Intentional Living: Tech Boundaries

Creating boundaries is, quite frankly, an incessant hobby of mine. It’s a way in which I organize my world, a way to decide which realities get to partake in my life. Like writing, it’s fun for me, as well as essential to maintaining a sense of inner peace. This is hardly the first time I’ve written about it.

Speaking of, I have found that my inner peace is most jostled by the presence of tech. Not every technological invention, persay, as this blog space has actually been helpful with maintaining my sanity. But rather, tech meant to connect. Media in general, social media in particular, acts as a stressor in my life. Call me introvert, but the stimuli and external input puts me on edge, perpetuates my teeth grinding habit, and to state bluntly, makes me extremely irritable and cranky.

What I’ve come to realize is that all of this discomfort with tech really boils down to a few facts. The first being that I am easily overwhelmed by external stimuli. It throws my inner compass off-kilter. It interrupts my thought processes. My moods sense other emotions and empathizes by mimicking them. Because of this, I have always been a withdrawn child, preferring books or sleep over play-time with other children. I refuse to own a TV because I prefer to avoid the news (which I find to be mostly negative and fear-inducing) and TV shows (which I find to be addictive despite having little substance). Likewise, I dislike technologies that connect me to things  outside of my inner knowing.

But secondly, I have come to realize that this dislike towards tech results from a dislike towards the industry at large. It isn’t the phone itself that I hate. The phone is helpful to daily life. Rather, it’s the scientists, developers, psychologists – all of who are trying to cajole us into spending our time doing things on their agenda. It is this realization that gets me riled up – to the point of saying, “You do NOT get a say in how I spend MY time.” I’ll admit – they are extremely good at what they do. They send us sponsored ads for companies we might like, showing us products we might spend our hard-earned dollars on, which translates to products we spend our valuable time earning money on. They’re also good at creating a feed that gets our attention, under the premise of keeping us connected. They invented platforms that facilitate mindless scrolling … and you all know how I hate mindless activity.

All of this has resulted in a fire in my belly, which I use as ammunition to try my best to resist a dependency on my phone. But also, it has graciously led to a softening of the heart, and has lifted much of the guilt that I used to feel around my “weakness” for staying connected via Tech. We could all afford that bit of forgiveness. Because it’s not just the tech we are battling with. It’s a group of really smart people who are very good at their jobs and who are spending trillions of dollars into trying to get us to spend our valued time on what benefits them. No wonder we are overwhelmed by their constant pushing. I’ve started to realize that it’s alright to be sucked in sometimes, but to find awareness of that occurrence is already one step closer to battling against it.

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What I have found helpful is the creation of boundaries around tech use. I want tech to be what it was originally created for – a tool to do something, not a black hole for mindless scrolling. Below you will find a list of boundaries that have either been helpful thus far or that I hope will help in the near future.

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  • Use physical location as a boundary. I have a specific spot for my phone, and the action I try to abide by is docking my phone at this location which happens to be by the window sill away from my bed. I try to never set my phone next to the bed on the nightstand, a habit born after a friend of mine talked of the possibility of electronic waves and radiation emitting from the device at all times. It’s a habit that has stuck. When I come home, I try to dock my phone by the window sill plugged into the charger. The location is hard to get to due to it’s isolation. It requires me to walk over from other parts of the home and brings with it an extra trigger for awareness. I have time to think to myself, “Why am I walking over to pick up the phone? Is it worth the energy? Is it worth the time? Is it important or necessary to do right now?” Additionally, since it is not by my bedside, it is not the first thing I grab for when I wake up in the morning, and I do not look at it before I go to sleep. I used to spend the first and last hours of the day thumbing through Instagram but after I created this intentional location for my phone, I have not done it once in the last year – which is quite the triumph.
  • Don’t use the phone earlier than a certain time. It doesn’t have to be as strict as a particular hour. But for me, I attribute it to a sect of activities. Since the phone is docked by the sill away from the bed, and my alarm is in the form of a hungry, wailing cat, I don’t feel the need to reach for my phone the minute my eyes flutter open. My habits in the morning are to drink a full glass of water first thing (which I’ve set on my nightstand the night before), to feed the cat (less than half of the days of the week since usually Mr. Debtist beats me to it), and to roll out the yoga mat for a few moments with Adriene before the roommate starts work in the living room. After my yoga morning stretches, I put away the yoga mat and start to make breakfast with my husband in the kitchen. We will eat breakfast together and this is when I first allow myself to pick up the phone – after I’ve already given back to myself, taken care of my body, and spent a few mindful moments with family.

