Freedom and Gadget-Binding


When my phone vibrates and I look at it, do I choose to look at it freely, or does its vibration evoke a conditioned reaction in me to look? I think we all know the answer. In the  moment the phone calls us to  attention, there lies a moment, often a split-second, where we confront our will. It is a moment of command or surrender. Interestingly command is seen as a kind of stilted, step jump towards a decision: “I won’t look at it”, whereas surrender is presented to us as a kind of flow state.

Surrender, where we “fall into” looking at it, will therefore usually feel nicer, even more natural, because flow states tend to be more pleasant, and easier.

Yet it is possible to experience taking self-control, moments of self-consciousness linked to clear, self-willed action as flow states too. It’s simply that we are out of the habit of being free, so freedom of choice often feels sudden, painful, episodic, even painful. The strongest acts of will can often be those that are gentle but firm, that flow sure and true like a controlled song, where we direct our voices, the modulation, the tone, the pitch and the volume.

This is the secret and it just takes a bit of practice: to experience the moments of decision around mobile technology as neutral flow states which could go one way of the other: Yes, I’ll look at it as a choice or, no, I won’t loom at it.

“There can be no river, unless the mountain spring makes a sacred promise to the sea.”

Each time the phone vibrates or rings, take a breath and then gently look at yourself. This “yes or no” is part of a longer run flow state – part of many yesses or nos. I may or may not answer it this time but it isn’t part of an automatic habit. If the phone rings, moving my head and eyes towards the source of the sound is my gentle, self-willed choice. If you decide to answer it, register your self as a self, before you turn your head – act before you react. In a way you may feel yourself winning back something you have lost. And that will also feel like a bit of a healthful flow state. It can feel like breathing again. For freedom is a kind of breathing where you breathe freely and, first of all, just like your own breathing, comes under your conscious awareness and control, and then it settles into subconsciousness and you just “breathe”.

The reaction to the phone ringing or vibrating with a call, a text or a tweeted update should always be gently free. There need be no drama, no epic procrastination in the “shall I or shan’t I?” and equally there should be no slavish “yes” or even “no” to your regular encounter with the gadget.

The truth is this: many of us think we are free, and do not realise we have become bound to our gadget to the effect that WE are the gadget. We fall victim to what Goering (yes, the Nazi) referred to as the Leadership Principle, where, (transposed here) at some point we make one last free act, which is an almighty act of surrender, where we freely give our freedom to the control of something “higher”; in this case we trade our moment-to-moment freedom of action for  the huge benefits of “digital life”, letting it replace our habits with gadget behaviour, where WE are the gadget as  much as the phone, where our habits become automated, habitual and give up to the requirements of the phone. We don’t really answer the phone, we instead, are the instrument of the communication company getting phones answered when IT chooses, meetings ITS revenue and performance targets. In terms of Mark Slouka’s Assault on Reality, we become drones in the larger hive mind.

Claiming back our freedom requires a certain amount of UN-doing. Breaking a habit requires, paradoxically the very will resources we have given up, in order to choose NOT to do something. But there’s a secret to it. We tend to assume that the acts of will will need to be great, and that leads us to feel helpless and lose heart. But the secret is this: if we fly under the radar of the mainstream gadget power resources – a kind of quiet ,unnoticed resistance movement – we can undo the gadget-binding, bit by bit, falteringly but gently, using quiet, continuous but very conscious improvement.

So, next time your phone buzzes or vibrates, take a breath, and look at the breath first, before you look at the phone, and you might just notice how free will comes flowing back to you.

About Paul Levy

Paul is a writer, thinker, facilitator, theatre-maker, and conversifier. He is the author of the book, Digital Inferno.

Posted on September 12, 2011, in Key themes. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. ‘Karma’ surely … simple intentional actions bearing ‘fruit’ 🙂

  2. The new book from Andrew Mcafee called “Rage against the machine” fits with your important narrative. We both need to attach and detach from technology. It transforms our lives and work in useful ways but as you say we are in danger of becoming the machine itself. My 17 year old daughter Rose has deliberate off tech time and she says many of her friends are not using Facebook anymore or reducing their use because they feel “run by it”.

  3. This never manifests more than over a restaurant meal – it has been suggested that everyone around the table puts their phone in a stack and the first person to check theirs pays the bill!

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