movement making (hands free friday)

the word “movement” is a noun which is defined as both: 1) an act of changing physical location or position, and 2) a group of people working together to advance their shared political, social, or artistic ideas. i don’t know about you, but i’d like to motivate such changes and work. at the talks i give i am frequently asked how i expect to make even a small impact on humanity’s technology use when the tendency toward over-use is so culturally normalized and rewarded. for years i have attempted to answer this question in two ways: 1) by accepting every invitation possible to engage this topic in meaningful ways, and 2) by attempting to live a life that is boldly counter cultural and to live it in a way that might inspire others to do the same. 

recently i did an experiment in an airport. i chose to leave both my phone and computer in my backpack during the entire length of my three hour lay over. i further decided to take every opportunity i could find to simply look up and around and make eye contact when possible. what i noticed was interesting. i felt almost self conscious not adopting the new shared posture of cell phone gazing...head down, hands together, holding said object about 12 inches from the face, scrolling/swiping/typing. when i found others without phones they were frequently reading or talking with a travel partner. much of the time, however, was silent. over two thirds (trust me, i counted) of the people at the gate had headphones in and almost half had both cell phones and computers open. both customers in line in front of me at the bookstore completed their entire transactions without ever stopping their phone conversations. eye contact was rare and smiling rarer still.

i’ve carried out similar small experiments over the past several years. each and every time i learn something about myself and, often, about the people with whom i am sharing space. over all i notice a lot less action and a lot more isolation. less looking up and more occupied hands. less opportunity for noticing anything that isn’t on the screen. even in groups, people are transported away, listening to their own soundtrack or carrying on conversations via voice or text with people not physically present.

so i’d like to start a movement. one that gets us thinking about our physical locations and positions and one that gets us working together to advance a shared idea. the idea? that moderating our technology use in order to make our selves, our relationships, and our brains healthier and more complex is possible. not only possible, but fun. it might mean re-discovering a talent you’ve forgotten you had. do you know how to “fly” bottle caps or juggle or sketch? have you maintained your ability to write in cursive or to play cat’s cradle? can you cook by taste and feel without looking up a recipe online? when was the last time you let your hands run over brick, polished wood, stones, the dirt? or it might mean learning something new altogether.

i recently tried to keep my phone in my hand during a texas waltz lesson with my nephew. i wanted to take pictures to record the experience. unfortunately, i got far less out of the lesson than i would have had i simply been present to it. i’d have more than (terrible) photos, i’d have skills i’d truly learned (it’s hard to move and take photos). how many times has this been true for me? similarly, how many times have i stuffed ear buds in my ears and missed out on time to hear the sounds around me or to think thoughts that come from my own mind rather than from words issuing forth from my phone? i want movement from these habits. for myself.

and so i introduce you to the way i am creating that movement and i invite you to join in and to invite your friends. today i launch “hands free friday” on facebook, instagram, and twitter. you can find the facebook campaign/event here: http://www.facebook.com/handsfreefriday, the instagram page at handsfreefriday and i will be tweeting about it on my twitter feed (doreendodgenm) with #handsfreefriday. 

the basic idea is to come up with something that you can engage yourself with/in that requires you to have your hands free of your phone. this could be a small task/activity or a lingering experience. challenge yourself to really notice what it feels like to be free of screens for the time and to notice how others engage you or not. perhaps you can gather some friends and coworkers and challenge each other to spend part of the day without your phones or to pull off a fun stunt that you could never do with a digital device in your hands. how about an office egg and spoon race or finger painting with pudding? there are hosts of stretches you can only do with partners and playing catch is fun for folks of all ages. what about a meal out where everyone stacks their phones, face down, in the center of the table for the entire evening?

ideally i’d love to encourage you to write about your experience. it doesn’t need to be long or detailed. for example, i’ve been doing a cartwheel challenge where i try to do cartwheels in as many unusual locations as possible and keep track. i don’t write a lot, just where and when each cartwheel was executed. there’s something about taking pen to paper and acknowledging an experience. later, if and as you’d like, tweet or comment on the facebook page about what you’ve done by way of encouraging others to consider a few moments or more without their phones. if you have a friend present who has a phone/camera, see if they might take a photo of you to post later on instagram or facebook. the goal, however, isn’t to post...it’s to experience. posting just might serve as a way of honoring your personal challenge and inspiring others. 

