I don’t remember when it happened, really.
When the dull roar of the digital age overwhelmed my capacity for solitude and burst over my brain’s bow like a 80-foot wave crushing an afternoon’s picnic at the seashore.
But it happened.
I didn’t even realize how every waking moment was filled with push notifications, application alerts, status updates, newsfeed articles, arriving emails, instagram likes, text messages, and slack channels ringing. My beautiful, precious, limited life dissected into secondary slices. Lots of reading and deleting. Lots of reading and reacting. Seldom a lot of living in between the alerts.
Some people saw it. Even from a distance.
My boss. My co-workers. My wife, of course. But for me, clinging to my picnic basket in the sand, watching the crest high above me, they all sounded far away. I was going to listen, but I had to check just one more alert.
The scariest word in our language. Unplug, and miss something. Unplug, and forget something. Unplug.
We are healthy patients. Our bodies fine, but our minds are on life-support. Unplug.
I pulled the plug. Mostly, it was my smartphone. I got a new, shiny one. Somewhere, a nudge of sovereignty hit me. I wanted myself back. I wanted solitude, un-supported thoughts, I wanted to breath the free air without the mind-lung machine pumping in my head.
It started simply, like an addict making one promise.
Night time. A new app that turned stuff off at night. Seemed simple enough. I guess I didn’t even mean to take that one step, I just wanted to sleep and not wake up and see if I had an alert. 10 PM to 8 AM. Block this, that, the other. No email, no Facebook, no Instagram, no text messages… oh, this app doesn’t just stop the notifications. You can’t even reach the apps? Oh. Hmm… okay, I’ll try it.
That first morning.
From 6:30 to 8:00. Sipping coffee. Strangely naked. A device with a fully charged battery, but all the buttons I was used to pushing only showed a message that reminded me the device and I were no longer one. Separation anxiety, drowning in java.
I could get used to this, the thought flickered.
Yes, I can. I did.
Quickly, I’m getting addicted in a different way.
I’m addicted to space, time, and silence.
I’m addicted to that slice of morning before I’m ready to face the day, when the day is still hidden in my phone, not yet revealed. There’s nothing to look at, except the black disc of coffee sloshing in my cup. There’s nothing on the screen, but the windows beckon.
Beauty, close and far, reminds me that I am part of this, not that.
We have mined the substance out of life, condensed it, compressed it, confused it.
These tools, are wonderful. I like them no less, but they are dangerous. They are different. No one ever held a hammer too long.
These tools, they are different. They make us work. They take our time. They chip away at our sanity.
We must remember where we come from.
We used to go home at night, now we must send the tools home and return to ourselves.
The shakes will subside. That fluttery sensation inside, it isn’t fear, it’s exhilaration. Give it a chance. Give you a chance.
The next time you see an alert, bump up a level.
Don’t think on the level of whether or not there’s a task in that for you, think:
Do I need that now? Am I able to fix that? Does it need my attention? Is it going anywhere?
You’re too connected for your own good, that’s what I’m thinking.
That’s what I found out. That’s why I’m writing.
Heartbeats are notifications too.
Come off life-support and breathe the free air.