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  • No phones in the evening, especially before bed. This isn’t so much a hard-set rule as a consequence of the way in which I spend my evenings. Perhaps it was after I read that blue light greatly affects quality of sleep that I subconsciously started to avoid the phone at night. More plausibly, it’s a result of my Iphone 6 running out of juice mid-afternoon and the habit of plugging it in after coming home. Plus, our evenings are the times we spend with each other. Even during quarantine, our days are mostly spent to ourselves, with hobbies, chores, blogs, classes, or whatever else we like to do. We reconvene for lunch mid-day, but hardly do we ever hang out after breakfast and before 4:30 p.m. It’s a lifestyle for introverts, that’s for sure. But in the evenings, we come together to make dinner. We made a rule when we married that we will eat our meals together and we haven’t strayed from that, so we will sit down to eat. Then we will do dishes and spend time playing a board game, watching a TV show or movie, making drinks, or lying with the cat. I don’t know why evenings are our “we-time”. It’s probably derived from our previous work schedules, where evenings were all that we had. Regardless, the phone has no place in our relationship come evening. And I certainly don’t bring it to bed with me at night. Once it’s docked for the night, I scarcely look for it or pick it up til morn. Even he has evening restrictions on his phone, turning on his Night mode past a certain hour which changes the screen to Black and White. If you’ve had trouble lately, perhaps the “Do Not Disturb” option will be helpful?
  • Keep the phone on silent mode. Embarrassingly, I turned off all notifications from my phone when I first got one, at 21 years old, because I disliked the sounds the phone made. Pings and rings would startle me from whatever I was doing and cause me to jump. I guess you could say I am highly sensitive to loud sounds. I would literally get scared, and was on edge whenever I had my phone on me. So I kept my phone on silent mode, which prevented me from developing a habit of urgency. I never responded right away, and I usually missed calls. Nobody seemed to mind. I simply got back to them when I had the chance.
  • Remove app notifications. I get annoyed by intrusions, in general. As a child, I would fly into a rage when my sibling or parents interrupted me while I was focusing on a tasks. As an adult, I would feel similarly towards my phone alerting me of an incoming text or social media comment – things that I found unimportant and too frequent for my taste. I never allow apps to notify me – with the exception of text messages and phone calls. Since the phone is already on silent, the notifications don’t really work until I look at my phone, but by deleting other app notifiers, I found the screen to be less cluttered whenever I checked. Both this and the previous tip have helped me to be more present throughout the day and have removed the pressure to always be plugged in.

