How many times a day, maybe even each hour, do you feel compelled to check into the digital lives of others? How does it feel when you are truly disconnected, off the grid? Could you be addicted to digital contact?
Jenna Wortham explains her sense of anxiety at being separated from her phone and, consequently, digital connectivity in an insightful article in the New York Times. Fortunately for Jenna, it turns out the cloud of disconnectedness had a silver lining – the JOMO. JOMO stands for the Joy Of Missing Out. Jenna learned that by sacrificing digital connectivity, she found herself relishing her sense of self in the moment. The point – we can be so wrapped up in the lives of other people and our emotions about what is for them but isn’t for us that we miss the joy of living. A blogger, Anil Dash, wrote about JOMO in July – you can read that post here. Dash compares the joy of missing out to the fear of missing out. They are emotions tied together by opposite sides of the same coin. In fear, we seek out information on the experiences others are having (and that conveniently we are always privy to thanks to mobile, social apps and smartphones), lest we miss an opportunity. And when we learn of that missed opportunity, we find ourselves filled with negative emotions – jealousy, self-doubt, and regret. Dash wisely advises that we consider how we really wish to spend our time – Does connectivity equate to happiness in our lives? Might we choose to devote ourselves to an event knowing we will miss out on something but also knowing we can relish the experience of the choice we made? This is the joy of missing out.
But what if you can’t make that choice? What if the joy of missing out is beyond reach because of an addiction to constant digital contact? Kelly McGonigal, a professor at the Stanford Business School, researches addictions, especially techno-addictions. In a recent interview, McGonigal explains what a techno-addiction feels like.
“There is a common feeling, whether it is a drug or food or shopping or technology. If you pay attention to what is happening in your mind and body, you notice a free-floating anxiety, and then a sense of urgency, especially when separated from the object of addiction: “I have to have it now,” or “I have to keep clicking or checking.” It’s more like panic than a positive desire.”
McGonigal points out that our brains have adapted to the modern world by recognizing that we need information just as we need food. The tendency to feel the sensations of addiction comes from a survival instinct to ensure we eat. In today’s world, information is crucial to survival and our brains know it. Still, McGonigal believes we are subject to overcommunication and learning to control the urge for digital contact is beneficial.
How can we be free of techno-addiction? Like approaching any addiction, just being aware of the sensations you experience when you have a craving is helpful. McGonigal says,
“Surf the urge. Pay attention to what it feels like in your body and to your breathing. Think of the urge like a wave you are going to surf, and breathe through it. Like a wave, it will crash and dissolve. Cravings sustain themselves when your brain and body believe you are going to give in. As soon as you make a commitment not to, it begins to change how the brain is processing the craving. This approach has been shown to help people conquer all kinds of cravings, from food to cigarettes.”
The second bit of advice is to set up a system for doing without constant connectivity. Be without. And that bit of advice brings us to the opportunity I wanted to share with you today.
The Reconnect Project wants to see what a person can do creatively in a day without digital connectivity. You can read more about the project here. The Reconnect Project believes that good can come from a 24-hour online blackout. That’s right – a whole day off the grid. Other than being digitally disconnected, the only other requirement is that you do something, anything, creative.
The Online Blackout will take place September 2nd. September 3rd you are invited to submit your stories, images, songs, etc. about your day of digital freedom to the Reconnect Project Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/reconnectproject.
Get ready. Take a (digital) day off. Live in the moment. And remember to surf the urge and breathe through the impending panic. Once the wave crashes, experience the JOMO!