Commentary

New York Magazine: Technology almost killed me

http://nymag.com/selectall/2016/09/andrew-sullivan-technology-almost-killed-me.html

I was an avid reader of Andrew Sullivan in The Dish‘s heyday. That doesn’t mean I agreed with him all the time, but his style of commentary was well-suited to the rapid-fire, clearly editorial blogging he did. As the title of this article states, it’s actually not good for you to be full-on internetting 8+ hours a day.

I’m always a little skeptical of articles discussing the dystopia of our connected world because, as Sullivan states, we’ve been bemoaning the advent of new communication technologies since the printing press. Those who did not live with new forms of communication subconsciously desire life without them, because changes in how we communicate are the most difficult to process.

Having a smartphone comes with numerous benefits for me, and for everyone else who carries them. It also comes with a societal expectation of persistence that culture has borne out. Since the iPhone first came out in 2006, the public’s tolerance to delays with their communications has steadily dropped to zero. And that in turn gives us all “notifications anxiety”. That, more than the nature of portable computing itself, is the problem.

I rarely take photos with my phone, and I rarely post to Facebook more than once a day or Tweet more than 3-5 times (and most of those are either article notifications, retweets, or nonsense). That said, even without the compulsion to be always on, I’m easily distractable. I have been for years, decades even, but now I have a distraction in my pocket.

I did have an opportunity to take a cell phone sabbatical while at Pennsic. It was nice not to pay attention to my phone, but it’s always nice to not pay attention to my phone. What the week did for me, more than anything else, was help me to realize that I don’t need to pay attention to my phone. Nothing bad happened while it was put away. I didn’t miss Facebook or Twitter. I didn’t even miss any phone calls. Remembering that helps me leave my phone in another room when I’m writing or reading, and keeping it out of my field of view while in a car or on a bike. These are good practices, and not incompatible with having the phone in the first place.

I doubt I’ll ever be engrossed in my phone the way people ten years my junior are said to be. But even without that, I’m still in the position of watching social media go by like an unending river of nonsense, and being dragged in by inflammatory political comments or cat videos, which are both about equally important in day to day conversation (take note, more active posters). That’s something I should be more aware of. The time I should be productive I can be productive, and the time I should be distracted I can at least choose to read or view things I like rather than the aggressive blah of Facebook.

As Sullivan found out, diving into the deep end of the high-energy eye-grabbing internet can have some serious health impacts. For the rest of us, the effects are unlikely to be as serious…but I’m still sure there are better ways to spend time.

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