• Cynthia Roy

Find Peace in the Age of Information Overload

Updated: Feb 1, 2019

As a result of modern pressures and digital devices, our attention is hardly ever on one thing. As a result, our cognitive capacity suffers. Meditation may help our students (and us) find peace of mind and build healthy relationships with technology.


Our exposure to technology is only going to grow, so how do we better cope in the digital age? I believe meditation, or more specifically, mindfulness, is the key to finding peace and fostering a healthy relationship with technology.

It is Friday afternoon and I walk into the house after a long work week with multiple bags in my hands and a tired, hungry child. As I pull the heavy bags off my arms, my son turns the TV on at full volume (or so it seems, anyway) and the dog starts to bark. I take a deep breath and head to the kitchen to let the dog out, fill the water bowl, and grab a snack for the little cherub who is now whining, because he needs me to spell out “Bahl-dee and the Yew-Toob Fam-ih-wee” for the search bar. I think I have my anxiety under control until I feel the vibration of my phone ringing in my pocket. I snap, “Emerson, I can’t spell Bahl-dee. I have no idea what that is or what you are trying to say.”


The phone call was the straw that broke the camel's back.


There is nothing worse for a teacher or a mother than losing her cool with children. But, in an era of information overload, it feels almost impossible to be at peace.


Sadly, I know I am not alone. I see this with my students, colleagues, friends, and family, too. The demands of the digital era have us multitasking almost 24/7. Our attention is hardly ever on one thing. We are engaged in conversations with multiple people at once. Our attachments extend to people in the virtual world and to inanimate objects. Although young people insist that their attachments to digital devices are healthy and that they are experts at multitasking, a plethora of studies tell us otherwise. Research shows that students who multitask have a lower cognitive capacity. Heavy multitaskers are actually more distractible to irrelevant information. When we multitask, we actually experience a loss of productivity, more errors, and reduced depth of thought (Miller, 2017).


Our exposure to technology is only going to grow, so how do we better cope in the digital age? I believe meditation, or more specifically, mindfulness, is the key to finding peace and fostering a healthy relationship with technology.


Mindfulness is commonly described as bringing attention to the present moment, non-judgmentally. In a world of digital distraction and information overload, we are pulled away from the present moment. We find ourselves dwelling on the past, which can make us feel depressed, or worrying about the future, which can make us feel anxious.


“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.” -- Alice Morse Earle.

There is something incredibly powerful about being “in the now.” When we are able to direct our attention to the present moment, we find peace and tranquility.


Since I have incorporated a daily mindfulness practice into my curriculum and have been doing it with my students for four years now, I would love to share some helpful insight and tips. Please see the #moveshakeeducate infographic below for quick reference.


Before I begin the practice with my students, we discuss common shared experiences, like how often we find ourselves distracted during class time, how anxious we feel ordering lunch or finding friends to sit with in the cafeteria, how hard it is to sit still and do well on high-stakes exams, like MCAS, and so on. I then explain that I feel it isn’t just my job to teach my students content, but that it is my job to teach my students how to access the content. How will they be able to focus on the lesson or sit still in a seat for a long exam if I haven't taught them the skills to do so? How can I expect them to learn and grow, if they are in a state of distraction?


After this discussion, I talk about body posture and the mind-body connection. We try out different poses and share how we feel in them. The most eye-opening are standing with your feet planted flat and firmly on the ground as opposed to standing on the sides of your feet, standing up straight versus slumped, and facing your palms up and open as opposed to clenched shut.


Then, I help them find an anchor that works for them. Anchors are helpful ways to bring us back to the present moments when we get distracted. Two of my favorites are the breath and feeling your feet in your shoes. When meditating, I explain that it's common and totally normal for your mind to wander. The key to meditation is to recognize it and bring your attention back to the present moment using an anchor. It's amazing how powerful anchors are! If you feel anxiety creeping in as you worry about catching the bus when the bell rings, but you catch yourself and feel your feet planted firmly on the ground in your warm cozy socks and follow your breath through your nostrils and deep into your belly, you can feel the anxiety roll past you like a wave falling back to sea.


After I teach the foundation of posture, anchors, and paying attention compassionately and without judgement through short meditations like body scans, I then introduce my students to guided audio meditations. Included is a list of my three favorite websites for free meditations. I'd suggest choosing audio tracks that range from 5-10 minutes for teenagers, only because, from my experience, this appears to be the sweet spot.


It's important to add that mindfulness isn't just for students. We could all benefit from a meditation practice. Having a family, working full time, and earning a Ph.D., means I'm tethered to children, computers, and my phone. It means I have to check my email and search Google and research databases throughout the day. It means sometimes I can't handle the TV being on with the radio going and the dog barking and the phone ringing. To cope, I am working on creating “mindful moments” for myself. I know I can manifest abundance of energy and patience with a bit of mindfulness. I know it's necessary to stay present, so that I can be an emotionally available mother, wife, and teacher.


Anyway, it would be nice if I felt that I could dedicate 20 minutes a day or more to my meditation practice right now, but, mindful moments feel more realistic with my busy schedule. How do you stay present and find peace? I'd love to hear your thoughts about coping with information overload in the digital age. Also, if you have any questions about mindfulness or incorporating meditation into your lessons, please let me know in the comments below!





References


Miller, E. (2017) Multitask: Why your brain can’t do it and what you should do about it. Retrieved on October 21, 2018 at https://radius.mit.edu/sites/default/files/images/Miller%20Multitasking%202017.pdf