These days most people have heard of the “media diet” concept. The idea is, of course, that we we partake of media sources too much, too often every single day. The result? We’re informationally bloated – mostly with junk media, the kind of stories and drama that will suck up every existing piece of serenity in our lives and have us going back for more. Whether it’s our smart phones, our tablets, our laptops, our T.V.s or Wii console, we can’t seem to let them be. As a result, we suffer the psychological, social and – as I wrote about last week – physiological consequences of this contemporary hobby horse.
One reader’s idea (Thanks, Patrick) in the comment section of last week’s post especially grabbed my attention when he brought up the idea of “periodic media fasts,” specifically “IF-ing all communication devices.” Being a rabid fan of the intermittent fasting concept, I was intrigued. Intermittent fasting in the traditional sense (no food), of course, can do wonders for honing our metabolism and upregulating epigenetic activity. Intermittent euphoria, a concept I’ve shared in the past, can upregulate – and likely upgrade – your emotional satisfaction.
So what would IF-ing media look like? Maybe we can call it IMF, huh? (I think our use of the letters is more catchy and entertaining than the International Monetary Fund, don’t you?) Well, for starters, it can look like any regular IF configuration. For some folks, that means not eating until noon. For others, it means only eating within an eight hour window each day and fasting the other sixteen. Others fast for a full twenty-four hour period once a week. There are numerous other approaches as well.
The same can hold for an IMF trial or routine. It’s not about using any particular pattern but simply reining in your media use, practicing periodic abstinence. When we come back to it after the few hours or few days, we might experience a similar sense of upregulation. Maybe our efficiency is better. Maybe we’re more focused and less distracted. Maybe we find we’re bored with it and don’t want to bother with most of what used to reel us in.
Whether you’re willing to trim down your media by small increments or larger blocks of time, let these offer you some get-started ideas. I hope you’ll share yours as well.
1. Use the “do not disturb” setting on your phone.
Not everyone is comfortable turning off their phone. After all, what if the daycare center calls with an emergency? Customize your phone’s “do not disturb” setting to allow calls from certain numbers. The rest of the calls/texts will be there when you’re ready to tune in again.
2. Impose a hard and fast email schedule.
Instead of being “available” all day, maybe you’ll only respond to emails or texts 1-2 times a day. Schedule specific times, and try to be consistent in that time each day whenever you can. Not only will it offer fewer distractions in the day, but answering emails in “batches” (a Tim Ferris hat tip here) will encourage you to be succinct and on-task. It will become a chore to begin and finish rather than a continual thread itching throughout the entire span of the day.
3. Embrace a low information diet – set up feed reader and use RSS for this.
Choose what blogs and sites you’ll explore, and keep your readership focused. Again, it’s best to schedule the time in the day or week when you’ll read your feed. Any tips for a Google Reader replacement?
4. Leave your phone at home.
(I can hear the inner gasps….) No one to my knowledge has spontaneously combusted simply because they went for an evening walk without it. We all managed to survive without them until several years ago.
5. Downgrade your text/data plan on your phone.
Cell phone carriers are doing away with the now obsessively coveted unlimited data plans, and you’d think the country was rationing Mountain Dew, people get in such an uproar about it. While the modern me understands the bristling against the overage traps, the Primal part says go ahead and embrace it! Sure, few people are interested in the old style, do-nothing-but-actually-call cell phones anymore. If you don’t mind getting by without one, by all means go for it. If you enjoy having access to the Internet and map apps while traveling or just can’t totally cut the string on mobile FB/Twitter/Pinterest/Weather Channel/etc., consider self-imposing a ceiling on your usage (with rather harsh overage costs as a looming deterrent). Use an app to monitor usage, which can help you gauge your activity and avoid fees.
6. Cancel/downgrade the DVR/cable/Netflix/Hulu.
See how many services you’re willing to limit or do without. The fewer temptations, the better off you’ll be.
7. Unplug the wireless system (and every other system) for all but an hour a day.
Sometimes we just need to make it inconvenient for ourselves to break the rules. This is a pretty low threshold approach, but can be a great one for certain circumstances. When I’m working from home writing, I keep the wireless unplugged to prevent myself from getting on the Internet or checking emails.
This is where you’ll really feel the break. Trust me – you won’t miss ANYthing (except this blog, but I promise all posts will be neatly archived and waiting expectantly for you).
8. Impose a Power Outage.
Why not shut it all down once or even twice a month? Let loved ones know you’ll be unreachable by most modern means, and sign off for the weekend. You’ll curse Monday even more.
9. Take a Personal Retreat
Take away the temptation altogether by going where there are zero bars to be had. A real retreat (whether at a retreat center or a personal camping spot off the grid) will let you feel the real benefits of extended unplugging.
10. Do the long-term numbers.
Between the cost of Internet/data/subscription related plans and the tech devices themselves (everything from DVRs to the latest IPhone), it might be interesting (if not worthwhile) to examine how much money you’re spending on media. There’s no judgement intended here. It’s simply to gather information and discern whether you feel what you get for that money maintains or improves your life enough to warrant the expense. What else could a portion (or maybe even – for the willing among us – all) of that spending category go to? It’s always helpful to ask whether any specific spending is getting us the life we want.
I love grand personal experiments, and I consider this subject good fodder for a Primal test. What will happen psychologically when you reduce media? Will you feel more relaxed, more focused? Will you feel more or less connected to people? Will you have more free time? What will you do with it?
I think for most people, a regular IMF practice will have eventual impact of naturally consuming less media over time. If we limit or circumscribe our usage enough or set up annoying barriers to using devices, we learn over time that we don’t need it as much as thought we did. In fact, the vast majority of us will acknowledge we don’t miss it either. We end up filling our hours with other pursuits that we eventually can’t imagine giving up to go back in the direction of media frenzy. We don’t feel compelled to watch every Showtime series that piques our interest. We don’t feel the need to keep up on the government shutdown circus. We don’t feel the need to bother with Facebook more than once every day or two.
Any kind of IFing practice, I believe, naturally helps you plan and prioritize your life. Within the structure we set for ourselves, we get into the habit of consuming less and choosing more thoughtfully. We see the limited resources of our life in a new way – our time and energy – and more consciously decide how we’re going to allocate them. We develop a more thoughtful sense of economy in our lives. Intermittent fasting, the choice of deliberate deprivation, helps us discern the path to personal abundance in daily life – whatever we decide that should look like.
Here’s my challenge to you. Pick just one of the above IMF strategies and stick with it for the week. See how your life changes – or perhaps doesn’t. See how your intentions or activity with regard to media changes – or doesn’t.
Thanks for reading, everyone. Let me know your thoughts on intermittently bowing out of the connected society for some special Primal time. Have a great end to the week.