This next post if from my favorite guy. I met Greg last year and he's been a wonderful part of my life ever since. Thank you Greg for this post and for sticking out this friendship with me.
Taking the Long Way Home, or How I'm Learning to Slow Down and Enjoy the Scenery
A large swam of mosquitoes and gnats hovered over the sidewalk as i jogged past the lake by my apartment complex. It reminded me of something. Little annoyances, darting in and out, flying up my nose... This is how my head feels some days, although less so lately, scattered thoughts darting in and out, flying up my nose...
Six months ago this was how my head felt most of the time, but seeing a problem is the first step for dealing with it. A year ago... lets just say things were a mess.
I live in a culture of immediacy and, unless you are an Amish fan of blogs, I'm going to assume you do also. It's one of the trade-offs of when we live. My computer and cell phone gives me instant access to anything :), on the other hand, my computer and cell phone gives me instant access to anything :(. Any information I need, any song, any movie, email, text message, tweet, status update on Facebook, is instantly there. As soon as I think of something, I can look it up, or share it with friends. This is a double edge sword.
Five years ago to check my email, I needed to grab my laptop and head over to the coffee shop. At the coffee shop I would chat for a minute with the barista or a neighbor, then start up my laptop and check my email and scan a few websites. To check my email took at least 30 minutes round trip. Now my email just appears on my cell phone. I hear a "bloop" and it's just there.
Everything is now, but living with everything in the now, I lose something. I lose a filter. I lose social interaction.
Back in January I began an experiment, I wanted to find out what could happen in my life if I started trying to regain the little pieces I was missing.
The first thing I did was turn off my Facebook. My brother turned off his Facebook page a couple years ago, he said he did not miss it at all. My decision was based on asking myself this question, "What role does Facebook play in my life? Does it add 'real' value, or does it give the impression of adding value?"
I did not know the answer. I knew I spent a lot of time using Facebook. I knew I had a lot of old friends on Facebook. But what was Facebook's role, in my life, really?
It turned out I did not miss Facebook at all. Over the next couple of months I discovered more free time. I found the hour I was spending on Facebook (basically doing nothing) was an hour I could spend with real world friends, or an hour I could spend creating a sculpture out of pipe cleaners (I know, I'm weird), or an hour reading.
Turning off Facebook then led to turning off Twitter. Again, I did not understand how much of my attention was focused on Twitter until I cut out Twitter. But it's only 140 characters!!!
I was really starting to see how the internet and all this instant access was giving me the attention span of a sparrow. And then I saw a program on PBS that confirmed it!
At M.I.T. researchers have started doing brain scans on people while they email, text and use the internet. It turns out when we multitask, our brains don't do a good job at keeping up with the information overload. When I switch my attention from the email I'm writing, to the YouTube clip someone just sent me, to a blog post I'm reading, my brain has to reset its attention each time it switches a task.
Our brains are incredible!! Because it turns out, the more people do things that require switching attention, the better our brains get at switching attention. But the researchers were also finding when people get really good at switching their attention, they get really bad at focusing on things.
I still love my "toys" but I'm learning to find a balance and to re-evaluate the role they play in my life. I take a day every now and then and leave everything off. I take a techno-sabbath and reconnect with life at human speeds. I'll sit in quite and just listen to the sounds of the world. I'll read a book. Anything that requires focusing my attention for long periods of time.
The more I practice, the easier it gets and the less I feel like I'm living in a cloud of gnats.