About right…


The New Yorker Magazine

I carry my phone around with me as if it were an oxygen tank

I carry my phone around with me as if it were an oxygen tank. I stare at it while I make breakfast and take out the recycling, ruining what I prize most about working from home—the sense of control, the relative peace. I have tried all sorts of things to look at screens less often: I don’t get push notifications or use Facebook or watch Instagram stories; on my home computer, I have installed a browser plug-in called StayFocusd, which turns off Twitter after forty-five minutes of daily use. On my phone, I use an app called Freedom to block social media for much of the workday. If any of my digital chastity belts malfunction, I start scrolling like a junkie, pulling myself away just long enough to send frantic e-mails to the apps’ customer service with subject lines like “Freedom not working!” …

Nearly three-quarters of Americans have taken steps to distance themselves from Facebook. Entire families try to observe a “digital Sabbath.” Parents seek screen-time alternatives to the Jungian horrorscape that is children’s YouTubeAnd yet a mood of fidgety powerlessness continues to accumulate, like an acid snowfall on our collective mind…

One afternoon, I draped myself on my couch and felt an influx of mental silence that was both disturbing and hallucinatorily pleasurable. I didn’t want to learn how to fix or build anything, or start a book club. I wanted to experience myself as soft and loose and purposeless, three qualities that, in my adulthood, have always seemed economically risky. Nothing is harder to do than nothing,” Jenny Odell writes, in her new book,How to Do Nothing.” …Odell details, with earnest wonder, moments in her life when she was reoriented toward these values. After the 2016 election, she began feeding peanuts to two crows on her balcony, and found comfort in the fact that “these essentially wild animals recognized me, that I had some place in their universe.” …

On the first day of April, I took stock of my digital experiment. I had not become a different, better person. I had not acquired any high-value leisure activities. But I had felt a sort of persistent ache and wonder that pulled me back to a year that I spent in the Peace Corps, wandering in the dust at the foot of sky-high birch trees, terrified and thrilled at the sensation of being unknowable, mysterious to myself, unseen. I watered my plants, and I loosened my StayFocusd settings, back to forty-five daily minutes. I considered my Freedom parameters, which I had already learned to break, and let them be…

“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,” the philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, in 1654…

Sitting quietly in a room alone is for experts.

~ Jia Tolentino, excerpts from What It Takes to Put Your Phone Away The New Yorker, April 22, 2019


Notes: Essay – Thank you Sawsan for sharing! And publicly highlighting another addiction. Image: Nico Milk

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

For the rest of the week, I became acutely aware of the bizarre phone habits I’d developed. I noticed that I reach for my phone every time I brush my teeth or step outside the front door of my apartment building, and that, for some pathological reason, I always check my email during the three-second window between when I insert my credit card into a chip reader at a store and when the card is accepted.

Mostly, I became aware of how profoundly uncomfortable I am with stillness. For years, I’ve used my phone every time I’ve had a spare moment in an elevator or a boring meeting. I listen to podcasts and write emails on the subway. I watch YouTube videos while folding laundry. I even use an app to pretend to meditate.

If I was going to repair my brain, I needed to practice doing nothing…

It’s an unnerving sensation, being alone with your thoughts.

~ Kevin Roose, from “Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain” in The New York Times, February 23, 2019


Photo: Smartphone by Fernando Assumpcao

Invisibly, almost without notice, we are losing ourselves

Physicist, novelist, and essayist Alan Lightman has added his own manifestoIn Praise of Wasting Time. Of course, the title is ironic, because Lightman argues that by putting down our devices and spending time on quiet reflection, we regain some of our lost humanity, peace of mind, and capacity for creativity—not a waste of time, after all, despite the prevailing mentality that we should spend every moment actually doing something. The problem is not only our devices, the internet, and social media. Lightman argues that the world has become much more noisy, fast-paced, and distracting. Partly, he writes, this is because the advances that have enabled the much greater transfer of data, and therefore productivity, have created an environment in which seemingly inexorable market forces push for more time working and less leisure time.