i would like move and to invite you to do the same. move. toward new postures of openness. toward new ways of moderating. toward new ways of experiencing our hands  and how things feel and the world around us. join me, will you? and pass it on...

twitter: doreendodgenm  #handsfreefriday

instagram:  handsfreefriday


digital concierge

every car i’ve ever owned has come to be mine based upon two criteria: 1) the best safety record for lowest price and 2) the number of people and things i’ve hoped to haul. in the past 12 years this has translated into me driving a very generic vehicle capable of safely carrying my children and their friends and lots and lots of stuff. now that my kids are launched and the car i’ve transported them in is coming to the end of it’s safe and repair free life, it’s time for a different car. and so, i’ve been car shopping. since this is a task that i particularly dread and despise, i’ve been conducting most of my shopping and research online.  

tonight, when looking for information regarding an international crisis, i noticed that the very car i’ve been leaning toward was advertised on two of the international news sites i visited. at first i thought, “this must be a sign.” and then i thought, “this isn’t a sign but it IS an indication that this must be a sought after (therefore, solid) choice.” and then i realized, this was neither a sign nor an indication of quality. it was, instead, a response to my recent keyboard strikes. even i, an outspoken advocate for awareness around the power of technology, media, and advertising to unconsciously shape our preferences, fell prey to today’s sophisticated marketing tactics. these ads, which i quickly labeled reliable sources of data for my decision making, were not put on my screen by consumer advocacy groups who have my driving safety in mind. instead, they appeared based upon data collection and the algorithms that result from every keyboard strike i make.

the entire car shopping experience has led me to notice how many times specific items i’ve looked at online show up in the ad spaces of the sites i frequent. who knew that the very dress i’d considered purchasing was “popular” enough to show up on the bbc’s home page? it’s interesting that coupons for products i have sitting in my digital carts for more than a week begin showing up in my inbox and in ad spaces on my screens. it’s amazing how perfectly tailored to me my entire online experience has become. i hardly have to work anymore. music sites suggest entire stations based upon my listening history, push notifications make it possible for special deals to be texted to me as i walk by the very stores i’ve frequented in the past, and my preferred online news source feeds me the “tech” news at the top of the screen. netflix and hulu provide me a never ending list of movies and television shows that are “just like” the ones i’ve already watched. 

given the increased time i spend in screen based spaces, all of this personalization creates room in me for a problem of significant proportion.

my devices’ abilities to constantly cater to my own interests leaves me at risk of becoming a self absorbed, myopic loner. this risk increases if i become: 1) excessive in my technology use, 2) ignorant of my own internal process, and/or 3) withdrawn from opportunities to engage in meaningful relationships with people, ideas, and places that are different from those i naturally gravitate toward. sadly, who among us doesn’t fit in one of those three categories?

as humans we have propensities to migrate toward the familiar, to look for validation, and to seek comfort in the spaces we inhabit. there are few things more comforting than clicking “play” on a movie you’ll likely get predictably lost in or being validated for a purchase you’re considering. 

this constant cozy and familiar reality, however,  begs the question: what is the result of a life lived only comfortably? what is the developmental effect of validation that is built upon one’s own preferences and history rather than on standards of health, discernment, integration, and complexity in all its best forms? basically, i want to know how my emotional, intellectual, and even physical health will be impacted by living in relationship to devices that keep me comfortable and “safe” by providing a constant concierge service based entirely upon my own limited experiences and preferences?

i am spending today being aware of how skewed my tehcnological experiences have become. my favorite news source just emailed me an article similar to one i read there yesterday. my maps app accurately guesses half typed addresses based on where i’ve been recently. in advance of a trip i’ve purchased airfare for, hotels are offering me deals based on past stays. music apps suggest bands similar to those i listen to currently. all the while i experience the reality that i can have it my way, all day, without even having to ask. no wonder the embodied world i live in, with it’s real people who can’t read my mind or who chose not to cater to my preferences, feels difficult and stretching at times. 

and so, i’m ignoring the reinforcing ads on my screen and heading to a car dealership to talk to a real (flawed) person as a real (flawed, impatient, hesitant to want to encounter car sales people) person. there i will get information about a car which i will ultimately chose or dismiss based upon a complex formula of feeling to quality to safety to how easily my feet reach the pedals because, while shopping online is certainly more convenient, it provides far fewer opportunities to grow.