15-16 Story 2: The Joy of Missing Out: Getting off the Internet

 

Synopsis: 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.

Host: Marty Peterson. Guest: Christina Crook, communications professional and author of the book, The Joy of Missing Out: Finding balance in a wired world.

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Getting Off the Internet – Finding Balance in a Wired World

Marty Peterson: You turn on your computer and what do you find? There are scores of new emails – 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. It’s easy to get sucked into 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 every day? Cook 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 in university and studying mass communication and having our teacher for the first time telling us, “Today I want you to pay attention to every single advertisement you see today.” And we kind of guessed maybe I might see ten today, but when we actually opened my 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, you know, the advent of the, Apple just released their watch and all these wearable technologies and even be on that in terms of embedded technologies. I mean Google itself is working very hard to look at embedding technologies with human beings. And 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 transistor radios. That led to tape and C-D 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, where things will be so much easier for us…

Crook: The things that give us true meaning and joy tend to actually not be easy and that’s what I’m trying to people’s attention to. So running a marathon, completing a major project, writing a 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 and our philandering on Twitter and having various doesn’t give you that sense of satisfaction and truly 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 are physically imbedded with some kind of communications device in the future…

Crook: Even with Google Glass and these other wearable technologies, I fully believe that I’m going to see technology in the human emerging in some manner before I die. And 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 true relationship and connecting when they’re sitting at the dinner table and you know the parents or the child or the teen are texting some kind of device while they’re eating. Absolutely that’s happening already, but there is some kind of division. But once these things are more fully integrated, that’s when I think it’s going to be even more complicated and, really, that’s when we can truly lose what it means to be human. And so that’s why I think we need to be choosing now and having 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 thought that there were patterns developing in my relationships with faraway people that I was just checking in with them on what they were posting online, but not connecting with them directly by the phone or trying to get together in person as much as I used to. And I wasn’t getting the real picture about what was happening in their lives. So I wanted to get a handle on my technology use. So I stepped away for 31 days, but I didn’t want to just step away from the internet, I wanted to do something else with my time. It wasn’t just about stepping away and my whole talk is not anti-technology, it’s what’s actually life-giving. So I actually wrote a letter on an old typewriter – just an older technology – to a friend every day, one specific friend, and I mailed them to her every day about the experience off line.

Peterson: Crook found that being off line was a refreshing, head-clearing experience…

Crook: I was paying attention to what I was seeing around me, how being off line was impacting my relationships, my thinking. I really found like my thinking was so clear when I was off line for that period of time. You know it was bumpy for the first couple of days, like any kind of detox was. You know I found myself wanting to go online. There’s a couple of posts I wanted to edit and I couldn’t. It was frustrating at first, but then I had to decide to let it go. So I stepped away to really get some focus.

Peterson: Crook says that there aren’t any longitudinal studies on the affect 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 just really short one after the other after the other, you know online, news clips? I can feel my brain kind of seems like it’s short-circuiting and then I have to shut it down. And I write about it in the book at one point that I could not get a train of thought and I closed my laptop and I was really 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. And it was somewhere along the third page where I felt my brain starting to click along and really into the thinking on such a deeper way that was just not happening when I was online.

Peterson: Another problem Crook sees with too much internet is social media and how we tend to compare out 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. And 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 home with three kids mopping up disgusting messes, and feeding them and doing groceries. And if you check my Facebook profile or any other profile online, it looks like I sit 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 personal jealousies that we don’t even realize we have and we always feel like everybody else has the better life or the better job and it’s just 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 we’re saying the mean thing to. There’s this great rant from the comedian Louis C K about this. This whole thing is about teens, actually, he’s talking about teens and the meanness and the arms-length piece of 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, and you’re like, “Oh, that didn’t feel so good. Maybe I shouldn’t do that again.” Well, when you say the mean thing online, you don’t see that physical response from the actual human that you’re hurting. So there’s that divorce between what you’re doing and how it’s impacting the other person that allows for all this really quite disturbing chatter on the Internet.

Peterson: During her month away from online pursuits, Crook says she learned a lot about herself, and the impact digital media had on her life. And 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 access information, to connect with people far away, to help us with our work, and I came back with that view. So I use it as a tool, I’m using it as a tool right now 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, and one thing that really helps me is I actually write a list of all the things I need to get done online before I go on and I try and check that list off as quickly as possible and can move on to other things. I realize that the things that really give me the most life have to do with being connected to my humanness. And what I mean by that is, we are physical beings as humans, so when I am 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, and so I’ve really centered my life on those priorities and put the Internet in the back seat. So that’s the biggest shift for me since stepping off line 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 J-O-M-O.com. For information about all of our guests visit our site at Viewpoints online.net. You can also download archived stories there and on I-Tunes. Our show is written and produced by Pat Reuter. Our production directors are Sean Waldron, Reed Pence and Nick Hofstra. I’m Marty Peterson.

 

 

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