If you believe in the trend presaged by this week’s rumble between Facebook and Twitter (briefly, after failing to buy the microblogging service, Facebook is redesigning its home page to incorporate more of the immediate news and info-streaming features that Twitter has made popular), then we are moving towards an always-on, always-connected social reality. We will no longer “log on” or “check our email.” Bytes of data will be like air, a digital cloud the intake of which we won’t really think about.
Of the Facebook change, CEO Mark Zuckerberg says, “As people share more, the timeline gets filled in more and more with what is happening with everything you’re connected to. “The pace of updates accelerates. This creates a continuous stream of information that delivers a deeper understanding for everyone participating in it.”
The problem with all of this is that a kind of offline time — those in-between moments in which the mind is freed to contemplate and do the mental work required to sustain long-term projects — is going away. Jack Cheng, a web designer who blogs at JackCheng.com, has a lovely post, “In Praise of Lo-Fi,” that discusses just this issue:
Whenever I travel, I feel a remarkable sense of clarity on the return trip. It usually hits me as I’m staring out the window of the airplane cabin or train car. I think it happens because on the way there, you have all this pent-up anticipation—you’re looking forward to seeing old friends or new cities, and chances are you’re still worrying a bit about hotel confirmations. And whether all your stuff made it through airport security.
But it’s different on the way home. You know exactly where you’re headed and what’s happening once you set foot on solid ground. If you’re coming back from vacation, you’re probably not in any hurry to return to the chaos of everyday life. If there aren’t any crying babies or stray pigeons, you’re happy where you are, taking in the now of things.
Plus it helps that there’s no wi-fi or cell coverage on that plane, am I right?
“For your information, the Internet—if you’re connected to it— automatically turns off at 10,000 feet during descent.”
I heard those words for the first time on my way back from LA last week, thanks to the inflight wi-fi service on my American Airlines jet. Scary. If you’re reading this site, it’s likely that having an instantaneous, always-connected, accessible-everywhere pipe of information is already the rule, rather than the exception. And the way we’re headed, disconnectedness is turning into even more of an anomaly.
It’s scary because I don’t think we’re properly equipped to deal with the new choices technology offers us. In the grand scheme of things, the way our brains are wired hasn’t changed much over the past few centuries—we’re running new software on old hardware.
So what happens when the situations that once forced us to disconnect start to disappear? What happens when the entire globe is blanketed with wi-fi and iPhones don’t run out of batteries? What happens when we have to consciously decide to switch things off?
Cheng goes on to discuss the extreme measures that some have gone to to create their own digital-free Walden Pond. One person is the writer Rob Long, who booked passage from Seattle to Shanghai on one of the few passenger compartments on an industrial freighter so he could finish his screenplay free from wi-fi, on-demand, pay-per-view, hotel room porn, Twitter, Facebook and the like. The blog’s comments thread has presented other, less-radical solutions, like the software program Freedom, which disables the internet for up to eight hours at a time from one’s laptop (an unsatisfactory solution — one can re-enable it by re-booting), cancelling cable, getting rid of TiVo, and going on a self-imposed media fast. There’s this 1998 quote from William Gibson:
As for myself, I feel more connected to the entire planet sitting alone out in nature than I do connected to the Internet supposedly “connected” to millions of people. The more connections the more noise. Thus I find the less but more meaningful connections I have, the more connected I feel. In other words, there’s a really big difference between “connected” and “distracted”. :)
For those who are not ready to accept the pastoral come-on of online shutdown, and who simply wanted to be prodded to focus , there’s Dr. Wicked’s Writing Lab. From their site:
The idea is to instill in the would-be writer with a fear of not writing. We do this by employing principles taught in Introduction to Psychology. Anyone remember Operant Conditioning and Negative Reinforcement?
Negative Reinforcement “strengthens a behavior because a negative condition is stopped or avoided as a consequence of the behavior.”
Gentle Mode: A certain amount of time after you stop writing, a box will pop up, gently reminding you to continue writing.
Normal Mode: If you persistently avoid writing, you will be played a most unpleasant sound. The sound will stop if and only if you continue to write.
Kamikaze Mode: Keep Writing or Your Work Will Unwrite Itself
These consequences will persist until your preset conditions have been met (that is, your time is up or you’ve written you wordcount goal or both)
This text box is not a word processor, it is not for editing, the way to save is to select all of the text, copy and paste into your own text editor. The idea is to separate the writing process and the editing process as much as possible.
This is aimed at anyone who wants to get writing done. It requires only that you recognize your own tendency towards self-sabotage and be willing to do something about it. If you’re sick of saccharine writing advice that no one could honestly follow and you want a real method to getting work done.