While tuned in to NPR as I drove between Alabama and Georgia on Sunday, I listened with great interest to an interview with Sherry Turkle, a Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT.
Among the many topics discussed, there was an in depth conversation about our attachment to technology and how being constantly connected can lead to a new kind of loneliness and a new found social anxiety.
I found myself nodding vigorously as the conversation progressed. Yes, I know how that feels, I thought, as the interviewer confessed a compulsion to check her e-mail constantly, to obsessively follow up on blog comments, to answer every e-mail in her inbox before it becomes unmanageable, to post facebook statuses that look as if she is witty but not trying too hard. And to do all of this while being fully present in real life.
I don’t think this anxiety is news to anyone. I suffer from it: big time. I’m nervous that I’m not living my actual life to it’s fullest because my finger is scrolling to find a new e-mail. I’m worried about not being conscientious enough with my responsibilities in the digital world (‘she read my blog today, what happens if I don’t read her blog today?’)
What did surprise me is that this panic is widespread, that people are desperate to find the right balance, that, as a society, we are unhappy about not being able to find it. And Turkle is not some kind of luddite. She’s not recommending we shut out the digital world entirely. Technology is her life’s work. She’s been advocating for it her entire career. Instead, she’s ready to start a dialogue about it.
This conversation was eye-opening for me because I feel pretty good about most of the ways I balance my time on the internet. A lot of the ‘inadequacies’ I feel in the digital space, I’ve been able to accept. I can’t get to everyone. I can’t do everything.
Except for one thing: I am very worried about my obsession with checking my e-mail. I used to have a really great system. I only checked it once a day and answered all of my e-mails in the evening. I felt really good about that system.
Since getting a smart phone, however, my finger is constantly at the ready, desperately searching for the alert that someone e-mailed me. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that I check it at least 100 times a day and it distracts me from many other things. (As a side note: all of this started when I began querying agents last year.)
So, I’ve officially decided to leave my smart phone home during the day and go back to that system of checking and replying to my personal e-mail only in the evening. By the way, I don’t want anyone to read this post and stop e-mailing me or something. Because it would make me cry if all I got were ads. (See. Anxiety.)
I’d love to know if you’re worried about striking the right balance between your real life and your digital life? Does it freak you out that there is actually a distinction between the two? (It totally freaks me out.)