HERE’S a new year’s question – how many times a day do you check your email and ”check in” to social media? According to my calculations, I am probably doing it close to 70 times a day. Or more.
It starts in bed as soon as sleep has subsided. I will roll over to the edge of my pillow and instinctively pick up my iPhone charging beside me.
Unless it’s anything really pressing, I will take a few precious minutes to listen to the morning sounds – rare and nourishing moments in the digital age. Then I will go back to those emails that moments ago were not urgent but are now interesting enough to command my engagement.
Better check Facebook as well, and I wonder if my work colleagues have already tweeted this morning?
This leads to clicking on a number of links to articles, and then clicking through to the front page of various global media outlets. Soon enough, I’m on the tram heading up St Kilda Road. This is a valuable 30-minute window to re-engage. I will take in as many Twitter, Facebook and news updates as I can via flipboard on my iPad. And, of course, I will check my email again – probably for about the 10th time that day. This is all before I even get to work.
Once there I am stationed for most of the day in front of a computer and able to enjoy the relative bliss of keeping on top of all these various streams of communications on a desktop computer, rather than several devices.
Bliss! When I’m working, I reckon I check my email every few minutes to keep track. So in a seven-hour work day that must be at least 50 times – probably more. Recently, having taken a writing studio for myself in the CBD, I have confronted the dilemma of internet connectivity versus productivity. I’m not alone in this dilemma.
Several recent programs, including ”control” and ”empower” (I kid you not), have been devised to increase productivity by blocking access to the internet at certain times of the day.
These products have come about since some well-known writers, including Nick Hornsby and Naomi Klein, publicly acknowledged their problem with net distraction.
I have taken to writing a regular blog, and find that instead of writing long narrative works, I am writing short pithy pieces daily. My brain has switched over to this new way of receiving, distilling and constructing information – more like sound bites than extended narratives.
Jonathan Franzen is reputed to have written his famous work The Corrections wearing a blindfold and earplugs to reduce disruptions. The American writer Don DeLillo has said that one of the ways he manages to write is to do so on an old-fashioned typewriter and to clear the air of all distractions.
“A writer takes earnest measures to secure his solitude,” he writes. ”You want to control the flow of impulses, images, words, faces, ideas. But there’s a higher place, a secret aspiration. You want to let go. You want to lose yourself in language, become a carrier or messenger.”
Could it be that the digital age provides so many distractions that the kind of higher engagement to which Delillo refers is almost impossible when one remains connected? That the ”secret place” of higher inspiration will become increasingly elusive to us behind the taut skin of internet connectedness? Or do we all need to become Zen-like masters of self-discipline in order to remain connected but still find a path to access deeper engagement?
The return journey from the city and my evenings follow a similar trajectory of checking, updating, responding, tweeting, re-tweeting, and eventually falling asleep with my iPhone recharging beside me in preparation for the next day of engagement.
I wonder, once we are on this journey, are we getting closer or more alienated from each other and our own higher creative potentials?