Living Better: Tips for Balancing Your Digital Life - ITS Tactical
 

Living Better: Tips for Balancing Your Digital Life

By Mike Petrucci

Balancing Digital Life

For many people, finding a balance between their digital life and their physical life is similar to the difference of a busy, nonstop city street and a quiet country road through the mountains.

I feel as if I keep reading about people who are ditching their smart phones in favor of “dumb” phones, limiting their electronic use, or even taking a year off of the Internet altogether. I have nothing against that. I understand why they’re doing it and I feel it’s a good thing for people to do from time to time. As someone who is admittedly always on his phone, I’m actually a bit jealous.

The problem I have with this “drastic” measure of switching from digital to analog is not that technology is bad, but that the entire idea seems to be a “throw the baby out with the bathwater” type of situation. More specifically, an issue of self control.

There’s a few reasons why I’ve tried to use so many smart phone apps and social networks. The main reason is because I want to document my life with a digital footprint so I can go back and look at it when I get older. Simply put, the variety of digital resources available have made keeping a journal a lot easier.

I also think it would be pretty fun for my kids and grandkids to see where I checked in on Foursquare, what photos I’ve Instagrammed, or even what time I went to bed and woke up the next morning (through the private social network, Path.) I’m sure they’ll make fun of what I said or what I’m wearing, but that’s going to happen regardless.

Just a quick note: This isn’t an article on social media privacy, but it’s worth mentioning that you can still create digital memories without sharing everything publicly. As always, use common sense and don’t rely on privacy policies. Only share (public or private) what you don’t mind everyone in the world reading.

Some might look down on me while I’m Instagramming my kids baseball game and write it off as not paying attention, but I’d argue that snapping and saving a photo only takes a minute and that the photo I take will most likely last longer than my memory. Well, maybe not last “longer” but it will certainly help me to remember that moment easier and in greater detail.

Truth be told, isn’t Instagramming my kids baseball game the same as video taping it like dads did during the 90’s?

The Ugly Truth

It’s becoming more and more clear that the majority of us use our smart phones as a boredom crutch. If I’m idle for more than 12 seconds, I often pull out my phone and thumb around a bit. Most times I’m not even doing anything in particular, just wasting time really. That needs to change.

What are some ideas to help change this? When I had my iPhone, I used the Do Not Disturb feature to keep distractions minimized. Sometimes when I’m in the car, I’ll put my phone in the glove box. It’s far enough out of reach to keep from constantly fiddling with, but I can still hear it ring if needed. Next time you’re at a traffic light, see if you don’t pull your phone up to just “check” on things real quick. It’s a bad habit that also ruins your situational awareness.

Most phones seem to have a type of “Do Not Disturb” feature, which basically silences your phone for all notifications and calls except from those people in your favorites list. Specifically regarding the iPhone, if there’s an emergency and someone that’s not in your favorites list tries to call, your phone will ring if they call more than once within 3 minutes. I want to explain it because it shows how you can limit distractions while still being within reach if needed. Putting your phone in Airplane Mode is also a great way to stop distractions from reaching you, but there’s also no way to be contacted in an emergency.

Technology has certainly evolved to make things a lot easier and also more invasive at the same time. We’re always just a text/tweet/tag/poke away from someone and coupled with the sense of immediacy we all have, it can be a disastrous combination. Just knowing that it takes a conscious effort of balance in knowing when to use that technology will benefit you whether you’re disabling notifications to get work done throughout the day or going off the grid to enjoy the peace and quiet of a nature walk.

Know What Tools to Use and When

Illustration by Grant Snider

Illustration © Grant Snider

While I really like this illustration by Grant Snider, I also agree with what Walter Kirn is saying in his article, “Technology Can Enhance Your Wilderness Experiences.” It’s completely possible to use your digital tools in the outdoor world and in some cases it may be perfect for the situation. It’s ok to share moments, but it all comes down to balance.

People often forget that you can use a smartphone app without advertising it. You can check-in on Foursqaure at the local park and get a digital “badge” but you don’t have to auto-post that news to other networks. When sharing publicly, I always try and add a little extra value in my social media updates when possible. Give a caption or description as to what you’re doing. You can even keep your posts private if you feel as if you’re being too noisy. Just because you don’t want to publicize your digital footprint doesn’t mean you can’t have one.

In addition to creating a history for my family to look back someday, another reason I use so many digital tools over analog ones is that they’re often faster. That and my handwriting sucks. Being able to quickly speak a note into my phone saves me a lot of time and helps keep me organized. I still always have a pocket notebook and pen on me though, because sometimes you just have write or sketch things manually.

Stay Focused

Don’t let digital tools take over everything, use them to their advantage by augmenting what you’re already doing. Sometimes it’s best to completely unplug and take a “Tech Sabbath.” Taking some time away is perfectly fine and essential to staying healthy.

Always focus on the true reason behind what you’re doing and do things for yourself. If you haven’t taken a good hard look at your digital habits yet, I encourage you to do that now. Are you collecting memories or simply creating a highlight reel of your life to make your online friends/followers/fans envious?

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