or the ‘Monkey Mind’ at work
Going through the tweet feed my attention was caught by this headline ‘Switch off the internet noise to see clearly’. I clicked on the link and off I was on the Irish Times reading an article on mindfulness and how to reduce stress. Soon I realised that I had completely mis-read the title, probably due to internet fatigue. Thinking that the article was exactly targeted at all of us who spend too much time mindlessly online, I said: ‘see, it is high time we stop the *internet* noise’. Except that the title said the *internal* noise! Oh, well I feel the misunderstanding gave me the chance to reflect on something that has been on my mind for quite a bit now: how a good part of our life is lived online, and how tiring it is to feel that we always have to be connected.
When I worked in the field with Médecins Sans Frontières I was expected to have my phone and my walkie-talkie on 24/7. Occasionally I switched it off, I didn’t feel the fate of the Middle East was resting solely on my shoulders. It was a very healthy choice. Back home we have no conflict nor natural disasters, but everyone is constantly on high alert tweeting something, stumbling upon something else, tagging, blogging, googling. Recently I visited some remote areas of Northern Ireland, not only did I have no Internet, there was no mobile reception either. It was pure bliss, and in four days I was able to switch off a lot of the internal noise.
The web can be an exhausting realm of zapping and multi-tasking. Our online approach often resembles what in Zen is called ‘the monkey mind’, a mind that jumps from one thing to the other, often aimlessly, keeping busy for fear of stillness, or dreading that we might miss something important (known as FOMO). At times I end up on a website without even knowing what brought me there in the first place! It’s a very tiring and ineffective strategy, which tends to dominate our life in both work and leisure. Studies confirm that performing multiple simultaneous tasks leaves the brain somewhat baffled (Science, 2010), and that massive multitaskers are easily distracted and have a hard time sorting out irrelevant information. This unfocused state often results in irrational decision-making (Stanford University study).
What to do then? I personally love the Internet: I do my shopping online, I book flight tickets, I read magazines, I chat with my friends, etc. but I feel that it is important to reclaim a space where I can ‘Switch off the *internet* noise to see clearly ‘. It takes a very well trained mind to be still in midst of stumbling, tweeting, googling, facebooking, tagging, blogging, iphoning, etc.
Having already cut down on the Internet noise following my blissful trip to Northern Ireland, I have now decided to go have regular ‘unplugged sessions’, dropping the compulsion to be connected 24/7. This will allow me to test the hypothesis whether by switching off the Internet noise to see clearly, the volume of the internal noise will diminish as well. I suspect it will.
p.s. This just came up in my tweet-feed, which says I’m not alone in my analysis: Managing your Gadgets. Also see Did you get the message? and The digital diet: how to break free of your smartphone and other gadgets.