Technology as Servant, not Master

In my review of Hamlet’s BlackBerry, I mentioned that I was considering some technology boundaries for my life.  For purposes of discussion I thought I would enumerate a few things I am considering or have already implemented to keep technology my servant, not my master.

  • I culled my Google Reader. Since I have wide-ranging interests, I was subscribed to a lot of blogs, which I compulsively scanned in my reader every day, even though I knew I didn’t have to empty the reader daily.  After months of scrolling through post after post it began to dawn on me that I was not getting a lot out of this type of reading, and certainly not as much as should be commensurate with that level of time investment.  And so, I unsubscribed from a lot of very good blogs so I can focus on the few that really meet a primary need I have now.  As the author of From Clutter to Clarity says, anything that is no longer useful or serving the purpose it once did in your life is clutter.  It’s actually been really freeing to have fewer feeds in my reader.
  • I changed to digest subscription for a few prolific blogs, set up auto-filters, and unsubscribed from all other junk email and email newsletters. Junk email doesn’t seem like it takes much time, but it DOES.  I’ve been unsubscribing to all junk mail I receive, and I auto-filtered My Points and Inbox Dollars so I can check those when I have time.  I did add two emails but they are digest forms listing all the posts on two blogs I read that publish multiple times a day.  By scanning the digest list, I can see if there are posts I need to read or posts I can skip.  Much faster.
  • Unless I really need to, I’m not going to use tabs in my web browser. The author of Hamlet’s BlackBerry points out that multiple tabs just creates subconscious visual noise, and that has been shown to increase stress and anxiety.  Y’all, what I do not need is more stress and anxiety!  Really the only time I need tabs is when I’m writing book review posts and want to have Amazon open so I can build affiliate links.  Otherwise, no tabs.  I’m going to concentrate on one thing at a time.
  • When I have something specific to do on the computer that doesn’t require the internet, I’m going to turn off the connection. Remember how it takes 10-20 minutes to regroup after a distraction?  Imagine how much more quickly I can work on my novel or freelance writing projects if I don’t keep clicking over to Facebook every 47 seconds.
  • I will not check the internet first thing in the morning. Having a smart phone makes it SO tempting to click into my email and blogs and the Wall Street Journal every morning while I cook my breakfast.  I think it will only take a minute, but the next thing I know half an hour has gone by and I haven’t left much time for my quiet time or exercising, which is why I get up early in the first place!
  • Maybe I don’t NEED a smart phone. The crowd gasps!  My cell phone contract is up next month and I’m seriously considering downgrading from my iPhone to a more utilitarian device.  Frankly, I often find myself sort of exhausted by the idea that I have to be plugged in to the internet all the time.  If I have my phone with me, I feel like I have to check email, read blogs, scan Facebook updates, etc at any odd moment of the day.  I call this The Tyranny of the iPhone, because even though I know I don’t have to constantly check it, the fact that I can makes my brain think I should and I sort of hate that.  Plus I’d save the connecting fee each month.  That said, this item is still under consideration to make sure I think through all of the ramifications (I can’t believe I’m even saying that, since two years ago I didn’t even HAVE a cell phone, much less a smart phone.  It’s wild how quickly electronics become like a physical part of your body necessary for life!)
  • I’m thinking of establishing an Internet Sabbath. The author of Hamlet’s BlackBerry and his family turn off their wireless modem every Friday night and don’t plug it back in until Monday morning.  They use their computers as needed over the weekend, but not for the internet.  I can see why they find this refreshing.  Honestly, why do people think they need an immediate email response over the weekend?  How much would I really miss if I just disconnected from the hive for two days a week?  Would it make me more focused and productive with my online time during the week?  Would I get more quality writing work done without the internet on?  I like this idea.  I like it for adults, but I also like it as I think about my kids being teenagers (only 8 years from now!) – kids need space to grow and think away from screens.

