Placement – The Fundamentals
Placement takes place when the user of a device is the conscious actor upon it, rather than the passive reactor to it. When we decide to put our device on silent, we are placing it. When we choose and stick to a location in our house for our mobile devices rather than allowing them to be “always on” during mealtimes in the kitchen and at sleep time in the bedroom, we are placing them. When we decide to not send an instant reply to message but rather, to reflect on it before replying, we are placing.
Placement involves the consciously willed “placing” of digital devices AND their content in time, in physical place, and it mental space. We are the choosers. When we place digital devices and content, we become to causers, the users, the instigators, the willers. When we simply react habitually, compulsively, passively and even with a kind of servile compliance to our devices, it is actually, to paraphrase Jaron Lanier, WE who are the gadget for the digital meta-being. It isn’t we who answer the call, it is we who are the instrument for the call to be answered. When we check into Facebook every half an hour, it isn’t always we who are doing the checking it but we who are the “drones” in the hive mind of the corporation that needs and wants us “always on” in order to maximise advertising revenue.
Placement is mostly a gentle activity. It involves deciding where to put things on and offline, in ways that demonstrate our self-awareness and our ability to “will” out of ourselves and also to prioritise what Timothy Leary referred to as the “sacred” in our physical meetings with each other – at home, in the cafe, in the street, and in the work place.
Placement involves placing things physically or mentally in ways that WE choose, and also in ways that, for the duration of that placement process, recover our sense of consciousness and freedom. Very much as a crafts person places each tool carefully after finishing with it – we place our digital artefacts in ways that leave us free to move – inwardly and outwardly. We are probably glad that the surgeon operating on us knows the meaning and value of placement. Those on a trip to the top of Everest or the North Pole also know and practice the value of conscious placement. Indeed, wherever a process needs the “process owner” to be conscious, placement is crucial. There are of course, many jobs and things we do in life, where placement is less important, where a kind of messy flow, with one thing blending into another, is part of being “in the zone”. A party might be an example. Also we might find, as a writer, that chaos and unpredictability suits and and we sit ourselves in a noisy cafe readily answering texts whenever they come, interspersed with a bit of writing. If you enjoy being “always on”, sleeping with both your mobile phone and your partner, or being constantly in a multitasking on and offline mode, if you enjoy the distraction and the emergent chaos, then placement will not suit you. If you feel that your life lacks a bit of conscious placement, then the following will be of value.
We can place digital things in different ways:
Physical placement involves the literal placing of devices in chosen places in our house, upon our person, and at work. At home, we may designation just one room for “connection”. In our house we do not have mobile devices upstairs at all. Of course, it is easily to break these placement choices from time to time and this can erode the will to be consistent with it. However, the placement of devices away from the kitchen and the bedroom, and even the living room, can allow those rooms to recover their sacred roles as meeting places for eating, sleeping and being together without distraction from beyond the walls of the house.
At work we may place devices in small “hot desk” rooms where people can connect without distracting other colleagues. We may also place them in ways that allow better views out of windows, or allow one to work in natural light rather than in windowless rooms.
Physical placement allows us to create clear “start and finish” points in our use of digital devices, delineating when we choose from physical work and meeting. When we do not wish to have distraction in intense physical conversation, we can place ourselves in distraction free rooms and spaces.
We can place digital devices and process in time. We can place them in time “windows” where they are used and other time windows where they are not. It requires self-discipline, It requires will, and as you try it, you will often notice that the very will force you require to do this has partly seeped into an addiction to those very devices and online processes (such as replying to and checking in with status messages and SMSs).
