Close Your Tabs: Ideas for Better Digital Fitness

As we adapt to our digital world, skills of mindfulness and focus become increasingly important. Many, as I argued last week, seem to believe that multitasking is a prized skill. We rarely stop to consider the effect that our perpetually connected life is having on our physical and social health.

But, I’d like to suggest that a new responsibility for educators, and certainly parents, is to teach habits of digital health. These will be the physical and mental habits that allow us to interact with our digital world, without having our physical selves and our social lives suffer.

Just as an abundance of calories in the Western world has led to obesity and a subsequent explosion in the nutrition and exercise industry, an abundance of information now requires a set of skills that allow us to manage the quality and quantity of the information we consume. This is our digital fitness.

The word fitness seems more appropriate than, for example, nutrition, because it involves a lot of doing, similar to how are physical fitness relies not just on diet, but on the doing of physical exercise.

Here are a few ways that educators can maintain their digital fitness, and maybe, while we are working on these habits, we can begin to introduce and teach our students about these same ideas.

Tab Overload

Be mindful of how many tabs you have open. If you can’t count them quickly, there are probably too many open. This sounds trivial, but it is a way of maintaining mindfulness about your use of technology and staying away from those black holes of Googling/YouTubing/Facebooking that we are inclined to do.

Cut off the source

Try removing one social media app from  your phone. If that works out well, try removing all of them. I’ve found that every time I do this, it works well for a few weeks, and then I make an excuse to gradually let one back in.

Revert to “dumb phone” days

If you want to go big, turn off the ability to search the Internet on your smart phone. On the iPhone, for example, you can do this by going to Setting>General>Restrictions, then checking “Safari.” Just like that, your phone is back to being, well, a phone again.

Save your conversations

Put your phone completely out of sight while having important conversations. Sure, putting it on silent is polite, and turning it off is a great next step. This study shows that just the SIGHT of a cell phone in a room ruins the quality of our face-to-face conversations. And you thought you were able to listen just as well to someone (“yea, uh huh, uh huh”), while scrolling on your device.

Conference through the chatter

Practice holding a conversation with a student, and not allowing other students to interrupt you. This is one that is so hard for me. While conducting a reading/writing conference, or having an after-class conversation, students are always interrupting or saying “Mr. Dawson” as another student and I talk. A great practice of focus, in general, is to maintain focus on the student with whom your currently talking, showing both the students you’re in conversation with and the interrupting student that you are devoting your attention one one thing at a time.

It’s important to remember how much of a frontier we’re on, how much of a revolutionary time we are existing in. It’s ignorant to believe that the role of educators and education won’t have to adapt along with it.

You can’t improve a whole system without beginning with its parts. We, as educators with our own digital fitness regimens, are the parts.

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