Not too long ago, I did some tech shopping that was long overdue. As I was setting up these devices, I found myself disabling a bunch of notifications on them. The only ones I kept on were the time-sensitive reminders (for obvious reasons). This setup experience reminded me how the devices we get today are designed to be intrusive by default. For instance, we may have our message notifications silenced and yet others are able to ping us. That tells us the designers of these devices have put the onus on the message sender rather than the receiver to not be disturbed. But why do we have to depend on others hoping they will always use their devices responsibly? The onus should be on us to ensure we are not being interrupted. In any case, we can’t control others (nor do we want to), but we can always choose how we respond.
This brings me to my favorite feature on my tech devices, which is the DND mode. That means with the exception of receiving time-sensitive reminders, which I have enabled, I choose to not be interrupted by whoever/whatever. What that means is all calls will automatically be sent to voicemail (including the spammers) by default. Nor will I hear any pings from messages. The idea being that I want to check my devices as and when its convenient to me. After all, these devices are meant to serve us. We are not here to serve them.
I’ve been using my devices in this way for years, which is why when I meet someone and we exchange contact info, they are often surprised as to why I didn’t answer their calls, as if I was a call operator waiting to respond to others all day (I mean no disrespect to others), but for many of us, this seems to be the default way of using these devices (and by extension, using our attention), which is not entirely our fault (but our responsibility nonetheless), given the way these devices are designed.
It’s not that I don’t return calls or messages within a reasonable amount of time (if warranted), but I do so as per my convenience (unless, of course, I’ve something scheduled). It’s because I’ve decided to give my full attention to whoever/whatever it is that has my attention in the moment. Being constantly interrupted by these devices is a surefire way of having our attention hijacked. Not only that, but it also shows how we are not fully honoring our current commitments (with ourselves or with others) because we have implicitly chosen to give our attention to new inputs all the time.
Likewise, when we are trying to reach others, it’s unreasonable to expect they will answer our calls or messages the moment we try to reach them, for n number of reasons, not the least of which is because they haven’t explicitly agreed to do so. And yet, we might take these lack of instant responses personally and make unfair assumptions about them.
Here’s another instance that comes to mind. Earlier in the year, I got a notebook and a tablet and was rather thrilled at the idea of sending (and receiving) messages from these devices without having to use my phone and to have it all in sync with each other. However, that feeling lasted a short while before I disabled it on both of those devices. While some may think of it as a boon to have the same message ping multiple devices simultaneously (depending on how/where you used them), I found it rather intrusive to be easily accessible (and interrupted) particularly when I was doing something on those devices. It helped me to take a step back and reflect on what I was using those devices for and how I was going to be using them. After all, we are responsible for setting boundaries in our lives.
The tools we have are never the source of the problem despite what we might believe. While the technology has advanced significantly in the context of our daily lives in the recent years, our behaviors have yet to catch up to it. The devices we have today are for our convenience first and foremost, and not vice versa. Just because we are able to reach others at the tap of a touch doesn’t mean we shouldn’t exercise restraint. We can be more mindful of who/when we connect with others in a way that honors both of our attention. In the end, our attention is all we have, so we can be intentional with how we use it.