Balancing Analog and Digital

The following is a re-post from my former blog, inkmusings.

It’s tough in today’s virtual-tempting world to resist the sweet song of the all-things-digital siren. Yet believe it or not, in the past people produced great work without any of these devices or capabilities. The need for a better work-life, or in this case, analog-digital balance is stronger now than ever.

I confess to being drawn to digital things, but I’ve realized it’s not healthy for body nor mind to fully assimilate into a digital life. We need balance, be it work versus play, sleep versus produce, or what we eat and drink. What tools we choose now can impact our physical and mental health years from now.

I’ve had a few bouts of carpal tunnel issues, back issues from being sedentary too many years, and feeling lost when either the power goes out or my Internet connection goes down. I can easily connect these maladies to too much digital dependence. In the early days when the ‘net connection dropped, I’d struggle to figure out what to do with my time. Can’t check email? Can’t work on the report? It was an odd, suspended animation feeling for those few hours of separation from my digital umbilical cord.

Today I strive daily to mix more analog activities into my digital life. I no longer look at Internet-connection loss as a problem, but a fresh opportunity to add analog solutions and move my body more.

Here are seven analog alternatives and their positive benefits, including one hybrid, that can contribute to a healthier analog-digital balance.

  1. Talk to people. Yes, it’s still possible to converse in person! The silliest thing I experience at work in the cubicle farm are those folks who email, IM, or call me even though they’re steps away…if one gets up and walks. Digital communication is great for distance, but getting up is an opportunity to get your butt out of the chair and move, plus develop a real relationship via face-to-face interactions.
  2. Write your first draft with pen/pencil on paper. Two things happen: 1) you move your hand and arm in different motions that counter the strain of computer mousing, and 2) your thoughts slow down because your hand has to keep up with your thoughts, and if you’re like me, your thoughts will perform little rewrite dances while waiting for the hand to catch up. My drafts on paper are always at least a half to a full draft version better than what I pump out on the computer. Plus, no batteries or wireless connection necessary.
  3. Keep tasks and project lists on paper. Sure, lots of great digital tools out there for lists and to-dos, but like the draft writing, using pen/pencil with paper slows down your thinking and better results can occur. Plus a small notebook does not need syncing with other devices to be available wherever you are.
  4. Keep a journal(s). Instead of digitally storing your ideas gleaned from reading, daily thoughts, or anything else, use a paper journal. Journals have always been the idea collector of preference for many well-known writers from Hemingway to Proulx, and I rarely bump into a writer who either is keeping or has kept journals at some time. Some will counter that a digital journal is easily searchable, yet to a degree, so is a paper one. I typically have a contents page at the front of a journal that can get me in the neighborhood when finding something, but nothing beats the value of serendipity when browsing back through journal entries. While there are a plethora of apps for journaling, a paper journal is an independent tool than never fails you (unless you forget to bring it along!).
  5. Read a physical book. Yes, these still exist! I will add the disclaimer that I have and sometime use, a Kindle/Kindle app, but typically when traveling. But at home, my bedside and reading chair tables always have a pile of real books I’m working through. And I strive to read (via a physical book) at least one hour per day.
  6. Take a walk to think. I take a hybrid approach to this activity by taking my iPhone on walks and if something useful comes up, I use the Audio Memo app to record my thoughts. I then listen later and typically write them down using an analog tool.
  7. Create two work zones: one analog, one digital. A desk with a computer is great when the task is appropriate for digital tools, but a distraction when writing on a yellow pad. And using my MacBook Air while in my favorite chair is easy to dismiss trying do something analog. I just finished reading Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon (recommended reading). One excellent takeaway was his use of two desks: one digital, one analog. I do that in spirit, but the idea of dedicated work zones is highly intriquing. Per Austin, one hardfast rule is allow nothing electronic in your analog zone. The hidden value is you can’t be distracted by incoming email so easily if you’re not sitting in front of your monitor. The obvious value is working both left and right sides of the brain via conditioning your behavior to use the analog station for creative play and idea nurturing, and when ready, move over to the digital station for executing, producing, or publishing.

How many of these do you do now? Humans need a mix of activities and moderation in all things to stay mentally and physically healthy. Try shifting some of your activities from digital to analog. I think your body and mind will thank you in the years to come.