Three days into vacation I know I have a problem. Distracted, restless, unable to settle inside, too tired to work and too tense to relax. And I can’t sleep.
The insomnia puzzles me. I’ve gone sleepless when depressed or battling some particular anxiety, but I don’t feel depressed or anxious now. I’m not sure how I feel. Except maybe topheavy. Like my head weighs too much.
I lie in bed for hours in the dark, twitching my legs every few minutes and thinking about everything and nothing. I have no Off switch.
Then early the fourth morning, while ruminating about ruminating, a word pops into my mind:
That’s how I feel. Like a wire buzzing with too much current.
What stimulation? I ask myself.
And myself answers:
The hours spent reading and writing emails. The blog posts, replies to comments, and replies to the replies. All the posters and comments and cartoons I post to social media every day (fifty in June). Reaching first thing in the morning for my iphone to check for new texts. And carrying it everywhere. To the bathroom, in the kitchen when I’m cooking; checking it at stoplights. And each night, when I finally leave my computer and go up to bed, to lie there beside my wife either watching tv (we’re just finishing Season Four of The Good Wife) or scrolling endlessly on my phone through Facebook.
Shit, I think, I’m addicted.
As an experiment, I decide to unplug for a day.
I shut down my computer. I turn off my phone and put it in a desk drawer. I resolve to ignore my tv.
Suddenly I have more time than I know what to do with. I find myself doing things I haven’t done for as long as I can remember. I sit with my wife and talk over coffee. I plant flowers in the bed by the mailbox. I read for two hours. I invent a new bean dip. I meditate. I sit on my deck and watch clouds.
That night I sleep through.
This is all very startling.
I decide to research this new addiction. From the library I borrow six books on technology. One is Christina Crook’s The Joy of Missing Out: Finding Balance in a Wired World (New Society, 2015), where I read this:
Deep down, we believe we have control over our mobile technologies; the truth is we make our technologies, but they remake us: the way we see the world, the way we spend our time and the way we value and relate to others. (1)
The problem with high-volume media is that we are bombarded, fragmented, addicted: running from dopamine-hit to dopamine-hit and, as a result, our emotional regulation is skewed. We are fragmented people. (2)
That is what is bad about technology as we commonly think of it: even though we are more productive, connected and entertained, at the same time we ourselves become less functional as sentient creatures…. [W]hen we inundate ourselves with technology, we lose our focus and begin to act like machines. (3)
As many as a million young people in Japan are thought to be holed up in their homes, some for decades at a time, spending their waking moments immersed online, reports the BBC…. Japan is the first country in the world to institute state-run “fasting” camps for Internet-addicted children. (4)
At its core, technology is a systematic effort to get everything under control. (5)
That last is the one that gets me. I am, as you know, all about control.
I need to know more about this.
This will be the last blog post you receive from me for a while.
I have decided to go offline for the month of August.
No blogging or browsing. No Facebook or Twitter or YouTube. No emails in or out. Texting only in emergencies.
When I come back I’ll write some posts about it. Maybe even a book.
It’s a little scary, like most surrenders.
Part of me whispers Are you sure you want to do this?
Then I realize that’s Bert’s voice. Bert, the control addict in me.
We decided we don’t want to be addicted, remember? I say back to him. So yes, I want to do this.
So here goes.
See you in September.
(1) Crook, 44.
(2) Crook, 57.
(3) Aiden Enns, publisher of Geez magazine, quoted in Crook, 63.
(4) Crook, 112.
(5) Albert Borgmann, quoted in Crook, 44.