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Mindful : August 2013
technology you’re consuming, so you can be a more interac- tive participant. Maybe that’s part of the addiction you’re talking about. Why wouldn’t you want to be engaged in something where you have more control? RF: In social interactions, we have less control over where things will go, so perhaps we’re tempted sometimes to withdraw into a space where we ca n exert more control over what we’re taking in. AB: I don’t think most technologies we use today are like junk food, desig ned to make us come back for more. It’s not the intention of desig ners to create something that people will do all the time to the exclusion of other things they need and want to do. At Facebook, our aim is to connect people with each other over dista nce a nd time. Of course, people choose how they engage with that, just as they do in any sphere. Each of us makes our own choices and takes responsibility for them. I can choose to put the phone down because I’ve learned it’s important for me to be present in the circumstances in my life. I can choose not to be thinking about something else when I’m having a conversation with my daughter. I’m grateful for technology’s ability to keep me in touch with my loved ones. I love it when I get a text message that lights up my day. And when I’m with my family, I also appreciate having time when I interact directly. It’s g reat to have both. RF: So setting clear intentions about how we use these compelling technologies is importa nt to our quality of life, because while they may not be spe- cifically designed to distract us, it’s easy for us to let them do that. IA: Yes, but I don’t think it helps to be Draconia n about it. You need to negotiate the space you share. My husband has a job in which lots of people rely on him to be ava ilable 24/7. When we first got together, I could have taken offense at his lack of attention, but I realized it wasn’t about me. It was about the job, and we had chosen that kind of life. So we worked out a protocol. I pledged not to get offended when he picked up the phone, and he agreed not to let the phone make him forget I was there. It could be as simple as saying, “Excuse me for a moment please.” It’s also important for us to have times when we truly unplug. We do that on vacation and when we go on yoga retreats. That’s one of the rules there, and we happily follow it. AB: I recognize key times when it’s importa nt for me to pay attention. It’s importa nt not to check email first thing in the morning. If my attention is fully focused on the morning rituals—getting dressed, having breakfast, helping get the day started—that grounds me and recharges me. I start the day with my feet on the ground. If I wake up and check my email right away, my attention is divided and the day gets started on the wrong foot. RF: It sounds like a real practice for you. Are there specific situations where you’ve found that more awareness has changed the way you use digital technolog y? AB: If I get an email, particularly an important one, it’s best to be in a position where I can give it my full attention. That’s why I strive not to check email in situations where I won’t be able to respond effec- tively. It makes no sense to be checking emails while I’m pumping gas. I’ve been working on arranging my day so that I have times I dedicate to email and times when I just don’t do it. I’ve increased the transition times between different pa rts of my day—especially between meet- ings—so I have a space to check and respond to mes- sages. It’s a real practice to ca rve out dedicated time, but it pays off. When I had back-to-back meetings and I would pick up the phone in the middle of one of them, or check my email just before I got home, it put a strain on what I did next. Now I give myself 10 min- utes to check and respond to the one or t wo pressing things, and then I arrive in the next place better able to pay attention. RF: You plan your day at that level of detail? AB: Absolutely. If you wa nt to minimize disruption, telling yourself to stop is probably not enough. Planning is key. First, obser ve the relationship you have with a technology, and then t weak the structure of your day to increase your focus and minimize the distraction. → We worked out a protocol. I pledged not to get offended when he picked up the phone, and he agreed not to let the phone make him forget I was there. Irene Au August 2013 mindful 39