To technology, to the Internet, and therefore endless distraction! I’m making this confession public in order to begin the slow process of recovery.
It has been a long courting relationship between me and the aforementioned substances. When did it begin? I’m not sure exactly. One would probably need to go back to 3rd grade when my family purchased our first Tandy computer. It was top of the line, possessing a blazing fast 10mhz processor, 20MB of storage and Windows 3.1. But I digress. The relationship started simply enough – my Tandy computer allowed me to be the only kid in 4th grade who could print out color book reports on our fancy dot-matrix printer. I learned to surf the web before internet browsers via my fathers University dial-up connection (think Archie and Gopher). Back then it took days to download, decode and display images of naked women. Teenage boys have it so easy these days.
Video games were always part of my life. They entered when I was about 6. My mother worked for Nintendo and received a free system with the entire original set of games (Super Mario Bros, Tetris, Double Dragon, Zelda), although I never became overwhelmed, as many of my college friends did. Once I hit the age of 19, video games pretty much lost all interest for me.
Lets talk about the present day: I need to find some space, maybe develop a friends with benefits relationship with technology. Can one do this after being so intimate for 20 years? I’m going to have to try. I think many people would consider my relationship to technology normal, yet after prolonged travel, exposure to monastic living and a refreshed view on being present in the world, I now realize that technology generally removes me from the present moment and my immediate sensorial experience.
A few examples of my bad behavior:
- Checking my iPhone at random times of day as if something important would pass me by if I didn’t.
- Reading too much news. I find its easy to read news, feeling this sense of being informed and knowledgeable, yet when I really analyze this, most of what we read or see in the news is far-removed from our present experience.
- Endless surfing of the Internet. I often start off with a task, find myself about 7 layers deep reading an article about something utterly irrelevant, like a blog about flying cats or comments on some product I’m fantasizing about owning.
- An obsession with technology that is not working. If my computer, a friends computer, my iPhone, any random gadget is not working well, I find myself consumed with fixing them.
There are more…Its this last bullet that has me writing this article. Recently a friend of mine gave me two old iPhones (despite my addiction I had been using a $30 Boost Mobile phone for the past two years). I enjoyed the process of hacking them (jail-breaking and unlocking) to get them running on T-Mobile without a contract. No problem here – I enjoy this, its an interesting problem solving process that has a nice reward. The problem came in when I accidently chose to restore my phone using iTunes (big no-no for jail-broken phones), which sent me off an a many-hour journey into internet forums, message boards and trial and error to get the device working again. My goal that evening and next morning originally had nothing to do with this iPhone. And the big kicker: one of the two phones was working absolutely fine! I didn’t HAVE to have the second one working immediately. I had preferred to do some writing, spend quality time with my girlfriend and relax. I became absolutely consumed that evening – and despite going to bed with the device still broken, I vowed to not touch it in the morning. A vow I of course broke and jumped right into fixing it upon waking. Ultimately I did fix it, put it away and made an agreement with myself not to touch it again for a while. Well, that lasted about 90 minutes when the new batteries I ordered from eBay showed up in the mail. Now, changing a battery on an iPhone is no easy process, and not one you should begin when you have 30 minutes to do the dishes, take a shower and get ready for an evening out…. YET I still attempted the install, ultimately damaging part of the phone in my haste and leaving it in an unusable state. I was so upset at myself after this, I put it in a bag, stapled it up and asked Autumn to take it to work with her for a while to prevent me from touching it… Despite the break-up, I find myself constantly thinking about her (it), thinking about how to fix us, seeking new gifts(parts) for her on eBay and looking into fancy places(repair shops) to take her. The energy(metaphysical not electrical) of technological devices somehow enters my space and I find it difficult to remove it if the device is in any sort of non-functional state. This iPhone example is simply one of many that I could share over the years that follow this similar pattern.
Another area I struggle with is Internet usage. Many of the things I do in life require a computer – website development, job searching, blogging, etc., therefore bringing my addiction just a flick of the mouse away (i.e. Open Firefox)
There are countless days since I’ve returned from Asia where I’ve set off to do certain task and ultimately found the day wasted with various frivolous activities on the Internet. I’m not simply watching porn and catching up on the latest Hollywood gossip – I’m reading news, researching business and job ideas, writing e-mails, etc., etc. I somehow justify these things as they are generally related to improving my quality of life and my relationships. YET, one must work on life before working on meta-life if you know what I mean. I think many can sympathize with this – why when idle, do I feel an urge to check NYTimes or e-mail on my iPhone rather than taking a deep breath and just being? It must come down to distraction from something. I find at times when I’m emotionally upset or anxious, this addiction grows stronger, my habits worse. And like most addictions it’s a downward spiral – doing things that don’t feel good and therefore seeking for the very thing that created the initial problem.
I have ideas on how to move towards this friends with benefits relationship, but I wonder if I have the WILL to see them through:
- Set myself a schedule: I’m thinking I keep one day a week (say Monday) where I can take care of all of my technicalities of living (shopping/bills/etc.) and allow the surfing creep to occur. The rest of the week I find a day or two where I’m Internet free, and other days set a realistic time-frame (<4 hours) where I can be online.
- Set up an e-mail auto-responder. This idea I got from A Four Hour Work Week: set up an autoreply to people saying there are specific times when I respond to e-mail, asking them to call me if they need a reply sooner then my next e-mail period.
- Return to the ‘Dumb’ Phone: The phone that is just a phone, nothing else. Are the advantages of instant connectivity overshadowed by the distractions?
And what about my problems with devices? I’m not quite sure where to start on this one. Help!
I intended to delve deeper into distraction issues at a more macro level, what I think its doing to me, to society. But this will do for now. Do people have similar experiences? Tips on how to ease the break-up? Chime in.