With emails, spam, texts and instant messaging it’s a wonder we ever have time anymore to just sit and relax with family and friends. At the office, we spend so much time online, how do we get anything done…or done well? That’s what worried our guest who took a 31-day vacation from the Internet to reconnect with her loved-ones and learn about how online life needs to be balanced with face-to-face communications and relaxation.
- Christina Crook, communications professional and author of the book, The Joy of Missing Out: Finding balance in a wired world
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Marty Peterson: You turn on your computer and what do you find? There are scores of new e-mails, many just junk, a few interesting headlines. Again, many are click bait, and maybe a Facebook notification that you have a comment on the comment you made two days ago. It’s easy to get sucked in to looking at all of the stuff that beckons to you from the Internet, and very difficult to extract yourself from its grasp. But communications professional Christina Crook decided to do just that, if only for a month. She discusses the pull of the digital world and her experience resisting it in her new book The Joy of Missing Out: Finding balance in a wired world. So, how did we get to this point where our digital paraphernalia takes hours out of our lives everyday? Crook says it’s our need to keep creating the next big thing.
Christina Crook: I think it’s a natural progression of people wanting to invent new things and wanting to explore the possibilities of what people are capable of. People have been for a long time trying to figure out how to extend themselves beyond time and space. And it seems like with the advent of the Internet in particular that we’ve basically achieved that as a human race.
Peterson: That next big thing in past centuries included the printing press, the telegraph, the telephone, radio, television and computers. Technology marched on, though rather slowly with one or two new inventions bursting on the scene at a time. Now it seems that every month there’s a new gizmo or app that’s clamoring for our attention. Crook says it reminds her of research she studied while in college.
Crook: I remember being at university and studying mass communication and having our teacher for the first time tell us, “Today I want you to pay attention to every single advertisement that you see today.” We guessed maybe I might see ten today. But when we actually opened our eyes there were probably more than 200 we were seeing every single day, and probably even more than that if we paid even more attention. And it’s true, it permeated our culture on such an extreme level that I think we need to take a good look at it because it’s only going to increase even more exponentially in the coming years with the advent of all these wearable technologies and even beyond that in terms of embedded technology that we….Google itself is working very hard to look at embedding technologies with human beings. I think we need to be stepping back and asking these big questions now about what we are going to adopt and what we aren’t.
Peterson: Crook says that the marketing of digital stuff to young people has been going on for decades. Back in the 1950s it was transitor radios. That lead to tape and CD players, boom boxes and now MP3 players. The companies that make these products and the music and other media played on them tell consumers it’s going to help them live happier lives were things will be so much easier.
Crook: The things that give us true meaning and joy tend to actually not be easy. That’s what I’m trying to draw peoples’ attention to. Running a marathon, completing a major project, writing as book, raising a kid, restoring a marriage. All of those things require so much attention and blood and sweat and tears. And once the blood, sweat and tears are washed away we’re left with the solidity of that thing, that relationship or that achievement. Our philandering on Twitter and having the newest gadget doesn’t give you a sense of satisfaction and that sense of joy.
Peterson: Crook says that all Internet all the time living can cause us to lose some of our humanity. Just think about the last time you had a face-to-face conversation with someone. Their phone rings and they take the call. Or you see someone busily texting during a wedding or a funeral. She says that it’s bad now, but just wait until we’re physically embedded with some kind of communications device in the future.
Crook: Even with Google Glass and these other wearable technologies I truly believe that I’m going to see technology in the human emerging in some manner before I die. That’s when it’s going to get tricky. I think right now people are being ridiculous in terms of having absolutely no etiquette or absolutely no concern for a relationship and connecting when they’re sitting at the dinner table and the parents or the child or the teen are checking some kind of device when they’re eating. Absolutely that’s happening already. But there is some kind of decision but once these things are more fully integrated that’s when I think it’s going to be even more complicated and we’ll use that ’til we can truly lose what it means to be human. That’s why I think you need to be choosing now and starting the conversation. What are we going to do when these technologies are fully, fully a part of us and make those decisions now as a culture.
Peterson: Crook set out on her voyage sans Internet. She initially decided it would be a year away from the digital world. But her family didn’t go for it. So she set her limit at 31 days and said that during that time she realized how distant email and social media kept her from her friends.
