Time for a digital detox?

By Caitlin Kelly

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Great piece, from Outside magazine on one man’s year of digital detox:

At the time, I was a journalist covering climate-change politics for a nonprofit Seattle news site called Grist. I’d been with Grist almost ten years, and as my job had transitioned into full-time writing, I’d lived through—indeed, built a career on—the rise of blogging, social media, and hyperspeed news cycles. By the end of 2012 I was, God help me, a kind of boutique brand, with a reasonably well-known blog, a few cable-TV appearances under my belt, and more than 36,000 Twitter followers.

I tweeted to them around 30 times a day, sometimes less but, believe it or not, gentle reader, sometimes much more. I belong to that exclusive Twitter club, not users who have been “verified” (curse their privileged names) but users who have hit the daily tweet limit, the social-media equivalent of getting cut off by the bartender. The few, the proud, the badly in need of help.

It wasn’t just my job, though. My hobbies, my entertainment, my social life, my idle time—they had all moved online. I sought out a screen the moment I woke up. 
I ate lunch at my desk. Around 6 p.m., I took a few hours for dinner, putting the kids to bed, and watching a little TV with the wife. Then, around 10 p.m., it was back to the Internet until 2 or 3 a.m. I was peering at one screen or another for something like 12 hours a day.

Does this sound familiar to you?

We now spend — North Americans anyway — seven hours a day staring at a screen of one sort of another: laptop, phone, Ipad, desktop or television.

We now live in an era of CPA, continuous partial attention, a world in which we’re all one click away from the next cool thing, awaiting the next text or sending one while (yes) driving or sitting at the dinner table or (yes, even) shooting a selfie at a funeral.

Sherry Turkle, a psychologist, has studied our use of technology for decades:

She is particularly concerned about the effect on children. “I am a single mum. I raised my daughter, and she was very listened to.” Today our phones are always on, and always on us. Parents are too busy texting to watch their kids, she cautions. There’s been a spike in playground accidents. “These kids are extremely lonely. We are giving everybody the impression that we aren’t really there for them. It’s toxic.” This is what she means by “alone together” – that our ability to be in the world is compromised by “all that other stuff” we want to do with technology.

BETTER BLOGGING

I have a horror of the fully-mediated life, one solely conducted through a glass screen, one in which full, physical attention from another human being is a rare commodity. (Now that I’m teaching college, I am acutely aware how rare it is for a room filled with young people to focus for two hours without sneaking a peek at their phone. I insist on it, but am also grateful for their attention.)

Because I now spend so much time on-line — like many others — I’m finding my ability to focus on one issue for long periods of time degraded, so I’m being more conscious about reading books, on paper, to rest my eyes and do one thing for an hour at a time.

I also make a point of meeting people face to face over a meal or a coffee, to read their facial expressions and be able to share a hug.

How about you?

Does the digital life satisfy you?

Actually, rudeness is dictating people’s behavior — and don’t you dare leave me a phone message!

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ParentsPstcrd_041310.jpg (Photo credit: Carolyn_Sewell)

This New York Times story makes me want to throw a chair:

Some people are so rude. Really, who sends an e-mail or text message that just says “Thank you”? Who leaves a voice mail message when you don’t answer, rather than texting you? Who asks for a fact easily found on Google?

Don’t these people realize that they’re wasting your time?

Of course, some people might think me the rude one for not appreciating life’s little courtesies. But many social norms just don’t make sense to people drowning in digital communication.

And, in case this didn’t piss you off quite enough — here’s some more wisdom from the Boy Wonder of techno-communication:

Now, with Google and online maps at our fingertips, what was once normal can be seen as uncivilized — like asking someone for directions to a house, restaurant or office, when they can easily be found on Google Maps.

I once asked a friend something easily discovered on the Internet, and he responded with a link to lmgtfy.com, which stands for Let Me Google That For You.

In the age of the smartphone, there is no reason to ask once-acceptable questions: the weather forecast, a business phone number, a store’s hours. But some people still do. And when you answer them, they respond with a thank-you e-mail.

