Digital Mindfulness or the Act of Being Mindful of What You Consume Online

Many of us spend upwards of 6 hours online either for work or play. Let’s assume that during these 6 hours we consume a minimum of 20 pieces of content an hour whether it’s videos, photos, articles, statuses or comments.

20 pieces an hour across 6 hours is 120 pieces a day. Across a week that’s 840. Across a month that’s 3,650. And across a year that’s 43,800.

And that’s just based on my conservative estimate.

Regardless, that’s 43,800 times your mind can be influenced in various ways. Just as a movie can make you feel the pain or happiness of its main characters, every piece of content makes you feel something. They either delight you, inform you, frighten you, bore you, or anger you. Every piece releases some chemical in your brain and when it all snowballs together — 43,800 times — it shapes how you think.

When you want to lose weight, they tell you to be mindful of what you put in your body. They say, “great bodies are made in the kitchen, not at the gym”. And when you follow their advice and eat healthy consistently, your body changes and reflects the goodness and richness of what you’re feeding it. You become stronger and healthier.

The very same applies to your mind. Every single thing you feed it, shapes it. If you feed it a stream of bite-sized, short-form content you will train your mind to pay attention and focus for only seconds or minutes at a time. If you feed it a stream of news that causes nothing but anger and fear, you will train your mind to see doubt and danger everywhere and with everyone. If you feed it a stream of content that causes nothing but amusement and joy, you will train your mind to be oblivious to the suffering of others.

What we see, is what we are.

We have to accept that we cannot tear ourselves away from our screens. Not everyone can afford the luxury of selling their belongings and retreating into a forest to become a hermit. Our devices are now an extension of our being. They augment the way we entertain ourselves, build relationships and make a living. There are incredible advantages in their use. There’s no running away from it.

Which leaves us with only one course of action — extending the act of mindfulness to the digital realm. Being aware that what we do with our devices is affecting us in ways we may not know. Being conscious that too much of screen time, especially on applications engineered to instill addiction, can lead us down a spiral of anxiety and eventually, depression.

But most of all, being selective with what we choose to put into our minds. Shying away from the ill-informed and superficial and gravitating towards the learned and enlightened. This article by Cal Newport on TED Ideas is a great place to start.

“Our thoughts shape our spaces and our spaces return the favor” — Steven Johnson

Make every single one of those 43,800 pieces of content work in your favor.