4 Ways to Find the Right Balance in Your Digital Life

Posted on June 6th, 2012 by True Media

Desktops, laptops, smartphones and tablets are a ubiquitous part of our everyday lives, access to information has never been easier.  Our new digital specialist Ryan Green has thoughts on how to achieve balance between your virtual and authentic realities.
In many respects, new technologies have greatly benefited our work and personal lives.  We can more easily connect with colleagues around the world and conduct business globally.  As marketers, we do more meaningful research into the way customers interact with advertising, and find innovative solutions to complex challenges for our clients with the vast amount of data readily available to us.  We can stay linked into a multitude of industries through newsletters, twitter feeds and email subscriptions.
Never before has it been so easy to know so much.
Having access to such a massive field of information has its costs as well.  In a seminal article written in the Atlantic Weekly in 2008, which was later expanded into a book, Nicholas Carr suggests that the ease by which we are able to get quick hits of information is re-wiring the neural pathways in our brains.  The brain is a very plastic, malleable organ.  Take, for example, someone that loses their eyesight.  The neurons in the part of the brain that was responsible for vision realign themselves, and make new connections.  The result is that other senses become stronger.  The neurological pathways in the brain are in a constant state of flux, and under-utilized areas are constantly reconfigured.  This is what Carr suggests is happening to us as we become more and more fixated on technology – we are strengthening our ability to capture little bits of stimuli at the expense of our ability to concentrate on one thing for a long period of time.
Think for a minute about how your daily internet experience.  How many emails, text message notifications, social media alters and calendar reminders do you receive in any given hour that divert your attention away from your work?   Do you find yourself unable to perform one task for more than a couple minutes without checking your cell phone, pulling up a web browser, or chatting with a co-worker?  For many (myself included), we need to be more cognizant of the effects that technology is having on our ability to concentrate.  Here are 4 ways in which you can help achieve the ideal balance in your digital life:
1) Make Time to Read, in Print, for at least 30 Minutes a Day
Take yourself away from the computer, put your phone on mute, turn off the TV and find time each and every day to read without distraction.  Notice how long it takes before your mind wants to wander off, and work on pulling your concentration back to the page.  Concentration is like a muscle, you need to use it regularly to strengthen it, or it will begin to atrophy; this is literally the process which is happening in your brain.  As society gets more and more engulfed and connected digitally, the people who are able to keep their concentration will become a scarcer commodity.  Do the small things that will keep your on the right side of the curve.
2) Be More Selective About Who You Follow on Twitter
For me, one of the best ways to learn about current news and new ideas is through my Twitter feed.  In following my colleagues, industry experts and people slightly outside of my usual attention, I have had access to a variety of new viewpoints that I would have never considered.  It many ways, Twitter has helped my learning curve into understanding the nuances of the advertising industry in a short period of time.  But each tweet that is brought to the forefront of my computer screen by TweetDeck represents another opportunity to draw my attention away from my work.  To manage your Twitter, and other social media feeds more effectively, be more selective about when you use them, perhaps in the morning and during lunch.  But the best thing you can do is to limit the number of people that show up in your feed in the first place.  Is it really necessary to follow 50 different blogs on Search Engine Marketing?  Or 30 different local news writers? How often are these people posting identical content, often re-tweeting themselves?  Use Twitter for what is is best at, connecting to a wide variety of people and content, and take out the repetitiveness.  Set up a different Twitter handle for entertainment that could can follow at home.
3) Turn off Repetitive and Unnecessary Notifications across Digital Platforms
How often does your office have a meeting in ten minutes, and everyone’s computer suddenly chime in unison?  Then, another reminder comes on your cell phone five minutes later.  It would be hard (at least for me) to really forget about the lunch meeting at noon when the food is catered – the extra reminders are just another chance to break concentration.  This goes for email alters too.  Some cell phones will allow you to set the time of day you want to be notified of incoming messages, use this feature to turn off double notifications while you are sitting at your computer.  This should go without saying, but turn off alerts for Words with Friends and other games too.  The goal is to manage alerts across all of your platforms to what is really necessary (one reminder for important meetings), in order to maximize the benefits.  Think of it as notification optimization.
4) Stop Sleeping with Your Cell Phone
Recent research has shown that 90% of people have their cell phone within arm’s length from them at any given point in time.  This includes while you are sleeping.  If you have notification alters  on during the night, it may be harder for you to sleep.  I have even found that I will impulsively check my phone, thinking that I heard it vibrate.  For the majority of us that sleep with their cell phones, this could be a contributing factor to insomnia.  Not only is technology preventing us from concentrating when we are awake, but it might be keeping us from concentrating on sleeping too.