Pardon my intemperate tone, but for fuck’s sake!

If someone asks me for directions, which is rare because I generally offer them, unless I am in a huge rush, I’m happy to help. The weather forecast is also available (fogey alert!) on the front page of the Times, on television and usually on the radio.

But God forbid we should waste one another’s time. Because the time you waste reading my tedious thank-you email is exactly the time you were planning to spend playing Angry Birds curing cancer.

This sort of pretentiousness makes me want to vomit.

If you want to communicate with other people, try to understand a basic concept — we do not all communicate in the exact same way, nor using the exact same language nor the exact same tools. If you text me, you’ve just wasted your time. I don’t read texts, ever.

Texting on a qwerty keypad phone
Texting on a qwerty keypad phone (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Is this rude of me? Quite probably. It also marks me as someone who prefers to use email, far more than telephone. If someone texts me, I won’t even see it. Not because I think I’m so important, but because I’m so goddamned busy that an email is, for me, the easiest way for me get on with things. I generally reply to emails promptly and I also reply to phone messages. I even make phone calls. (Feel free to face-palm in horror.)

I don’t wish to communicate in syllables, so I don’t tweet either.

Yet, somehow, I’m able to maintain friendships and business relationships with people in their 20s, 30s and 40s, all younger than I. Maybe because they get the basic premise — we’re here to have relationships, not hand-flap our Huge Importance at one another and tell others exactly how they must communicate with us or risk their wrath.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

How do you communicate: text, email, phone?

Do you alter your communication style for people older or younger who may do it differently?

What’s the most important letter you’ve ever received?

Letter?

You know, something written on paper, possibly even written carefully in ink by hand, folded into an envelope with a stamp on it…?

kim letter

This lovely object was a going-away card made by my friend Kim, a former colleague and close Toronto friend, when I moved to Montreal in September 1986.

For a generation or two, and possibly future generations, a letter on paper may soon be, if not already, some odd artifact of the ancient past, like cuneiform carved into stone or hieroglyphics painted on papryus.

For historians and writers and researchers of all sorts, letters are gold, a direct and unadulterated conduit into how someone, possibly someone we’ll never meet, maybe centuries dead, was thinking at a particular moment in time.

What did Chopin or Livingstone or Emerson think? Here’s a link to books with their letters.

Do you follow the phenomenal blog Brain Pickings? You must! Here’s her 2012 post on books of letters, with several lovely and moving excerpts.

Here is Friedrich Engels, writing on Nov. 12, 1875:

The whole Darwinian theory of the struggle for existence is simply the transference from society to animate nature of Hobbes’ theory of the war of every man against every man and the bourgeois economic theory of competition, along with the Malthusian theory of population. This feat having been accomplished – (as indicated under (1) I dispute its unqualified justification, especially where the Malthusian theory is concerned) – the same theories are next transferred back again from organic nature to history and their validity as eternal laws of human society declared to have been proved. The childishness of this procedure is obvious, it is not worth wasting words over.

Some of the most life-changing messages have come to me by mail, like the letter from Paris that arrived in my Toronto mailbox in June 1982. I had just turned 25, and became the year’s youngest fellow in an eight-month journalism fellowship that would base me in Paris with 28 others from 19 countries, from Togo to New Zealand to Japan to Brazil. We would travel alone to report stories all over Europe, (and fall in love, break hearts [sorry, Carlo!], and discover ourselves and the world in ways then impossible to imagine…

When I was 12, at summer camp, I wrote to Ray Bradbury, a writer whose work left me awestruck and envious, urging him (!) to not stop writing. I was in Northern Ontario and mailed my letter to his Manhattan publisher, Ballantine. Within a few weeks, I had a hand-written reply, on a blue custom postcard with his address and signature, from Los Angeles.

It was magical and improbable as finding a unicorn in the mailbox.

