I like birthdays and new year eves. They remind me to reflect on the ways I have been living. Though I should be thinking about my life more frequently, I am unnecessarily busy and distracted to be mindful. Hence I am glad that I am turning 39 tomorrow. I am using this opportunity for some introspection.
A quick glance at my life reveals that I need to be more productive. I need to read more, write more, and spend quality time with my family and friends. A deeper analysis of how I spend my time reveals that I spend considerable amount of time on my mobile phone reading news and watching YouTube videos. The challenge with YouTube is that Google tracks all my searches and recommends videos that are really hard not to watch. I was searching for sourdough starter on Amazon.com and my YouTube feed listed a video on sourdough recipe, searched for a lens and there was a video on its review on YouTube, looked up phone specifications and YouTube is pointing me to a channel of that phone brand. I can list several such examples. Carrying a phone that is connected to highspeed internet that knows me through my search history and emails is a perfect recipe for getting trapped by advertisements and YouTube videos.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my smartphone. It has made my life so much easier. The interface makes it easy to store new contacts, search for and message people. It is very easy to set recurring alarms, setup appointments on my calendar, search and listen to music, look up recipes, etc..Sadly, all of this has come to me at a cost. I am not present. I get sucked into my phone and lose time. Though I do not have any social media accounts, news websites and YouTube keep me sufficiently distracted. Capitalism is conspiring against me to take everything human in my life away from me and make money off of meas as result. However, I don’t want to give up. It is time to make a serious attempt to reclaim my life. There are ways to do so. Cal Newport’s book Deep Work helped me complete my dissertation last year. I have now been trying to implement the principles listed in his new book – Digital Minimalism
I now have a communication charter. Day by day I have been reducing my interaction with my smartphone. I am leaving my smartphone back at home and carrying a small feature phone with me so that my family can reach me during emergencies. One of my primary reasons to carry a smartphone was my habit of listening to podcasts and audiobooks. I now use an mp3 player and Podsilo application to sync my podcasts. Interface is not as snappy as my smartphone, but I am happy. Fortunately my work does not depend on checking emails or messages of any kind on my mobile device.
On my smartphone, I have uninstalled all the apps that can keep me hooked. I have turned off notifications for my emails and WhatsApp. As I commute to campus by bicycle, I don’t need to access maps or taxi apps regularly. However, I will need to access my smartphone when I travel and I am fine with that compromise. On an average, I travel once every two months.
When I don’t carry my smartphone, I turn to my laptop for distractions. I refresh my email accounts and news websites with I am scheduling activities such as checking emails and visiting news websites. When Notre Dame caught fire, Ubisoft made Assassin Creed Unity free for few days. When I visited the website I also ended up buying and installing Anno 1800. I am not a video game person and I spent three full days building cities. That only made me gain empathy for video game addicts. These are designed to be addictive. The best way probably is to to avoid them altogether, particularly when you are single and have no real responsibilities on a daily basis. Now I have uninstalled both the games on all my machines.
Apart from minimizing my smartphone use, I also want to increase the amount of time I meditate. I want to meditate daily, at least for 30 minutes and increase that duration to an hour by the end of ten weeks. I have been following the principles laid out by Culadasa in the book “The Mind Illuminated”
For next ten weeks, I will post a weekly summary of the challenges of my practice and my struggles. I am also traveling most of June and during that time I need to minimize my smartphone use and stick to my practice. I am looking forward to reclaiming my life.