Friday, October 28, 2011

Taking technology breaks.

Photo courtesy of Nicola Poluzzi.

Have any of your friends started abandoning Facebook?

(And I don't mean abandoning Facebook FOR Google+.)

A few of mine have.  One dear friend never got on Facebook at all, despite the pleas of her peers.  But I think she might be onto something.

***

About seven years ago, I taught after-school art classes at Oak Hill Elementary.  One of the co-teachers and I got to talking about this guy, and this girl, and the fact that the guy liked other guys, and no one found out about it (including the girl) until he posted it on MySpace.

"What's MySpace?" I asked her.

"It's like, this site where you can build your own profile, and talk to friends and stuff," she said.

"Oh ..." I said, still confused.  "Like a dating site?"

"Sort of," she said.  "But it's not really for dating.  It's to connect with people you know, or get to know online."

Huh.  That sounds weird!!  I thought.  Only losers with no friends must be on this "MySpace."

In thinking about my life around that time -- 22, teaching kids' art and yoga, living in a tiny studio apartment on 45th and Speedway -- it's amazing to remember how much a computer was not a part of my day.  In college, it had been purely a means to an end: A device with which I wrote papers, performed research for those papers.  I wrote email of course, and occasionally Instant Messaged people.  Sometimes I checked out a few culture sites who had gotten their act together early in the Age of the Internet: Salon.com, Slate.com.  

But when I got home to my apartment after that conversation about MySpace, I didn't curl up with my computer.  (Which I do a lot now.)  Instead, I probably performed my typical 22 year-old routine: Went to Vulcan Video, rented some movies, came back home and watched them on the falling-apart TV/VCR (!) that I had inherited from the last person who lived there, made myself dinner, read a book, and went to sleep.  

Sometimes I met up with friends.

And you know what?  I miss those days.

***

A year later, I had a MySpace profile, three years later, I had a Facebook profile, four years later I started this blog, and five years later I was on Twitter.  Somewhere in there, I got a significant phone upgrade, one that is basically a tiny, super-advanced computer.

It is shocking to me how much my life has tipped toward the computer screen just over the past seven years.  I love having this little corner of the Internet where I can write, practice my photography, talk to the world about the city that I adore.  But I think it's a hallmark of my generation that we were basically the last ones to grow up without the Internet, and as a member of that generation, I constantly find myself straddling this psychological space where on the one side, social media and the computer and texting is totally AWESOME (and novel), and on the other side, I just want to go outside and lay on a blanket for hours and hours, far, far, away from the polite-but-persistent ding of new email, and pet my cat.

***

So I guess this is the point of this blog post: I'm thinking about instituting a weekly Technology Free Day.

Many of my friends who got off Facebook did so for privacy purposes.  Privacy isn't my fear here (though I guess I should be more worried about that kind of thing); technology overload is.

I posted about this idea on Facebook (oh, the irony!) and one of my friends commented back, telling me about a Digital Sabbatical that Gwen Bell does.  I'm not sure who Gwen Bell is, but she seems like a nice lady, and sorta famous.

Gwen takes a whole month off from technology: No computer, no checking email, no texting.  I guess that to successfully pull this off, you either have to be self-employed, work in a job that doesn't require gadgets, or have the kind of job where your boss would be cool with you, um, not working for a month. 

Which to me, sounds difficult.  But intriguing!

As a blogger who people read, I often feel like I'm not online ENOUGH.  I mean, I only post a handful of times a week.  And frequently, I think to myself:

You should really post on the weekends.  Less blog competition on the weekends!  Capture all those readers hanging out on the Internet!

Or,

When was the last time you Tweeted?  Yesterday??  Oh dear God, it's almost noon.  Get on there and say something witty, STAT.

Or,

What if -- just hear me out -- you posted 10x/week instead of 3-4x/week, self?  You could totally do it!  Just a few more hours each day in front of the computer!  Think of the TRAFFIC!

And then I think: Ah, welcome back, ego!  It's been a while.   

***
Now, truth be told, I think my technological neuroses might largely be an Austin thing.  Do you live here, Reader?  If so, you'll know what I mean when I say that social media is just in the air here.  Twitter was launched here in Austin, at SXSW, in 2007.  I've got buddies who work at Gowalla, Facebook, and Google, all a few miles from my house.  In Austin you can tweet to national companies that were founded here, like Whole Foods, and they tweet you back.  

It's a startlingly plugged-in city.

It may be different where you live.  But no matter how social media savvy or not your home is, we all know what it's like to be having a conversation with someone, and suddenly, they get a text. And then they read it.  And then they text back.  And then they turn back to you and say, "uhhh, what were we talking about?"

(I have certainly been on the other side of that scenario before, too.  The annoying one texting.)

So in this Technology Free Day experiment, I'd like to ponder this thought, too:

The single greatest and most valuable commodity in the 21st century is undivided attention.

I'm not sure who said that, but I think it's brilliant.

So I'm going to try this out on Saturdays.  Tomorrow will be the first one.  As my friend Adam sarcastically suggested, "don't forget to post about it on Facebook when you're done."

And you know what?  I may.

have you ever taken a digital sabbatical?  did you enjoy it?  would you ever start doing a regular technology-free day?

UPDATE, 10/28/2011 at 11:36 AM:

Nicole left a link to this video in a comment below, and I LOVE IT.  Exactly the thing to do on Technology Free Day! 

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