Pre-technology, writers lived a life that necessarily embraced mindfulness.
Quill in hand, they absorbed the sights, sounds and smells of the world around them and tried to capture the abstract thoughts and luminous stories that then grew. It was a solitary endeavor, and often remained so, these scribblings unpublished and perhaps unread by anyone except the author herself (particularly if it was a woman, as we well know).
Even if an author’s words found a public forum which sparked dialogue and interaction regarding the piece, still, the writing itself was done in a quiet space without the fingers of notifications, alarms, and constant distraction reaching in and tapping her on the shoulder every 10 seconds.
While it is still possible to create such an environment, it’s not particularly practical. I wrote my first book with a ball point pen on a stack of legal pads, and though it was created in a mindful atmosphere devoid of technology, the subsequent process of transcribing it onto a computer added at least two years to the entire process. Two years I could have used writing something else.
So, when I write now, it’s directly onto Word or Word Press, with a constant back round hum of Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and the other web sites where my stuff appears, as I do the business of managing my life, and my work as well as it’s public presence all while stringing together new words.
I think the answer is, yes they can, but a great deal of discipline is required.
Here are some guidelines I try to follow for not getting sucked into the techno vortex.
1) I spend a lot of time on my computer, but I spend a lot of time off of it, too.
There are many, what I consider, pristine hours in my day, meaning hours which are completely disconnected from technology. I think it’s critical in our culture of fragmentation and shallow, passive connection to unplug for a significant amount of time every single day.
And so, as anyone who knows me well knows, I don’t answer the phone or do anything other than what I am doing when I walk my dogs, cook, practice yoga, meditate, ride my bike, eat or read. I consider these moments sacred and because I protect them so vigorously, (think mother bear with her jellybean sized cub) the world seems to oblige by allowing me the space to have them.
My husband would argue that he simply can not turn his phone off, ever (and he doesn’t—I recently heard him answer it during a massage), because his business requires that he be constantly available. My, perhaps naive, answer to that is, no business is more important than the business of living.
2) When I am on the computer or the phone and I catch myself “skimming”, I force myself to walk away.
Skimming is the first step of getting sucked into the vortex and I know I’m doing it when I’m doing more than one thing at once and doing both things badly.
For example, I might be talking on the phone while also checking on my Manduka order, which happens to be on Amazon, so I’ll peruse some books for a sec—oh wait, I needed that travel book for Sedona (mystical place of many earthly chakras), and while I’m there I see my Skype icon bouncing, so hold up, gotta see who called, ah crap, it was my sister—I meant to call her this morning, let me just buzz through my iTunes to find that song she was asking me about, and as I’m checking my Habibe Koite playlist I hear a little tiny voice chirping from my phone (which I’ve put on speaker to enable me to do all this other crap), and oops, I realize that was my sis on the line the whole time and I’d completely forgotten we were even talking in the first place.
That’s a capital V vortex.
When this happens, I stop everything. I go do a load of laundry, or something similarly manual and tangible until the frantic feeling passes. As I do it, I make sure and listen to my breath, a sound I had lost all track of in my techno frenzy. Then I call my sister back and calmly explain that I’m an idiot.
3) I have a routine when I go online that helps me rein things in.
Much like I do for diet and exercise, I find that I have to have a plan. I’m pretty neurotic so this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it kind of goes like this:
Each time I go online I;
1) Check email, respond to urgent messages, star non-urgent, delete all else.
2) Check Facebook, first all notifications, then scroll through newsfeed. The key is not to spend any more than 5 minutes doing it.
3) Check Word Press, see what’s on my board and what work I need to finish, jot down new article ideas.
4) Check Tumblr and Twitter, again, spend no more than five minutes on both combined.
5) Go back to Word Press and start writing.
6) Do not check anything again when finished writing, just close the computer and walk away.
If I stick to the routine, no matter how many times I go online, I’m spending no more than 10 minutes futzing around and the rest of the time I am working. Again, if I feel myself start to skim, I get the heck out of there.
Clearly, technology is seductive. It’s a lot easier to look at puppy videos and read Buzzfeed than it is to crank out 1,000 meaningful, coherent words. It’s also easier than having an actual conversation, putting on your socks, or even going to the bathroom.
It is the absolute easiest thing in the world to check out and ignore reality completely, because reality is kind of a pain in the ass. But, as the Lotus Eater’s of Homer’s Odyssey well know, as well as every other addict of every ilk—because abuse of technology has all the hallmarks of addiction, make no mistake—if you choose to check out too often, there may be no checking back in. At the very least, we’ll have wasted irretrievable moments in our rapidly passing lives.
As with all things, I try and take the middle path; “all things in moderation”. If we are aware of how, when and why we use technology, and manage our time in relation to it well, we can partake and still lead a mindful life.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: David Petras/Pixoto