Toronto resident Christina Crook is a digital mindfulness expert, author, speak and podcast host. Her latest book, Good Burdens: How to Live Joyfully in the Digital Age, helps people shift their thinking to help eliminate digital stress.

Good Burdens is from Nimbus Publishing and retails for $21.95.

Hi Christina.

Good Burdens follows your first book, The Joy of Missing Out, which shows people the importance of intention in our lives.

Q. When – and how – did you realize that technology was in charge of your life?
A. It all started more than a decade ago. We’d moved across the country – from Vancouver to Toronto – the year before. It took just one cross-continental flight to shift a lifetime of rich relationships onto the internet. In a short time, “staying in touch” looked like scrolling through people’s posts.

The time difference was no longer a problem because I could lurk online at my convenience, any time, day or night. The only problem was that a few of my closest family members were nowhere online, and my contact with them all but evaporated. I was gleaning information and little else.

I felt a flatness growing in me and became deeply curious about what would happen if I completely ditched the Internet. In 2012, I gave it up for 31 days to discover what kind of artist, parent, neighbour, friend I would be without the demands of the digital world. 

Q. At the time, what did you do to take back control?
A. Why was I in such a hurry? What was I gaining through my online check-ins? Why was I turning down in-person get-togethers? These were some of the questions I set out to explore.

The plan took shape over the course of a few months. Preparations included buying a map book, writing down important phone numbers – I had a tendency to Google – and notifying freelance clients. To chronicle my journey, I decided to write one letter a day on my Remington typewriter and mail it to a friend. Thirty-one days, thirty-one letters from a luddite. Nervous and excited, I set up my autoresponder and pulled the plug.

As with any detox, the first few days were bumpy. I responded to phantom vibrations from my phone, realized just how much I relied on Google, and spent a lot of time wondering what was happening online – especially on the website about my experiment I’d (ironically) set up.

But the urge to control quickly gave way to joy.

There was nothing I could do about it. I was free.

During those 31 days, I discovered an abundance of time I never thought I had. I experienced peace, a quietness of mind I had been hungering for. I found connection with neighbours, strangers, and friends because I was forced to turn to people rather than to Google for help. I was figuring out how to flourish in a never-off culture. I was experiencing the joy of missing out – the conscious choice to unplug and experience life offline.

Q. You use historical facts and speak with mindful tech leaders in the writing of this book and at one point begrudgingly acknowledge that being connected isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Why do you think some people succeed in balancing technology while others have a harder time of it?
A. It turns out that the people flourishing with technology use it in very intentional ways. First off, they use it to serve larger goals. They have a destination. They also have a deep sense of their values. They’re protected from getting pulled off course by social contagion or FOMO (fear of missing out), wanting what other people have.
Dr. Pamela Pavliscak discovered that people happiest with technology use it for three primary purposes: Caring, Creativity, and Community – deepening warm relationships in the process. You might say people who are happiest with technology use it to love, to carry good burdens.

I really do believe we all have different capacities and, interestingly, one of the definitions of burden is capacity (of a ship.) 

Joy is a combination of well-being and success. I define well-being as having a positive relationship with your abilities and your limits. Success is simply the achievements of goals. We all have an easier time when we focus on our joy, less on setting limits on screen time and more on creating the positive conditions where other engagements can thrive and flourish.

Q. Would you be able to share a tip from Good Burdens to help people achieve a better digital balance in their lives?
A. I will share a simple daily exercise called the Examen.

It’s rooted in a centuries-old contemplative practice, and one of the reasons I know it’s such an effective tool for well-being is that it’s been renamed, repackaged, and repeated with its essential function left intact countless times. It began 400 years ago as the Examen of Consciousness by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, and has been called “moving toward and away” by motivational psychologists, “energizing and de-energizing habits” by even more motivational psychologists, and “life-giving and life-taking practices” by spiritually centered leadership and relationship experts.

I call it pursuing joy versus despair.

The Examen is an essential resource you can carry with you every day, helping you choose what to do next and discern the right way to go – toward joy.

Here it is:
Tonight, and every night, before you go to sleep, ask yourself these two questions:
What was the most life-giving experience of my day?
What was the most life-taking experience of my day?

Not yesterday, not when you were a kid, not what you’re worried about tomorrow, but today. You can use whatever language you wish to describe this: I use life-giving and life-taking, but you can say joyful vs. despairing, energizing vs. de-energizing.

However, you name it, you are actively separating your experiences into things that, if repeated, if pursued, will move you toward joy, as well as those actions that will move you away from it. And so, the hardest part of moving forward, deciding the right thing to do, has already been done.

What do you want? You want joy.

