Riding in to work in the morning, your mobile pings.
It’s your boss, asking you about that report that’s going to be due later in the day.
Then it pings again, your assistant reminding you about a meeting this morning and updating the agenda.
Finally, that date from last night dropping a friendly ‘Good morning!’ with a smiley face and a sun.
Then the phone rings…
Okay, maybe your morning pings aren’t always like this, but I see it every day.
Lately, I’ve been riding public transport in Hong Kong and 90 percent of people are glued to their phones. Some watch TV shows and mindlessly shuffle through subway stations, guided only by peripheral. Some re-read old WhatsApp conversations, looking for some clue as to why this person isn’t responding. Or maybe wondering what they could say next to get some attention—and maybe something more. Some read the news, some thumb through social media feeds, some play games.
As a first point, I’d like to note that referring to my mobile phone as a ‘cell’ ended long ago. Primarily, the idea of a cell reminds me of a cage, particularly in a prison or jail.
On one hand, a mobile phone can be a leash keeping us tied to our perceived responsibilities. On the other, it can be a terrifically liberating technology—allowing us to achieve work away from the hyper-stressful atmospheres of the office and the city.
With technology and communication as it stands today, we can effectively go off grid and do most work on a mobile phone. I wrote this article on my battered old iPhone 4’s Notes application and then e-mailed it into elephant journal. It took me 40 minutes.
So—how to detach ourselves from this potentially imprisoning device?
First, turn off the ringtone and vibration.
Think of others first—this will save countless of your fellow citizens from listening to music that they might not really want to hear (even if you have the best song ever). This will also prevent others from disturbing you. Ever. If you are expecting a call from someone, turn your ringer on only during the time you tell another person to call you. If your work relies on your mobile, turn it on during business hours.
Realistically, by how many avenues can we send a message to another person? Normal phone line, standard text message, WhatsApp (and any variety of other free message services like WeChat or KakaoTalk, depending on your social network), Skype, e-mail, Facebook…the list goes on.
That’s at least three (phone, text, e-mail) if you’re well-connected to your colleagues. Do you really want to be running to someone else’s beckoning when you’re not at work? Probably not.
Second, turn off all notifications and all sounds on your phone for all your apps. In the settings of your phone, no matter what phone you have, you have the option to turn off all of those sounds. When the sounds are off, then you can choose when you want to pick up your phone. Your phone won’t constantly be vibrating or making demanding pinging noises to get you to come pick it up and look at it.
When your phone is silent, you’ll have much greater control over your own time.
If you are a heavy phone-user, your social network might initially be quite surprised at your sudden lack of speedy responses. Some of your friends might even be hurt and think that you don’t like them anymore.
Well, this might be a good opportunity to learn about how people’s emotions work, especially with regards to needing attention, attachment and hurt. It’s also a good opportunity to learn how to communicate with others your own needs—like your time, your peace of mind and your space.
Back in March 2013, I sat for my first vipassana course—the 10-day silent meditation propagated by the most honorable S.N. Goenke. I can vividly recall how the first thing that the majority of the retreatants chose to do on the final day was retrieve their mobile phone and get updated on their virtual lives.
Since that sit, I’ve spoken with many individuals about vipassana retreats and most have commented that the most difficult hurdle preventing them from taking the course is being away from their phone for so long.
Ten days—who’d think that ten days is “a long time”?
I hope you can implement these techniques and gain some freedom from whatever plethora of digital devices you have managed to surround yourself with.
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Apprentice Editor: Jess Sheppard/Editor: Catherine Monkman