Lightman starts his book with an anecdote from his recent time in a rural village in Cambodia. When he asked a villager how long it took her to bike daily to the market ten miles away to barter for food and goods, she replied that she had never thought about it. Lightman is “startled” at this, and jealous. He points out that we in the “developed” world (his scare quotes) have carved up our days into minuscule portions, not a single one to be wasted. He admits that “from the instant I open my eyes in the morning until I turn out the lights at night, I am at work on some project. First thing in the morning, I check my email. For any unexpected opening of time that appears during the day, I rush to patch it, as if a tear in my trousers…” 

Lightman points to several productive, creative individuals who routinely had unstructured time in their days. A fellow physicist at MIT, Paul Schechter, used to sit for hours daydreaming on park benches, which he credited with helping come up with important ideas, including a formula for the number of galaxies with different luminosities. Gertrude Stein used to drive around in the country every day and find a place to sit and write; much of that time was not spent writing, but gazing at cows. Mathematician Henri Poincaré, after a few weeks of fruitless work on functions, drank coffee one evening and in his sleeplessness found that “[i]deas rose in crowds; I felt them collide under pairs interlocked, so to speak, making a stable combination. By the next morning I had established the existence of a class of Fuchsian functions . . . “

Lightman feels we are in a “dire” situation:

Invisibly, almost without notice, we are losing ourselves. We are losing our ability to know who we are and what is important to us. We are creating a global machine in which each of us is a mindless and reflexive cog, relentless driven by the speed, noise, and artificial urgency of the wired world.

~ Anitra Pavlico, from “Alan Lightman On Wasting Time” (3quarksdaily, January 7, 2019)


Photo: Financial Times

Picture is Worth…


Notes:

 

But I’m starting to believe that this is all madness and that we’re already in way over our heads

IMAGINE IF there were a law decreeing that every citizen had to carry a tracking device and check it five times an hour. This device was to be kept at hand at all times. The law also decreed that you needed to place this device on your bedside table at night, so that it was never more than two feet away from your body, and if you happened to wake up in the middle of the night, then you needed to check it. You had to check it during mealtimes, at sporting events, while watching television. You even needed to sneak a quick peek at it during plays and weddings and funerals. For those unwilling to check their devices at the plays, weddings, and funerals, exceptions would be made—so long as you kept your device on right up until the moment the play, wedding, or funeral was beginning and then turned it on again the second the event was over, checking it as you walked down the aisle toward the exit. Imagine, too, that whenever you went to a concert you weren’t allowed to view the actual concert but instead had to view it through your device, as though every concert were a solar eclipse and you would go blind if you stared at the thing itself. Only if you were holding your device in front of your face and viewing the event on its small screen would you be allowed to experience heightened moments of artistry and life. Such a law would be deemed an insane Orwellian intrusion into our daily freedom, and people would rebel—especially when the law went even further. Imagine that the law decreed that it wasn’t enough to check your machines; you needed to update the world on your activities on not one but several services, posting text, pictures, and links to let everyone know everywhere you went, and everything you ate, and everyone you saw. And when you weren’t posting, the device would be tracking your movements and recording on distant servers where you were, whom you called, and what information you searched for. Of course, these laws aren’t necessary. We do this to ourselves. So we now have to come up with elaborate ways to stop ourselves from engaging in this behavior. There are the restaurant dinners during which everyone puts their devices into the middle of the table, and the first person to reach for hers or his gets stuck with the bill for the whole crowd. There are programs you can buy that allow you to set a timer that keeps you from checking email or using apps or searching the Web for a certain period of time. One of these, in a truly Orwellian turn of phrase, is called Freedom. […]

We also check them too much because we are addicted to them…

We check them because we feel the need…

We check them because we don’t want to miss out. On anything…

I find my little device incredibly seductive…

But I’m starting to believe that this is all madness and that we’re already in way over our heads…

After each one of those tiny dopamine bursts comes a tiny dopamine hangover, a little bit of melancholy as the brain realizes that the thing we crave—to connect—hasn’t really happened at all. It’s like the feeling you get when you anticipate ordering something you love at a restaurant, and do so, and then are told that they just served the last one, and you will need to order something else. A little lift—they have lemon meringue pie—followed by a little fall: not for you. Our technology gives us the simulacrum of a connection but not the real thing.

