My Relationship With Gadgets and Apps

Steve’s _IMG_3032

Gadgets of one form or another have been a constant in my life, I’m drawn to them in a way that I can’t fully explain, but there’s a constant niggling voice in my head encouraging me to give in to my desire to buy, to tweak, to enhance, to play. For most of my life I was happy with the way that gadgets shaped my life until I started to confront the overflowing boxes in the loft, the shelves in the garage, the mess of cables snaking around my desk and TV chair, concrete evidence of my addiction.  I started to see the financial impact and then more recently the psychological impact.  I started to see how gadgets fuelled social media and email addiction, provided ready access to mindless games, and one click shopping.

Last year I forced myself to stop buying anything, no new gadgets entered my life and I was surprised to find that my life improved, I grew more attached to the gadgets I already had, I appreciated them more, my lust for new and better decreased.  Every month when ‘Stuff’ magazine dropped through the letter box I thought of reading it as essential research for work, I was browsing things that I would never buy for myself. Most of what I saw I just considered evidence of how dysfunctional we were becoming as a society, happy to invest billions in useless ‘stuff’ that would soon be in landfill (or boxes in the loft) while billions of people were starving.

This year I’ve started to look at the gadgets that I still own more closely, at the apps that I use, when I use them, how long I spend using them, what value they add to my life, how compulsively I use them, how much duplication I see.  It’s not a pretty picture.

My first change was to delete the games that occupied my down time, Drop 7 has gone, so has Sudoku, then I withdrew from Facebook, I still have an account with email notifications enabled, but it has no presence on any gadgets.  Then I moved email off the home screen, out of sight, out of mind.  Next up I disabled almost all notifications and I created a list for Twitter that contained only people I actually know.

My gadgets now have a new purpose in life: to help me manage my time, and health, and get more out of my day; to provide focused (curated) reading, and listening experiences; to encourage me to get out into the real world and enjoy it; to update my diary and share real world experiences with my friends and family through photos, to keep in touch with my family through text messages and video.

My day has changed quite a bit: I block out major chunks of each day with focus tasks in Todoist ,which is one of the few apps allowed to notify me on my phone; all discovery of content is now done once a day using my highly tuned RSS reader, all reading is done in distraction free reading environments like Kindle and Instapaper, social media interaction is focused on Instagram once or twice a day, I don’t look at work email until after 12am and I don’t have it on my phone or tablet; I check personal email twice a day.  Even though I love podcasts and audio books I spend at least an hour a day walking without anything intruding on my thoughts.

I’ve noticed quite significant changes, my brain feels much calmer, more open to new ideas, lacking the constant drip, drip, of interruptions I’m more focused, more serene. I feel as if I can enter a meditative state with just one or two breaths. 

There’s still a long way to go though, I still find it difficult to read a book for more than 15 minutes at a time and I regularly reject any Instapaper article that will take more than a minute to read.  I’m still going to invest in new gadgets, but with a purpose in mind, to help me achieve my objectives in life:

  1. Write for myself (wiring is very therapeutic and I want to do it most days)
  2. Read a factual book for an hour (I really want to spend more time deeply engaged in reading, my fitness reading habit is so solid that I don’t need to track it)
  3. Move around most of the day (no long periods sitting for me)
  4. Eat mostly whole foods (obviously)
  5. Drink mostly water (I need to kick my Diet Coke habit)
  6. Do Meditation, Yoga Nidra or listen to music (obviously)
  7. Spend time with friends and family and hug (obvious, but sadly not so easy as they grow up and get busier)
  8. Be kind and do good deeds (worth the daily reminder)
  9. Stretch and do strength exercises throughout the day (sadly I still need reminding)
  10. Go to new places, learn new things (all too lacking in my life)
  11. Draw (one of my key habits to establish this year)
  12. Make a difference at work (obviously, but really making a difference is harder than it might seem)
  13. Improve the house or garden (very rewarding)

I’m writing this post in Caffe Nero, it’s my haven, it background hum of ‘quiet’ chatter makes me feel connected to the real world while also allowing me to be focused and distraction free.  I’m in the window seat, looking out at a blue sky and contemplating a walk in the dunes later, so I’ve chosen a photo of the beach a few minutes walk away.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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