Q. What is being lost in our Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and constant scrolling through social media – and do we gain anything? 
A. Somewhere right now, someone you know, maybe even a good friend, appears to be having more fun than you. They’re buying something nice that you might not be able to afford. They’re getting a job offer for an amazing, fulfilling, well-paid position. They’re on their way to a great vacation in an exotic locale.

You’re not doing any of those things. How does that make you feel? How does it make you think about the value of what you are doing right now?

This is where the Fear Of Missing Out comes from. The danger of forces like FOMO is not only in the pressure to try to do, be, and experience everything, it’s the lie we’re told that it’s possible to. Every moment of your existence is spent doing one thing to the exclusion of a literal infinity of other things. No matter what you choose.

FOMO’s core messages:

I’m not doing enough.

I don’t have enough.

I am not enough.

If you stopped believing all three of these at once, you’d never again buy something you saw on Instagram, you’d never do another minute of unpaid overtime, you’d never doubt your worthiness to be loved, and a lot of people would make a lot less money off you. 

Simply put, the antidote for FOMO is joy. 

Q. The digital space isn’t going away or getting smaller. Is there anything that parents can do to ensure their children don’t face the same level of digital distraction?
A. Find what brings your kids alive. Pay attention. Ask them. Then create the positive conditions in your family life – the things you have in your home, the activities you have on your calendar, the apps you have on the iPad – for your child’s true joys to flourish. The key to kids thriving in the digital age is the same for adults – make the shift from passive consumption (buying into Big Tech’s promises of endless comfort, convenience and control) to being an active participant online and off – focused on cultivating relationships, community and creative projects that bring lasting joy.

Q. How did the book Good Burdens come to be? How does it expand on ideas from your first book and what do you hope people take away from Good Burdens? 
A. What happens when technology moves beyond lifting genuine burdens and starts freeing us from burdens that we should not want to be rid of? This is the question Good Burdens explores.

On an average day, you and I spend more time with our digital products and platforms than we do with any single human being. Because of this, we constantly put ourselves in the way of the three sirens of consumerism: comfort, control, and convenience – the drivers of Big Tech, Big Corporations, Big Everything.

Over time, they’ve shaped the way we think about relationships, the way we work, create, and even the ways we’re willing to love. But what is the cost of this constant orientation toward comfort, convenience, and control? Over time, these systems constrain what we are willing to do.

You know that the act of creating, of making anything worthwhile – whether it be a family, a resilient mind, a vocation, a marriage, a vibrant neighborhood – doesn’t work like that. There’s nothing efficient or comfortable about it.

At our core, you and I are after one thing: love. But here’s the thing: love is the opposite of control. Laziness is the opposite of love. The way we experience love is through the inconvenient joys of relationships. Warm relationships are our greatest source of happiness and relationships aren’t easy, they’re effortful.

The burdensome part of these activities is actually just the task of getting across a threshold of effort. As soon as you have crossed the threshold, the burden disappears.

And what are you left with then? You are left with joy. It’s what you were made for.

Comfort, control, and convenience, the promises of our tech-obsessed world, aren’t going to get you where you want to go. You weren’t made for a life of passive consumption; you were made for more.

To live joyful lives, we must risk trading control for care, convenience for community, and comfort for creative contribution. They’re good burdens. 

My dearest hope is that this book teaches readers to love, to know that caring for your small corner of the world matters, and helps you channel your energies online and off toward good burdens: caring relationships, community, and creative projects that bring joy. 

Q. I am curious about your writing process. How did the book come together?
A. I wrote a lot of Good Burdens sitting at a beat-up picnic table in the park around the corner from my house and it’s worked wonders for my creativity.

Being out of doors is an essential reminder that I am a small part of an immense world. The stimuli – sounds, smells, and sights – never fail to help me make deeper connections, weaving seemingly divergent thoughts into a cohesive whole. In nature, it all fits together.

Q. You have such a great array of thought-leaders featured in the book sharing their thoughts and feelings. How did you select your interviewees?
A. I sought out the most joyful leaders I could find. 

Q.  If you were to summarize with one of the quests or quotes from the book, what from Good Burdens really exemplifies your take on digital wellness. 
A. Think about it: the things you are most proud of in life – the child you are raising, the marathon you completed, the community garden you’re starting, the major project you hit out of the park- these required all of you: all of your attention, all of your love, all of your courage, all of the risk. Could you control it? No. Were you all in? Yes, you were. 

It is in these great effortful pursuits that we experience not only the outer reaches of our abilities but our limits, requiring us to rely on others and in turn deepening our love of the people and projects that mean the most to us. They’re good burdens. 

The burdensome part of these activities is actually just the task of getting across a threshold of effort. As soon as you have crossed the threshold, the burden disappears. 

And what are you left with then? 

You are left with joy. 

It’s what you were made for.