I’m a part of a generation that is wired up to everything. The generation after mine is even more wired up. And perhaps the generation after that will be wired up even more than them. TV, phones, computers are all networked up in one way or another and this for the most part is pretty cool.
For a good chunk of the year this year I decided to get away from this wiring up, and give up on using a lot of technology. I didn’t plan to, I didn’t think very deeply about it, it just seemed like the right thing to do for a while. I gave up a lot of technological tools that were networked up (mostly online but I also kept some off-line technology use to minimum).
There were a few reasons I made the decision (disillusionment, privacy, focus, time) but it was initially motivated by rereading the book “Blind Faith” by Ben Elton, which a friend gave to me. It is a novel set in near-future dystopia where privacy (and even the desire for it) is a sin and against the law. In the book the entire population blogs and uploads videos etc every single day and it is against the law to not have web cameras streaming your life for everyone to see. The public police each others lives and dob in people who don’t participate to the authorities. The main character in the book experiences a “breaking free” of this system and tries to encourage others to do so. It is an interesting book and gets the mind thinking about what our community might very well look like in the future.
Although we are a long way off anything described in the book, some of the ideas it explored made me think more analytically about internet, phones etc and the amount of time people spend using those types of things. I grew to be frustrated with it particularly social networking sites and decided to take some time to focus on art, thought, fitness, work, family, spirituality, dreaming and all this off-line stuff that we humans used to refer to as life. It was a personal decision to commit to this for a time which I found beneficial, productive and surprisingly refreshing and easy.
I spent a fair bit of time outside of work with family or alone with God and nature, and it was sometimes even lonely in a good way. It is surprising how much our social networks rely on the technological-type-of-social-networking these days. To an untrained eye, computerland, internetland and phoneland appear to be solitary lonesome activities but they are in fact a hub for community these days, even between real world friends. I guess because of the “wired-up” nature of the internet now, computer is a handy tool and also a distraction at the same time. A community hub with ying and yang like properties, benefiting us but also taking from us.
One thing I found taken away from me by the technology around me was my time. Breaking from it gave me some time back to do other things.
My break was just what I needed to fire up the creative-contributor in me and to kill off the consumer. I achieved a few things in that time that I am pleased with and that I wouldn’t have done while I was wired up. This was internal (mental, emotional, spiritual) and external (creative, relational, physical). I planned this “renovation of the mind” but not to the extent it occurred.
I do think that blogs, social-networking sites and other technological approaches to relationship and art have a place, but for me personally it seems relationships are more intimate off-line and that art is purer and more authentic. It may be harder to pursue answers without Google, friendship without FaceBook and expression without YouTube but the results seem somehow more enjoyable.
I am going to ween back to using technology again but I don’t see me using it half as much as before. I want to deliberately handwrite things, walk and talk with people and consciously live more offline. I expect to have balance now with things like time use, privacy and expression. At first it was difficult to not use computer etc and now it is difficult to use one. Now I am almost addicted to going without.
Even though I still see the web as a vitally important public space that I intend to embrace and use, I think it is important to keep it in its place and see it as one tool in the box and not even the most preferable… perhaps merely a meeting point for friendship and activity or a final destination for an expression… one room in a mansion of options.