It is okay I am guilty too
Before I start to write about this I want you to know I have instituted my digital diet because I too spend too much time in front of a screen. I have started to refer to our screens as our dopamine devices. Constantly shining a light in our eyes training us like Pavlov's dog to return for more feel good hormones whenever we need. Depleting our capacity to live without the high. Filling the empty spaces we used to have. Busses, grocery lines, doctors offices, and darkness in a theatre.
Thinking about our digital consumption is not easy. So often our screen time is locked into our work. Then when we are out of work it is locked into our leisure time. I was raised playing Mario and Nintendo and I love to unwind with screen time. In some ways it is not fair. But I believe we have gotten into a cycle that is really not healthy culturally. Right now it is constantly acceptable to be looking at a screen. What bothers me even more is I have found myself being the person who interrupts an IRL (in real life) person because my phone buzzed at me.
I would like to point out here that we are still needing to develop some etiquette around these machines. The iphone is only 10 years old. Truly the mass market didn't catch on completely until a few years later. We actually still don't know entirely what the boundaries of these devices are and what the boundaries we would like to have.
You literally can not go anywhere without being faced with a screen. When you get on the bus people are looking at their phones- so out of the corner of your eyes you are seeing them infinitely scrolling for validation and sedation. The bottomless feeds of instagram, facebook, snapchat, and twitter give the sensation that there is also more just a thumb stroke away. At the bars and restaurants there are TV's and projectors burning for your attention. I want to encourage you to examine your interaction with a screen and set some personal boundaries.
The News Cycle
First it started with realizing I was being sucked into the news cycle. That I was refreshing the NYTIMES for all the breaking news. And because I believe in trying to follow what both sides are saying I was also reading the mirrored articles on Breitbart. Here is what woke me up - I looked at the NYTIMES and it had a little ad tagline about 'The TRUTH is hard to find' and on Breitbart they had essentially the same tagline. And I realized how manipulative the cycle was. Feeding into our fears to sell us more news, to bring their readership up to bring in more advertising.
I felt gross and manipulated. I started to examine what it was that I was getting out of reading the news every chance I got. Also after my binging on the news I wasn't any more informed, I was actually being inundated with information. Overwhelmed is maybe the most accurate word. That the information feed was so much it was literally creating a kind of action paralysis. Now I realize not everyone shares this experience. But when I looked at the news cycle all my empathy buttons were being triggered constantly. I was constantly fretting about people and things I have no control over. Then I was seeing my friends and family's posts on Facebook. Some happy, some garbage, some sad, some tragedy of a friends friend now sick with 3 kids and their gofundme account, and I realized how manic it was making me feel.
What does Chinese Medicine think?
I also started to think about it from a Chinese Medicine perspective. In Chinese medicine the Liver is the organ that 'manages' our stress. The liver is one of the most Yin organs because it is a part of the Jue-Yin system (the terminal yin). It stores the blood and yin of the body. There is a strong connection between the liver and the eyes. The easiest example of understanding this is when people become jaundiced often that jaundice shows up in the sclera of their eyes turning it from white to yellow. Now the livers connection to the eyes and stress is a big deal in this situation. Because the act of looking at a screen is shinning light directly into your eyes.
Light is a yang substance (the opposite of yin). And there is a lot of discussion right now going around about insomnia and the blue light you are getting from your tv, computer, and telephone. The discussion is that it is disrupting your circadian rhythm. Basically the idea is that the blue light tells your body it is time to wake up. This alone gives me enough reason to add flux to your computer and use night shift on your devices. These turn your blue light devices to a more orange hue.
In essence though what you are doing is shinning one of the most yang substances (light) into one of the most yin places ( the liver jueyin channel.) Shinning light into what is supposed to be one of the darkest, quietest, most yin places. A place that manages your stress. And the light is also giving you a fair amount of cerebral information about geopolitics, empathy, and current state of affairs local to you. This to me seems like something we should be paying close attention to. Because who knows how you are disrupting your system.
I set some boundaries. First it started with my phone. I started with the app Moment. It lets you track your phone usage daily so you can be aware how much time you were spending on your phone. In the first week I had an average of 2 hours on my phone in about 3-5 minute increments. I was shocked.
So I removed all the non-essential apps from my phone and consolidated all the 'essential' apps to the main screen with all the non essential- non removable apps on the following pages in folders. That way they were no longer within quick reach. I removed facebook, instagram, and twitter from my phone. I turned all of the notifications off of everything (except apparently podcasts - I am still getting a little notification on the podcasts app-I will change that today.) Here is what my iphone screen looks like now.
I have a real alarm clock (see my previous post)I use so I am not being woken up by a phone. I don't wake up and check my phone. The phone enters silent mode or airplane mode frequently. It is left in a backpack or coat as often as possible so I am not tethered to my device. I stopped trying to document my experiences to share online all the time.
Eventually I deleted my facebook, linkedin, instagram, and twitter accounts. This is not the route for everyone but I can tell you with confidence that it has felt so incredibly freeing.
I set a schedule for when I would read the news (Sunday mornings 10am-12pm via a hard copy of the NYTIMES.) And I occasionally will find myself checking the news at the end of the day- but do my damnedest to not get sucked into a rabbit hole.
I don't know that I have any answers here for what we should do about our digital consumption. But I have put myself on a digital diet. It is a nice cleanse. It is helpful to get some perspective. If you need some help figuring out where to start I am happy to give you a hand.