Thursday, March 27, 2014

Mindfulness at MISSION BE


MISSION BE is a non-profit organization that teaches mindfulness in schools. Their students learn how to de-stress, focus and regulate their emotions. The results are reflected in improved test scores, less bullying and a happier school community.

Their programs include 8-week mindfulness implementation curricula in both the elementary and high school levels. The high school curriculum integrates mindful technology into several of their relevant sub-topics such as Mindfulness and the Brain, Mindful Choices and Mindful and Unmindful Behavior.

One topic “Be Present” recently included the inclusion of technology.

Some examples of the way mindful media practices are integrated start with some initial questions about the student’s own awareness and mindfulness about their technology use.  In parentheses I’ve included some of the terms and consequences of these behaviors with technology.  Some of these include:

  1. Do you experience angst and panic when you can’t find your phone? (This could be Nomophobia)
  2. Do you fee physical anxiety when you haven’t checked your phone in awhile? (This could be due to dopamine decrease)
  3. Do you use it right before you go to sleep and/or check it in the middle of the night? (Compromised sleep/Sleep deprivation)
  4. How often do you check your phone during the day? (Some teens check it up to 150 times)
  5. How many different windows and APPS do you open in an hour while doing homework? (Myth of Multi-Tasking)
  6. How often do you leave one task for another? How long does it take you to come back to original task? (Rapid Task Switching)

Students are then given a variety of statistics about teen technology use that helps them compare their own behaviors to the norm. It is up to them, then, to determine if they feel they have a problem and if they’d like to change the behavior.

A couple of key strategies to begin with include tech breaks, screen-free zones, and putting the phone in another room at bedtime.

TECH BREAKS are a specified amount of time when you will not use your phone. Many classrooms have the students put their phones upside down on their desks for anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. At the designated time, students may take a tech break and check their phones. Students may also practice this when they are studying, when they with friends (who agree to do the same thing) and family dinners at home or at a restaurant.

SCREEN FREE ZONES are areas in the house or school where there are no screens available. This allows students time without digital stimulation which calms the brain. It is a time to practice either mindfulness or emptiness. Much research shows that the quiet brain actually has more brain activity than the stimulated brain. This is a time for synthesis, creativity and original thought.

NO PHONE IN BEDROOM allows for a much more productive and restful sleep. The light emitted from screens before bed disrupts sleep patterns. The temptation to use the phone right before going to sleep stimulates rather than calms the brain, and the temptation to pick up a phone in the middle of the night further disrupts the sleep. If one looks at the phone in the middle of the night, they may find themselves on social media sites, answering texts, or watching YouTubes which can become addictive night after night.

These are just some of the areas that technology can be integrated into any mindfulness curriculum, and it is also very relevant to their lives. Through these applications students will have more access to other mindfulness practices.

I hope more schools will adopt MISSION BE’s curriculum and philosophy for it is one to be replicated!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Candy Crush Phenomenon

I don’t usually coincide a blog post with an IPO, but the popular, and quite addictive, game Candy Crush Saga’s company, King is going public tomorrow, Wednesday, March 25. It was just by happenstance, as I was doing my research, that this caught my eye. I had never heard of Candy Crush, mostly because I do not play online games, but after hearing of the IPO, I decided to investigate. Online Gaming Addiction is as real as other types of Internet Addiction, and when the games are violent, they can be even more harmful.

Candy Crush is not violent, though, and it is the most popular Facebook game, recently surpassing Farmville 2. With over 500 million downloads, earning $900,000 a day, Candy Crush is a bit of an anomaly. There are some investors who question it’s staying power, but for now it is number one.

Online gaming is popular for many reasons, but the top three appear to be escapism, social interaction and constant rewards. Candy Crush has all of these, as well as a slow and steady pace, the right level of difficulty, with levels that gradually increase, and Freemium. It is free to start, but if you’d like to purchase another chance or a few more tries, you can do so for as little as $.99, each time. The intricacies of the game create a compulsion loop with its ease of access, random rewards, enforced withdrawal and constant progress. This is the same loop that triggers dopamine in other aspects of technology like the ding of a text or notification, multiple sensory action, and likes on an Instagram.

In order to write about Candy Crush, I needed to experience it for myself. I downloaded the APP one night and began to play. I realize that I am impatient with technology, so I didn’t really read the rules. I moved up levels at first, but I didn’t really understand the game. Once I read some of the rules and the “cheats,” I became more adept. Could this be addicting? One night I learned that it could be.