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  • Placing screen limits or app limits. I really like placing screen limits. Usually, I place impractical limits, ones that I could never achieve such as 30 minutes of phone time a day – but it’s always something to work towards to, which is my main motivator in life. You can limit an app itself (like Instagram) or a general category (like Social Media). You can also limit phone usage en total. If you go over, don’t let it be so disappointing that you give up altogether. Be gracious and remember, it’s an entire industry.
  • Limit the number of apps. Some people really enjoy organizing their apps into categories. Some have a main screen, and then three other screens to swipe right to. I have seen people organize by app color, by app function, by app name. Despite loving organization, too, I prefer to be organized by simply having less. My husband will tell you that I refuse to download apps. I don’t have a ride share app, a food delivery app, or a music app. I don’t even have an e-mail app. The e-mail one was a biggie because when I deleted it, I found myself only checking once or twice a day on a computer, versus, say, every five minutes. I avoid game apps (because I know how addicting they’re made to be and how un-stimulating it is for the mind) and I would say I have fallen behind on social media apps barring Instagram. Plus, as organized as a phone looks with all the apps in their proper boxes and squares, I’d have to say that the screen looks much more polished with less clutter taking up space. A screen clear of apps is similar to a room clear of stuff. Both allow us to focus on the important things in life.DSC03540
  • Turn off the phone when not in use. I did this for a while and I am happy to report that it helps tremendously. I like that the phone is a tool, meant to do something specific, and then meant to be put away. I use the phone mostly in relation to this blog and Instagram, which I wish was a crutch excuse but after many experimental tries to obliviate Insta-use, I know now that it is a necessary truth. Typically my blog work was in the early mornings before a dental shift, so what I did was turn off my phone (completely!) once I clocked in to do dentistry. On my downtime, instead of using my phone, I read a book. I turn it on to check during lunchtime and after work, then dock it on the sill. I did this for a while and it was fantastic! My screen time decreased to my proposed 30 minutes a day (total!) for multiple weeks. Unfortunately, I fell off track when the stay-at-home mandate had me working more hours in this blog space – not entirely a bad thing. But it’s good to know there’s that habit shift to fall to, once dentistry days pick up again.
  • No phones around people. This is the one boundary I am terrible at. However, I am highly inspired by my roommate who is very good at not having a phone out when with people. Instead she is present in conversation, actively listening or doing something with her mates. I, on the other hand, have my phone out at the dining table. I photograph food and coffee. I feel the need to document my time, unfortunately at other people’s expense. I try to keep the phone away when socializing. I find it easier to do when I am at a party or get-together, and more difficult to do when we are out eating dinner. I am drawn into conversation when only a handful few are attending, and use the phone as a means to escape larger, more overwhelming crowds. It doesn’t make it right. This is definitely one boundary I want to practice moving forward.

For those feeling like this is all a bit too much, just pick a few to adapt. Essentially, these are simply habits. Similar to the way your hands automatically reach for your phone, you can train the self to automatically put it away. Not all tips may work for you but it’s the mindfulness that really makes the practice worthwhile. You’ll notice moments where you are more easily drawn, the reflexes more easily learned and less easily broken, and the difference between being connected to your inner knowing versus the world at large.

For the still dubious, instead of completely eliminating phone dependency (an act that can feel too much like a win-or-lose), try crowding out. Crowding out tech use is  something secondary to my lifestyle, which is filled with hobbies and activities that I enjoy doing. I’ve found that I hardly touch my phone when I’m immersed in a book, focused on learning something new, or processing my thoughts in written form. If getting-rid-of-altogether isn’t your way, perhaps think of it as an opportunity to substitute with actions worthy of your time and of your own choosing.

 

Frugal Challenge: Don’t Buy Technology Brand New

I have never personally bought a piece of technology brand new. I recognize that the reasoning behind it is due to having the privilege of knowing people who have hand-me-down technology to give. A quickly advancing field, it doesn’t take long before a newer-“more improved” version is released. My advice: Don’t buy into it (literally!). Many other people will, and that’s the whole point. When people around you are buying newer versions of stuff, the older versions will be left lying around. It is quite difficult to properly dispose of tech stuff. You can’t just throw it in the trash. This is where you swoop! Ask around for any older gadgets that they are no longer using, when you are ready for your own upgrade.

My history with Cellular Phones

I got my first cell phone as a hand-me down from my parents when I was 18 years old. I was starting college, and my 17 year old sister and I shared the cell phone. I remember it was an older version than what my friends were carrying. A flip phone with a keyboard. It could not receive texts, nor could it access the internet. So I am not sure what the point of the keyboard was. This was in 2007 when classmates were already checking their emails on their iPhones. But I was so excited, and it serviced me fine.

I remember that in my 3rd year of college, I went abroad to study in Santiago, Chile. I did not have an international cell phone plan, so all of my communication was through this really old computer in the lobby of the hotel we were living in. There were two old computers that gave me an hour of access to the WiFi per day. When I came home that summer, I was shocked to learn that my parents had FINALLY added texting to our plan. This was in 2010, and I had just started to use texting.

Eventually, that phone died, and I needed a new one. Luckily, my then boyfriend and now husband, was very big on keeping up with the iPhone releases. That summer, a new iPhone was released and he gave me his old iPhone. Two years later, we would do the same. When the iPhone 7 got released, he gave me his iPhone 5. They were the best upgrades ever. Ever since then, I am happy to report that my habit of never upgrading just because there are new releases rubbed off on him. He still has that iPhone 7, complete with a broken screen which occurred more than a year ago, due to the unfortunate event of dropping it down two flights of stairs.

