Do you have the impulse to check your email or social network updates when you get up, throughout the day, between tasks, as an interruption in the middle of a task, in the evening, in the middle of the night, anytime? There might be a message you are interested in or something you “need” to respond to …
Not everyone suffers from the same intensity of message-checking addiction, but it is not hard to see it in our culture—look at the people staring and poking at their devices as they walk down the sidewalk or sit in a meeting.
As I left work for this holiday break, I thought to myself, I should turn off the automatic email notifications on my smart phone. This is a time when I don’t need to know there is a new message. I need a break. So as I walked down the sidewalk away from the office, I pulled out my phone and began to change the settings. This will help me be in the present, be aware of my surroundings, I thought. Then all of a sudden I experienced a crack to my head and I fell to the ground. I looked up and saw that I had walked straight into a piece of construction machinery.
This experience followed a number of conversations I had over the past few weeks that seemed to indicate a growing awareness among my colleagues that one can be “too connected,” that it is worthwhile to try to figure out the appropriate balance between being connected and being disconnected, that there is power and integrity in being able to personally manage the fine line between too much online life and too little.
By serendipity, on my holiday travels I read a book I’d been meaning to read, Hamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age, by William Powers, a former Washington Post reporter. Powers is not a luddite or reactionary to technology. Instead, he offers a rich, long-term perspective on how humans have benefited both by connecting using technology and by disconnecting in a variety of ways throughout history.
The book is a helpful guide in the search for a deep, meaningful life. Powers intelligently questions the current zeitgeist of “the more you connect, the better.”
He asks, why are we all so busy and yet spend so much time responding to electronic messages and tasks that don’t enrich our lives or add up to anything very important. He explores the seductive nature of “the screen” and offers ways to balance connected time with screen-free time. He provides examples from Plato, Seneca, Gutenberg, Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, Thoreau, and Marshall McLuhan in a context that is very relevant and helpful to our contemporary situation.
And with that I’ll get back to disconnecting so I can immerse in my own experience of the here and now. Or at least not walk into a piece of construction machinery. Happy holidays.