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(Dis)connected

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Do you ever wish you could disconnect from the Internet? We are plugged in via social media, on-demand television, virtual helpers like Google Home and Amazon’s Echo (Alexa), smart thermostats, email, our cars, online banking, and more. We don’t even realize how dependent we are until the connection goes down or we lose power.

Smart computer systems, using access to immense amounts of data, can use our browsing history to recommend new products, guess that we’re pregnant before our own family members, and predict the fastest route from our home to the beach at 5pm tomorrow.

How did I live without all this technology in the first half of my life?

And yet, I sometimes miss that disconnected life. I sometimes envy those who have managed to let it all pass them by, even as they become disassociated from mainstream society. Last year, I found myself almost jealous of the characters in the dystopian novel Station Eleven because they had no obligations to a small glass and metal rectangular object through which an astonishing amount of my life plays out.

I’m not a Luddite by any means. I love technology. I love having two-click access to almost any information, and the ability to turn on my lights with a voice command or “visit” my far-flung family members via FaceTime.

But sometimes, I need to disconnect. I need to go into my backyard, walk the dog, take a hike, or go to the beach, and live screen free for a while. Not just screen free, but instant-access free.

The problem with on-demand everything is that the minute we think a question, we can run off and answer it. But maybe it would be better to merely ponder it for a while. Enjoy the quiet act of thinking without distraction. To stew in our thoughts without always feeding our eyeballs with information.

I’m reading a book (on my iPad, of course) called The Inevitable by Kevin Kelly. It talks about the types of innovations we can expect to see in the future, and how we’re only going to be more integrated. There are a lot of exciting things coming.

But I’m still going to need a break from it all.

Even now, I feel better when I take some time out of my day to unplug. This is one of the reasons why I run. And do yoga. Or brainstorm with—gasp!—paper and pen.

I don’t want to ditch my devices and move off grid, but I am trying to purposely schedule sanity breaks into my day. I imagine they’ll be even more important as we march inevitably forward into the connected abyss.

What are your thoughts on our expanding connectedness?

10 Comments

  1. Dr C J Singh

    Reply

    The most prolific literary novelist Joyce Carole Oates writes long-hand on paper. She tried word-processing when it was first introduced, but rejected it. She has published more than 50+ literary novels and served as professor of Creative Writing at Princeton University for decades. Currently retired, she lives in Berkeley, California, and continues to publish a novel every year!
    c j singh, drcj@berkeley.edu

    • Reply

      That’s interesting, Dr. Singh. Everyone has a process that works for them, and I think that’s key. I really love typing out my thoughts, but lately I’ve been dictating to save my elbow (and get away from the screen and off my rear). It feels weird, but I can’t believe how many words I can “write” in an hour. Mainly because I can’t edit as I go. 😉

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Maggie Percy

    Reply

    A tool is just a tool, and you don’t get addicted to it. A craftsman isn’t afraid to leave his house without a hammer. But I know people who can’t bear to be separated from their phones, and not for any logical reason. I regard these things as tools, and I purposely avoid getting into the habit of wasting a lot of time on FB or feeling I must have a phone with me. I grew up decades ago, and I know full well people don’t ‘need’ these things. They are addicted to them. They are in essence in The Matrix, and the ‘connection’ is the way to keep them there, whether by design or default.

    Our culture has given up the natural human connections that come by generations of family living together helping each other and neighbors helping each other and working together on common goals. We’ve moved to a lifestyle that disconnects us from even those closest to us via the demands of work, the need to gather money, etc.

    Humans need to feel connected, and there is a huge vacuum in the lives of most people where natural human connections should be. They substitute with addictions to alcohol, drugs, sex (that’s a great one when you crave that connected feeling; that might explain the popularity of romance novels for women) and technology like FB, anything that either numbs them or gives them the illusion of being connected, when they are not.

    I’m with William Shatner, when he said, “Those people on FB? They’re not your friends… That’s all.” They aren’t. FB can help you to some extent if used properly, but 99.9% of people use it as a drug instead.

