Reclaiming your home from your mobile phone

If you feel your mobile devices are eating up too much of your time, and even your life, then read on. If you love your always-on connection and feel no problem, then read no further.

One of the most important steps you can take is to reclaim your home, and the concept of placement can help here too. Your home is a number of spaces. A house has various areas such as kitchen, dining and living room, bedroom, bathroom, garden etc. Even a studio apartment has several spaces. These spaces do not all need to become the territory of always-connectedness. In fact, “sacred” spaces are an important aspect of reclaiming your home from the Dance with Spiders.

Your mobile phone need not serve as your alarm clock beside your bed as you also text before sleep and check in to Twitter as soon as you wake up. Sleep is such a fundamental process in our lives. But sleep begins when we enter our bedroom, when we begin the process of settling down for the night. Sleep restores us. Our dreams help us resolve the day, and “work through” restlessness in our dream life.

Sleep restores body and mind. We’ll take into our sleep the spidery-fingertip activity of texting and microblogging if it is the last thing we do at night. It is well reported that computer gamers see the after image of games in their visual space of closed eyes when they try to sleep for the night. They still see the movement of the boom boom or zap zap of the gun. In the very first days of computer games, when Pong was the rage – a game of virtual and simple tennis – addicted gamers couldn’t get the image of the little moving white dot out of their minds as they lay down for a nights’ sleep. This interferes with this vital human process. It is far healthier to clear the decks before sleep, to spend half an hour without such interruptions, to turn to our partner (if we have one) and share a goodnight with them. It can be healthy to listen to the sounds of the night outside through a small open window, or wind down to some relaxing music, to play back the day in our thoughts gently, or to just tune into our breathing as we relax into tiredness.

The sleep space – the bedroom – is the first sacred space we should remove the mobile devices from. Charge them up overnight in another room. Even putting them away, under the bed, behind a desk, or even in a pocket, supports their undeserved right to be in your sacred sleep space. Banish them. And enjoy the act of banishment. The banishment need not be a dramatic gesture. It is simply like putting the car away in the garage. The car has its proper place, and it isn’t to be parked the living room, on in the driveway with the engine always on.

The place for the mobile devices is not in the bedroom – that is a place for sleep. And waking up needs to be a little more gentle and sacred too. We come from a very specific state when we sleep and transition into wakefulness. Shaking someone awake who is having a nightmare can be dangerous and traumatic. Equally, when we wake up, listening to the sound of birds, kissing our partner good morning, and lying there for a few minutes before exiting the bedroom, all of these are gestures of value to ourselves. We do not need always-connectedness in the bedroom.

Diary entry November 2010

I’ve decided to keep my Iphone out of the bedroom where I sleep with my partner. It lasts for a couple of days and then seems to have found its way back to its place, charging up, right next to my head, after a short compromise of trying to plug it into a plug point further away. I try again. Back it is again, there doesn’t seem to be a natural home for it in the spare room nor downstairs. Excuses. And the habit of checking it at night and first thing in the morning is too strong. Wishes and not enough will. I look at my partner as she is sleeping. Several times the last thing I have seen is not her smile, but the messages page on Facebook. She deserves better. I plant another resolution into very weed-ridden ground. The devices exert some kind of pull.

Some people leave the devices outside of the bedroom, charging up in the hallway. The first thing they do on leaving the bedroom is to take the device and check it. Ideally, mobile devices are better checked after three primevally important activities: awaking from sleep, washing, and eating. Only after these activities should we pick up the device and check it if we need to.

This challenges the will to be strong and we can stumble to achieve it. If we do succeed, great health benefits can result: more will power, a more motivated and happier start to the day, and less tiredness. We get more will power because we assert our will through the placement of the mobile device in both space and time – we reassert mastery over it. We feel more motivated because we have valued some prime things as most important to us and, in doing so, we have valued ourselves over the demands of devices. We feel more motivated because we have taken control and prioritised the energising nature of the morning ritual of waking and preparing for the day. Thirdly, we are less tired because we have gone to sleep and woken up properly, in a way that allows us to enter and exit the sleep stater without distraction, and more in tune with nature.

Try it. You’ll see, although, as I said, you may stumble on the way. You’ll need to persevere with it.

Placement is all about putting the mobile device in a place chosen by you, and in a way that prioritises your need for undistracted transition into and out of restorative sleep. In the  book, The Artist’s Way, you are encouraged, on waking, to write your morning pages – some freeflow writing of your thoughts – you may capture dreams, thoughts for the day, reflections, worries, fantasies and impulses. The key thing is that the ritual is renewed each morning and activated by you, by your will power. The need to check in on your mobile device is inherent in the device itself – you are drawn to it – the will impulse is maybe 5% yours, and 95% the corporation that created the pull in the device.

