You can learn a lot when standing in line at Whole Foods. As opposed to every other supermarket line, which mirrors a live-action version of a Facebook feed or “Sponsored ads” screaming out clickbait tabloid headlines about politicians, the Royal Family, or Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie designed to attack your attention span, almost every magazine there discusses Mindfulness.
According to Google’s definition, mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, and is used as a therapeutic technique. This concept has grown exponentially in popularity in recent years and has become more than the latest self-improvement fad.
Technology can make it very hard to be mindful, as it distorts our awareness. It’s difficult to be mindful and aware when devices create a myopic view of the world. It is all too easy to get sucked into an engagement trap like social media, or applications like EHRs that require significant concentration, and not be aware of what is really going on.
Mobile devices have different user interfaces and small text, which, combined with distracted usage, makes it difficult to concentrate and be fully aware. These traps remove mindfulness and increase our susceptibility to deception. Examples of deception include: falling victim to phishing attacks, blindly double-clicking on attachments that cause ransomware attacks, or allowing your system to be disorganized or unpatched, thus leading to it being exploited.
Below, I’ll demonstrate three easy mindfulness techniques that can be integrated into daily workflow to improve your interaction with technology and reduce the risk of deception or harm from using it.
Think about the purpose of your actions before clicking.
It’s very easy for a user interface, especially a poorly designed one, to require a level of concentration that reduces your ability to make sound decisions. Don’t focus on the next user element. Think about the meaning of each click of the link. When you encounter a link, pause, breathe, and hover over it. Look at the link and think about where it goes. Does it look like it makes sense? Does it look like the links you click on every day? If it doesn’t, don’t click. Take a pause and ask questions. If you don’t feel comfortable with your answers, ask someone who you know and trust with technology. It is far better to ask questions than blindly click and fall victim to deception.
It’s also very easy for deceptive e-mail messages to convey a false sense of urgency. If you receive one of these messages, pause and breathe. Think about the email. Examine it and ask yourself if it makes sense. Does it have a message that utilizes fear or the promise of free items such as gift cards? Does it have proper grammar? Is it from someone you know? Would that person send a message like this? Does the context make sense? If any part of the message doesn’t make sense, don’t click or open attachments. If you know the person, don’t email them. Instead, pick up the phone and call them and ask them about the message. If they can’t explain it to you, or understand what you’re talking about it, don’t reply to the email.
Stay focused and on purpose.
When using an application or service, focus on using it without distractions. Much like texting and driving, distraction challenges our attention and mindfulness from our actions. It allows us to function on a type of auto-pilot, blindly clicking without purpose making us further susceptible to deception and its effects. When using applications or services for a task, remove all distractions from around you as much as possible. Put your application to full-screen and don’t use anything else that is not relevant to the key application. Don’t text and use other apps. Don’t use social media. Keep a list of what you need to do, and accomplish it before moving on to the next thing. Think of your actions with full attention. You’ll find that if you remove distractions, stay focused, and think of your purpose, you’ll be able to spot and reduce the effects of deception.
Pick the right times to use applications or technology.
Most of us need to use several forms of technology as part of our daily life. However, we need to plan out when we interface with them as part of our daily tasks. If we pick the wrong times, we become distracted, which leads to increased susceptibility to deception and potential security issues. While our days can be unpredictable, mindful usage of technology as part of a planned day can reduce our risk to deception.
Using these three techniques can help organize your usage, reduce distractions, and allow you to be more mindful of your actions when using technology. To many, technology is both an escape and a necessary evil. There will always be those who seek to deceive us. However, with mindful usage, we can reduce that risk.
Mitch Parker is Executive Director, Information Security and Compliance, at Indiana University Health, and Adjunct Lecturer of Health Informatics at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis. Previously, he held the CISO role at Temple University Health System.