George Orwell correctly predicted much about our world today.

~ Will Schwalbe, from “1984. Disconnecting.” in Books for a Living


Notes:

The glowing screens need a gargantuan diet

29. …The glowing screens need a gargantuan diet in order to distract mankind and destroy consciences….

43.  For some years now there has been a constant onslaught of images, lights, and colors that blind man. His interior dwelling is violated by the unhealthy, provocative images of pornography, bestial violence, and all sorts of worldly obscenities that assault purity of heart and infiltrate through the door of sight.

44. The faculty of sight, which ought to see and contemplate the essential things, is turned aside to what is artificial. Our eyes confuse day and night because our whole lives are immersed in a permanent light. In the cities that shine with a thousand lights, our eyes no longer find restful areas of darkness… To a large extent, humanity has lost an awareness of the seriousness of sin…

~ Cardinal Robert Sarah, excerpts from “The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise” (April, 2017).


Smartphone Gif Photo: Grizzly Street

we stare rapt into its bright light

The smartphone is an intimate device; we stare rapt into its bright light and stroke its smooth glass to coax out information and connect with others. It seems designed to help us achieve Westin’s functions of privacy*, to enable emotional release and moments of passive reflection. We cradle it in bed, at dinner, on the toilet. Its pop-up privacy policies are annoying speed bumps in the otherwise instantaneous conjuring of desires. It feels like a private experience, when really it is everything but. How often have you shielded the contents of your screen from a stranger on the subway, or the partner next to you in bed, only to offer up your secrets to the data firm tracking everything you do?

~ Amanda Hess, excerpt from “How Privacy Became a Commodity for the Rich and Powerful” (NY Times, May 9, 2017)


Notes:

Does just asking the question make you feel ill?

Try to pinpoint the last time you took a purposeless walk through the late spring breeze, when there was no itch in your hand to reach for a mobile device, and you felt like the wind and sky around you had nothing to disclose to you other than the vast and mysteriously sympathy of existence itself. Was it 2007? Or as far back as 1997? Does just asking the question make you feel ill?

~ Michael Brendan Dougherty, from I write on the internet. I’m sorry. (The Week, May 1, 2007)

 


Art: Eiko Ojala with “I found my silence“. The Estonian artist famous for his paperwork released a new personal project with no clue on what media is used in it. This could be a beautiful mix of paper, photography and illustrations but we are gracefully confused, but incline to paper. The only thing we know – it is beautiful (via DesignCollector)

Everyone knows this. Everyone knows what it looks like.

Everyone knows this. Everyone knows what it looks like. I can’t count how many pieces I’ve read about how alienated we’ve become, tethered to our devices, leery of real contact; how we are heading for a crisis of intimacy, as our ability to socialise withers and atrophies. But this is like looking through the wrong end of a telescope. We haven’t just become alienated because we’ve subcontracted so many elements of our social and emotional lives to machines. It’s no doubt a self-perpetuating cycle, but part of the impetus for inventing as well as buying these things is that contact is difficult, frightening, sometimes intolerably dangerous Your favourite part of having a smartphone is never having to call anyone again, the source of the gadget’s pernicious appeal is not that it will absolve its owner of the need for people but that it will provide connection to them –connection, furthermore, of a risk-free kind, in which the communicator need never be rejected, misunderstood or overwhelmed, asked to supply more attention, closeness or time than they are willing to offer up.

~ Olivia Laing, The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone


Photo: Luca Pietrobono with smartphone

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