Diary entry March 2011

We’ve moved into a new home, a three bed-roomed house. The back room on the ground floor is becoming the office room for the house. This will be the place where mobiles are placed. And computers. But we haven’t got that room straight yet and it is a bit of a store room. The mobile finds it way, in the new home, into the bedroom in which we sleep and the living room, becomes Ipad and laptop territory. And yet the living room always feels better, and paradoxically, a firer of my muse and creativity, when it is free of plugged in connection beyond its borders of wall, window and chimney. It is bedtime story time. Why on earth would I ever reach for my smartphone to see who has retweeted me when a glorious seven year old is asking me if Harry Potter is a real person? How could I have ever let my gaze wander during that priceless time?

Placement in the home involves assigning consciously and wilfully the physical and temporal place for a mobile device. You decide where it sits. You decide when it is on and when it is off. You reclaim most of your home as sacred and you place the device somewhere were you will it it be. For some this is a little office space, an armchair near an electric plug point It can be comfortable. It can be in a hallway, or in a spare room. When the phone rings, you go to it. If you like walking around whilst talking on the phone or texting, or even slouching on your bed, then do that, but then return the device to its “place”. It is the act of will each time that reclaims the will power lost in being trapped in an always-on addicted state.

I’d like to suggest that, as important is the bedroom, is the kitchen or the spaces where you cook and eat. Eating, preparing food, tasting, these are all about the life processes that keep us healthy. Some health experts believe we should not even be reading while we are eating. It’s mostly anecdotal evidence to back it, but the idea is that we should really savour our food, taste it, and allow ourselves to digest it properly. A cup of tea or some water to follow. A walk to let our meal go down. Digestion is important. Actually our will is involved in our digestion. We don’t will ourselves to digest, just as we don’t usually will ourselves to breathe.

Our will is the faculty that is least conscious to us. It only usually comes into consciousness when we choose to focus attention on it, often if something is wrong. But when we eat properly, prepare our food with loving attention, it is a bit like making an unspoken agreement with our will. When we taste our food properly, it does us more good, we get more out of it. When we support the process of digestion, our digestion tends to be better for it. Our unconscious will tends to respond favourably to conscious acts of will aimed at us eating healthily. Just as if we prepare well for sleep, and allow ourselves to wake up properly, then we tend to sleep more soundly, and we are all the better for it!

Now, when we are “always on” – reading alerts, texts, pokes, likes checking, email , responses, we are constantly ingesting content. If we do it while we are eating, we are multi-tasking and potentially overloading our will. As the will attempts to digest the virtual content, it can begin to neglect digesting the physical content – our food. This can be the beginning of nervous indigestion, and even ulcers. It’s easy to eat a sandwich is a minute whilst talking on the phone.Some people are skilled at doing both at the same time. Others end up writing a half-hearted, shorthand text and not chewing their food properly resulting in both misunderstanding, follow up clarifying texts and trapped wind. Eat your sandwich. Taste it. Let it go down. THEN text. It is only in recent years, as part of a family, that I have come to really value the sacredness of the kitchen table, where we sit together and eat our meals. I’m not being old fashioned when I say that the meal table is no place for the spidery-reach of mobile connectedness. I’m actually being a futurist. Timothy Leary said that, in the future, physical meetings would become more rare, and more sacred. As families we spend less time together. Many families do not eat together at all. Yet food is the affirmation of life. Food comes from the earth and it is our connection with it. Distraction breaks that connection. Does that matter? I think it does, because, if we use placement to leave the mobile devices out of our meal times, we are making another act of will – to allow ourselves to fully enjoy those things which keep us alive, and give us the energy for the day. When we say to ourselves “The smartphone can wait” we are affirming the importance of digesting our food and, if the meal is with family, we are also focusing our will on prioritising a healthy rhythm – instead of connecting with disembodied presences online, we are connecting with those we love, showing wilful interest in them, and the togetherness combined with the focus of our will on maintaining this rhythm really does do two things – it makes the food taste better, and it makes us feel physically and soulfully connected with people in our sacred spaces.

Diary entry November 2011

The last thing I see at night is the smiling face of my love. The mobile phone is next door in the spare bedroom and it has remained there now for a few weeks. The bedroom is now a sacred place for sleep and intimacy. When I wake in the morning I do not rush to check the mobile next door on my way to the bathroom (as I did in October). The plan is to declutter the office downstairs and then that will become the assigned place for being virtually connected. We have no mobiles or devices in the bedroom and none at mealtimes. The Ipad and laptop still grace the living room. We just need a decent chair for the desk. We have all the right plugs for a dedicated charging station. That room will be the portal to the digital world, with a lovely view of the garden with double doors than can be opened when it is warm enough. But there’ll be no other doors into the digital world from our home. The rest of the house will be ours, and ours alone. Meanwhile I sit in the living room, a shared space, sharing my attention with faceless colleagues in New York with the all too real and half neglected questions of a quite rightly curious seven-year old would-be wizard.

When we really do practice placement, something else can happen too. We can actually start to value the mobile devices MORE. We can look forward to using them and we are actualy investing a deeper and more profound value in them too. They now have a place – in space and time – and we are investing our will in upholding those places and spaces. We then are also valuing the unique properties and possibilities of those devices in their assigned and proper places. We start to have a certain time of the day when we check in on our emails – it can even be a lot of times of the day – it just isn’t ALL day. We can look forward to and enjoy emailing time. Reading the queue of texts can almost be like opening presents on a birthday.

