Making our lives simpler by getting rid of cloths we never wear, books we never read and household items we never use, is a liberating experience. The clutter is gone and we can see the really important things that bring us joy much clearer. The question is: why can we not do the same in our digital lives?
It is not necessarily about the number of apps on our phones or wearable technologies on our wrist, but it is about the question: Do we really need them? Now, you will say, yes, of course I do. All of those apps and tools help me in specific aspects of my life: They help me find a find a parking spot, pay for my coffee, help me finding my way around, and connecting with my friends and business contacts. And I am not here to refute that. After all this is the goal of technology: To make our life easier. But does easier always translate to happier?
For that we probably need to define first what happiness is? According to happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky happiness includes positive emotions and a feeling of living a life that is worthwhile and good. Combining Epicurus's idea of happiness as an hedonic experience of pleasure, and Aristotle’s understanding of happiness as the experience of meaning through doing good for others,I understand happiness as living a fulfilled life, full of meaning, and purpose, sprinkled with joy.
Our Digital Lives and Happiness
While joy in the short run (hedonic happiness) is very pleasing, pursuing it as a sole goal of happiness is superficial and short lived. One could argue, the majority of the apps on our phones are geared to provide exactly this short-term pleasure experience. After all, this is how the tech industry get us hooked and how we, as a society, developed more and more into hedonism junkies: I want pleasure (aka dopamin release) now, now and now.
The top grossing Apple IPhone apps this month are games including Clash of Clans, Game of War and Madden NFL. The top free apps include Facebook Messenger, the Facebook app, iTunesU and Instagram. There is a reason why 52% of all Americans check their phones a few times an hour or more. In addition, the constant notifications we receive get us hooked on our phones. The evil process behind that is intermittent reward conditioning which leads to the most resistant kind of behavior adoption.
Technology That Undermines Our Awareness
But it is not only the pleasure that gets us hooked on our digital clutter and creates a habit or even dependency on it, but it is also the way the apps decrease and undermine our awareness of the actual acts they are performing. After all, their sole purpose is to help make life easier and thus, automatize actions we otherwise would devote cognitive energy too.
That in and of itself is not bad, but if the function itself is mainly making purchasing goods easier, than I do see that as a problem. Examples are the Amazon app, ITunes or Starbucks app, which make the actual transaction process completely automated so that we don’t even notice how much money we spend. Again, this is not to say that these apps in and of themselves are "bad," however, the way they do oftentimes take over our choices can be seen as problematic.
When buying things becomes a game, almost like playing store when we were kids, where the association between our hard worked for money, is substituted with a play like button on our very much toy looking devices, then how can we practice awareness of what we really need for lasting well-being?
How can we reconnect with what we really need versus what we want because advertisers made us believe that this is what we need? I think reconnecting with our intuition would be a good start. To do that, one of the EOT’s strategies "Reduce to Induce" is a good path to follow. Once we are able to focus on less things, we notice more what the clutter is we don’t need, and what the stuff is that does serve our needs well. And when we are uncluttered, we can hear our inner voice much more loudly and we are able to focus on one thing at a time completely and deeply, work and finish projects efficiently, and thus, create more output in less amount of time.
Have Technology Serve Us
Now, even though this may sound like retrieving from technology and deleting all the apps on our phones, I think about it more as rearranging priorities.It may include some purging but certainly not retrieving. Again, I think technology can be designed in a way that it serves us, and not the other way around. It can be designed in a way that it learns about us and then makes suggestions for what we really need in a particular moment. By tracking our habits, purchasing behaviors, biorhythms, and social connections, it could be the handler for self-regulation, happiness, and awareness.
Try the principle of Reducing. You can start slow by deleting 1,2, or 3 apps and see what it does to your life. Maybe it simplifies it? Maybe not. It certainly will bring more awareness to your technology use, which is the best start into a digital life well lived.
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