I recently read two different articles about people turning of the internet for themselves or their children. Turns out Steve Jobs limited his children’s screen-time; apparently his kids hadn’t even used iPads. This sounds almost like an urban legend, but according to an Epoch Times article other heads of tech companies also limit their children’s access to devices in hopes that they too won’t get addicted. Addicted?!? Seriously?
In One Man’s Year of Digital Detox David Roberts, writing for Outside Magazine (no it is not specifically designed for gay hikers, but the husband and I do like it and subscribe) talked about his radical step of staying off-line for a year. For most of us that would be drastic; for Roberts the move would have seemed like career suicide since he did virtually all of his work as a writer and political social media maven attached to a screen. Of course now he is getting loads of us to read about his experience, so I guess it is paying off. He writes about the tyranny of the net and how it grew out of control for him.
There was a time—it seems prehistoric now—when I started the workday by “getting caught up.” I’d go through my e-mail, check a few websites, and start on the day’s new tasks. By mid-2013, there was no such thing as caught up; there was, at best, keeping up. To step away from e-mail, news feeds, texts, chats, and social media for even a moment was to allow their deposited information to accumulate like snow in the driveway, a burden that grew every second it was neglected.
I spent most of my daytime hours shoveling digital snow. The core of my job—researching, thinking, writing at greater-than-140-character length—I could accomplish only in the middle of the night, when things calmed down. I spent more and more hours working, or at least work adjacent, but got less and less done.
Some folks are not old enough to remember simpler times. But there was even a world once where we had no smart phones, immediate streaming of movies, and no social networks except the ones that met up for real coffee in real coffee shops. Now I do not believe the world was a better place before all this technology. I personally love the access I have to information and audiences as I sit in my pjs and blog, podcast, and connect with people all over the world.
But I also recognize the tyranny of the technology. I feel the smart phone always tugging, tugging at me urging me to reach into my pocket to use it like Bilbo and Frodo carrying that One Ring that oppressed them all. I also experience the digital yawn all the time. You know when someone takes out their smart phone and immediately you reach for yours. Technology as a tool can quickly spin out into a mad, mindless and fruitless obsessive for me. And it changes the way I think and process information. When I am on-line a lot, I struggle to focus deeply when looking at issues. I flit about from one thing to another and skim, skim, skim.
On Friday as I left the house to do chores, I realized I left my iPhone on my desk. I thought, what the heck, let’s get a little risky here and leave it at home. It felt risky and radical, which also seems pathetic. I immediately wanted to tweet about it. But it also felt relaxing not having it on me calling out to me for attention. Waiting on line at the store and then getting the oil changed in the car, I felt relieved of the burden of needing to see if someone retweeted the latest silly/profound/ridiculous/scandalous thing I put up on Twitter or to check the email for the 300th time that morning. Phoneless I felt more present.
A few years ago I decided to avoid the Internet on Sundays, and this week I have decided to go back to that for at least month, just to give myself a retreat from all the tweets, a day to read books, chat on the phone, write letters, listen to music. In other words a retreat back to 1987. Therefore, I reinstitute Silent Sundays. I can’t wait to tweet about it!