We start to go into the virtual “zone” all the stronger because we know we have the ability to will ourselves out of that zone. If you love the feeling and possibility of being always connected, if that perpetual buzz turns you on and gives you a high you want to repeat, then good luck, and put this book down. I even believe you might be an evolutionary prototype, a person ahead of your time.

You might be the sign of people to come for whom always-on will be natural. It may even be hardwired into people who will be connected by tatoos and cyborg technologies attached to nerve endings. But if you feel that the always-on buzz, in your life as it is now, it too distracting, invasive, and that you feel the wish to reclaim your life from it, then placement will benefit you greatly.

So, in summary, we create assigned, willed places in our home for our mobile devices, and we banish them from meal and eating places, and from the bedroom. We also assign them places in time – specific times when we connect and then disconnect. We choose rituals that always precede the virtual connection – waking up properly, cleansing ourselves, eating and talking with family, and those times remain free of the always-on pull.

Here’s the first thing: you’ll notice that your productivity and effiency online actually goes up not down. You’ll notice that you experience the digital world in a more conscious way and you’ll feel less tired at the end of the day. You’ll become more able discern what is necessary and what is actually empty connection. You’ll find being “on” a richer experience when “on” is a choice rather than a compulsion. Some people make the home a place for no viritual devices at all. Others have one room for it. If this all seems like a big leap, then try a few smaller steps. Just try keeping the device out of the bedroom for a couple of weeks – see how that goes. Set up a charging station in a spare room, and don’t plug in anywhere else in the house. Try an hour at home with the device completely off. Start with small steps and watch what happens.

Placement is literally when you put control back into your hands, and then you place those hands at the service of your will. Just because social media platforms WANT you to be always on, doesn’t mean you have to be and, ironically, there is no productivity benefit – personally or professionally, to be 24-7 connected anyway. You’ll actually be more effective and efficient if, as with food or sleep, you’d don’t do it all the time! What is also powerful about placement is that it is gentle, like the gesture of putting the bread back in the bread bin. It goes there because it isn’t needed for a while, and the bin will keep it fresh and all the better for the next time you feel hungry. Placement isn’t about dramatic gestures, it’s a simple, clear gesture that will warm up your will. And once that will is back in the hands that it should be – yours – you’ll find you can start to realise your dreams again.

Diary entry February 2012

I’m using the devices more away from home than ever before. I still lapse and we still haven’t properly assigned the back room for being connected. But meal times and sleep times are now our times. I love our meal times together. I still eat too quickly but not as quickly as I once did. We talk. We laugh. There is no feeling of pull from the devices. Sleep is better. Preparing for sleep is lovely. Waking up is lovely. The dance with spiders is now becoming one in which I choose many of the steps.

Footnote

Now, you may be reading this and saying – Yes. Yes. This all sounds perfectly reasonable and I want to reclaim my home! You’ll then sigh an outer or inner sigh and carry on as you did before. This occurs when there simply isn’t any spare will power left to even embark on the journey to reclaim your home. So how do you start at all? Let me tell you the secret of this. It can usually only be done with gentleness. Not with dramatic big bang change. If big bang change works for you, then great. If it doesn’t and you often run out of steam, have some faith in the long run.

Take a small step. Then another. That’s how it works. So, today, leave the mobile outside of your bedroom. Have breakfast or a shower before you even look at your phone. Eat supper and then have an hour’s relax without looking at your device. See if you can do it two days in a row. Then three. Then a week. Take a little step and see if you can maintain it. If you falter, don’t beat yourself up. Just try again. Do it gently. Computers are binary beasts – they are either on or off. You are either logged in or you aren’t. They are based on ones and zeros underneath all the lifelike interface.

But you aren’t binary. You can choose to leave either-or behind and be either-and! So, small steps, a gradual change. Sometimes the middle way isn’t the way of compromise – sometimes it is the way of gentleness, of hopefulness, and of success in the longer run.

About Paul Levy

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

Posted on February 18, 2012, in Key themes. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Brave, important and so true. I utterly agree and notice there is a clear dictinction for me between times when I am asserting myself over the “devices” and times when they creep into places and areas I wish they woudn’t. The alarm feature on the iphone is a subtle facility that hurts us all. We need to realise that all the device providers, phone companies and facebook type services want to create addiction – they say they don’t but they can’t help it. Just like the booze companies at some point they will encourage ideas like yours when addiction becomes a health issue.

    By the way the VERy enncouraging news is my 17 year old Rose and I decided to read the blog and reach our own conclusions. Hers are very similar to mine and she now is sharing the blog with friends at school who also want to make the non digital sacred and create distinction. She liked the fact you said this change is tough.

  2. Brilliant insightful article, and just what I needed. I’ve been very aware I’m becoming increasingly addicted to my smart phone! Thank you very much and I imagine I will find it hard but I’m up for the challenge and think it is an important thing for me to do, especially bringing up a small child.

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