I’ve been contemplating technology lately, and how we’re all so inundated with so many messages every moment of every day. We’re pretty much all continuously connected with everyone we’ve ever met, and tons of people we’ve not met, and that concept seems really bizarre to me. I had an interesting conversation with a very close friend yesterday, via text message (of course), and I don’t seem to be the only one struggling with this.
The friend, we’ll call her Molly, and I have both always been very academically inclined, hard working, and determined to accomplish our goals. She is an undergrad and nearly 10 years younger than me. I’m a grad student. We live in different cities and don’t see one another often. She was working on a paper that shouldn’t have been too difficult for her, but was having a hard time focusing. Molly asked if I had ever tried Adderall. I said, “No. I had already outgrown my drug experimentation phase by the time that became popular. I know some people who take it in order to stay up and party, and still be able to function at work the next day, but I don’t know anyone who takes it for productivity.” She had also never tried it, but we both agreed it seems awfully intriguing sometimes.
Molly: “I just want to be able to keep my mind on my homework for more than 40 seconds at a time…It has seriously taken my eight days to write a two page paper. I can’t seem to focus on more than a couple of sentences at a time. Same for my photography homework. I can’t seem to do more than a few shots before I get sidetracked.”
Me: “I think a lot of that comes from what our culture has become, honestly. We’re so inundated with everything all the time, and we have unlimited opportunities for information, or socialization, or whatever else. I think technology is making us crazy. Literally. We’re a society full of addicts. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been working on my thesis for two years. Lack of focus, that is. I’ve been forcing myself to do 20-minute stretches with some stuff, up to an hour with other stuff. And it’s hard!”
Interestingly enough, after that last text message, I learned that this was actually the topic of the paper she was writing… And it’s true! Anything I have to do on the computer, whether it’s for work or for school, I’ve been forcing myself to focus for 20-minutes before I will allow myself to check my phone, Facebook, Twitter, stats on my blog, etc. If I’m reading a physical book, I can usually go for about an hour, but I’m so easily distracted within that hour, by birds flying by the patio door, by my cat running across the room, by the sounds of people getting on and off the elevator in my apartment building, that it’s rarely a “full hour” of work… And I’m always checking the clock! So, how much of what I’m reading am I actually retaining?
I went to San Jose to hang out with a friend who was attending a conference about a year and a half ago, in order to get away from daily life distractions and actually accomplish something on my thesis. The conference had nothing to do with me, so while he was in meetings, I had the room to myself to spread out my books, research, and write. In the hotel, you had to enter a user name and password to log onto the internet, and I didn’t ever put them into my computer. I was logged off for about five days. I accomplished more in those five days than I have in the year and a half since then! (Okay, that’s a little bit of an exaggeration, but not much! Trust me! And that’s not something I like to admit!)
This addiction got so bad that one day I found myself sitting on my toilet, checking Facebook on my phone, and I said out loud, “Seriously? Nobody has updated anything on here in the last six minutes?” WHAT?! As soon as I said those words, I realized there was a problem. Why do I feel the need to have my phone next to me ALL THE TIME? Yes, I took my phone into the bathroom with me to pee. And I KNOW I’m not the only one who does that! Why the hell do we care what other people are doing while we’re on the toilet?! And WHY did it frustrate me that I had no new newsfeed updates in six minutes? Why was I even checking that often? What value did that bring to my life?
When I couldn’t answer these questions, I deleted the Facebook app from my phone. I still have Twitter on my phone, so I can update my Facebook status from my phone, because my Twitter account is tied to my personal Facebook account, and I made the conscious decision to keep it this way in order to update business information; however, Twitter isn’t something I check nearly as often. I don’t know that I even check Twitter once a day. Usually it’s just when I’m waiting for something – in the check-out line, in a waiting room, etc. I find this acceptable for myself.
Back to yesterday’s conversation with Molly…
Several hours had passed, and I read an interesting statistic that I sent to her. (The information originally came from “The Week” magazine, in a book review of James Gleick’s “The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood;” however, I got it from Rob Brezsny’s Astrology Newsletter.)
Me: “I just read an interesting statistic. There is more information generated every 48 hours now than all of the information generated in the entirety of human history up through 2003. So, in our lifetimes, we will each receive more information than ALL of our ancestors COMBINED.”
Molly: “WHAT. My mind just exploded. Makes me want to cease the usage of technology. Oh, wait.”
Me: “Right. And therein lies the conundrum.”
Our brains are working overtime, being continuously overloaded with information. What is that doing to us as individuals and as a society? Teachers complain about the lack of commitment from their students, everyone seems to be on some sort of anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication (or both!), the younger generations are seemingly dealing with more adult issues than ever before and behaving as such (though without the cognitive abilities to handle the implications and repercussions of their actions,) and it’s no wonder! There’s no way evolution can keep up with technology! We’re not naturally built to withstand everything we’re doing!
Because experts estimate, and have estimated for years, that 90% of all disease is stress-related, it seems as though we’ll all start dying younger, if we don’t find ways to de-stress and eliminate some of the constant chatter that’s everywhere. So much information processing puts our brains in a continual fight-or-flight mode, which sends cortisol (the stress hormone) surging throughout our bodies. You may not feel “stressed,” but consider this: When was the last time you felt “relaxed?”
In this moment, I am personally vowing to relax more and find more balance with this overload of information. The two best ways to relax are to get a massage or to have an orgasm, so I’m vowing to do more of both! I’m going to start creating a daily schedule for myself and forcing myself to stick to it until it becomes habitual. I don’t want to live a life in which I feel the need to check into other peoples’ lives every six minutes. I’d much rather have balance and live my own life to the fullest extent possible! While I may have access to much of the world via my laptop, tablet, or smart phone, I certainly can’t experience any of it through any of them. I’d rather have a physical experience than be oblivious to everything going on around me and only have connections via technology.