this is a cartoon of a skeleton

Are You Attached to a Digital Leash?

I just read something that made me stop in my tracks.

Have you heard of the ‘digital leash’?

It’s a term that some stressed workers are now using to describe the way they feel being tethered to their work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When I read that – it instantly struck a chord with me.

I can’t even eat a sandwich without scrolling through my iphone and this behaviour is getting worse. I can’t even take my eyes of my screen long enough to walk across a busy street. I must have my eyes on my screen at all times. Of course, on my lunch break I reply to work emails, of course I check the company’s twitter feed at 9pm just to see if anyone likes the tweets we shared.

“The 24/7 economy has permeated our lifestyles, where work can intrude everywhere and anywhere. Many workers are described as being perpetually attached to their work via a digital ‘leash’ – pagers, mobile phones, palm devices and laptops. These factors impact upon adults and children alike.” (Thomas, 2003)

Got that?

That was written TEN YEARS AGO

When I first got an iphone in 2010 – I didn’t think I was aware how much it would change communication and culture. I will tell you this right now and I will use a swear word so get ready.

New Digital Media is Ruining Our Fucking Minds

It really is. I love media, I love being connected, I love multitasking, I love watching TV while being on my PC and iphone at the same time. Even the few short words I have managed to get down here have been interrupted in flow because of all the times I had to stop to check my outlook, my yahoo, my fave news site and to chat to my neighbour. My mind is like swiss cheese.

And I’ll bet yours is too – maybe not as bad as mine

So now we are going to talk about how to fix it.

It is essential to be able to cultivate your ability to concentrate. It is impossible to spiritually progress until one can focus and control their mind somewhat. The mind is a tricky thing – it wanders here and there. It is naturally like this but can be trained to focus. Focus is practised. You can get better. Once you gain the skill – you have to maintain it – it does not remain with you – you must cultivate it like a garden.

So many people do not like meditation. It’s like going to the gym – it has benefits but is not always fun. The benefits of running on a treadmill are fun (good body, better lungs, fitter) but the mechanics of running are not always pleasant (hot, sweaty, tired and sore legs!). It is not acceptable to say that I am not good at exercising therefore I do not do it. It must be done, it is essential to life.

So – do I meditate?

Nope.

Not nearly enough. So I’m not having a go at you. One thing I have done several times is a course of vipassana. This should be free where you are – do not pay for this course. Spiritual learning should not come at a monetary cost if you can avoid it. It should be freely given and shared. But that’s only my opinion.

When you go to vipassana – you mediate for about 11 hours a day. You do this for 10 days in a row and it is a great way for someone to gain the mental skills that they need to progress. If you cannot concentrate – you will not get anywhere. Sometimes we get spiritual help and we don’t even know because we are not paying attention.

I mean – what the hell are we even here for? It might be worth asking yourself the question if you haven’t yet. Honestly – any clues to these big questions always come in the quietest of moments.

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Multi-tasking vs. Mediation: Don’t Get Stuck in a Trap

My brain has been like Swiss cheese lately. My attention span is shocking and I can barely concentrate on one task for more than a few seconds. I am totally serious.

I blame this on contemporary social media. I blame this on multi-tasking. I blame this on modern life. And we are losing our valuable brain power. I am not kidding.

While it may seem that my statements are a little harsh, I am not the only person who sees a problem with the trend of ‘multitasking’. Scientists recently created an app that could track people’s moods throughout the day. About three times a day, the app would ask the user what he was doing and then about his mood.

Could your mind wandering be making you moody?

The study revealed that people’s minds were wandering about 50 per cent of the time. The only time this was slightly lower was while making love. I would have to agree with this because although my mind usually wanders at work, during sex I can definitely focus! I even have trouble focusing when I am eating dinner; so I guess this means that I have a higher level of engagement while making love than eating. I do enjoy both activities, as do most of us.

Eating dinner while watching TV (and talking on the phone)

Last night I was eating dinner, watching TV, typing on my laptop and talking to a friend on the phone. At the same time. Needless to say, I was not performing any of these tasks successfully, least alone the conversation with my friend who I ended up having a minor tiff with over nothing.

Can meditation help your focus?

this is a photo of a man meditating

I have done quite a bit of meditation in this lifetime but I can say that I do not do nearly enough. It is important to maintain a daily practice. Honestly if we all exercised every day, made love every day and meditated every day – the world would be a better place. Today I have not managed any of those things.

Meditation can improve your ability to focus. This is imperative. In fact – this is the main purpose of meditation – to train the mind. If our minds are constantly jumping from one task to another, we lose focus and effectiveness.  If you do not know how to meditate I would recommend teaching yourself by going to Vipassana. Believe me, if you get through the free course, you will know how to meditate. Google Vipassana in your country. Please be aware, this is a Buddhist meditation but can be done by all people.

Is mind-wandering a bad thing?

Jonathan Smallwood from the University of California is mentioned in the study and he says: The connection suggests that cutting down on mind-wandering, either by practising meditation or simply by keeping busy, could help people battle depression.”

The article also goes on warn that we should not be cutting out daydreaming. “The irony is that mind-wandering also underlies invention. We don’t want to tell people not to do it.”

Multi-taskers are more impulsive and bad at multitasking

There are other studies that say that multi-taskers are more impulsive. I have to say that I am a very impulsive person and it’s not always a good thing. Students at the University of Utah (it has always been my dream to go to Utah because I am fascinated by bizarre modern religious movements) found that those who multitasked more were actually worse at it and more impulsive.

“The people who multitask the most tend to be impulsive, sensation-seeking, overconfident of their multitasking abilities, and they tend to be less capable of multitasking,” says author David Strayer.

You are not actually multi-tasking

That’s right, apparently your brain is simply switching between tasks; and not every efficiently either. A recent study called Cognitive control in media multi-taskers showed that your brain is actually not doing two (or three or four) things at once, it is simply switching back and forth and very inefficiently.

“Results showed that heavy media multi-taskers are more susceptible to interference from irrelevant environmental stimuli and from irrelevant representations in memory. This led to the surprising result that heavy media multi-taskers performed worse on a test of task-switching ability, likely due to reduced ability to filter out interference from the irrelevant task set.”

So – our minds really are like Swiss cheese, we are not just imagining it. The only solution is to train the mind. The only way to do that is with meditation.

Now if I could only take my own advice.

Photos by elfsternberg and Hannah Eve – thank you!