The concept of mindful technology is edging its way into the mainstream as more and more people want to break free of unhealthy digital habits.
Pete Dunlap, Founder of Digital Detangler, is poised to help with this uniquely modern problem. He empowers individuals, schools, and businesses to transform their digital environments for greater well-being.
Robert Plotkin recently interviewed Pete on the Technology for Mindfulness podcast to learn how he became the Digital Detangler and what individuals can do to take control of their own technology use.
From Educator to Software Engineer
Pete started his career as a teacher, living and working in the UK, the US Virgin Islands, and Ecuador.
His early work experiences with students would later influence his perspective on technology use. He could see that young people were immersed in technology, but they were also very passive users.
Returning to the States, Pete began a career as a software engineer, working on apps in education, healthcare, and the gig economy. He became increasingly concerned about the distractions he and his coworkers were facing.
Together with a regular mindfulness practice, these experiences were influential in his journey toward starting Digital Detangler.
But it was a personal tragedy, the loss of his daughter after a full-term pregnancy, that completely changed his priorities. He sought to give his work higher purpose, and help others improve their quality of life through mindful technology use.
Feeling Trapped in Their Technology
Once Pete delved more deeply into the topic, he kept hearing the same message – from students, employees, and parents. Technology wasn’t improving their lives. In many cases, it was actively detracting from it.
He pointed out that most people are quite aware of the problem (especially young people). But they’re unsure how to untangle themselves from the grip of their smartphones.
That’s not too surprising, given that tech companies design their products to keep users glued to their devices. After all, that’s how they make money.
“They’re not looking out for your best interests,” he emphasized, “You have to do that for yourself.”
Six Practical Ideas for Mindful Technology Use
So, how do you take control? In Pete’s words, “If you want to be a certain type of person, you have to be ruthless with your environment. You have to shape what you surround yourself with every day.”
He adds that the goal isn’t to turn yourself into a productivity robot, but rather a conscious consumer. Here are six ideas to get started.
1. Install diagnostic software across all devices
First, you need to see where your time is going. We tend to underestimate our own usage since it’s scattered across a few minutes here and there. But when you’re faced with the real data, you can make better decisions.
Pete recommends RescueTime, which is available for MAC, PC, Android, IOS, and Linux. This program runs securely in the background on your computer and mobile devices, tracking your activity on apps and websites. You’ll get a complete picture of your time across all devices.
2. Launch apps by typing
Another unique idea is launching apps by typing their name instead of tapping the icon. This creates just enough space for you to question whether or not you need to open it. It effectively disrupts the muscle memory of mindlessly checking apps. Here’s how to do it:
- Move your non-essential apps off the home screen (or hide them).
- Swipe down from the top of your home screen.
- Type the name of the app into the search box.
For iOS users, make sure you turn off Siri Suggestions (Settings > Siri & Search > Siri Suggestions to off).
3. Remove infinite scrolling apps from your phone
One of the most effective ways apps keep us hooked is the infinite scroll. This isn’t a willpower issue on your part, it’s a well-designed application that’s doing just what it was made to do.
Pete says he’s unapologetic when it comes to these types of apps. For example, “If you have a big Instagram problem, delete it.”
After looking at your daily usage, identify your weaknesses. If moving the app from your home screen isn’t helping, you might want to consider deleting it altogether.
4. Push time from your phone to your computer
Pete stresses the importance of using your phone as a tool. Keep the essentials on your home screen – phone, calendar, messaging, camera.
By hiding or removing your social media and other media consumption apps, you won’t be filling the gaps in your day with mindless scrolling. Instead, you’ll consciously decide to use these apps on your computer, typically at home.
This will keep you more focused, productive, and open up more time in your day for engaged conversation, creative activities, and mindful work.
5. Turn off autoplay
This is a deceptively simple idea. Whether you’re using YouTube or Netflix, how often do you watch longer than you planned because the next video caught your attention?
It may be a brilliant design by smart engineers, but you have the power to change it with a click.
In fact, you have more power than you think. Let’s talk about that next.
6. Remove distractions with Chrome extensions
Pete was particularly excited to share the many ways you can adapt your browsing experience for fewer distractions. He shared seven of his favorites but emphasized there are many more options. Plus, new tools are being developed every day as consumers want more control over their technology use.
- Ad Blockers – Experience a cleaner interface and faster load time with no distracting ads. Pete recommends either uBlock or AdBlockPlus.
- Mercury Reader – Mercury Reader removes ads, but it also launches a clean reader view. You can clear away anything that’s not related to the article you want to read.
- Scroll Stop – Developed by the Digital Detangler himself, Scroll Stop does precisely what it sounds like – it cuts off the infinite scroll of popular apps like Facebook and Instagram based on your settings.
- Stylebot – This extension allows you to change the appearance of a website. Pete offered the example of removing the comments section or inappropriate ads before sharing. Stylebot also allows you to selectively remove distracting elements while you read.
- Text Mode – You can declutter the web by activating Text Mode. All pages load in text form (no images, animation or video) so content is more comfortable to scan and read.
- Inbox When Ready for Gmail – For those of us who get distracted by incoming emails, Inbox When Ready lets you hide your inbox by default. That way, you can still send emails and see your folders, but you’re not pulled away from your task by new messages.
- Site Blockers – If you can’t help but check Facebook when you should be working, there are a growing number of apps that will block troublesome websites. Try StayFocusd or Simple Blocker.
For more tools, check out our recent blog 10 Mindfulness-Based Tools to Reduce Distractions and Improve Your Focus.
Be a Mindful Technology User
You don’t have to be a passive consumer. Even if you’re not a programmer or a software engineer, there are many things you can do to make technology work better for you. Hopefully, the mindful technology ideas in this podcast have motivated you to take an active role in adapting your everyday tools.
Want to detangle yourself from technology?
Digital Detangler combines expertise in education, software, and corporate strategy to bring cutting-edge, actionable information to people and organizations. From diagnostic services to hands-on workshops to speaking engagements, Pete Dunlap teaches the skills needed to thrive in today’s information-rich landscape.
For more information:
- Listen to the full podcast episode
- Pick up his book, Digital Detangler: A Guide to Mindful Technology Use
- Follow Pete on LinkedIn