I decided to see what it was like to start playing the game when I woke up in the middle of the night, as research. I progressed through ten levels quite quickly until I reached Level 23. I was aware of my behavior, but I was also testing out the addictive qualities of the game. When one tries to master a level too many times, they run out of lives and have to wait an allotted amount of time before playing again. For the sane person at 2 am that would be a signal to turn it off and go to sleep, but since this was research, I spent the $.99 and received more lives. Level 23 is very hard. I did not succeed, so I spent another $.99. At the end of those lives, having not succeeded, I decided my research could afford one more $.99 purchase, but after I failed again, I turned the game off and went back to sleep, after being awake for over 2 hours of "research."

As I read about others' experiences with the game, I understood some of these comments. One woman said, “Like a patient with a severe disease, I played one level after the other causing me to skip meals, deprive myself of sleep, abuse my eyes, and bother others for "life" and "ticket"” There was a more extreme tale from another who spent $236 in one day attempting to move up the levels. She wrote,  “And if you have yet to touch Candy Crush, please, for your own sake, don't. Let this be a cautionary tale, and continue living your life, unencumbered by the beckoning call of oh-so-satisfying exploding candy. It's not worth it.”

Researchers of online game addiction concur with these personal stories "Constant rewards, whether it be leveling up or finding a rare item, gives players a constant sense of progress... These constant rewards not only cause players to continue to their next goal, but spark the same pleasure center that other addictions feed off of."

A couple of days ago I wrote on my own Facebook page, "I'm writing a blog entry on Candy Crush, especially since it's going public this week.”

  1. Do you play, and what has been your experience?
  2. Do you feel there are beneficial/positive aspects of it?
  3. Do you think there are downsides to it?
My friends who responded had either “Never played. No desire,” or “Play, but do not pay," and "I never pay... and now am stuck on a hard level and cannot get by without a purchase and I won't budge on that... so I have lost interest in the game completely." What was more interesting from some was the fact that they knew others who may have an addiction. “My cousin is on a level in the 500s and that just strikes me as odd – how long did it take to get there – I guess she’s been playing since it started?” Another friend wrote, “I think there should be a few interventions…not naming names,” insinuating that Candy Crush can be a problem for some, which is not surprising given its success. One friend admitted that she gave it up for Lent, and another had never heard of it, but thought she’d check it out. Uh Oh!

It will be interesting to follow the IPO tomorrow into its initial months to see if the phenomena continues especially since it’s revenue has increased 1000% in a year.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Oops... Phone in Toilet

Have you ever dropped your cell phone in the toilet, only to hear that horrifying splash. Stunned, you grab it out of the water in a total panic that is similar to Nomophobia, or “No Mobile Phone Phobia.” If you have you’re part of a large statistic with 1 in 5 people having dropped it in the course of their cell phone owning history.

I have, and in some miraculous stroke of fate my phone survived. Once it dropped, I quickly grabbed it out, in utter disbelief. I was at Wisdom 2.0 in San Francisco, away from home, away from my 16 year old daughter. And, I was at a convention where I needed to be able to communicate with my convention buddy. Who was saving which seat? Where were we sitting? At what time were we meeting at Starbucks for coffee?I turned the phone off, blew it dry on low heat, and prayed for the best. When I turned it back on, I could text, but I couldn’t call, and the camera light wouldn’t turn off. At the end of the evening, I plugged it in to charge and hoped for the best. To my disbelief, it turned on the next morning, and it worked perfectly. I didn’t have to go to Verizon in San Francisco, use a coveted upgrade, and reprogram my phone. Phew.

Fast forward a month later during my digital diet, and on a Friday night I broke my commitment to leave my phone in the kitchen, and put it by my bed. When I woke up at 5:30 am Saturday morning, I saw the familiar blue Facebook notifications, and impulsively looked at my phone, even though I’d promised myself I wouldn’t.

On the screen were the first words of the text from my 21-year-old daughter posted at 4:48 am, 1:48 her time in California:

“hi mom i’m so sorry by my
phone feel into the toilet and it
won’t work, it is still on but
the screen won’t work at all so I
backed it up and turned it off

…but before you react, just
remember that you have done
this a couple of times and it’s
vital for me to have a phone.”

