As has been extremely well-documented by now, this whole technology thing is very much a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing that we can easily communicate with friends and family across the world, mobilize around social change, watch a cute cat video, find the perfect vegan chili recipe, and stream decades deep music catalogs at the touch of a screen; and it’s a curse that our brains—so much slower to evolve than the pace of modern information technology—are now essentially activated 24/7 by the world outside, restless in every sense of the word. Like most people, we’ve given this problem a decent amount of though and recently I personally stumbled across a small fix of sorts that I wanted to share.
But let’s back up.
Exactly two weeks back, we celebrated the birth of our first child…. To be totally clear, this is a real human baby I’m speaking of, not some kind of trope or analog to a creative project we’ve ‘given birth to’ at the agency.
It’s awesome, speaking literally—the experience has left both of us completely full of awe in almost every way imaginable; awe at the life that we created that’s somehow a synthesis of the two of us; awe at the human body and its many beyond-comprehension miracles of physics; awe at the future that’s unfolding before us every minute we spend with this little boy; awe at the sheer lack of sleep inherent in caring for a tiny human in these first few weeks.
I get that this is a seminal, rather earth-shattering life moment for us that I’m essentially confining to a small mention in what, by comparison, is a trivial piece, but I mention it mainly to set up the premise here. Suffice to say on the bigger picture, though—we’re elated.
Back to the crux of the smaller picture though, as a matter of habit, I always used to switch my iPhone to Do Not Disturb mode before going to sleep at night. For anyone who doesn’t already know, Do Not Disturb mode is a feature Apple added to iOS back in 2012 that effectively silences all notifications on your iPhone or iPad. Notifications still come through—you see them on your lock screen or anywhere else you’d normally find them once you activate the device—you’re just not disturbed by vibrations or audible pings for the notifications when Do Not Disturb is activated unless you’re currently using your activated device. Via your the settings menu, you can fine-tune the mode, allowing calls to come through from groups in your contacts, ‘favorites’, and anyone who calls repeatedly, scheduling it to automatically turn the mode on and off during the day, auto-activating it when you’re driving, and more (it really is super-handy; thanks Apple).
When it became clear that Katie was going into labor those two weeks back, it was roughly 430AM and—without getting too far into the weeds on this—things moved quickly. All went really well, but the next thing we knew, it was a few hours later and we were bonding with our son as all other thoughts fell away, distant and trite by comparison. A couple days later, once we were home and settled, I realized I’d never turned off the Do Not Disturb mode on my phone. More importantly, I realized that having left it in that mode had allowed me to focus on the here-and-now in a very here-and-now time. Cut to today, two weeks later, and I consider myself a DND convert (and yes, I’m also a longtime Dungeons and Dragons aficionado, but that’s a topic for another day; I’m talking Do Not Disturb here).
Many a piece has examined the myriad side effects of the fast-paced, hi-tech information age most of us now call home—fewer than two years back, WNYC aired an amazing interactive week-long series called Infomagical that we to this day consider transformative; and just last week, Morning Edition featured a piece comparing modern humans with smart phones to Pavlov’s dogs (yes, we do listen to a lot of NPR; thanks public radio).
Many of these pieces come to a similar conclusion—cutting back on or turning off notifications altogether is highly effective in the war we’re all waging to retain our own sanity and maintain focus amidst the non-stop stream of information. But sometimes you want to know if someone’s messaged you via Instagram or Tweeted about your company or texted you about meeting up later…you just don’t want those many pieces of information interrupting your every day on a regular basis and firing off synapses in your brain willy nilly.
For me, I’ve found that keeping the notifications I find useful still active but keeping on Do Not Disturb mode strikes the perfect balance—instead of being in a constant reactive state, picking up my phone every time it buzzes, literally multiple times a minute sometimes, I’m choosing to access the information from green-lit sources when I want to enter an information-receiving mode, ideally when I can give that information my full attention, not mid-conversation or -activity. So when I feel like I can make time for things not already in my zone immediate attention, I pick up my phone, activate, and see what’s going on in the world.
For instance, this morning I found a pause in my activity (making coffee), looked down, activated my phone, and saw that there had been two small earthquakes in the greater Los Angeles area and a Twitter account I follow had posted a new video—important, maybe; stop-what-you’re-doing-important, no way. Which seems to be the way most things go when it comes to outside information, I think.
Yes, I may be roughly five or six deep on the ever-growing list of inane-things-our-president-said by the time I activate my phone; yes, I’ll miss your call or text and have to get back to you later; yes, I’ll likely be late to the game on whatever the news of the day is, but I bet I’ll be more engaged the next time we’re together and talking in real life. And my guess and my hope is that this behavior will carry over into my interactions with my son, who I’m only just getting to know but will always be more important to me than the cutest cat video.