Monday, December 29, 2014

New Year's Resolution: 3 Ways to Cut Back on Digital Distractions


It's the end of 2014, and time to make your New Year's Resolutions. I've been making resolutions for years and use the annual event as a time to enact some personal changes. This year, one of my resolutions for 2015 is to cut back on digital distractions.

Back in October George Couros tweeted out a link to a great blog in the NYTimes entitled Trying to Live in the Moment and Not on My iPhone by Jenna Wortham about using apps like Moment* and Checky to track one's personal iPhone use (total number of minutes per day and number of times per day). I found it intriguing and asked him if he was going to try it, because I was afraid to do so. He agreed.  



I can relate this Liam F. Walsh New Yorker cartoon! Image Source

It took me another two months to get around to giving it a try, but I finally have. It's been fascinating to see my own stats and compare my totals day to day. 

Data is powerful, especially when it's personal.

As an earlier article in Mashable by Seth Fiegerman stated, data is powerful, especially when it's personal. Being confronted with these daily totals about my screen time has caused me to reflect quite a bit lately. The totals that I'm confronted with from these two apps have also caused me to think about what I didn't do because I was looking at a screen. Time spent talking with others, being with my family, looking up, listening, being outside...  all things I used to do more of before having constant access to a screen and the Internet. I'm glad I finally took the time to install both of these apps, and encourage you to do so, too.  

Say No to Nocializing 

Back in July at the Minnesota iPad Palooza, keynote speaker Carl Hooker mentioned an urban dictionary term called Nocializing and something he called the Digital Yawn, both which stuck with me.  Simply put, nocializing spending time on your mobile device rather then paying attention to the people around you. A digital yawn is the moment in a group when one person pulls out a device to look at it's screen, resulting in the rest doing the same. Carl mentioned that at restaurants with friends, they often stack their phones facedown in a pile to see who can go the longest without using their phone and whoever gives in has to pay the bill.  He mentioned another version of this where the phones remain face up and whichever one dings/vibrates first with a notification has to pay the bill...  I still haven't tried either of these techniques...


App badges create a FOMO.


Another one of the changes I made was to turn off almost all notifications on my iPhone and iPad, two of the devices I spend a lot of time on daily. I've turned off badges and all push notifications for email, Twitter, Facebook, Weather, NHL, and every other app on my device except iMessage and Phone. I actually did this a couple months ago.  I had found that the badges, such as those pictured above, tempted me to open each app and see what I was missing, which is exactly what I suppose they are designed to do. They create a FOMO I suppose. But I've discovered that each of these badges became a distraction and added stress to my life. They added pressure that is unnecessary, and I'm guessing I'm not alone in feeling this way.  

I'd encourage you to try this out, too. Your new emails, Tweets, sports scores, Facebook notifications, and everything else will still be there. But now you can access them on your schedule when you want, versus having them disrupt your life and distract you every time you turn on your device! (Just the number of times I used to unlock my phone for one task and instantly get distracted by some other app, often even forgetting what I had unlocked my phone for in the first place has decreased greatly.) I've been noticing how my own children get distracted by their notifications on devices, and hope to help them learn early how to manage their digital distractions, too.  I think balancing and managing digital distraction and learning to focus are valuable new life skills that we can help our children and students acquire.


I'd love to hear your ideas for cutting back on digital distraction, too, so please share!

For more reflections on digital distractions, please see an earlier post on Crazy Busy: You Are Letting the Screen Strangle Your Soul, a great read by Kevin DeYoung.  

A recent article about Albert Einstein's need for space for solitude and self-reflection by Paul Halpern is intriguing.  Einstein knew the value of time free of distractions. 

*I saw some reviews about Moment burning up your battery since it uses GPS location services, but so far haven't seen this become too big of a problem.  The creator, Kevin Holesh, was quick to respond to my email inquiry for a free family account which I will try out.

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