One summer, “my” iPhone 5 refused to turn on. It was charging one minute, then frozen the next. Taking that baby to the iPhone store and learning that I will never see that small screen light up ever again was heart-breaking. But I was not ready to buy a new phone. So I went and talked to my dad.

Since I hadn’t upgraded my phone with AT&T since 2008, I was actually able to get a “free upgrade”. He was able to maneuver a deal for me to get a free iPhone6. Currently, I still carry around that iPhone 6 and will continue to do so until it decides to die on me. Since my husband himself has graduated from the habit of continually upgrading, our “newest” phone is a bashed up iPhone7 with a cracked screen.

My history with laptops

I got my first laptop as a hand-me-down when I was 17 years old. It was my dad’s very old office laptop, the kind that takes fifteen minutes to start up. It was a chunky piece of tech, one that I couldn’t carry to class at high school or college. It sat in the same corner of my parents bedroom, and I would have to deal with sitting cross-legged on the hardwood floor in order to use it, because it had to stay connected to that small blue box that wired it to the internet. Yes, our house did not have WiFi at the time.

When I graduated college at 21 years old, my parents gifted me a laptop that cost less than $500. This was a pretty expensive graduation gift! But they knew that I was pursuing dentistry and that I would need a laptop in dental school. The plan was for this to get me through the next four years. That laptop survived five whole years. It had scratches, the corner of it was taped together, and it was slow, like an aged man. I held onto it for dear life. Close to my graduating dental school, my laptop started to give out. I was so bummed, but my now husband, once again, came to my rescue. He had a $400 laptop himself that has seen three years of service. He saw my frustrations with my slow computer, and decided to lend his laptop to me. Eventually, I took over and he had his desktop for his own computer needs.

How I Just Recently Scored on Getting a Free Laptop

Just last month, this super old laptop that has survived six years started to slow. In fact, it started to throw tantrums. After an hour of being on, it would suddenly freeze up. There was no way around it but to turn it off, and lose everything I was currently working on. I worried for my blog’s existence, and started conjuring up solutions.

“I have always wanted an Macbook”, a voice in my head said. It’s true. Since I have never bought a laptop of my own, I have had to make do with whatever brand I was given. But I have always wanted the sleek look of Macbooks. Then the cost dawns on me. Over a grand for a brand new one, almost a grand for a refurbished one. I started to make calculations in my head. I couldn’t embrace that idea, so my husband suggested I spend a few hundred dollars to buy a laptop to tide me over until I could save for a pretty, silver apple. From a valuist viewpoint, I couldn’t get behind that idea either. To buy something I don’t actually want, that is subpar from my expectations just to be cheap is just not my style. So what did I do?

I started to tell people about my woes. How I was in search of a laptop, but I was not ready to buy one per say. Lo and behold, my family had something tucked away in the master bedroom. An unused Microsoft Surface Pro II. This used to be my dad’s work laptop provided by his office. As a person who works from home, his company provides him with the laptop needed in order to do his work. He just recently upgraded to the Macbooks that I myself was yearning for, which meant that his old laptop was no longer being used. This is the laptop I am typing this article on now.

It’s so funny because this is the nicest laptop I have ever owned. I am so excited about its ability to turn into a tablet, the fact that it’s touchscreen, and the pen that I can draw/write with directly on the screen. I texted my friend and told him that I got a new laptop, and his response was, “Hah! That thing is so old.” In my head, I was thinking, “Yes, but it’s free.” I do this all the time, and am extremely proud of it. You can call me a leech, but honestly, I am simply putting to good use discarded and forgotten gadgets that function completely fine.

If you’d like to do the same, here are some actionable tips.

How to Save Money on Technological Gadgets

  • Never buy technology brand new.
  • Ask around for unused or unwanted gadgets.
  • Hang on to your devices until they die out on you.
  • Share devices with people you live with.
  • Challenge yourself to go without, for a while.

If you really want to buy a gadget, but have the flexibility to wait a little longer, try putting a search in camelcamelcamel.com. You can have a notification sent directly to you when something does go on sale below the price point that you are willing to pay. I am sure more techy people can find ways to save. To help the community, feel free to share your own actionable tips in the comments!