Digital Distraction

What are the tradeoffs to being connected 24/7?

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I spent the weekend camping in Mammoth Lakes, California. I’ve made this trip about a dozen times now and I’m still surprised by how beautiful the scenery is.

The best part about this weekend was the complete lack of cell service. Once reception disappeared, most of my usual distractions went with it. This gave me time to reflect on the role that the internet and communication play in my life.

I have mixed feelings about my digital dependency. On the one hand, it’s great to know that I can completely unplug for a few days without missing much. My digital habits, like checking email and Twitter, faded almost instantly with no ill effects. Instead of going to my phone for entertainment, I turned to the closest book or conversations with friends.

On the other hand, it didn’t take long for me to fall back into old habits once we regained reception. I was browsing my email before we got back to the highway. I get a lot of value out of the online communities I’m in, but I suspect I’ve reached the point of diminishing returns. My attention span felt shorter compared with time spent in the mountains — more interruption driven and less concentrated.

Screen time paints a picture: my phone usage drops drastically without access to the internet. I spend less time distracted when I’m not able to check social media and email.

This realization has caused me to implement some changes into my day. I try to stick to a digital fast before noon — no email, no social media. Writing is fine. Reading or browsing is not.

Putting this rule in place prevents me from switching into reactive mode before I’ve had a chance to get started on something important. I’m playing defense against myself to protect my most productive hours. Setting a firm commitment — no distractions before lunch — lowers the chances that I fall into a rabbit hole and look up at lunchtime with nothing to show for it.

I’ve found that this method is easier than just “using my phone less.” Once I start, it’s hard to stop. I’m noticeably more distracted on days when I check social media first thing in the morning. Restricting my browsing window means that there are clear guidelines for when I let myself enjoy distractions.

This is my simple way of being more conscious about how I choose to use technology. The internet is an amazing place, but it doesn’t care what your plans are for the day.

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