These ideas come from my own self-assessment of how I use the internet, so please don’t think I mean everyone should adopt them!  That said, I’d be really interested to hear how you manage your online time and if you’ve thought much about the impact that has on your life and your family.  I think this topic is really fascinating!

4 thoughts on “Technology as Servant, not Master

  1. Wow! Way to go, woman. Just thinking about all this makes me very tired. I do NOT have a cell phone for two reasons: 1) the cost, and 2) exactly what you said. I think I would feel a nagging tickling of my brain on what I was “missing out on”. In fact, that is one of the very reasons why we don’t even have CABLE, of all things. My husband described it very similarly, feeling like he was “missing out” if/when the television wasn’t on, even when he was at work. Who wants to live like that?!

    I’ve implemented changes for myself in the past when I’ve sensed things are getting out of control, mostly involving NOT turning on the computer until later in the day and not allowing myself to constantly try to stay on top of email communications and favorite blogs.

    That being said, I still spend time each day doing those things, I just try and concentrate it to one period of time vs. peppered throughout the day. Because, as you pointed out, a couple of minutes turns into a half-hour or longer. When I’ve been at my worst, I’ve thought about putting a minute-timer by the computer and let it run each time I’m on — but I’ve never done it because I didn’t want to suffer the humiliation of knowing exactly how long I was on. Just thinking about it was effective enough — I use it as a threat against myself.

    It is hard, because there is a lot of good in staying connected, but it isn’t worth the tyranny to the rest of one’s life. I also think about my children — that while I’m feeling very “connected” and vibrant when I’m online, all they are seeing is their mama’s back. I don’t want to live like that.

    It is so interesting to me that no one has commented on these posts. I tried commenting on the first one re: Hamlet’s Blackberry, but it just made me too . . . tired. I wonder if other people have felt like that as well?

    1. Very good point about your kids only seeing Mama’s back – that’s something I think about too. I do try to keep the computer off except when they are sleeping or, like now, when they are outside wallowing in mud. I mean, I like to play outside, but not with porcine abandon like that!

  2. I haven’t read the book yet (waiting on it from the library), so I can’t comment on that directly, but I do occasionally make changes like you mention.

    Every six months or so I do an RSS feed purge. I find that I need to do it regularly or else things creep up and I suddenly have an out-of-control feed again.

    The other best thing I’ve done with my feed reader is sort feeds into folders. I’ve got a folder of highest, medium, and lowest priority feeds, as well as one for friends and one for “maybe.” I’ve also recently added a “hiatus” folder for blogs that are currently not publishing, but I want to hold onto in case they ever return. I find it very helpful to be able to start with my highest priority feeds (all six of them) and my friends (another six), and then move down the list as I have time. It’s freeing to me to be able to quickly get rid of the lower priority ones with one click if it’s getting too full without feeling like I’m permanently losing them like I would if I removed the feed entirely. The maybe folder is also helpful to me when I find a new feed I want to try – it makes it more obvious to me that it’s a trial run, and is it really worth adding to one of the regular folders?

    I do need to be better about focusing on feeds that meet my primary needs right now, rather than just ones that I find interesting, which gets pretty extensive.

    I’ve also been ruthless lately about unsubscribing from junk email and email newsletters because it was also a revelation to me about just how much time it took to delete each one individually. Auto-filters are also helping me with some emails as well and have definitely been worth the time investment to set them up.

    Not using tabs in my web browser would probably be very wise for me – I use them instead of bookmarks, and just keep certain sites always available and think I will reconsider this and maybe it will be more effective for me to discontinue using them.

    I absolutely need to stop checking email and Google Reader in the morning. You’re right, it is too easy and the time slips away.

    I’ve done the internet Sabbath before, and didn’t find it made that big of a difference for me and instead just really really annoyed me, but a lot of that may be a reaction to my very legalistic upbringing where we did a super strict Saturday Sabbath where it seemed like everything was forbidden. So I probably have some baggage there. 😉

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