Unplugged

Christopher Jones technology

The cell phone alarm goes off at 6 am. Within seconds the darkness in my bedroom is pushed away from the glow of an iPhone. Even at a low brightness setting, it’s enough to make my wife sigh and turn away from the torch in my hands. The iPhone 8 plus is perhaps the greatest technology I’ve ever owned — engineered in every aspect to command a scary amount of my attention. With a few taps on its “ion-strengthened glass,” I’m connected to the world, reading all the news that’s fit to tweet and comment threads on articles fit to comment.

On this particular morning before I’ve even sat up in my bed, I’ve learned that not-a-diplomat or middle-east-expert Jared Kushner has spoken at the U.S. Jerusalem Embassy dedication ceremony while dozens of Palestinians are shot while protesting. An art exhibit in Chicago article points me to a comment thread with a series of expected “what-about-chicago-gun-laws” comments leading to a heated back and forth in the thread.

I have been awake for less than 5 whole minutes and I’m already anxious, angry and frustrated.

Remarkably enough, just getting to my Twitter app from “alarm-mode” takes a few screen taps. Layered on top of my phone’s home screen are various alerts that have pinged through the night that I need to read through—banners with “important” updates from a few handfuls of the hundred apps I have on the phone, combined with little red circles which have trained me to know a crucial email from work or a reaction to a Facebook post is just a tap away.
My iPhone isn’t the root cause of a mild anxiety disorder diagnosis but I’m sure it isn’t helping.

One quick glance at the home screen is stressful. I have to decide what to give my attention to between new emails, social media alerts, text messages and the occasional phone call. As I take a step back to reflect and unpack my relationship with technology I start to realize how much it adds up. On this particular day, in the unanswered email queue is a stack of alerts — the result of me sending one inquiry about test-driving a used car. That single form led to a new Cars.com account with 4 emails (two of which would become daily email newsletters), and 7 emails from a car salesman in about a week and a half.

Seven.

From submitting a simple webform about a used Nissan Altima, a whole profile and customer journey have been built — every action I take, logged and captured. If I clicked on a link in the email, they know. From that single form two profiles are built for me — one on Cars.com and a car dealership (if not others as well).

My personal paradox with all of this is that I work in digital marketing. I am responsible for causing this kind of anxiety in others. I don’t think I would have changed a thing if I had been asked to build the entire Cars.com user journey wearing my professional hat.

Like a lung doctor lighting a cigarette, I can’t help but feel a sense of irony with recognizing that large chunk of my anxiety these days is caused by a toxic relationship with technology and my fatigue with trying to spread my attention out for everything that seems to want it via technology through the various alerts, emails and more. Even with my experience and understanding of the strategies and tools at use in the digital communications world, it’s still just my judgment and self-advocacy against a literal army of developers and digital marketers fighting for my attention. If I want to control my information flow, I cannot be passive — it is a non-stop battle. How other people who don’t literally think about this stuff all day at work manage to take an active role in managing their information flow, I have no idea. They probably don’t.

So I’ve decided I want to change my habits, change the information diet. I’m going to alter the suggested “journey” — mainly suggested by guys like me, who make decisions about content strategy and web design in order to get someone at the other end of the computer to do something.

This short series is going to focus on my attempt to find a better balance. Balance in spending useful time with technology, balance in my consumption of information, balance in how I set boundaries to others who want my attention. To that end, I’m going to talk about ways to make technology work for me (and for you!), in ways to make sure that I only get the updates I want or need and mercilessly cut everything else out.

My first step is fixing email. Let’s get started.

Image credit Flickr CC Gavin St. Ours

x-posted on Medium

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