The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World - by Nancy Colier



my notes:

Humans and technology are now in an intimate relationship —sharing a bed, literally.

The smartphone is the Trojan horse through which work sneaks into the home.

Before mobile devices it was generally only in the case of life or death that we made ourselves unceasingly available, staying close to the phone at all times, just in case it might bring news.

It’s a vicious cycle: the more available we become, the more we believe we must be available.

In the digital age, navigating technology has replaced the act of going to the well to get water or lighting a fire to stay warm.

The next time you feel the urge to check, try asking yourself the following questions (before checking): 

What would be the ideal email I could receive right now? 
What experience would such an email offer me?

Engaging with social media triggers the hormone oxytocin, which is associated with feelings of trust, security, and well-being, and may also lower stress hormones.

In another study, it was found that social networking sites are the number one aspect of modern life that people struggle to quit. Twitter and Facebook were labeled as more addictive than smoking or alcohol.

How can we address the issue when the addiction counselors are themselves addicts?

In the end, the liberation, peace, power, and confidence that come from breaking free from any addiction feels so much better than anything technology could ever offer us.

The drive to check out, to be anywhere but here, is not new to the digital age, and certainly not something Wikipedia created.

When did it become normal to spend our free time acquiring facts for the sole purpose of acquiring more facts?

We know a lot about a lot of other things, but we do not know ourselves or one another.

Our intellectual knowledge is celebrated, regardless of whether it’s being used for anything generative, and this in turn perpetuates and intensifies the information syndrome.

Before information became a commodity on the Internet, its primary purpose was to be an agent of change. Information had the power to change who we are.

The opportunities to come across information we don’t agree with are now diminished. We can easily expose ourselves only to the information that supports our views, stated as facts right there on the Internet.

Human beings, at least in our more primitive aspects, don’t want to have to consider new ideas or modify themselves, because change is frequently uncomfortable and scary. Change puts us in touch with our own ephemeral nature. We opt to be solid rather than fluid, right rather than happy.

When we use information to create an emotional barricade or to cement a position and identity, we are listening defensively, to protect ourselves from anything that is not like us. We state our facts and then batten down the hatches to make sure nothing gets through that might cause us to have to investigate what we know we know.

To break free from the information syndrome, we need to change how we view the exchange of information: to realize it is a dialogue with the potential for growth and not a battleground with the potential for annihilation. We can do this in part by loosening our identification with what we know and what we believe about what we know.

Listening with the confidence that contradiction is not dangerous, that differing truths can coexist, creates a space in which the exchange of information can once again be a positive and forward-moving event.

The verb to bore means “to hollow out a tube or make a hole in.”

Nothing to do is the most nutrient-rich food for the human imagination.

Children are losing the instinct and ability to imagine and create on their own. The activity itself, and how to do it, is already prescribed by a programmer. What the child does is play according to someone else’s rules and design. This is profoundly different from a child having an original idea to make or do something.

Instead of getting better at outrunning boredom, we can get better at noticing when it appears and using it to become more conscious and present. We can leverage it as a great opportunity to meet ourselves.

Decision-making and self-reliance are just as vital to our personal development as they were when Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote his famous essay on the topic in 1841. 


Ideally, we should delegate responsibility for irrelevant tasks to free ourselves to do more meaningful work. But in the case of technology, we are turning over relevant tasks —math and memory, to name just two —to free ourselves to do what? Get to a higher level of Angry Birds? Play more Words with Friends?

If we forget how to think, we may not be able to figure out how to think again.

When we are able to pull up things from the recesses of our minds it feels good. We get to experience the particular sensation that is the brain turning its wheels.


As a society we have lost the distinction between public and private space.

The choice to deem certain people and places worth turning off the “who or what else?” button for infuses those people and places with meaning.

This system of just being in one place with one other person worked for eons —before technology made it something strange.


Most everyone finds it difficult to allow the vulnerability that comes from exposing the parts of ourselves that we may consider unsavory or unlovable. 


We can be the first to bravely voice what we really require, knowing that deep down it’s the same thing everyone really requires. We can be the courageous ones who open the door and offer permission to others. Ask for the best from your friends and intimates, and you will receive the best friends you deserve.

Now many of us behave like self-involved addicts or not-yet-evolved adolescents who can’t put down our drug of distraction, suspend the pleasure of being on our devices, and turn our focus to getting out the door to meet our commitments.

Technology has unwittingly made many of us more self-involved, disrespectful, and undisciplined. It’s allowing us to live by our whims and do whatever feels easiest.

We mature when we exercise the discipline and discernment that it takes to move beyond our momentary desires.

Technology creates a society that believes we shouldn’t have to give anything up. 


When you close the door to what else there is, then what actually is becomes valuable.

Misunderstandings happen, hard truths are revealed, and feelings can get hurt. Real relationships are not for the faint of heart.

There is an alarming flippancy these days in the way some of us relate to one another. The result is that we are left with a whole lot of friendship lite, but not much in the way of nourishing and deep connections.

Within our comfort zones, it’s easy to remain inside our private mind caves, hanging on only to the version of ourselves that we like.

By controlling the closeness or distance of our interactions, we eliminate the risk that we will get involved and lose ourselves in the experience of life.

In 2000 the average person had an attention span of 12 seconds. In 2015, our attention span had fallen to 8.25 seconds, 1 second less than the attention span of a goldfish.

It is becoming unnatural for us to hold our friends’ lives in our hearts, to walk around carrying those lives as part of us.

We can choose to come from kindness, which entails doing things differently from what we see done around us —and that’s okay.

Many people now relate to the Internet as if it were a kind of savior and have stopped looking to themselves to provide what they need and want.

All experience that passes through our presence, no matter how many copies we make out of it, will change and disappear. Only presence can stay constant.

Before technology, we experienced our lives privately. We might have done something kind for a stranger on the street, for which the other person was grateful. And that was it —the whole event.  We had many moments that we never shared with anyone, never reported or posted anywhere, which then became part of us. These moments were fundamentally integrated into who we were, and through their integration we changed and evolved.

With technology providing a constant screen on which to project our “me” image, we now relate to ourselves in the third person, as a product.


Maybe the one hundred birthday wishes we receive from Facebook friends (who have been reminded of our birthday by an alert on their computers) don’t add up to the feeling that we matter.

The question "Do I like myself"? has been replaced by "Am I liked"?

When we spend our days (and often nights too) off in the virtual ether, flitting from one mind activity to another, we are living in our minds and as our minds. For most people, the mind is not a comfortable residence, much less a joyful place to inhabit.

In truth, we are like the ocean that takes the particular shape of a wave for a short time. But we forget our oceanness and believe ourselves to be just the wave.

Space is not just the absence of stuff, and silence is not just the absence of noise. 


Indulging in posting every thought that passes through our consciousness, without considering whether it offers anything of meaning to the world, discourages critical and mature thinking.

Technology makes it easy to just keep moving from one titillating experience to another, never having to come back here to be with “just” ourselves, “just” now. “What else is there?” has become our societal mantra, replacing “What’s here?” as the question of the day.

Many of us don’t know that we can decide which thoughts we want to engage. 


The mind is a master chameleon, becoming whatever it needs to become in order to keep us from seeing it as separate from who we really are. Mindfulness practice is a means to see even that chameleon-like quality.

The cage door is open —we just think we’re locked inside.