How much digital do we need?

lights at a Jesus and Mary Chain concert #technology

On this blog, I recently asked why I keep coming back to social media and other platforms, and now I'm asking exactly how much digital convenience I need in my life.

I first asked this question sometime in the last couple years when I started examining my relationship with notifications. For most of my cellular life, I was the type of person to keep all the apps on his phone and also keep all notifications enabled. Because FOMO.

But that changed when I found myself on a quest to regain my attention.

First, I mostly disabled push notifications. One notable exception does come to mind: I retained push notifications for text messages. Fortunately, while hardly anyone wants to contact me, this is especially true for people who know me well enough to have my phone number, so this exception isn't as antithetical as it may sound.

I often go back and forth on exactly which apps I should keep on my phone because even with notifications disabled, certain apps tempt me to check in far too often.

So which ones should be removed completely? Twitter? RSS reader? Banking and investing? Do I really need to invest via my phone?

These questions force me to ask how I view my cellphone and how exactly I want to use it, because it is a tool, after all. We're reaching the point where we can do almost anything—or at least anything I want to do—with our phones. But just because we can perform a specific task on our phones doesn't mean we should, for no other reason than I'm an old man who's more effective with a physical keyboard and mouse than with onscreen controls. Some tasks are better put off until I have access to a better machine, such as my desktop or maybe even my iPad with a bigger screen.

Being intentional about which apps I hang on to forced me to acknowledge that every app is an opportunity for distraction, so which apps are worth that risk? I know I need a navigation app since I am directionally challenged. But GPS apps have never been unwelcome distractions, so they're free to stick around.

I ramped up thinking about these and similar questions more after I dove back into Douglas Ruskhoff's Team Human, which argues that we don't use systems like technology and markets so much as they use us. (One could argue that linking to the book via Amazon is a slap in the face to Team Human, and one may have a point.) We're more aware than ever before of the ways technologies like social media influence us via algorithms and showing us content we're sure to like rather than showing us reality.

With cellphones in our pockets, we're in an age of unprecedented convenience, but whom does that convenience serve? Surely some degree of friction is healthy as our persistence in spite of it reveals what truly matters, right?

Ever since I heard Chuck Palahniuk explain to Joe Rogan the difference between writing and typing, I've tried to identify the point at which technology gets in the way or—at the very least—stops adding value to the process. But as is often the case, I am able to identify that line only once I've identified my goals. And that process starts with asking the right questions, something I consider the real point of this blog.


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