How could I react (and this is where the mindfulness piece comes in) after I’d dropped my own phone only a month earlier. The cost of a replacement; the internal reaction to her reactivity for stress is contagious, and my empathy for her frustration flew through my brain, but I took several deep breaths. I knew I had an upgrade she could use, and I completely understood her need for a phone. She did experience the panic and anxiety of nomophobia, but we realized Facebook has a very valuable purpose besides it’s general social media role. We were able to communicate via Facebook message, though she was worried that she didn’t have an alarm clock to make it to her appointment at the Apple store; she didn’t have her GPS available, and she had no way to communicate with me besides FB messaging on her computer. Add on top of that it is spring vacation, and all of her roommates are out of town. She was virtually alone without a phone, but not for long.

One of the perks of this late night was the manner in which our conversation moved from talk about the phone to talk about her life. What I realized is we have deeper “conversations” via text/written message than phone ones. The interesting this is that I find the same to be true with my younger 16 year old.  I began to think about the preference for text over phone call, and the research supports it. 63% of teens text every day as opposed to 39% who call on their cell phone.  In a recent article, “Texting on mobile phones has dethroned actual voice call when it comes to connecting.” I’m curious to see how we communicate with teens in the future, or if this is a phenomena specific to my relationship with my daughters.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Bring Back Boredom

 We need the slogan, “Bring Back Boredom,” claims Dr. Michael Rich when he speaks of the impact technology is having on our brains. Do we allow ourselves the chance to occupy a moment of boredom without turning toward a digital device?

How often have you gone to Starbucks, a restaurant or a bar by yourself, either to wait for someone or to dine alone? Do you look at your phone when you are waiting? I do, all the time, but I began to wonder if this constant need for connectivity interferes with my ability to be present with myself. How often do people spend alone time on their phone, not because they are working or communicating, but because they are bored, unaccustomed to being without stimulation? I am pretty sure that if I did not have my head down intently looking at my phone, I would be able to have a conversation with someone around me if I wanted to, but what about when we are completely alone?

“Think of sitting quietly in a spartan room. There are no TVs, computers, smartphones, books, magazines or music,” states Aran Levasseur in his article, “Why we Need to Teach Mindfulness in a Digital Age.” He supposes that most would think this was an environment for boredom. The highly connected technological world we live in has made many boredom averse, but what if we need boredom in counteract the adverse effects of our over-connectivity.

Recent brain imaging studies reveal that the brain is highly active during times when there is no external stimulus to the brain. The brain needs to be bored, quiet, still in order to memorize, synthesize and innovate. When the brain is stimulated all of the time, there is no space nor room for creativity, for unique thought, or for presence with oneself. Dr. Michael Rich states in a 2010 NY Times article that “Downtime is to the brain what sleep is to the body.”

One of the problems in today’s world of high media consumption is that our brains are becoming addicted to the amount of information and stimulus provided by the digital arena. The average American consumes 40 gigabytes of content and 150,000 words every day. When we “consume” data to this degree, we develop a chemical dependence on it because the dopamine from the text message notification or the high speed of the video game creates a “high,” and the brain seeks more stimulation when the dopamine level decreases, not less stimulation.

Downtime without media distractions, or boredom, becomes all the more important, but much harder for many to tolerate in this era. Tolerance for this lack of stimulation to the brain becomes one of the goal of mindfulness practice. Formal practice with 20, 10 and even 5 minute meditations helps train the brain to quiet and calm, but there are several informal mindfulness practices that can accomplish the same thing.

How often are we silent without a digital device or external stimulation including other people? We could take a solo walk in nature without the iPod. We could drive in the car without talking on the phone or listening to the radio. Sitting at the kitchen table with a cup of tea and staring out the window is one way to unwind, and working in the garden, pulling weeds is another.

The next time you are bored, feeling like you are not doing anything, recognize the fact that your brain is more active at this moment than many other moments of activity or stimulation during the day. Your brain needs to be bored just as much as it needs to sleep, and children and teens need it even more.

Friday, March 21, 2014

"Finding Huck Finn" Recap

“Finding Huck Finn: Reclaiming Childhood from a River of Electronic Streams” was a talk by Michael Rich, a Mediatrician and Director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital. The Center for Parents and Teachers sponsored it along with the Concord Middle School PTG. The focus was on the technological world our children, or our “Digital Natives” live in, and how parents and teachers can help them navigate this world with mindfulness and discernment. They need the adults’ help and guidance, just as they need guidance and boundaries around the other areas of their lives.

Using the acronym MEDIA, Rich relayed the findings of multiple research studies with suggestions for media/technology use.

Media Matters: The message matters. All media is entertainment, which is not what many people think. They divide media as educational and entertainment, but kids learn from all media. The lessons they learn can be healthful or harmful.

