Tech with Intention: Just because some is good, doesn’t mean more is better

I’ve very interested in how technology affects our well-being, and how we can use it more intentionally. I’ve written about this topic before (here and here), but here’s one phrase that’s been ping-ponging around my head recently:   

Just because some is good, doesn’t mean that more is better.

It’s easy to read that phrase and think, Of course. Duh.

But are you actually applying it in your relationship with technology? Do you actually say to yourself, for example: I’ve noticed that 30 minutes of this app/activity/device brings me significant benefit, but past that point the downsides outweigh the positives?

To give you some ideas of how to begin that process, I wanted to share how I’ve been applying it to one part of my relationship with technology: Internet browsing.

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Internet Browsing and Intentional Technology Usage

I’ll admit it: I love browsing the internet for pleasure. I use social media rarely at this point, but I still have blogs and websites that I love to read. Plus, occasionally watching SNL videos can be so fun! I think some amount of internet browsing is a “good” for me, because it brings me so much pleasure.

But I started noticing that because I enjoyed the internet so much, it was tempting to do it all the time. Oh, I just woke up? Why not look something up on the internet? Oh, I have a few hours after dinner? Why not spend all of it on the internet?

I often felt like time would fly by – and like I never quite had enough of it. I also started wondering if the internet was actually giving me all the pleasure and relaxation that I thought it did.

So here’s two things that I started to do, to implement “just because some is good, doesn’t mean that more is better” with my internet browsing:

 

1. Not using the internet after dinner

I used to spend most of my after-dinner time on the internet. I was tired from the day, there was nothing urgent to do, so why not? But I also noticed that I often felt emotionally tired at the end of my night, even after spending a significant amount of time online, which I thought helped me relax. I wondered whether the internet — even though it’s quite pleasurable — wasn’t letting me emotionally recover.

So I decided that I’d explore just not using the internet after dinner. Here’s some of the interesting things I found:  

  • I felt calmer. The very first night I did this experiment, I read a book for three hours after dinner, when I might otherwise have been browsing the internet. When I finished reading, I thought to myself, “wow, I feel so much calmer than I’ve felt in a while.” I noticed that my body felt noticeably less stressed than before, and my breathing was slower. This has proved to be consistently true, and is the main reason I’ve stuck with it.

  • I felt like I had more time. Somehow, my evenings have started to feel longer, even though they are often actually shorter, because…

  • I went to bed earlier. When I stayed off the internet after dinner, I kept finding myself getting tired earlier than I used to. It makes perfect sense — there’s no shortage of research on the negative effect of technology use on sleep. But it felt different when it actually happened to me.

  • I woke up earlier. It turns out that when you go to bed earlier, you tend to wake up earlier, too. I love mornings and had always wanted to get up earlier without sacrificing sleep, so this was a big perk for me.

  • I read many more books. The week that I’m writing this alone, I’ve started and finished two novels, and read some chunks of good nonfiction. This is an above-average week (the novels were both pretty fast reads), but I read a lot now.

 

2. Keeping a list of the things I’d like to “check” online

The internet makes it possible to get an answer to nearly any question, instantaneously. As a result, very tempting to look up the answer to any question, the moment we have it. It’s so satisfying to get an immediate answer! And it only takes a second!

But I started noticing that I was doing a lot of little “quick checks” throughout my day, and wondered whether it was affecting my productivity and focus. Plus, even if the answer to my question could be professionally or personally useful, it was rarely true that I needed the answer to the question right then. I could usually wait at least a few hours for the answer.

So that’s what I started to do – I started keeping a list of “things to look up online” on a post-it throughout my day. Then once a day, usually around 4 p.m., I look up as many of them as I please. I’ve definitely noticed that it helps me stay focused on the task at hand throughout the day, and it’s actually fun to be able to look up a bunch of things at once.

I like internet browsing — some of it is good for me. But using it whenever I had some leisure time wasn’t great for me, as it turned out. by not using the internet after dinner, I help myself have a calm and spacious, and more truly rejuvenating end to my day.

Similarly, I like being able to look up answers to my questions on the internet — some of it is good for me. But batching it helps me make sure I’m focused on what matters, rather than getting micro-distracted throughout my day. I can still get the answers to any questions that matter — I just have to wait a bit.

I’ll also say that I don’t do either of these practices 100% of the time. I’m not perfect, by any means. The good news is that I don’t have to do them 100% of the time, to experience real benefit.

How could you implement “just because some is good, doesn’t mean that more is better” in an actionable, concrete way in your life?