By PHE Grace Styklunas, Tristen Slamowitz, and Sarah Macris
Do you ever feel addicted to your phone?
Whether you are a millennial, child, adult, or elder, you are probably aware of the advent of the new technology of the last decade. It has been about ten years since the first iPhone was released, and now it is common in US cities to see every single person looking down at their iPhone as they walk around. We students rarely go anywhere without our phones and are dependent on them for functions as varied as GPS and texting. Because we are growing up with phones now attached to our hands, they are a part of us and we must learn to have a healthy relationship with them. All of the things that we are now able to do with our phone, in addition to all of the non-essential games and social media, make the phone extremely addicting for some. Many people experience intense anxiety when unable to send or receive a text message or not have their phone at all (Gutiérrez et. al 2016). For example, when Grace’s phone got stolen in Guatemala (without ability to buy a new one) she had a panic attack and for a moment thought she’d need to go home! Of course, in the end, she was fine.
My friends and I decided to see how we fell on this spectrum. We tracked our phone usage for a week using the app “Moment.” (You can try this too!) On average, individually we spent 2 hours and 3 minutes on our phones every day, which amounted to an average 17.7% of our entire day spent looking at the screen! Many of the days that most of the time that we spent on our phones was during the week, meaning that we must have been on our phone during homework, our jobs, or during class. How do we solve this? Mindfulness can be applied to technology use in order to minimize the negative effects associated with excessive use and maximize the benefits to wellbeing.
Let’s look at the difference between active and passive use of technology. Passive usage will involve scrolling through Facebook news feeds or looking at other users’ profiles, pictures and statuses, reading tweets, or looking at Instagram pictures. (Catching yourself scrolling mindlessly while you should be studying!) Some studies have demonstrated that the more passively you use technology, the more you might experience envy, FOMO, or decreased wellbeing (Krasnova et al., 2013). Active usage, however, means engaging with technology in a way that is meaningful and purposeful.
Mindfulness can be used to mediate all of these issues and help you switch to more active usage of technology.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is defined as the ability to attend to ones moment-to-moment experiences through an inherent state of consciousness. Although much of our lives are spent on autopilot, mindfulness promotes “attending to experience itself, as it is presented in the here and now” (Shapiro, Carlson, Astin, & Freedman, 2006). In the article Mechanisms of Mindfulness, Shapiro and associates state that when one “pays attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.” Mindfulness can be cultivated through various meditation techniques and “through physical movements and martial arts traditions such as yoga and tai chi” (Kachan et al., 2017). This nonjudgmental awareness of experiences, thoughts, emotions, and sensations in the present moment, has been shown in several studies to have beneficial effects on dealing with stress, reducing anxiety, and increasing brain efficiency and attention. If you are having a hard time paying attention in class, if you keep checking your phone, increasing mindfulness practice such as meditation or yoga may help with this! Mindfulness has been shown to increase people’s abilities to use their phone more actively, as we described above, and will help you not get burnt out emotionally from being on social media all day. You will use your phone less, and you will not get the emotional strain when you do use it.
How does one implement a more mindful use of technology?
You probably won’t stop using your phone, so learning to have a better relationship with it is essential. You can begin by assessing your relationship with technology. Ask yourself, “Do I use technology to cover up my loneliness?” or “in what ways does my relationship to technology distract or stress me out?” There are various informal practices that you can incorporate as you utilize technology:
- First: notice when you’re reaching for your phone!
- Pay attention to how you’re feeling when you start using technology.
- Utilize phone notifications as mindfulness bells, or sounds that remind you take a mindful breath and re-engage with the present moment (O’Brien, 2013).
- Not multitasking while on the computer; focusing on the present activity and developing increased focus rather than switching to a new tab while something loads.
- Incorporating mindful pauses into your technology usage. This may mean deleting Instagram completely for an hour to days at a time, or turning phone off when necessary.
- Turning notifications off on unnecessary apps and message chains.
The Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, compared technology to a horse that the user is riding:
When someone walks up and says to the rider, ‘Where are you going?’ The rider looks at the person and replies, ‘I don’t know, ask the horse.’ There it is, we have lost control of technology, it’s driving us and we are no longer driving it. (Elisha Goldstein)
One must understand that technology is a tool, neither a positive nor negative force in our lives. Like riding a horse, you must understand how to control it and harness it for a more mutually beneficial relationship. As stated earlier, the abusive and distracted use of technology can have many negative side effects and can be viewed as somewhat of an obstacle to being mindful. However, technology does not need to take this role in our lives and can be used as a mechanism by which we can practice mindfulness. “We can use technology to pay attention to our surroundings, to really look, to really listen to our everyday. And, ultimately, we can use technology to reconnect. To ourselves” (Gunatillake, 2017).
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Goldstein, E. (2014, October 3). The Horse is Technology, But the Rider is on Auto-Pilot. Retrieved April 24, 2018, from https://www.mindful.org/the-horse-is-technology-but-the-rider-is-on-auto-pilot/
Gunatillake, R. (2017). Modern Mindfulness: How to Be More Relaxed, Focused, and Kind While Living in a Fast, Digital, Always-On World. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.
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