So much information competes for our attention and there is too little attention left for the things that truly matter that, in order to be productive, we must highly value our time and be ever mindful of where our attention goes.
Time is a non-renewable resource, and we must sift data and only engage the matters that are truly important. It helps if we carefully consider what we want to filter through: things related to our jobs, to intellectual projects that we’re working on, etc. might earn primary consideration. If we are selective about what information we wish to entertain, we will not squander entire afternoons idly on social media.
This has become a worse problem as the internet age has advanced, and we’re all at risk of losing ourselves in social media and neglecting not only our important projects, goals and activities, but also interpersonal relations.
One strategy, this one instituted by Brad Feld and later proposed by philosopher Alain De Botton, is to have a digital Sabbath (although this does not have to be done on a Saturday). The Digital Sabbath has been covered by Huffington Post, and has a manifesto and a blog dedicated to it. The Contemplative Computing blog has discussed the DS frequently, discussing the need to data-detox and to plan the day.
It basically consists, as you would imagine, on turning off the computer, the phone, and all the gadgets that we have come to consider as extensions of our very selves. As a side note, notice the name and brand of the I-Phone, a very clever strategy: I-Phone, I-Pad, these things carry the connotation that they are I, that they are an extension of the self.
Not only that: the I is different from the Me. It’s not the Me-Phone, or the Me-Pad. In English, I is the active form of Me. If I perform an action, it is I who performs it. If an action is performed on me, it is on me, not on I, that it’s performed. This is an important subtlety. The makers of these gadgets designed them to make us think of their products as the active, volitional part of us. A Digital Sabbath may be a time to disconnect from the Borg-like hive-mind and become mindful of these details about the modern world, and how we’re being assimilated into a digital super-brain.
I’ve partially adopted the Digital Sabbath to clean the house and to write, which requires time, no distractions, and mental space. Who are we, when we don’t have our phones, computers, and other electronic tools? What passions and activities and values do we pursue? Those are the concerns that are being adressed by Digital Sabbath keepers.
Not everyone is crazy about the idea. In a piece in The Atlantic, Rebecca Rosen argues that the Sabbath, in its original form, is a time set aside, a sacred time marked by ritual at the beginning and at the end where we participate in community and in the things that make life worth living. She argues that it’s not just our relationship with digital objects, but with time itself that must be re-evaluated: that we must never forget to slow down and to MAKE time for community and family. Perhaps she is right: for many of us, skyping is the closest thing to a face-to-face conversation with some of our loved ones, and here technology can bring us closer.
One final strategy is the TO DO List. If we try to juggle too many balls at one time, we will lose them. TO DO lists keep us efficient: they help us to focus on what we are doing, to bring our current activity to completion, and then move on to the next one. One by one, we can tackle all the things that require our attention and not be overwhelmed.
For people who are self-employed or who work from home, it is recommended that they have a DMO (Daily Mode of Operation). This is a special kind of To Do list that separates our time for business from our time for leisure. The idea, again, is to avoid distraction and to make sure that every day some progress is being made even if one is working from home.
One of the things that I learned while studying Epicurean philosophy was that we must protect our focus, our attention, and our minds. A commitment to ataraxia requires this. It is crucial to STOP from time to time, to be mindful and reboot.