Crook: I felt like they retire developing in my relationships with far away people that I was just checking I with them on whatever they’re posting online but not connecting to them directly by the phone and trying to get together in person as much as I used to. I wasn’t getting the real picture of what’s happening in their lives. I wanted to get a handle on my technology use. I separated for 31 days. I didn’t want to just step away from the Internet; I wanted to. It wasn’t just about stepping away and my whole track was not anti-technology; it was what’s really life giving. So I actually wrote a lot on an old typewriter, an older technology, to a friend everyday – one specific friend that I know everyday about the experience off line.
Peterson: Crook found that being offline was a refreshing head clearing experience.
Crook: I was paying attention to what I was seeing around me, how being offline was impacting my relationships, my thinking; I found my thinking was so clear when I was off line for that period of time. It was bumpy for the first couple of days, like any kind of detox was. I found myself wanting to go online. There were a couple of posts that I wanted to edit and I couldn’t. That was frustrating at first, but then I decided to let it go. So I stepped away to get focused.
Peterson: Crook says that there aren’t any longitudinal studies on the effect of the Internet on the brain, but she knows that being on line as much as she was has taken its toll on her.
Crook: Even as an adult I can feel it. I can actually feel it. I don’t know if you can, but when I’m reading blips of the news, especially really short one after the other after the other, online news clips I can feel my brain like its short-circuiting. I shut it down and I write about in the book at one point where I just could not get a train of through and I closed my laptop and I was frustrated and I picked up one of the books on my desk that I was using for research and I started to read it aloud to myself. Somewhere along the third page I felt my brain starting to click along and into the thinking on such a deeper way that was not happening when I was online.
Peterson: Another problem Crook sees with too much Internet is social media and how we tend to compare our lives with others — friends, celebrities and people we don’t even know.
Crook: It’s unbelievable. We can compare our lives on literally every level with whatever people post online. The reality is no one’s life looks like it does on the Internet. I know mine doesn’t. Most of the time I’m actually at home with three kids mopping up disgusting messes and feeding them and doing groceries. If you check my Facebook profile or any other profile online it makes me look like I sit around in an ivory tower and drink lattes and have very brilliant ideas. So the comparison is just not reality. It really destroys us when we’re always comparing ourselves. It can create these professional and jealousies that we don’t realize we have and we feel like everybody else has the better life or the better job and it’s simply not true. Everyone is just mucking through life.
Peterson: Meanness is another side effect of spending so much time online. The anonymity of the Internet can embolden bullies and others to let loose on people without ever having to confront them face-to-face and see the hurt and damage they do.
Crook: Because we don’t have the empathy response, we don’t have the facial response from the people that we’re saying the mean things to, there’s this great rant from the comedian Louis C. Kay about this. There’s this whole thing about teens and the meanness in the arms length piece about being online and saying mean things where teens don’t get the response, like you say a mean thing to a person face to face and they make a bad face like that hurt them You say, “Oh that didn’t feel so good; maybe I shouldn’t do it again.” When you say a mean thing online you don’t see that physical response from the actual human that you’re hurting. There is that divorce between what you’re doing and how it’s impacting the other person that allows for all this quite disturbing chatter on the Internet.
Peterson: During her month away from online pursuits Crooks says she learned a lot about herself and the impact digital media had on her life. Those revelations have made her change her approach to the Internet.
Crook: I approach the Internet now as a tool. It is there to help us, act as information, to connect with people far away, to help us with our work. I came back with that view. So I use it as a tool. I’m using it right now as a tool to talk to you via Skype to share this message, I use it to get things done in terms of work. I use it to connect with my family. But I do use it as a tool. One thing that helps me is to write a list of all the things I need to get done online before I go on and try and check that list off as quickly as possible and move on to other things. I realize that the things that give me the most life have to do with being connected through my humanness. What I mean by that is we are physical beings as humans, so when I’m active in my body and connected to family and friends face to face, when I’m connected to my local neighborhood those are the things that truly bring me joy. I’ve centered my life on those priorities and put the Internet in the back seat. That’s the biggest shift for me since stepping offline for 31 days.
Peterson: You can read how Christina Crook planned out her Internet fast and how it affected her life and the lives of those around her in her book The Joy of Missing Out available in stores and online. She also invites listeners to visit her website at jomobook.com. You can find more information about all of our guests by visiting our site and viewpoints online dot net. You can follow us on Twitter at viewpoints radio. Our show is written and produced by Evan Rook and Pat Reuter. Our executive producer is Reed Pence. Our production director is Sean Waldron. I’m Marty Peterson.