Finding Balance in a Wired World

by: Sara on 02/03/2015

Today's blog post is from the introduction of Christina Crooks new book, The Joy of Missing Out, Finding Balance in a Wired World. In it she takes us through a day of a forced digital detox due to a power outage and the simple pleasures that followed. Christina has a few upcoming book launches where letter writing tables will be set up and disconnecting so we can reconnect will be encouraged. If you can't make it to those events you might just tune her in on the radio during her US & Canadian radio tours. You can find all that information here.

Beware the barrenness of a busy life.

— Socrates

Let me begin with a story.

512px-Candle_Light (2)

By Dittymathew (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

In a darkened room, a small family gathers. The house is silent except for the padding of stocking feet, the murmur of voices. They sit around a small collection of candles while their father strikes a match. The children’s eyes dance with wonder at the flame. Normally, this family would flip a switch. In electric-lit halls, they’d walk with intention, but this night they were left without light.

It was their first power outage. No anomaly in this city. A storm was coming, the neighbors had said. The parents had laughed it off, standing on the deck hours earlier. They knew the evening’s calm. This night would be no different.

 They’d just put their youngest child to bed when the house surged into a liquid lull, blackness filling the cavernous living room like a pot of coffee poured out cold. They went in search of the lone flashlight, the one plugged in the wall near the sliding back door. The outward glow of the moon seeped in like a hum and led their hands to the handheld device saved just for such an occasion.

Soon, neighbors began their rounds, knocking on doors, trading candles and beers. Little clusters of candlelight sprung up on front steps. Cheer and laughter spilled out of doors, across darkened pavement, well into the night.

In a town a few miles away, another family is readying for bed. Lantern light fills the rooms as they go about their nighttime routine. Each person steps to the sink, brushes their teeth, scrubs their face. Singing their evening songs, they follow the lantern up stairs to change into their pajamas, though their feet know the steps by rote. It’s too dark to read the storybooks now, but the shrieks, laughter and conversations continue as thick blankets are pulled back and little bodies scamper into bed. Parents sing prayers and cuddle up with the youngest as they fall asleep. Day has ended, the fire downstairs is dimming, and soon all will be quiet. Husband and wife gather close in their bed. Tomorrow, at dawn, the day will begin again with the same rhythms.

Back in the city, the family wakes to the groans of a garbage truck lumbering by. Otherwise, it’s eerily quiet: no music, no coffee brewing. The old floor boards creak with every step as the

p&C in the snow

first member begins their descent to the living room. Soon everyone is up. A breakfast of yogurt and cereal is cobbled together in ceramic bowls. Everyone bundles up into snow suits and spends the morning climbing snow banks and careening down on sleds. Afterwards, hands wrap around mugs of hot chocolate (as luck would have it, the gas stove is still working), and dusty board games are tugged down from the shelf. The last phone screen goes black as the remaining power drains out.

The day moves slowly, until it is evening again and everyone is back in their pajamas gathered on the living room floor. The four-year-old daughter pipes up and says what everyone else is thinking:

“Today was a really good day.”

 A Really Good Day

Kids experience joy all of the time, without knowing it. “Children are often in a state of joy, and it’s because they’re present, they’re living in the moment, they’re not focused on their worry about the future or concerns about the past. They’re enjoying their moment now,” says Dr. Joti Samra, a professor of psychology at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC.

Statistics tell us that most of us are not living with this kind of joy; we are not living our very good days. Instead, we are living in silos. In rooms all over the city, we are gathered side-by-side in cubicles, high above spider- legged byways, spending the currency of our lives in front of MacBook Pros with retina displays, iPads and Androids. Little “poolunk” sounds indicate messages received, interrupting conversations, thoughts and feelings.

Neighbors are tucked indoors. Our energies, creativity and time — perhaps the best of us — are being spent committed to screens. Already our gadgets are wearable and, sooner than we think, they’ll be under our skin. Our world is aflutter with a kind of technological mysticism.

New is better. But these technologies come with an onslaught of unintended consequences.

Easy is better. But as machines do more work for us, we do less; we’re less capable on our own.

More is better. But as machines store and organize more, we get sloppy, forget our friend’s phone number, birthday, heartfelt concerns.

Faster is better. But as machines enter our way of thinking, we bias speed itself; we lose our capacity for patience. Forget things take time.”

Geez magazine, Issue 20, Winter 2010

We weren’t born with smartphones in our hands, and we won’t be tweeting our own death notices, yet these are the items that dominate our every moment.

Dr. Read Schuchardt, a media ecologist from New York University, explains our digital compulsions this way: “It is very difficult to step out of the immediacy, the ‘necessity’ of media and say ‘maybe I don’t need this’ because we believe we have control over their effects because we made these technologies. But the truth is, we make our technologies and they remake us in their image and for their purposes.”

We’ve become accustomed to a new way of being alone together, says early Internet champion Sherry Turkle, now a growing skeptic. “Technologyenabled, we are able to be with one another, and also elsewhere, connected to wherever we want to be. We want to customize our lives. We want to move in and out of where we are because the thing we value most is control over where we focus our attention.”

In my own life, I wanted to untangle the web of my online engagements, so I gave up the Internet for 31 days. I was tired of Facebook mediating my relationships and discontented with my compulsion to constantly check-in online. I knew the Internet was allowing me to emotionally disengage from myself and my loved ones. I was living in a constant state of information overload and a vacuum of joy. I had too much information and not enough wonder. I was seeking beyond what Sherry Turkle calls “our steady state of distracted connectedness.”

My “fast” consisted of disabling data on my smartphone and completely turning off my email. I chronicled my experience with a letter a day, complete with news clippings, quotes and thoughts on technology. Each letter was hand- or type-written, mailed, then scanned and posted to a blog by my friend, Marisa Ducklow, creating a conversation between friends and open to the world at large. These letters (some of which are included) set out a narrative that examines the implications, both good and bad, of a technologically focused life. The experience, chronicled as the project, Letters froma Luddite, fueled my passion for exploring the intersection of technology, relationships and joy and led to the writing of this book.

The Joy of Missing Out examines the implications of a technologically focused life and the dynamic possibilities for those longing to cultivate a richer on- and off-line existence. Using historical data, type-written letters, “Chapter Challenges,” and personal accounts, I make the case for increasing the intentionality in our day-to-day lives, offering solutions for living in a wired world.

 

 

 

 

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