    I would love to live off grid and be self-sufficient, but that’s rare these days. For me, I choose to consciously see technology as a tool and consciously use it as such. I can put the screwdriver down any time I want. If I ever find myself obsessively carrying it everywhere, I will know I need help. Leave the phone at home. Stay off FB. The world won’t end. And you might begin to realize the connection you are really craving is just a natural human need that can be filled in simple ways, like taking the time to talk and do things with people you supposedly love but never have time for. (I don’t mean you, Gwen, when I say “you,” just generalizing. ) Even this is a terrible oversimplification of a complex problem, but my point is, don’t confuse the illusion of connectedness with real connection. It’s a mirage in the desert. Technology doesn’t fill that real human need at all, but proliferates as people falsely ask it to.

    • Reply

      Maggie: I think treating all of these things as tools is a healthy approach. Sometimes what I’m tired of is that most of my tools have screens, and that the nature of my work requires me to be more connected to them (including via social media, etc) than I was in my previous jobs where I could leave it all behind when I left the office. Some of that is also me needing to set better time boundaries on my home office. 😉

      As an introvert and someone who moves a lot, I love that I can make and keep friends across the globe through the Internet, but nurturing face-to-face communication is still really important.

      I do have to nitpick your comment about the popularity of romance novels being because people crave sex as a substitute for connection. While many romance novels have sex in them, mine included, that’s generally not the focus of the story (unless you’re talking about erotica or maybe erotic romances). The focus is the developing relationship. Romances promote the idea that women (and men) deserve a healthy, supportive, respectful, loving relationship. Most romances are feminist, empowering literature, and every sex scene, while titillating, also serves to move the relationship forward, or to raise the stakes, in some meaningful way. If romances are addictive, I think it’s because the endings are ultimately emotionally satisfying, not just for the happily ever after, but because there is usually justice. Many of us want to believe that eventually villains and heroes will get what they deserve, especially these days. If nothing else, we can find that in a book, whether it’s a mystery where the sleuth solves the crime, a thriller where the terrorists are foiled, or a romance where the couple overcomes their obstacles to carve out a life together.

      Those who crave sex as a substitute are probably spending their time watching p0rn, not reading romance. Incidentally, I just saw an article about the race to make sex robots. So, there’s that… Thanks for chiming in!

      • Maggie Percy

        Reply

        I think most of us read in part to escape to a place where things are as we wish they would be in our lives. I am certainly not implying or saying that the themes of romance novels are unworthy or trivial; by presenting a world where there is justice, equality and love, they give us all hope. I think hope is highly underrated. I didn’t mean it to come across as negative at all. Someone recently told me that romance novels are either 50% of all book sales or 50% of fiction sales. Wow! That’s amazing! Obviously, they fill a need. Since my own series falls into that category, I certainly wouldn’t disrespect it. 🙂 And that means there are a lot of readers for us to write for.

        • Reply

          Yes, hope is highly underrated! As is a need for escape. I think finding stories that envision a better world helps us do the same. And my sensitivity to those who malign romance probably made me read more into your comment than I should have.

          I don’t know the percentage (rwa.org probably has it), but romance is definitely the bestselling genre in fiction. Over a billion dollars a year! Definitely good news for us. 😀

  3. Reply

    I’m with you, Gwen. Definitely have to have some away time. Sometimes I resent all the time I spend on-line. It makes me feel like I’m missing out on real life. But I do love all the perks. Quick answers, ease of keeping in touch. It’s a slippery slope and we all have to find the right balance. 🙂

    • Reply

      Maura: Balance is it exactly. I guess, like anything, there’s good and bad, and it all depends on how you use it. Good luck finding the balance!

  4. Reply

    Fortunately, the internet only gets the attention of my cgi artwork/poetry blog, some occasional product orders, and a weekly Facebook visit. My other interests– gardening, oil painting and other artwork, writing, music, hiking, VFW volunteer work, stretching class, seeing neighbors and friends, and turning the pages of a real book– fill in the life gaps well enough. Recently I went to a college graduation, after which six of us got together at a brewery restaurant to celebrate. While in discussion, my wife and I were the only ones not texting/searching on their cell phones during the conversations. Our surprised company wondered why our phones were not out. It’s just not us.

    • Reply

      That’s great! If so much of my business weren’t internet dependent, I’d definitely spend less time online. I can’t say I always leave my phone in my purse when we’re out, but my husband and I both try not to be those people looking at their phones at dinner. We’re there to enjoy each other’s company without distractions. Except when I’m taking a picture of my food. 😉

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