April 10, 2012

Disconnected

Let me guess: you work in the tech industry. You spend upwards of ten hours online every day, tweeting, posting on Facebook, and pinning things on Pinterest. Perhaps you incessantly check the latest tech news, or Reddit, or Hacker News. The first and last thing you do during the day is check your email from your smartphone.

"That’s my job," you say, "and it’s a routine!"

There’s really nothing wrong with that, per se; its satisfying and it feels productive. Maybe it even is productive. However, if you take a step back and look at just how much you retain from what you’ve consumed—is it really?

What of all that content you read, saved, and written, do you remember or—better yet—really care about? From the past day? Week? Month? When it comes down to it, we imbibe a lot of material that amounts to hours wasted and unremembered.

I’m not just talking about productivity, either. No one can be productive for the entire day; we as humans only have a limited amount of willpower. I’m referring to making your life more memorable and more satisfying.

Let’s take a hypothetical trip: for the next month, you’ll be in another country where internet access is limited and it costs $2/minute to make a phone call (this is an entirely realistic scenario, for those unfamiliar). You’ve loaded up your laptop with some reading material, maybe some tools and libraries for a project you have in mind.

You no longer receive tweet notifications. Email is checked once a day, when you happen to have WiFi at a nearby café. Maybe you have time to browse a couple of articles before you finish your coffee and head out.

You go on a hike. Read some paperback novels. Sit on the beach, notepad in hand, and write down a few ideas for your development project; making a few notes about the tools you need to look for when you have internet again.

These are the times I’ve found myself most productive and, certainly, happiest. You’re forced to plan ahead, interruptions are few, and you give your mind some space—an opportunity to mull over your roadblocks, ideas, and plans.

As a society, we’ve done our absolute best to saturate ourselves with TV, news, articles, blog posts (yes, like this one), tweets and photos. Most of it, however, holds little meaning to us beyond the momentary endorphine hit and amusement of sharing it amongst your friends.

This is not something that we need to undo, necessarily. Society has proven vastly more productive, as whole, with these tools and connections. On the other hand, at an individual level, I believe we are unaware of the effect that this constant saturation has upon us. It wears down our focus and sucks away every moment our brains have, in the past, used to truly understand the material we consume.

We need to take a collective step back and wonder: is this really what’s best for each of us?

Disconnect for a day or two. Put your phone in “airplane mode” for most of the day. Turn off your laptop’s WiFi for the other 23 hours. Plan a project and complete it without using anything more than your phone’s browser to reference material. The world won’t go anywhere but you just may find that you’re a little bit happier.

Oh, and on that imaginary trip, the last thing you do before you go to bed? Listen to the crickets chirp in a lulling harmony while the breeze sneaks through the palm leaves beyond your walls.

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Joshua Gross is web designer and developer, and principal of Planetary based in Brooklyn, NY.