit Millennials Must Learn To Tame,” Caroline Beaton cites a 2010 study which coined the term “nomophobia,” to describe anxiety resulting from a lost phone, network coverage, or dead battery. The majority of responders to the survey indicated unsettled feelings when they were experiencing “no-mobile-phone-phobia.”

But a missing connection turns out to be no less unsettling than a connection. As a survey of millennials revealed, 58% of responders believe their anxiety results from their compulsive attachment to their device.

So what are we to do? Beaton offers some research-backed tips to help us make mindful choices about managing mobile anxiety:

1. Be more optimistic. How we choose to view the information on our feeds and how we choose to engage with those feeds can have a profound impact on our feelings. Emphasizing positive interactions and choosing to view our network as supportive rather than critical is key.

2. Don’t abandon the device. If going without the device makes you anxious, honor that awareness and instead set limits or parameters for how you use your phone instead of going cold turkey.

3. Nix your notifications. Go into your phone’s settings and turn off notifications for all but the most essential functions. There’s evidence to suggest the “variable reinforcement schedule” keeps you in addictive and unhealthy loops of interaction.

4. See people face-to-face. Texts and feeds don’t feed the soul. Authentic connection continues to depend on human presence.

5. Seek solitude. Beaton cites multiple writers who point to the ways our devices rob us of the ability to focus and the opportunity to be alone with our thoughts.

I’m grateful for writers like Beaton who raise issues of our well-being in relation to technology. Mindless overuse is clearly a formula for anxiety, but technology itself does not dictate how we choose to use it. We all can benefit from periodic reminders that awareness and mindfulness are available to us as alternative behaviors.

Deeper States of Mindfulness

Beaton isn’t the only one writing on the topic of mindfulness and technology. For a deeper dive into exercises which can help us “observe and reflect” on our use of technology, consider David M. Levy’s book Mindful Tech: How to Bring Balance to Our Digital Lives. Levy is a professor at the Information School of the University of Washington. Levy’s book is a “guide to being more relaxed, attentive, and emotionally balanced, and more effective, while online.”

Kelly McGonigal, PhD, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University is also deeply concerned with mindfulness and technology. In a recent interview on the BeWell@Stanford blog McGonigal discusses ways to identify when technology may have a negative impact, what to do if there is a problem, and ways to add elements of mindfulness to your day. According to McGonigal, mindfulness is essentially comprised of three parts: Intention, attention, and action.

“When all three factors are aligned, it becomes easier to do what matters to you. Technology really interferes with this process because it makes you forget what matters to you (intention), distracts you (attention), and keeps you from taking action.”

McGonigal goes to on to say:

“Mindfulness is not a “what” but rather a “how.” Mindfulness is a way of doing things: a process, not a technique. When you are training in mindfulness, you know your own goals and values. You are paying attention to cause and effect. You know there are consequences of your choices and you are able to act skillfully based upon your observations.”

Fortunately, mindfulness is a skill we can develop.

Honing Our Mindfulness

There are ways we can interrupt our automatic behaviors and replace distracted habits with mindful ones. Our mindfulness can, in turn, help us cultivate a privacy habit which will keep us informed and better protected as we engage with technology.

As you look towards cultivating a more mindful lifestyle online, consider using a mantra to associate with times when you’re being asked to submit information or redirect your attention to your devices. Additionally, recognize how awareness is about “opting-in” to the present moment with a relaxed, focused, judgment-free mind.

So think about your day today. Where were you mindful? Where might you have benefitted from a more mindful approach? How often were these moments connected to your use of technology?  How often were these moments useful when making choices about your online privacy?

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