Environment Matters: Encourage your teens to use media in common spaces. It helps the parent stay involved as well as the ability to observe task switching between homework and games, Facebook, and other distracting sites. Screen free mealtimes are encouraged as well as keeping all screens from television to cell phones out of their bedrooms. Screens can be very disruptive to needed sleep.

Developmental Stage Matters: Until their late20s, teens do not have fully developed pre-frontal lobes, which provides future thinking and impulse control. The more adults can help them think critically about their decisions the better. They can also be taught to approach their digital devices more mindfully and pay attention to when they switch between different applications, unconsciously.

Information Matters: Be a media role model and use media and technology the way you want your teens to use it For example, if you want screen free zones and times of day, be sure you adhere to the same guidelines. Teaching teens to evaluate their use of media and to think critically about the content is very important to their health.

Amount Matters: Teens should spend no more than 2 hours with screen media each day. Research shows that higher amounts are associated with negative health and development outcomes, like lower grades, poorer body image, and increased aggressive behavior. Rich suggests discussing all the activities a teen wants to complete in a day, instead of a punitive restriction of technology time. The more tasks they can complete media free or with focused media use the better. These include homework, sports and exercise, family meals, social time, and proper sleep.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Addicted to the "Like" Button?

Facebook Addiction is undeniable, but not inevitable.

In 2005 there were 1 million Facebook Users. Today there are 1.23 billion users. 757 million users log in daily, and there are 5 new profiles created every second. Every 60 seconds there are 510 comments posted, 293,000 statues updated, and 136,000 photos uploaded. And in one day there are 4.5 billion likes generated.

Why are some addicted to Facebook? Robert Morris, a PhD candidate at the MIT Media Lab, claims it is an unconscious act when he wants a break from work. “My Facebook habits were so ingrained that I would often find myself visiting the site and logging in well before I noticed any conscious intention to do so. I would be on Facebook, gorging on pet photos, stuck in some weird hypnotic trance, and it would be minutes or even hours before I realized I had no desire to be there in the first place.” I think many people can relate to Robert’s actions, but it doesn’t answer the question about “Why Facebook?”

In a German study, researchers found that one of the answers may be in the Nucleus Accumens which is a small structure in the brain that is responsible for reward processing including money, food, sex and gains in reputation. When Facebook added the thumbs up “like” button in 2009, the action of receiving a like, as well as comments, created a reward system with a positive feedback loop in the brain that activated the nucleus acumens. There is still much research to be done, but it links into a need for positive social connections and a positive reputation. The study found that “As human beings, we evolved to care about our reputation. In today’s world, one way we are able to manage our reputation is by using social media websites like Facebook.”

Whether Facebook overuse comes from distraction from another task, unconscious reaction, or reward seeking behavior, one can mindfully pay attention to their actions around Facebook. The first step in curbing a Facebook Addiction is observing your own behavior. There are several check lists, questionnaires and online quizzes to determine whether or not you have a problem. Some questions to ask yourself are:

  1. Have you tried to reduce the amount of time you spend on Facebook, or even tried to shut it off, and found you couldn’t?
  2. Do you feel the urge to use Facebook more and more?
  3. Do you find yourself less productive in your work and studies?
  4. Do you use Facebook as an escape from problems or stress in your life?
  5. Do you become restless or troubled if you cannot have access to Facebook?
  6. Do you find yourself constantly checking how many people like your posts?

If you answered yes to many of these questions, you might have a problem with Facebook, but recognizing the issue is the first step in making a change in your Facebook behaviors.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What about Facebook?

My blog started out as a way to chronicle my own interaction and behaviors with technology, and it has morphed into a broader examination of technology use by adults and teens, much of which is cause for at least some concern.

For the next few entries, I plan to focus Facebook in general. The research shows many types of issues including: Facebook Addiction, Facebook Depression, and Facebook Narcissm.  And is there a type of Facebook Etiquette, or more specifically a mindful way to interact with Facebook?

My first question is, “Am I addicted to Facebook?” I do know that I have been working with my addiction to my iPhone, but I’m not sure about Facebook. I check it when I have a notification, but that notification does not “ding” on my phone. In general, I don’t spend a lot of time perusing my Feed, so I do not think this is one of my major issues with technology. I do have a friend who messaged me, “Help me! I think I’m addicted to Facebook.” For her and others, including teens, I will research Facebook Addiction, as well as suggest the solutions. The first, though, are two easy online quizzes: Quiz #1 And Quiz #2.

