the great disconnect
I came across a TEDx Talk by Paul Miller today. In it, he describes his year long break from the internet. It isn’t a great TED Talk and it was disappointing that he chose to fill the gap with video games, which seemed to defeat his purpose a bit. But the talk did remind me how tethered I’ve become to the internet and computer technology and I’m wondering if I’ll ever be able to break free.
Watching the presentation made me realize how deeply internet technology has its hooks into me. I’ve worked heavily with computer technology since college in the mid-80s and professionally after graduation, but in the beginning I didn’t have any real desire to do much with it outside of work; it never really captured my imagination. I still laugh at myself when I think about my first trip to Europe in 1996. I hooked up with a large group of Americans in Barcelona and we did some sightseeing and then and then had a great dinner where I first learned the wonders of sangria, paella, and night time in Barcelona. As everyone started on their way at the end of the evening, a mass email exchange occurred. I have email, but I don’t really check it, I told everyone as I collected written addresses that I never ended up using. That was about 18 years ago. Today I am drowning in email, think about it in some form constantly, and get anxious when I can’t get at it for a few hours.
Back in the early days, I really thought that I could escape what I saw as the email fad. The great utility and advantage of using email seemed obvious, but I also saw the burden and it didn’t seem like a good trade to me. I still don’t think that it was a good trade, but stuffing things back into Pandora’s box doesn’t work, barring total catastrophe. People wonder over high tech today as if it will deliver us into some kind of utopia. This seems extremely naive given our history. Time seemed so much larger before my current internet addiction. Any time that I’ve saved due to internet and computer advances has been more than paid back with extra addiction time. A good part of my indifference probably stems from the fact that there has never been a time in my life when I wished that I could communicate more readily and instantly than the land line telephone. Back then my bosses didn’t call me over the weekend to tell me what I should be doing for the next week. They didn’t make me call in to get weekend updates. Now I get work related email 7 days a week with expectation creep that it should be read and acted upon whenever it arrives.
I want to escape being ‘connected’ and get back to being connected to my life a little bit more than I am. Providing students with tools and resources on the internet isn’t the best job to have for someone hoping to start disconnecting from life online. The future is similarly bleak because all of my escape-back-to-an-island-paradise schemes involve the internet. If 12 year old me had Google Music to play virtually any album in existence back in the 70s, I would have been in heaven. Yet, with just a radio and record stores, I still loved music just as immensely. It seems like it’s about managing expectations and appetite. My expectations of what I can get instantly and my appetite for that stuff grows daily, but I’m not any more full than I was before I pulled onto the information superhighway.
Miller’s talk has given me the push I needed to try to get my internet usage under control (or at least debate it internally). I’m going to post periodically on my attempts, failures and successes at unplugging my life. I’ll also start a series that I’ve long wanted to do on the things that the internet/computer technology has ruined or sucked the fun out of forever.