The Yin and Yang of Being Digitally Connected

I’m at SXSW in Austin, Texas this week. This morning I went to a session titled “I’m So Productive, I Never Get Anything Done.” The description wooed me:

“Make the coffee, check the RSS, groom the avatar, freshen the blog, make nice with the Twitter, now it’s time to … do the same thing again. Meanwhile your job/project/spouse/story sits there, staring at you with big cow eyes and wonders if you will ever leave the grid and do something real, something productive, something that will yield cash money and not just more followers on Twitter.

The panelists, including the wonderful David Carr from the New York Times, riffed Beat poet style on these themes, without any concrete recommendations for better time management for those of us who are hyper-connected. That was okay with me, since I can read a book on time management any time, but don’t always have the pleasure of watching an engaging group of people discuss topics of interest to me.

…This was an ironic pleasure, since the focus of the discussion was on how we as a culture seem to value in-person interaction less and less, polluting our time together staring distractedly at a range of screens.  One woman in the audience shared that back home, she and her roommates spend most of their evenings sitting around their living room with their laptops…alone together. One of the panelists, blogger Molly McAleer, summed it up nicely: “There are a lot of people alone together at this conference.” We need to put down our phones and be present for each other.

And yet, it’s too easy to vilify our hyper-connected world — to paint it as a landscape of loneliness — when so many of us form real, meaningful connections online. Just today, I had the pleasure of meeting in person someone who, until now, I had only known via Twitter and our respective blogs: Paolo Sambrano. (I actually got to interview him for StoryCorps — audio coming soon.) He’s a solo performer, and his first show, Bi-Poseur, blew me away… he struck me as a younger, funnier Spalding Gray. And speaking of Gray, at last year’s SXSW, I saw a documentary about him, with, a friend I’d previously only known via Twitter. And tonight, I’m having dinner with my friend Christa, who I met when I moved to New York and found her blog through a Google search.

Being connected can open doors. It can just as easily drive you mad, as you chase after open door after open door, until you’re lost in a maze, your head spinning and your eyes glazed. The question isn’t one of good and evil… it’s about a new kind of media literacy that no one yet knows how to teach. How do we manage our time online effectively, so that we experience its rich rewards without getting lost in the maze?

I certainly don’t know. But the best idea I’ve heard so far came from a woman in the audience this morning, who suggested un-plugging after the work day every day for a month — no smart phone, no going on the computer, no Twitter or Facebook, none of it. Limit your connectedness to the workday for one month, and see how it feels. Maybe afterward, you’ll find a new natural rhythm for your digital habits – one that feels a bit more balanced.

Any other ideas?

Yin/Yang graphic courtesy of Flickr user AJ Cann


One thought on “The Yin and Yang of Being Digitally Connected

  1. In the category of "this is so not my life at the moment" I refuse to unplug because it's what keeps me sane. But I do think that when I get to be less homebound, I will probably do what I used to do bk ("before kids") – turn everything off, get a warm drink, read before bed, have leisurely unrushed conversations. I don't really have to think about how I'm spending too much time away from people/in front of a computer – that's done for me, incessantly, by rugrats. They're useful "hard limits" on what I can and can't do. 😛 And yes, many Christas in my life and I agree completely about managing time effectively or being aware of where your time goes. It doesn't matter if it's about being plugged in, or doing something else non-electronic. Some of us are better at it than others. Some of us realize quicker than others that, um, we haven't looked another person in the eye and had a human conversation in a while. Oh, and can I just say, most most envious! One of these days I'll go to SXSW. But in the meantime, love all the missives from you.


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