Over under, over under, twist.
Under over, under over, release.
Tug, tug, tug, tug.
Have you ever finger crocheted? Looping yarn around your non-dominant hand, yielding a long, soft chain. I used to sit for hours on end, winding and looping: in the back of the car on our biannual road trips to Los Angeles; on the cement deck of a community pool while I waited for my event at the weekly swim meet; while watching TV after school. I liked having an activity that kept my hands busy.
My sister taught me this trick when I was 7 or 8. She learned to knit (with kitting needles, not just fingers) from our mother and aunt at the age of 13–an old lady as a teenager. Fun fact: in her free time, my twenty-something now takes raw wool straight from a sheep, washes it, cards it, dyes it, spins it. rolls it into a yarn ball, and knits it into a sweater or scarf or pair of socks. Sometimes she mixes in fluff from her Angora bunny to make a very soft wool blend. What a hobby!
I don’t recall the last time I twisted any yarn between my fingers, but I imagine it was around the time my calluses from the elementary school monkey bars healed and the road trips to sunny Southern California lost their regularity. These days, I channel my fingers’ itch to move into typing, journaling, chopping potatoes, or scratching my cat under her chin. Unfortunately, I also habitually use my phone as a kinetic toy. Scanning through social media and dragging visual shapes across a screen while the television plays has become my loop behavior in the evenings.
Swipe up, scroll down, tap.
Watch video. Like post. Comment on friend’s photo.
Scroll, swipe, tap.
If you follow my blog, you likely noticed that I have embraced a daily meditation practice (you can read my review of the Headspace app here, and my thoughts on mindfulness as part of a chronic pain prevention practice here). My habit of mindlessness fidgeting is incongruent with the increasing mindfulness in other areas of my life. With Headspace as my teacher, I have discovered how to mindfully eat and cook, experiencing textures and flavors. I consider the journey my food has taken to reach my plate. I am more at home in my skin, feeling little or no resistance to thoughts and feelings I used to label “negative.”
The balance of mindfulness and technology is one I have been contemplating often over the past several months. My experience as a young adult in California includes daily barrage of distractions, such as the commercials on my Hulu and Pandora accounts, dozens of notifications, emails and messages that can often be ignored but sometimes need to be addressed (and soon!), and my computer reminding me to restart it so the latest update can be completed. Digital technology does not integrate seamlessly with a more mindful life. Instead, technology completes for attention, encouraging us to task switch countless times a day. I have sat down at my computer fully committed to posting on my blog only to get distracted by emailing and researching and not actually writing. Hours whittle by that feel productive moment by moment but end with few results.
Like a child finger crocheting, I still like my hands to be busy. Instead of loops of yarn, I busy myself with an endless stream of media, images, words, viewed but not absorbed.
My latest goal in my quest to be more mindful is to treat my phone, computer, and television more mindfully. I want to be intentional when I’m communicating with my friends and family on Facebook. I want to break my habit of surfing the web while I have Netflix on in the background. I would like to be more present with myself at all times, to accept how I am instead of crowding out my thoughts and feelings by filling my mind with miscellaneous clutter.
If you feel similarly, try some of the easy changes I made to make my media consumption more mindful:
- Unsubscribe from email lists you never use. Yes, I might miss a sale at that one place I shopped that one time, but I will get through it.
- Change your phone’s setting so fewer apps send you notifications. Similarly, you can use the Do Not Disturb feature on iPhones so you can still get all the notifications you’re used to, but they won’t distract you. Instead, they just sit on your locked screen until you’re ready to view them. Hardcore version: put your phone in airplane mode when you’re working. I prefer the ability to receive phone calls in real time in case of emergency, but that may be my latent anxiety talking.
- Move all your apps that send notifications to the second screen of your phone. I have all my social media in one folder, so it takes a couple extra seconds to open up Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/etc. In those moments, I can remind myself why I am opening up the platform and therefore be more engaged when it loads.
- Designate a time and place to check emails and social media. Digital communication is awesome! However, in order for digital correspondence to be true communication, it must be a transactional process. Don’t go on Facebook late at night if you have no intention of sticking up a conversation. Don’t go on Twitter if you aren’t contributing to a conversation. Don’t feed the trolls.
- Put your phone down while it’s charging. It deserves a break and so do you.
Don’t get stuck in a loop of mindless entertainment!