I had another friend talk to me about the depression she often feels on Facebook when she sees people on vacations and social events, having more fun than here. She is not alone in this complaint. Facebook Depression is real. I wonder if my posts trigger FB depression in others? Perhaps. I usually post more when I’m in California because I am usually with family members who other friends and family like to see. There are times, though, when I post pictures of the beautiful weather and scenery from my parents’ porch in the Bay Area. My friends on the other coast, “stuck” in the snow and cold on of winter may feel some envy.

Do these same posts reflect Facebook Narcism? Some researchers claim being a Meformer, instead of an Informer is a sign of Narcism. Are my posts mostly about “Me” and my life, or are they meant to inform others about a myriad of topics? These questions require further reflection combined with further research. They are certainly interesting to ponder.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Positive Twist on Teens and Technology

Don Tapscott is a one of the leading authorities on innovation, media and the economic and social impact of technology, and his view on teens and technology is optimistic, encouraging and affirming.

In 1997 when I took over as the Director of Academic Technology at The Fenn School, I read several books on the impact technology was projected to have on education, youth and society. Tapscott’s, Growing up Digital became my favorite along with Nicholas Negroponte’s BeingDigital. What I remember still from my readings 17 years ago was Tapscott’s belief that the Net Generation was going to think and create differently, and we needed to harness that.

As I have been observing my own behavior with technology, mindful at times, mindless at others, I began to wonder what Don Tapscott thinks today. He published Grown  Up Digital in 2008 with the sub-title, How the Net Generation is Changing Your World. That feels like a long time ago in technology years when the iPhone only appeared in 2007. 

In my quest to find out what Don thinks today, I found this short interview that says it all. Today I leave this short clip for your reflection, and I will follow up tomorrow on some questions I have for Don.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Nomophobia aka No Mobile Phone Phobia

Nomophobia, or “No Mobile Phone Phobia” is a term that was created in 2008 when a UK online study found that 66% of their research group was terrified of being without their phones, and 77% of those were between 18-24. It is known to cause physical side effects like anxious feelings, shortness of breath, dizziness, trembling or chest pain.  In a 2013 Australian study, 9 out of every 10 people aged under 30 admitted to suffering from nomophobia.

What does this mean for us? For our children? What can be done about this dependence on a digital device that could be creating intense anxiety along with attentional and focus issues. What happens when a student arrives at school without her phone? Will she be able to proceed with her day, or will she need to leave school to get her phone. Many teens and young adults admitted to going back home when they realized they forgot their phone, at the risk of being late for work or class. 
Some questions to ask yourself about nomophobia, and then your children:
  1. Do you feel anxious if your cellphone isn't nearby?
  2. Does just the thought of losing your phone make your heart pound?
  3. Do you keep an extra phone on hand in case your primary one breaks?
  4. Do you take your phone to bed with you, fearful of being away it?
If you answered yes to some of these questions, there are strategies for counteracting these symptoms, but it requires mindfulness and a desire to change the reactivity. The first thing to do is recognize when you are having these symptoms and apply a mindfulness practice such as STOP that I learned from Mary Ann Christie Burnside. Stop. Take a breath. Observe your physical sensations, your emotions and your thoughts. Proceed with a calmer, more aware mindset.

Some logistical things to do include carrying a power cord or charger with you, keeping a list of phone numbers in a place separate from your phone, and making sure your phone is currently backed up.

Other things you can do is prepare yourself to have less of a reaction when you don't have your phone.
  1. You can imagine being without the phone. Imaging helps prepare for the real situation.
  2. Start by turning the phone off once a week. Then increase the frequency and length of time the phone is shut off. 1 in 2 people admit to never turning their phones off.
  3. Leave your phone off or away from you for short amounts of time, and then build up to longer amounts of time.
  4. Technology Sabbaths and Digital Diets are lengthier amounts of time you can be without your cell phone, as well as other technology. This will be a separate entry.
I'm happy to report that I have noticed changes in my own nomophobia in the short two weeks that I've been experimenting with this process. I find it is easier to do these things when I tell my daughters there will be periods of time that I don't have my phone anymore. They are so used to instantaneous communication, I realized, because I was always with my phone, often interrupting other conversations with others and activities to respond to them. I have inadvertently created an urgency around parenting communication due to the 24/7 availability. 

