Taming the Tech

Recently I heard a public service announcement in which people were urged to turn off their faucets while brushing their teeth. I thought, Really? People still do this, and need to be told not to? But maybe when it comes to conservation, there is still some low-hanging fruit we need to be going for. This week I listened to Krista Tippett's outstanding interview with Sherry Turkle, who wrote Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (haven't read it but it's on my list).  Turkle writes about technology and its impact on our mental and interpersonal (and I would say spiritual) health. I got a lot out of this program---learned a few things, came to understand other things in a new way.

That said, I am pretty plugged in to tech and social networks, and I examine my habits constantly. Constantly. And I have a number of practices that work well for me in terms of taming the tech. I offer them, though they feel a little like the "no water while toothbrushing" thing in that they aren't particularly new or novel. But maybe they will help someone who feels like their life is being taken over by The Machines.

1. Silence the ding. That is, turn off the notification that sounds whenever you receive an e-mail. I'm as trigger-happy as the next person when it comes to checking e-mail, but I made this change several years ago and have never looked back. Do you really need to read an e-mail the moment it arrives?

By the way, there are people who will say "Yes, actually I do need to read e-mail the moment it arrives." Congratulations. You're one of the unlucky indispensable ones.

2. Answer yesterday's e-mail today. E-mail can take all your time if you let it. I batch all my e-mail from the previous day and answer it in one fell swoop. It gets me into a groove and allows me to dispatch with stuff very easily. Urgent stuff gets answered immediately, of course... but most things aren't urgent and can wait. Not only that, but sometimes e-mails sent to a group will get resolved without your intervention at all. Win!

One note about this: for this to work without getting unwieldy, you really do need to make a deal with yourself that you will handle all of the yesterday mail, even if that means adding something to your to-do list.

3. Set up a Facebook list for your closest friends. We probably all have friends on Facebook that we're happy to be connected with, but we don't want to monitor every last one of them each day. I set up a list that's a subset of people whose statuses I want to see in my feed. I almost never scroll through the full list of FB friends anymore. It cuts down on my FB time, and I think it's a nice antidote to the dynamic of having many many weak ties rather than a smaller number of true-blue friends.

As a failsafe, however, I do check Top News from time to time, which often flags the big stuff that I might have missed. A status update that generated 30 comments, for example, is something I want to know about, whether it's a new baby, the loss of a pet, or just something to tickle the funny bone.

4. One sentence journal. I've been blogging in different venues for going on 8 years now, so I'm a big fan of that longer-form communication. But it is fun to find ways to share one's thoughts in 140 characters (or 420 in the case of FB). It's like haiku for the 21st century.

But not every passing thought needs to be shared with the world. If you find yourself with stuff to say that isn't Facebook-worthy, keep a one-sentence journal. I started this at the beginning of the year and it's really fun. And easy. And unlike Facebook, which effectively disappears after a time, the journals can last forever.

5. Filter the e-mail. Both my work e-mail and home e-mail come into the same program, just in different boxes. So I've set up a "day off" filter for my work e-mail that sorts them into an obscure folder that I have to scroll waaaaay down to get to. Not that I don't do that sometimes, even on my day off. But it reduces the tendency to check it unconsciously (or consciously), because you can't even see it without going to look for it.

6. Digital Sabbath. I think one of the best things you can do is walk away for a while. I take the weekend off from Facebook and Twitter and tend to my relationships with the people right in front of me. This means I still monitor e-mail (but usually don't respond), and I will see what's interesting in my Google Reader, but I don't do much else.

How do I do this practically? I actually remove the Facebook and Twitter apps from my phone so they aren't even there to tempt me, and reinstall them on Monday morning. And, big duh, I turn off the computer, or if the computer needs to be on, I'll set up Self Control to block troublesome sites so it's not even an issue.

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What do you do to tame the tech?