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Unplugging to Combat Information Overload

Thursday, September 30th, 2010 | Posted by Christina Tran

We discussed information overload in Kolko’s theory class on Monday. I heard and read a lot of stuff on the same topic this summer. It felt like a lot of people felt the need to “unplug” as a means of 1) coping with digital overload, 2) as an experiment to see what they and their lives were like in the absence of digital connection, or 3) to learn how they could find balance between online-self and offline-self.

Here are some unplugging options, complete with people who have been there, done that:

TAKING A BREAK, COLD TURKEY

Gwen Bell helps clients figure out their online messages and also helps technologists figure out how to unplug. She has a vast online presence, and this past July felt the need to take a month off…and found that the pace of life and her depth of observation changed.

I remembered what it’s like to listen with intention. I practiced first with myself and then by turning my attention wholly onto the other…

The more I reflect on it, I’m not sure that’s scalable. I know for sure that trying to listen to four thousand folks (on Twitter, for instance) all at once isn’t just impossible. It’s unsustainable and makes my heart race.

James Sturm is the director for the Center for Cartoon Studies. He wrote of his decision to give up the internet for 8 weeks:

“Over the last several years, the Internet has evolved from being a distraction to something that feels more sinister. Even when I am away from the computer I am aware that I AM AWAY FROM MY COMPUTER and am scheming about how to GET BACK ON THE COMPUTER.”

Sturm blogged about his offline experiences (and the ironies of blogging about his offline experiences) for Slate.com, replied to postal mail from readers instead of online comments, and shifted some of his internet burdens (ex. looking up map directions) onto his wife.

SETTING LIMITS

David Wyatt co-owns and serves as Business Director of Wyatt Brand in Austin. He handles PR and online messaging for many of his clients, so it was natural for him to be online all of the time. He decided at the end of summer to turn on “The Off Switch.” He got rid of his iPhone and set ground rules to limit his internet usage.

I hadn’t realized how much the constant, intermittent use of technology throughout my day was complicit in me becoming increasingly more anxious, less patient, distracted, less creative, irritable, aggressive, selfish, less courteous, etc. Conversely, by corralling technology into planned times and places, I will go a few hours without checking in and it is like a breath of fresh air. I feel more content and aware.

DIVIDING TIME

This is not directly related to the internets, but Judith Shulevitz wrote a book called The Sabbath World wherein she explores her relationship to the routines and meanings behind the rituals and laws of the Jewish Sabbath—a time specifically set aside to rest and to spend with loved ones. She speaks about segregating her time and creating spaces in her life for spirituality in this John Templeton Foundation video series as well as on NPR’s Fresh Air. Here is an excerpt from a Los Angeles Times article Shulevitz wrote:

This, by the way, is not because we’re workaholics or Internet addicts or because religion is on the wane. It is objectively harder to stop working now than in Frankfurter’s day. The pace and rhythms of work have quickened, and each pause costs more than it used to. Globalization, just-in-time manufacturing and electronic networks, among other things, have made it possible to synchronize production and communication around the globe, but they have also made it necessary to operate on a 24/7 schedule. This creates, in effect, something that Josef Stalin once admiringly called the continuous workweek. Meanwhile, mobile devices have annulled the rules that used to prompt us to stop working at regular times (5 p.m., say) and pushed us into a zone of frictionless activity without temporal boundaries.

…But the Sabbath is not just a day off. It is also an idea. Actually, it’s three ideas, embedded in the Fourth Commandment, the one that talks of keeping the Sabbath.

The first is the idea that everyone, not just the idle rich, has a right to rest regularly. The second is the idea that the good society makes life better for its members by protecting that rest.

The third idea, which is perhaps the most powerful of all, is simply to “remember the Sabbath.” That is something we all can do, whether or not we choose to honor it. We can simply think hard about it, trying to puzzle out all that this very old and once-venerable human institution has to teach us about work, rest, time, sanity and the good life. What we might come up with if we figured that out remains a tantalizing mystery.

FOR ME

I’m really drawn to the idea of carving out spaces to have analog experiences in my weekly schedule. It seems doable: create relatively-short regularly-scheduled times when I’m completely unplugged. Something to try, to try and combat the feeling of drowning I sometimes get amidst the churning feeds and informational abyss of the interwebs.

2 Comments »
  • http://www.iamgato.com/ Kat Davis

    Speaking from an experience of being relatively unplugged for almost two years (without internet on my phone or in my house), I can definitely say that there were advantages. I felt like I had more time and that I was more focused on the present. My distinct advantage in this transition was the relative situational similarity of most people around me. Everyone was “unplugged” which made it much easier. In the US with everyone online and reachable 24/7, it’s hard to turn off that part of your life mostly because it disconnects you from your social circle or your work obligations.

    I do applaud you for your idea of purposefully and weekly disconnecting. It’s good for the soul. :)

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