Why bring this subject up in the context of decluttering? I believe that all this constant engagement and exchanging messages can be considered unfortunate mental clutter for some people. So many of us are constantly online, for varying reasons. Not many years ago the only thing to worry about was checking your email and eventually replying to them – and mostly this was even done on a laptop or PC. With the advent of smart phones, not only was there email to be considered, but an increasing number of apps were being used to communicate on the fly.
Just sitting in a restaurant or on the subway will feel like a concert of every single ringtone and message reminder you could possibly imagine. Never a dull moment, you might think, and some of us positively enjoy the attention they get from others and the care they have to give their phones and the people on the receiving end of these messages. However, all this comes with a dark side: it has become increasingly difficult to turn off your messaging brain as you will always expect messages to come in.
It could be seen as addictive behaviour: we are getting a minute dose of endorphins each time a message comes in, and each time we respond to a message there is the expectation of another new message coming in sometime soon, too.
That in itself has nothing to do with memory, right? As long as you reply to those messages right away, nothing can go wrong. There is a snag to this, though: most of those messaging apps mark your message as ‘read’ and it becomes difficult to assess if you have or haven’t already sent a reply… leading to a level of anxiety and FOMO.
Of course we want to avoid these negative feelings and it seems as if we HAVE to reply all the time to avoid that issue, making it extra difficult to leave it be and turn the messaging brain off even for a short while. You want proof? Just go out into the streets and you’ll find that half the people you see around you will have their phones in hand, constantly checking for any missed messages. Addictive behaviour, anyone?
On top of all that, there is social pressure to be considered: what IF you do not reply to that one message someone else considered extremely important? How will that look on your social cv?
Indeed, the smart phone has given us a lot of flexibility and connectivity, but the sad truth is that we have allowed ourselves to have our lives dictated not just by one person, but by everyone who is in a position to message us or contact us in any way. Phone calls have become the least of our worries!
It appears that we have been conditioned already to react to every whim of our phone and – by proxy – each and every one of our friends. That holds true for the technological side of things (not being able to tell if you have already replied), for the social side (it bodes well for your social interactions if you neglect your ‘friends’) and also from a psychological point of view where anxiety makes us feel anxious.
The only possible way out of this is easy to tell, yet exceedingly hard to do: allow yourself to create some loose threads. Learn to tell what is ‘personal’ and what is ‘important’: those a two different things! An important message pertaining to work or money would be answered promptly anyway, any others can be left alone for a while and you reply when it feels right to you.
I understand that the perceived obligation to reply can be difficult to ignore, but I recommend you give it a go and separate the really important communication from all the idle conversation. I wonder if you’ll come to the same conclusion I did: most of these messages are mere chatter, white noise, and only a small minority is actually important.
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Hi, my name is Tilo Flache. My current mission: help my clients declutter mind and space.
This blog contains pointers for your journey towards a happier living experience.