So now:
  1. I leave my phone in the car when I run errands rather than carry it with me. 
  2. I leave it at home when I go to yoga.  
  3. I leave it in my bag when I research and write, applying a tech break every 30 minutes of so.
  4. I leave it in my purse on silent when I go out with friends at night.
  5. I leave it in the kitchen overnight.
These may seem very obvious to those less addicted to their digital device as I am, but I'm very happy to report that each day it gets easier to be less connected.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Dangers of Digital Dementia

Do you turn to Google rather than your memory to recall a fact? Do you remember your family and friends’ phone numbers, or do you rely on your cell phone? Do you know how to get places, or do you just plug it into your GPS? Chances are you do or at least did recall information, memorize phone numbers and remember directions if you grew up without digital devices, but what about teens and young adults who did not?

Carolyn Brockington speaks of the impact technology is having on our short term memories in “Digital Dementia: The memory problem plaguing teens and young adults.” She reports that in a recent study it was found that 19% of the people between 18 and 39 report poor memories, and much of this is attributed to an over use or over reliance on technology.

Digital Dementia is not just about short term memory, though. With technology neuroscientists are seeing an imbalanced development of the brain where the left hemisphere is developing more than the right. Thus our rational, linear, and fact finding part is overshadowing the intuitive, imaginative and emotional part creating a lateralization of brain function.

In another article, Dr. Bradley Berg, medical director of pediatrics at Scott & White Hospital-Round Rock claims “If a person is constantly letting a computer think for them or are spending hours surfing the Internet, then they are not using their brain and, hence, their neural pathways are not stimulated,” he wrote in an email. “We know very well that neurons that are not used are pruned away.”

Dr. Manfred Spitzer’s, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist, findings are more dire. In Digital Dementia: What We and Our Children are Doing to our Minds, he suggests the minimum age for media consumption should be 15 to 18 years old. Though some of Spitzer’s recommendations appear to extreme to some other psychiatrists, many agree that limits need to be set. 

Technology is here to stay, so what do we do to save our brains, along with our children’s and students’ brains? Suggestions from several articles include:
  1. Have a face to face conversation. Don’t always text.
  2. Don’t google a fact that you can’t recall. Spend some time actually thinking about it.
  3. Read a “real” book. It challenges your brain in a different way than text on a screen.
  4. Exercise and spend time in nature. It brings oxygen to the brain as well as stimulates another part creating more balance.
  5. Write by hand.
  6. Most importantly limit screen time and create digital free zones in your home. Dinner table, bedroom, and study times are all suggestions.

 If you have children, though, and especially teens who have grown up without these limits, how to set limits and boundaries is a lengthier discussion and a topic for another blog.

Further Reading:

Saturday, March 15, 2014

iPhone upon Waking?

Eventually I will relay teenagers’ behaviors and make suggestions for helping them become aware and mindful of their own habits and patterns with their digital devices. For now, I am looking at my own, and then asking you the same questions. In order to make changes, we need to want to make changes. This may be harder for teenagers.

In one of Rosen's study's he found that 35% of Americans opened up smartphone apps, 18% checked Facebook, 23% used a web browser, and 24% checked email before getting out of bed in the morning. Those percentages seem low to me because I am someone who instinctually or impulsively checks her iPhone before getting out of bed in the morning, and often in the middle of the night when unable to fall back to sleep. 

Kelly McGonigal asks whether we check our phone first thing in the morning, and if we do could we set a reasonable goal to do something else instead. My first inclination was to make coffee, do some sun salutations, and meditate for 15 minutes, but that felt too hard to do first thing. Instead I’ve taken to writing ten reasons I am grateful in my gratitude journal. I am happy to report that I have done this three days in a row before checking my phone. Since I make coffee and write in the kitchen, I’ve taken to leaving my phone upstairs. At some point before making Olivia breakfast and driving her to school, I have checked my phone.

Do you check your phone in the middle of the night? Do you check it first thing in the morning? What could you do instead?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Socializing or Social Media

Multiple digital devices, too many windows open on your computer, and an overload of social media notifications can be very distracting when one is attempting to work, to focus, to write, and to produce, but what about when one is socializing, out to dinner with friends, at a cocktail party, or spending time with family?

