Notes on Week 2 of my digital declutter

Well, believe it or not, for one of the few times in my life I am out of words. My visit to Palmyra was something I never expected and an experience like no other. I am awed and humbled and so, so, SO grateful that I fell arse-first into a job that allows me to see such remote and pristine places. It makes me want to cry. It makes me cry. And it made week 2 of my digital declutter almost too easy. Not only were my days filled with the photos below, but internet was only to be had in the Dry Lab and the Galley. And that internet connection was itself… spotty. So I was limited to quick perusals of work emails (basically making sure there were no fires to put out), a couple “I CAN’T BELIEVE I’M HERE” emails to my husband, and an overall gleeful gratitude for spotty internet so that I had a legitimate excuse to close my app and get outside into what was truly spectacular: the Palmyra Atoll in all its natural glory.

Maui Lime Lager, the official beer of Palmyra.

It was perfect timing for my trip, too, because I had just read How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell. (Fun story: I read half of HTDN while going back and forth between the cold pool and jacuzzi in a local Korean spa, and can very enthusiastically recommend reading books in nekkid spas where your muscles get to go all wibbly.) Among many things, Odell noted how little attention we tend to pay to the entirety of our natural environment. Her impassioned observation and description of the behaviors of birds in her backyard and local parks was a nice recent exhortation going into spending time in a truly special, remote, beautiful place. I spent many quiet moments just drinking in my surroundings and made many little notes of what Palmyra sounded like, looked like, smelled like, felt like. I had my phone with me for photos, but it was otherwise just a useless hunk of metal I had to carry around. It didn’t have the same addictive draw, which showed me how possible it is to break that addiction when I am able to change the way I view technology; specifically, the value I believe technology brings to my life (whether or not that value is possible or not). On Palmyra, it wasn’t possible to view technology as useful and desirable because living technology was such a nonentity — surely I can bring some of that into my urban life.

Unfortunately, on my last morning as I was waiting to board the plane, I felt the familiar pull of the data available on my cell phone. I checked my email several times, which is ridiculous because we left on a Saturday morning. There’s little to no chance I would have received important work or personal emails that time of day. So while I know it’s possible to break that addictive cycle of broken thought and sought-after data-dopamine drip, I clearly still have some work to do.

Maybe it was Palmyra, maybe it was my digital declutter in general, but this week I felt so much more calm. I’m not sure if I was able to focus better (I was a little intense and scattered on Palmyra, trying to see all the things our visitors would want to see so I can better steward the process going forward), but I definitely felt my chest and stomach knots loosen.

I didn’t do any meditating. Oops. A goal for me to pursue going into week 3.

Oh oh, but also: THE READING. I have read so much! In the past two weeks I’ve read: Frankenstein (started on the plane to Palmyra, and finished as we were landing back in Honolulu!), Dominicana, A Brave New World, The Nocturnal Brain, Think Like a Freak, and How to Do Nothing. I’m soon going to finish Digital Minimalism (which inspired this declutter project) and have started Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit and Five Constraints on Predicting Behavior by Jerome Kagan. I continue to work through The Oxford Handbook of Philosophical Theology (thoughts on article 2 coming next week!) and have enjoyed my continued intellectual and writerly energy. For week 3, I hope to incorporate some meditation, do some focused Hegel reading (graduate class makes that necessary), and try to reframe the way I value technology and what it brings to my life. Cal Newport said he’s going to talk about how we can use technology to help use pursue that which we value, so I’m hoping to get my mind ready for that.

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