A while back I wrote about making a conscious effort to wean myself from the computer, from my occasional obsessive fixation with social media and blogging. I've continued in that effort, and I'm pleasantly surprised at the outcome. On days when I can successfully limit my online meandering, I feel infinitely calmer, less rushed, and more productive. It feels as if the day suddenly expands, and when I look at my watch I'm surprised that it's earlier than I thought (when I usually have the opposite reaction). Writer Anne Lamott talks about this very thing in a recent article for Sunset magazine. "You have to grasp that your manic forms of connectivity—cell phone, email, text, Twitter—steal most chances of lasting connection or amazement," she says. "Connection" and "amazement" being code words for living life to its fullest, for pursuing all those creative pursuits and real social interactions that make life meaningful for the long haul. Although Lamott cites other things that share the blame for stealing our precious time - things like housecleaning, and going to the gym, and work - I think the internet is one of the most insidious culprits. Housecleaning and exercise at least create a sense of personal satisfaction - you can see and feel that you've accomplished something. Spending time on the internet - the few minutes that turns into an hour or more - actually leaves me feeling simultaneously drained and agitated, an odd state of disequilibrium that's peculiar to the 21st century human. They've yet to come up with a name for this condition, but I suspect that at some point in the future, we'll see support groups developing to help those similarly afflicted.
The obsessive texting, emailing, Facebooking, and Twittering is surely indicative of the way we crave interaction with other humans. We've all glommed onto this ability to "talk" to our friends and family at any time - while standing in line at the grocery, in a boring meeting at work, or even (God help us) in the bathroom (no, I have never texted, emailed, or talked on my phone in the bathroom, and I never will). It seems kind of pathetic, and rather poignant too, that we all enjoy this remote connection so much. Wouldn't it be so much nicer if we could meet our friends face to face every morning at the local diner and talk about what's happening in our lives, share our thoughts on the book we're reading, discuss the news of the day or comment on the weather. Because that's really all the "social media" interaction amounts to in most cases - a chance to share our thoughts and relate what's happening in our lives to other people who might care.
Ah, but that kind of interaction belongs to another time and place, doesn't it - that elusive "Mayberry" for which I'm always longing. For most of us, there is no local diner, only myriads of Starbucks and McDonald's. And who has time to meet there in the morning, with traffic and school and work and meetings, not to mention all those texts and emails to answer.
Lamott's final point is not only valid, but vital. "What fills us is real, sweet, dopey, funny life," she says. Don't wait until you're 80 to discover that all the time you spent texting, emailing, and checking the news feed, would have been better spent meeting a friend for coffee, or taking your dog for a walk, or visiting your elderly neighbor.
Don't become so enamored of the virtual world that you forget how to enjoy the real one.
Hmmm...I think I'll make that my Facebook status for today.