A writer, thousands of miles away in a foreign country, a man of tremendous accomplishment and repute, had bothered to make the time to write back to me, a young girl. Writers were real people! They had hearts, and postcards and pens and stamps. They care what we think!

This early success later emboldened me, and I wrote, in my early 20s, to the late John Cheever, another giant of American literature. My first was a fan letter, (to which he replied), about Falconer, an astonishing novel. But I wrote again, from a long trip through Europe alone, to ask him to explain an expression he has used in his earlier stories. He wrote back again.

(I now live a 10-minute drive from his home, his daughter reviewed my first book and I met his son at a local authors’ event. How odd, and unlikely.)

My mother, with whom I no longer have a relationship, lived most of her life very far away from me — in Peru or New Mexico or Mexico or England or British Columbia — but wrote me typewritten letters almost every week for many years. I have only a few of them now, and they have a poignancy that is almost unbearable in their chatty, loving desire to stay in touch with me, her only child.

I cherish a few personal letters in particular, two of them photographed here. One is from a former assistant minister at our church, which he wrote to me when my first book was published to thank me for sharing my talent. Another  — with no year’s date on it — is from a man whose vision and humor and affection changed my life, the late Philippe Viannay, who founded my fellowship (and a newspaper, and a home for boys and a sailing school and…)

I cherish the last line of his letter: “Thanks again for the way you played the game.” (More precisely, the spirit with which…) It was important to me, then as now, to be so appreciated by someone I so deeply admired.

letter

For all you Indigo Girls lovers, here’s one of my favorite songs: Burn All The Letters.

What letter has changed your life?

Call Me! No, Text Me! No, IM Me…How (If At All) Do We Communicate?

Young passenger pigeon.
Now this is a reliable medium! Image via Wikipedia

I just read a great new book, out in September, by a friend, Daylle Deanna Schwartz, called “Effortless Entrepreneur” that distills the wisdom of two college friends, Nick Friedman and Omar Soliman, who founded College Hunks Hauling Junk.

What struck me most was their management advice — that when you hire and manage people under 25, maybe younger, you have to gently coax them (!) into actually talking face to face to real people, i.e. clients and customers, which also involves (!) looking them in the eye, shaking their hand, listening and showing that you have heard them.

What a concept!

These two business owners learned the hard way they have to consciously and carefully train their young employees how to interact well and courteously face to face and by telephone using their voice with others, who are likely somewhat older and expect what they consider civility.

Sounds really basic to me but apparently not so much because so many young people (love that phrase!) now only communicate through texting. Not speaking by phone (LOL) or even face to face (ROFL.)

Sht Me. Srsly. (Fill in that first word as you see fit.)

Whatever tribal customs work well in high school or college, it must come as a terrible shock when not everyone communicates in the same fashion.

Some of us geezers actually enjoy face to face conversation instead of living attached to a piece of technology. So, entering the workforce, which often shows all the flexibility and willingness to accommodate your very own personal needs as, say, an I-beam, will also mean picking up some new, even uncomfortable social skills as well.

I got stood up last week by someone younger than 25. They did not telephone me, eschewing both cell and land-line. Nor did they email. They said they sent a message on Facebook, (I do not own a Blackberry), but there is none there to be seen. I drove an hour each way to meet this person, ate alone, then drove home, really annoyed.

No phone call? No email? I only found out this person wasn’t dead by emailing (after I made several calls and FB messages.)

The problem with Facebook? If you decide to blow someone off and are chatting away on FB shortly before and after, we know you aren’t bleeding arterially or lying anesthetized on an OR table. In geezerworld, those are the only two reasons I wouldn’t show up, or expect someone else to, possibly without letting the other person know you’re severely ill or injured.

When I asked some people older than 25, they said they’d experienced similar behaviors.

Have you done this? Or experienced this — a total mismatch of communication styles? How (if at all did you resolve it?)

Maybe this works really well for the younger set, but if or when they try to work with or be-friend others even a decade or so older than they, they need to remember that we don’t all communicate using the same tools anymore.

I’m thinking passenger pigeons myself…