Winston Churchill’s famous quote about writing a book translates easily to our consumption of all things digital: “… It begins as an amusement, then it becomes a mistress, then a master, and finally a tyrant.” Mobile Internet is the epitome of instant gratification. We check Facebook, Twitter or any trending news and in short order, we’re met with countless options to take us out of the moment, for as little or as long as we want. Goodbye boredom, loneliness and feelings of “nothing going on.” Hello, instant mood elevation, pop culture, family, friends and strangers. We have grown so accustomed to “just checking” our timelines, feeds, emails and text messages an inordinate amount of times that it seems normal. It may be normal, but it’s not a healthy approach. We access the mobile internet for many valuable things like email, banking, travel planning, driving directions and weather reporting. But when it becomes a compulsion to distract us from the realities of our lives, it’s easy to be lured — even trapped — by the countless digital offerings.
They say, “You are what you eat.” In our digital world, it’s more appropriate to say, “You are what you consume.” We are on a daily diet of tabloid blogs, shallow advertising and flat-out click bait with little to no moderation in sight. Many publications have gone from informed headlines, to seemingly normal (though fake) news, to tabloid blog titles pitting one celebrity against another and sponsored ads with provocative, outlandish “news” we simply must have. The competition to “out-headline” one another is desperate. Entire publications curate “trending news” only to parse out information frame by frame, along with numerous ads littering each click. While that alone should be a clear indication of what’s in store, is that fair warning? Cigarettes and alcohol have restrictions around advertising. We consume digital content as well, but with little concrete proof of its pitfall, it seems deceptively like a safe compulsion.
If we aren’t careful, our compulsions can move quickly through the mistress and master phases. We can find ourselves slave to a downright tyrant, to use Churchill’s words. Trolls stoking heated political fires on the left or right spur otherwise even-tempered people to lose their cool in what seems like digital road rage. Even if we ourselves don’t engage in digital brawls, consuming these often verbally abusive threads can make us feel like we’ve come away with a black eye. We’ve lost our peace of mind around the mobile internet.
Abstinence from digital information and social media isn’t practical in today’s day and age. A return to “Internet decency” isn’t valid. Our digital landscape is strewn with landmines and we have to sidestep them thoughtfully. We must draw boundaries around our personal consumption, refrain from arguing with contentious strangers and keep our integrity intact. When we use digital platforms mindfully, we deny instant gratification and cultivate quiet and peace of mind for ourselves and others. By carefully choosing what we consume, share — and decline to share — we affirm our ideals.
A few things that work for me might help you:
1. Create boundaries around all things digital. Set aside times to quick or frequent checks of social media, trending issues and more can leave us feeling fragmented.
2. Reduce device notifications to only what is necessary. Simply muting a few notifications can significantly improve productivity.
3. Keep devices in sight but out of reach. We are less likely to be impulsive when we have to work for it. We begin to ask ourselves, “Is it worth it?”
4. Don’t get caught up. Resist the urge to engage in heated online discussions. Feel strongly about something? That’s a good reason to wait. If you still feel strongly about it a few hours later, proceed mindfully.
5. Leave the world behind for a moment. Take a break from the constant flow of information. Immerse yourself in nature, colours, sights and sounds each day. Life doesn’t require being constantly connected.
We are what we consume. Without personal checks and balances, our minds — and our entire selves — can feel littered with sensational news and hostility. We can counter the deluge of rancour by retaking control — and re-gaining peace of mind.
The author is CEO and MD, Zensar Technologies.
The views expressed in this article are not those of Fortune India.