Connecting with Disconnection: tips from the ancients on switching off from tech
“Of making apps there is no end.”
“The abundance of technology is a distraction.”
“Is there anywhere on Earth exempt from these swarms of new smartphones?”
In our “always on” world, it is very easy to feel like there is no escape from technology and the alerts, information, and expectations it places on us. Information overload bears down on us with every Facebook post, shared article, and email.
It feels like a very modern problem, one driven by those technological marvels we carry in our pockets. However, information overload has existed in almost every society in some way, with books in all their forms driving information anxiety for decades. Consider the original (real) versions of the opening (fake) quotes:
“Of making books there is no end.”
Ecclesiastes 12:12, c450BC
“The abundance of books is a distraction.”
“Is there anywhere on Earth exempt from these swarms of new books?”
Erasmus, in particular, was writing in an era when books were seen to be particularly alarming following the widespread introduction of movable type to Europe by Johannes Gutenberg. Scholars were concerned that good books would get lost in the “swarm” and that they would need more than “10 million years” to read all the books in existence — an ambitious pursuit (and wrong, even now you’re looking at only some 350,000 years — better get reading if this is on your bucket list).
Of course, the book is one of the greatest inventions in human history and we were quick to innovate with tools to reduce the information overload. Without these fear-mongering scholars we wouldn’t have indexes, tables of contents, book reviews, and encyclopedias.
So, what tools can we use today to help us overcome information overload and the anxiety caused by technologies which make us feel the need to be “on”, to reply, to be connected?
Don’t Turn It Off
For many people, turning your phone off causes more anxiety than leaving it on. If you can happily turn your phone off then you’re probably in control of your tech — go have a coffee. If even the thought of turning it off makes you twitch, read on.
Go Grey, Gracefully
Those lovely, rich, high definition colors on your screen are designed to ping areas of your brain, and nothing pings quite like the urgent red notification bubble.
If you’re fortunate enough to own an Android phone, the latest versions have options to turn off these little notification bubbles, or to have them appear without a number. If you’re on iOS, or want to really commit on Android, dig around and find the setting to make your screen greyscale for a more muted device. If nothing else, a dull grey email notification is much less shouty than an urgent red one.
Put your phone on silent. Easy right? Tried it already? Failed miserably? No beeps or vibrations might sound like an easy option to reduce your screen time, but it often results in checking your phone more — I mean, it’s been 5 minutes, surely you’ve got some sort of notification? Try putting it on silent and extending the time between glances: 5 minutes, 10 minutes, build up your resilience and delay the gratification of seeing who’s ‘gramming their food.
When you send an email at night or on the weekend, you’re telling the world you are on. If you’re starting the conversation, you’re placing an expectation, no matter how unconscious, that the receiver should continue it. If you’re replying to someone else, you’re keeping the cycle going. If you want to reduce the expectation around replying outside of reasonable work hours, try a weekend out-of-office with a dose of honesty: tell them you’re likely to read their email, but unlikely to reply until you’re back in the office.