Mindfulness and the Machine

Simply Being App
This is something I have been thinking about for a while, borne mostly out of my own bad habits of being "connected" and "online" for most of my waking hours. I suspect I am not alone. I love technology and I love it's capacity to provide instant information (and gratification) at the click of the button. In many ways technology allows me to be hyper-efficient - emails responded to quick smart, meeting minutes created and shared on the spot, sharing or rather over sharing every magic moment, meal and milestone instantly. In my teaching I was an exuberant early adopter of technology, embracing the way that it allowed me to make learning available 24/7, supported young people to share and publish rather than simply "hand in" work. When I am not teaching I am learning via this hyper connectivity, reading articles, blogposts, watching TED talks and connecting with educators around the globe via Twitter and Google+. When not learning, I am still online, shopping (ebay, Amazon and a Paypal account make it way too easy) or I am indulging in my passion for design and interiors, stalking folk on Instagram and creating mood boards for imaginary second, third, forth careers as a stylist, nutritionist and all round satorialwhore. In the fleeting moments left over I do manage Yoga once or twice a week, face to face offline sit down dinners with my family and read on yet another device - my Kindle. And I love it. I love the connections made, I feel like I learn constantly and get a huge amount of enjoyment from sharing as well. I genuinely believe our lives can be enhanced and definitely believe learning is enhanced and supported through this access to technology. 

But at what cost?

What are we missing whilst trapped in the magnetic glow of a laptop, tablet or increasingly our smartphones. One thing I have become increasingly aware of is the fact that I struggle to put down my device. My iPhone is more often than not glued to my palm, it's crappy battery life sending me into irrational panic attacks as I worry I might be forced to go offline - my God, how will I cope?! I also check, compulsively and mindlessly: my inbox, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram - what do I think I am missing in the five or so minutes that passed?? And what am I really missing as a result? Children are excellent at identifying the issue with my 9 and 10 year old daughters often pointing out that I am always on "that thing". I am also increasingly aware that I kid myself that I can effectively multitask and think I can conduct conversations with my kids and husband whilst staring zombie like at my LCD lover. And it's not just me. We are all doing it in this household. Whilst I'll admit I am the ultimate recidivist offender I do also note that it's increasingly common for all four of us to be subtly lit from below whilst pretending to watch "reality" TV. Zombie TV habits to support our zombie online surfing, or in the case of my three amigos, zombie game playing. I have also started to become aware of pretending I am having an actual conversation with my children or husband as I grunt and stare at the screen. My lucky family get to live with the lazy stereotype of a teenage boy - not ideal, I mean there's good reason for teenage boys not being Mums (no offence teenage boys...although I suspect you being part of my readership is slim). And it's not just my at home behaviour that is beginning to disturb me. It's the checking of my phone at traffic lights...it's not like I'm driving is it. Or the poor manners that have crept into my catching up with friends, family and colleagues - don't mind me, I'm just ignoring you whilst I just check my Facebook. Okay more like my Facebook, Inbox, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, weather....and if you are really lucky I might even photograph my food and share it with the world. It appears my online habits have eroded something I hold dear, my manners.

So what now? They say recognising you have a problem is the first step to recovery. Step one nailed.

For me the next step is where the mindfulness comes in. Mindfulness is enjoying a genuine renaissance in the western world, both in the business and education worlds and I suspect it is no coincidence that this is occurring at the same time that we are reaching saturation point in terms of our technology use. Just as we have seen the "slow" movement grow as the pace of life increases to points of ridiculousness, so too are we seeing mindfulness come to the fore just as our behaviours become increasing mindless. However, I don't believe it needs to be about being overly reactive and shunning technology, I believe it is simply about being more mindful about how we make the best use of the technology. Excuse the sexist trash talk, but it really is time to ensure that technology is my bitch, not the other way around. This isn't about foregoing technology at all, in fact technology is incredibly powerful and closing the digital divide needs to be a huge priority. It is simply about ensuring that technology is supporting my attempts to be a well-rounded successful human being and not thwarting it by sucking my into it's digital void.

So how how can we ensure we have a more mindful relationship with technology? Well I am employing a range of strategies. Maybe it's the English teacher in me, but the first step has been reading up on mindfulness, Thrive by Arianna Huffington has been particularly powerful as it helps to hear from someone whose perspective is aligned to mine, someone who embraces technology and someone who has always relished being a hyper busy "yes" person (admitted she has took this to the next level somewhat...). I really enjoyed the way Huffington speaks from experience, names the elephants in the room and then suggests ways we might challenge the status quo. A highly recommended read.

The second way I am tackling my marriage to the machine is by putting in place a few ground rules: switching off by 7.30-8.00 at night, leaving my phone in my handbag at cafes and restaurants (any friends reading this, feel free to call me on this one) and having technology free holiday time (I head to Kawau on Wednesday and plan to stay offline until the following Wednesday). This may not sound like much for some, but for me this is a big healthy step in the right direction. I am also working on my acts of conscious mindfulness when using my devices as well and actually thinking about what I am doing, working on doing one thing at a time, mindfully, rather than jumping between tabs, skimming, scanning constantly - easy said than done, believe me.

I am also looking at developing my mindfulness practices in other ways. I already do Yoga a couple of times of week, I am looking to add to this regular walks with my kids and dogs (sans phone) and fortnightly sessions with a personal trainer (believe me it's impossible to be anywhere but in the moment when you are being forced to work out that hard). The cost of the trainer has been covered by giving up my daily takeaway coffee (yet another mindless behaviour I realised I wasn't really even enjoying).

The final way I am working on my mindfulness is, rather ironically, is by using a mindfulness app. The app 'Simply Being' is beautifully simplistic, offering 5, 10, 15 or 20 minutes guided meditation supported by voice and music or voice only. I am doing five minutes a night just sitting cross legged on my bed with the aim of working up to 20 minutes over the next few weeks. It is amazing what five minutes of simply doing nothing can achieve - well worth a try.

And it's not just my habits I am concerned about, as a Mum and as an educator I really do worry about their generation, at least we know another way of operating. I believe mindfulness and mindful use of technology is something that needs to be taught and modelled (hence wanting to change my own behaviours). I don't buy in to the rhetoric that BYOD stands for Bring Your Own Distraction, I believe technology must be available to all students, just as long we commit to supporting them to manage themselves at the same time. It's important to acknowledge that teenagers with devices are like labradors with food, they ain't going to stop gorging themselves unless you stop them (for the most part). Mindfulness in and of itself has a real place in our curriculum, increasingly we hear about schools who adopt mindfulness programmes and see all kinds of improved outcomes. It's also about teaching manners, maybe that what we need in schools - Mindfulness, Manners and Machines 101.

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