One of the reasons that I am pursuing this line of inquiry is because I am often the one most attached to my phone in social settings. Why am I the one is another line of questioning entirely, but my initial thoughts are that I'm a non-linear over thinker. I've often described my thought patterns to mirror the Internet jumping from one idea to the next in attempts to regroup them in a new and original way. I think fast, talk fast, move fast, often forgetting to stop and appreciate the moment, or finish my thought or sentence. I'm a 7 on the Enneagram and an ENFP on the Myers Briggs, as well as self-diagnosed ADHD, and I think all of these contribute to the perfect storm of personality to be susceptible to technology overuse bordering on addiction. What this means is that I may be one of those people who needs more structure and support in order to detach.

Recently, a colleague told me that when his 24 year old daughter goes out to dinner with her friends, they all put their cell phones in the middle of the table, face down. The first person to reach for his phone pays the bill. I thought that was clever and unusual, until I heard the same story from two other people in the same week. It's an interesting idea, and yet I've not done it yet. I do leave my phone on silent in my purse now, rather than laying it on the bar or table when out.

I believe large gatherings or cocktail parties may be a little different depending on what you are wearing, but if you have a pocket for the phone, it can be all too tempting or even instinctual to look at social media or texts rather than socializing.

Initially, I found this New Yorker cartoon on the Wisdom 2.0 Facebook Page. Wisdom 2.0 was the conference I attended in San Francisco last month which prompted my current investigation of mindful media use. Wisdom 2.0 was the coming together of the tech and business communities with the wisdom communities to brainstorm, collaborate, and create a world more humane in the fast paced technology. In a simplified description: the CEOs of Google and Facebook meet Eckert Tolle and Jon Kabat-Zinn. The first step in addressing any perceived problems with technology is perceiving the problems. The following video reinforces the New Yorker cartoon, emphasizing that our society is aware that sometimes social media upstages those we are with socially. 

What do you think? I'd love to hear your comments!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Contemplative Computing

Contemplative Computing may sound like an oxymoron,” says Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, a futurist and scholar at Stanford University, “but it’s really quite simple. It’s about how to use information technologies and social media so they’re not endlessly distracting and demanding, but instead help us be more mindful, focused and creative.” In his book The Distraction Addiction he elaborates upon his ideas further, but in this post I will explore my own contemplative computing.

One of the first steps is metacognition. Rosen, in iDisorder, stated, “Metacognition is defined as being aware of your own mental processes and understanding your brain and you handle incoming information.” This rings a bell because it is how I taught reading comprehension to 7th and 8th graders at The Fenn School. I asked them, “How do you read? What do you think about when you read? Do you make personal connections? Do you relate it to what you’ve read in the past? When are you fully engaged in your reading, and when are you distracted? So in essence how does your brain work when you read?” Thus, like metacognition in reading, one can ask oneself how one’s brain works when using technology.  With these observations, we may begin to be able to make changes so that we are more focused and productive with fewer distractions.

It may take some time to identify the patterns, and they may differ according to the time of day, the task, and the type of digital device.

Today, I finished a section of my writing, and I realized that the font was too small, and I needed to make it larger. That movement from writing to formatting drew my attention to the other windows open on my computer. I felt the restlessness in my body as I wondered if anyone had viewed my blog since I tenuously posted it on Facebook yesterday. I realized it was a pretty big step to post my blog, opening myself up to compliment or criticism. I’ve written for years, but rarely posted anything I wrote. My young adult novel is still in manuscript form, and though I’ve sent it to several friends, I’ve never shared it via social media. There was some anxiety in my stomach as I made the decision not to check. I resisted the urge to minimize my word screen to log into my blogger site, and I then maximized my word screen, so as not to be tempted by other open windows on the Internet.

What do you notice about your brain when you work on a task? Do you ever find yourself instinctively, without awareness, opening another window to check email or look something up? Do you find your fingers move from your keyboard to your phone, just to glance at it quickly before realizing what you are doing? I do, and this awareness is definitely needed before any changes can be made, but I also need to ask myself, “Do you know why you want to make a change?” My answer today is yes. I’d like to be more productive, more focused, with greater metacognition. It's going to be a process, or better yet a practice, just like yoga and meditation. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Pitfalls of Multitasking

Unlike yesterday when my computer was dead, and I had no choice but to take analog, or pen and paper notes both in the margins and in my notebook, today I chose to work on my computer. I started out reading my notes from yesterday, and began to think about multitasking. Once again Larry Rosen in iDisorder has interesting information claiming, “Research is fairly clear that performing one task at a time is much better than performing multiple tasks simultaneously (which is really just rapid task switching” (207). Today, I was able to open multiple windows as I read my notes to check on the actual articles mentioned in iDisorder. Though Rosen spoke about students when he said, “students had more windows open on their computer lost more focus on their studying,” I chose to apply it to myself.

