I bit hard on the hook of connected life. I am a media professor and started studying smartphones changing business behavior at the onset of personal digital assistants (PDAs) in 2001. I had a continual stream of the latest and greatest smartphones from 2001-2012 and was obsessed with ways of connecting and sharing. Then the epiphany happened: All this connecting and sharing wasn't propelling me up the satisfying life-o-meter. My eyes were doing my ears' job too much. And it was costly both cognitively and financially. The congestion of all the data and multiple digital selves to maintain; keeping in touch with fourth grade acquaintances and supposed networking contacts--constantly--coupled with one hour traffic jams in my physical life. I was done. Eject button.
I uprooted my Detroit urban always-on existence, the only one I had known for my whole life, to move to rural Vermont. I wanted to let some semblances of real, and tangible, seep into my life. If 2.0 brain-based, constant connection living is so good, why is my life so much better without it? Before I plunge deeper into this Henry David Thoreau realm let me clarify: I am not Amish nor reclusive. And although I cancelled my smartphone and have $2,000 in my pocket that could have been paid to Verizon over the last two years, I found out some of the functionality is not contract based. I went for a jog this morning while using Runkeeper. I still utilize my Android phone's GPS navigation on trips. I have the ability to keep the phone in my pocket around the house as my home network keeps my email and streams at my fingertips--when I want it, which is increasingly diminishing. Mobile connectivity wasn't the necessity I thought it was.
"You can be yourself online, but you have to remember you are speaking through a straw," says media critic Douglas Rushkoff. Following that line of reasoning it didn't take long to realize the majority of my thinking and available mental resources, prior to cutting my smartphone connection, were diverted through the shallow streams of the digital. And always on, always available, checking my messages 200 times a day wasn't helping to deepen one iota of my existence: Just keeping my thoughts spread increasingly thin.
I have assimilated back to the disconnected quiet. When I am in my car, or walking around my home property, I have a deeper calm knowing my pocket will not erupt and break the moment. I have only recently quelled the fear that I forgot to silence my phone in meetings. Beyond that I have grown to enjoy the real moments of brainstorming and pondering without having every answer a fingers length away. It is healthy to ponder questions without answers.
Stating the prior positives from my disconnection during the era when masses wait for the newest Apple Watch with accelerometer, heart rate sensors, GPS, Wi-Fi and Blutooth creates dissonance. Regardless, my connection downtime and digital distancing has given me more personal depth and clarity. I have been busy writing, creating content and videos and using Salesforce Marketing Cloud to understand consumer sentiment in my media directed research. In other words, dropping the smartphone didn't make me join a militia or become an anti-technologist.
The swell of those questioning the connection is growing. Baratunde Thurston, comedian, author and co-founder of Cultivated Wit talks of his need to take an extreme social media hiatus which culminated in a Fast Company cover article entitled, #Unplug. Thurston speaking of the disconnect told me, "it was very healthy and what led to it was a sense of drowning, a sense of the extreme negatives associated with over sharing instead of just living; overreacting instead of just living, over quantifying instead of just living, and feeling this sense of obligation to engage at every moment. I realized it doesn't always have to be digitized and documented, cataloged, and preserved forever and ever."
Tiffany Shlain filmmaker and media theorist, in a similar realm to Thurston, says, "I think people are completely over connected right now." To combat this in her own life Shlain and her family take part in what they call a technology Shabbat which is a decisive action to completely unplug for one full day a week and have done so for five years. Shlain says this is one of the best moves her and her family have made and they continually look forward to a day without screens.
As technology has evolved, every iteration has made the data more rich and real-time based. In turn these advancements give more dimensionality to the device in our pocket and make ignoring it a personal affront. The most talkative of teenagers from years past eventually had the opportunity to hang up the hard line phone. It is our right as digital content creators, and leaders in that field, to decide how we navigate the waters of the constant connection. The ultimate choice decides whether our devices serve us, or we serve them.