The opening lyrics to the song Up On the Roof, a song as beautiful as it is simple, speaks to the joys of finding our own little sanctuary away from the “hustling crowd and all that rat-race noise down in the street”.
The world Carole King and Gerry Goffin were singing about was a world far-removed from the technological frenzy we find ourselves in today. The hustle and bustle has been replaced by pings and dings, notifications and alerts from our smartphones, all vying for our attention. (Even whilst writing this my phone is vibrating every few seconds, attempting - however unsuccessfully - to pull my focus and take me away from the present moment.)
Despite what we might think (or tell ourselves and others!), we spend on overage 2.5-4 hours of our day using our phones. Nearly half of this time is spent on social media apps like Facebook and Instagram and as the recent scandal involving Facebook and Cambridge Analytica showed, these apps work by using our metadata (everything we have liked, posted, shared, commented on, or perhaps even spoken about) to create a personalised “feed” aimed at grabbing and holding our attention.
Franklin Foer, author of the book World Without Mind, compares this phenomenon to the way consumers in the past chowed down on sugary, processed and hugely-unhealthy meals without knowing or considering the consequences.
It’s evident that this process works to keep us clicking, scrolling and liking in an almost trance-like state, taking us away from whatever we’re doing, whoever we’re speaking to, and encouraging us to gorge on crap for no other reason than that it keeps us stuck in the feedback loop from hell. And we all know that this is not good for our mental health.
But in the same way that we have woken up to the dangers of unhealthy foods and are moving towards healthier and less-processed alternatives, Foer argues that we can be persuaded to apply the same care that we pay to our bodies to our brains.
According to him, it’s not the case that we should be “dropping out” but, much like dieticians and health experts say a sneaky snack every once in a while is okay, it’s a matter of simply ensuring that we are giving ourselves moments to ourselves, taking breaks from technology, getting away from the hustle and bustle, climbing the top of the stairs - if you will - and finding our own little pocket of paradise.
It might be as simple as sitting down and reading a book, it might be meditating, it might be gardening, it might be singing in the shower, just something, anything, that serves as a refuge from technology; a smartphone-free-sanctuary that you know exists and that you can and do return to whenever you need to escape the noise.