It’s probably not big news that smartphone use in our culture is linked to a decline in mental wellness, especially for those born after the ubiquity of the internet. No matter your age, engagement with these technologies have the power to createbehavioral addictions and amplify anxiety. In his bestselling book, Digital Minimalism, Cal Newport suggests adopting this eponymous strategy, which he defines as “a philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.” In other words, you need to control the technology, not have the technology control you.
Mandating You need to control the technology, not have the technology control you.
Perhaps the most crucial step when unplugging from technology is to limit your time on platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and Tik Tok. In many ways, those apps were created to keep you engaged. For instance, do you get your news from your Facebook or Twitter? Do you get a sudden rush when you post a comment or photo and instantly see a red heart or blue thumb? Are you actively trying to keep a Snapstreak alive? These design elements intentionally try to keep your eyeballs on their app, and that can be mentally, emotionally, and physically detrimental.
To combat this, Newport suggests doing what he terms a “digital declutter:”
1. Take a break from these technologies for 30 days. If you need to access those apps for work-related or creative reasons, set some parameters. For instance, you are only allowed to check those sites from a desktop computer. Set time limits or feed restrictions so that your time on those sites is minimized to the information that you absolutely need.
2. During that time, discover activities to replace the time you would have spent on those optional technologies (which we’ll discuss in a moment).
3. After 30 days, reflect on which technologies you need and why they’re important to you. Reintroduce those technologies that meet your use benchmarks and ignore those that don’t. You will probably discover that you will gain a lot of extra time in your day AND that your mental wellness will improve!
Taking a closer look at Step 2, what are some ways to fill that extra free time? I’ll offer a few general suggestions as well as some specific examples of how I implemented these strategies.
As musicians, one fundamental way that we can grow is through the thoughtful creation of new art. With this new-found time, perhaps you can write a new work, learn a new piece, curate a new recital, use social media thoughtfully by posting media, or learn a new program to enhance your creativity such as music notation software, DAW (digital audio workstation) software, or live electronic software (such as Mainstage or Max).
The stay-at-home mandates during the 2020 pandemic meant I had to give up preparing a few large projects because they were either cancelled or postponed. I decided to use this new-found time to learn or create a new piece every day for a month and share it on Facebook (what I called my “Social Distance Music Project”). It was fun to learn and share an eclectic mix of projects, and I feel that it helped my artistic growth in myriad ways.
Pick up a new hobby
Often times, a great solution for your new-found time is to learn a new skill or develop a new hobby. Has there ever been a moment where you said to yourself, “I’d love to learn X, but I just don’t have the time”? This is the perfect opportunity to start! For many other people, learning a musical instrument may be their answer. Since I assume you already play an instrument, my advice would be to find a hobby that is not music-related, and really throw yourself into it!
I wanted to pick a hobby that allowed me to use my hands to create a physical product, so I decided to get into woodworking. I started with a few simple projects, some basic tools and supplies, and dove into “basics of woodworking” videos on YouTube. I’ve found it challenging, yet relaxing—and it’s extremely satisfying to have a piece at the end that I can proudly display!
Lean into your physical health
Less time being mind lesson your electronic devices means you will probably have more time to be mindful about your physical well-being. Use that extra time to go for a walk, learn yoga, or join a gym. Be mindful of your food choices; this doesn’t mean to necessarily go on a diet, but you should reflect on what you’re putting into your body and how much. You should also take stock of how much rest you’re getting. Sleep is vitalto healthy living, as are moments of quiet reflection (e.g., mediation, walking through a park, listening to nature). Little tweaks to these three areas of your physical health can reap massive benefits to your overall quality of life and your art.
I decided to invest in a health app that offers daily advice on nutrition and exercise and tracks meals/caloric intake. I also have a goal to run a 5K by the end of summer; I have either been jogging, walking or doing HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) 3–4 times a week to progress towards this goal. I’m already noticing that I have more energy, stamina, and focus. It has also been mentally helpful to push through temporary discomfort to complete short-term goals on the way towards the long-term goal.
Your brain wantsto learn new things all the time. Reading books or listening to podcasts are great ways to pick up new skills or insights into your craft (or anything else, for that matter). Watch informative TED Talks online or attend workshops that interest you. Go to live shows or watch masters perform concerts on YouTube. Attend a museum or learn about a new artist. Deep thinking and listening are fundamental to your growth. Even if you don’t immediately see a connection to what you are currently doing, it may present itself later.
I have been listening to podcasts for several years, and I found that it was an easy thing to integrate into my commutes, workouts, and woodworking hobby. I’m really into sports, especially basketball and football, and I have found it fascinating to learn about teams and team dynamics. I have also enjoyed reading non-fiction books that I think are useful in some way, whether they’re are about peak performance or about finances.
Hopefully, you will find a few of these tips helpful. The process of digital decluttering isn’t easy, but the benefits you can reap are profound!
Bill Shaltis is Assistant Professor of Percussion at the Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music, University of Memphis, and Principal Timpanist of the New Hampshire Music Festival. Shaltis has performed and presented nationally and throughout Europe and Asia. He is the co-founder of the Two Rivers Timpani Summit, and his debut album Essence/Descent: 21st Century Solo and Chamber Timpani Repertoire can be found on all major streaming platforms.