We can have “online” time and “switched off” time. This isn’t negative and we can soon find that being “always on” is false economy. There is rarely much we have missed – usually it is our addiction we dress up as the compulsion to regularly check in with what is often banal content. I’m not denigrating the “friends” we may have online. What I am suggesting is that when we place digital connection into consciously willed time, we actually will find that that boundaried time creates an increase in the quality of our digital interaction. We tend to value it more, because we have willed it in time, and this brings a higher quality, conscious engagement with it. Often when we decide to place a reply to a message temporally, we hold off from immediately reacting. Then we find that we are “sleeping on” the answer and this can result in a different, more considered reply, often a warmer one, and sometimes a realisation we don’t need to reply at all. Temporal placement often increases the quality of our digital engagement and often declutters the quantity as well. We become “freed up”. Sometimes that newly one freedom in time can agitate us as, once again, we start to realise how addicted we were and the irritation and feeling of “pull” to get back “on” is a kind of withdrawal symptom
3. Mental Placement
With mental placement we really start to take conscious control of where we place digital content. We may decide to separate work and personal life content much more consciously. We may separate off personal and work twitter or facebook accounts. We may also decide much more consciously what content we decide to share publicly. Often social media platforms make this hard for us and we can get tired out trying to get our privacy back, so we give up. We may also decide NOT to reply to certain messages because they need more reflection. We might also decide to write something by hand before we type it up, or to talk to someone physically about something before me book online, or send a message. Mental placement involves where we put things in our virtual realm. It also involves deciding more consciously what we say and how we say it.
I know such a lot of people whose “desktops” have little or no mental placement. Files and folders are chaotic and sensitive information sits alongside a receipt for a train ticker. This can create a sense of linear placement where we simply pile more on top of more – for example, the ever growing inbox, or the longer and longer lines of texting threads. Some social media platforms even make it hard or impossibly for us to delete things permanently making it impossible for us to “forget”. Ultimately this makes placement in our minds of things to forget, impossible.
4. Placement of the digital being itself
Finally, we come to the hardest form of placement which sits above the other three, sometimes beyond our normal consciousness. It is the “being” of the digital realm itself. We are now, nearly all engaged in a world that we don’t fully understand, for hours and hours. We often feel overwhelmed by it, falling into passive reactivity, even as we celebrate and upgrade ourselves into it. It gives us almost instant psychic connection with anyone else in the world, it gives us always-on connection to our personal and working lives. It is compelling and many people don’t register how much they are now engaged with this “world”. It can take our attention at breakfast, lunch and dinner, in bed, on trains, plains and even in automobiles. It can make decisions for us and persuade us it is we who made the decision. We can be addicted to it even as we claim mastery over it. It now broadcasts into our rooms, all of our senses, it draws our attention from minute to minute. In some cases, we can’t even be without it for half an hour. It also brings us databases and intelligence that finds cures for diseases, predicts weather and gets us the flight we need to catch at the lowest cost. It is good and bad. Light and shadow. But also, like any other huge thing that is beyond our control and understanding, just a like a large corporation or a powerful government, or a chaotic complex cancer, we can’t place it consciously.
Placement of the digital being itself involves taking your own conscious overview of digital life. It involves naming it in your life and naming where you have lost control of it. It involves getting to know how it works under the surface, where you feel you need to in order to be able to place aspects of it. It involves being ready to celebrate AND critique it specifically. It involves locating where it fits in our own life narrative. You may conclude that, despite being more connected than ever, you feel more alone. You might realise that you have kissed your partner more with Xs in the last week than with physical kisses and that your relationship is slipping into a kind of shadowy typed intimacy that is not a patch on what you both used to have.
You might decide there are certain aspects of digital life you really want to place in all over the three ways above and really use them consciously in ways which will help you in your life, in your work, in your community. You might also decide that you want to reframe the whole damn thing in your life, reclaiming parts of your sacred physical life that has become lost to the digital “inferno” of devices and “apps”.
Placing the whole digital realm is really about taking a helicopter view of yourself and placing your “self” in it, and also it in the life of your developing self. It makes you feel more conscious and freer. You are then, not only a passive passenger but also a navigator.
The best way to practice placement is to take small steps with the first three, and do some thinking about the fourth. Take some time out and try to get an overview. Make a list of all the devices you use, why, when and how. Be honest with yourself. Which of those processes and devices need placing in ways that might release your sense of self-awareness, self-control and inner and outer freedom? Where are you the passive responder and where the truly free-willed instigator? When are these digital processes actually leaking time, energy and possibility out of your physical existence? What would you most like to place first?
Why bother? Well, that depends on how much you’d like to be the driver or the passenger of your own, unique, potentially wonderful life.