With my iPhone facedown on the table next to me at Starbucks, I implemented the Tech Break 15 minute rule. After reading Rosen’s findings about multi-tasking, I pondered the best way to conduct my research this morning. Since my topic was multi-tasking, I decided to skim the article, “The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Multitasking in a High-Stress Information Environment,” a study conducted by four different professors. They introduce the study with the following statement, “Multitasking is a widespread phenomenon in today’s information-saturated world, and there is considerable concern about its negative consequences for both personal health and effectiveness.” After skimming I returned to the beginning and read the entire article on line. When I came upon an expert, a study, or a reference I wanted to check out, I noted the page, but I continued to read, re-skimming information not pertinent to my inquiry today.

At one point, when the reading wasn’t as applicable to my focus, I felt the urge to check my phone. Unsure of how long I’d been reading, I picked it up to learn it had been 25 minutes. I then spent 5 minutes answering a text, checking my emails, and looking at the weather. Why do I look at the weather? It may be that I grew up with a mother who constantly mentioned the weather. Now when she calls me, from California, the first thing she frequently asks is, “How is the weather?” Why do we do this? We can’t do anything about the weather, but I suppose it gives us something to look forward to if the forecast is sunnier and warmer than the current day, and something to prepare for if a day of wintry mix is in our future. But then again, isn’t the goal of mindfulness to live in the present moment, not concerned with the past or the future weather?

I finished reading the article before heading to yoga with no media distractions, but I do choose to work at Starbucks some mornings because it is a social place where I see friends and acquaintances. I would say these are pleasant distractions for if I needed 100% focus, I would work at Wheelhouse in a conference room.

A suggestion to any readers, pay attention to your multitasking during the day. It can be an eye opening experience, one where you may realize that your very observation is a form of mindfulness.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Taking a Tech Break

What is my compulsive need to check my phone all the time? Why do I pick up my phone to see if I have any text messages? Once I have my phone in my hand why do I check Facebook? And then why do I need to check my e-mail, and then the weather?  What am I looking for? It’s a question I find myself asking myself quite a bit since I started this process of attending to my technology use and attempting to mindfully unplug.

Larry Rosen in iDisorder asks these very questions, “Are you a compulsive technology user? Are you constantly checking your e-mail, your text messages, or your voice mail? If so, you’re not alone” (54).  Phew! That’s a relief, or is it? It’s still a problem  for me. Rosen goes on to talk about two types of compulsive behaviors around technology. The Addict and the Worrier. An addict could be described as someone who “loves their device, craves surfing the Internet, and loves their software and phone apps so much that they cannot get enough of them” (48). The Worrier is “so worried about missing out on some important news that they can’t keep themselves away from the Internet or their phones” (48).

It’s hard for me to say whether I’m an addict or a worrier, or perhaps both. What I truly think I’m looking for when I pick up the phone or check my e-mail is connection. I want to feel connected to a person, a community, or a passion like yoga. It does not negate the fact that I don’t want to be this compulsive around technology, the Internet or my phone anymore.

Through my research, I’ve found some very helpful suggestions, and the one I’m going to elaborate on today is the Tech Break. These Tech Breaks can be implemented by anyone in any setting such as in a workspace, a classroom, and a family dinner. The goal is to spend 15 minutes of time disconnected from your digital devices and social media. After 15 minutes one can spend a minute checking their device before instituting another 15 minute focused time period without technology.

I did this yesterday, and the results were astounding to me. I arrived at my workspace, Wheelhouse, at 12:02. When I pulled out my computer to conduct my research, I noticed that I had 2% battery left and no power cord. Fortunately I had print outs of several articles as well as iDisorder in paperback form. It was an excellent time to test out the Tech Break scenario with my iPhone.

In many ways writing margin notes and taking notes in a notebook felt archaic to me, but my focus was undeniable. I worked steadily for 40 minutes before checking my phone. With no Internet to go to when another researcher, URL or study was mentioned, I stayed on the task of taking notes on the actual article I was reading. It was then that I realized how many times I go off task by checking another website since I rarely come directly back to the task at hand without meandering through a few other sites including Facebook or email.

I equate this realization yesterday with the same type of awareness one has when they experience the present moment. Once you’ve experienced it, it’s very hard to go back to your ignorance of the fact. We can intentionally choose to live in the past and the future, just as we can intentionally choose to check our technology compulsively… or can we? Is awareness enough with this seductively addictive media.