‘I just want to get these electronic things out of my life…I want to live in the 1980s.’
This message from our vagabond colleague, Tom Dyson, like the smell of warm madeleines for Proust, set off a stream of thoughts, leading to this little note.
Tom already ‘unplugged’ by taking his ex-wife and three children on a year-long trip around the world. Now, he is planning to cut himself off from the electronic messages that fill up our modern world.
Urgent or important?
Why get the electronics out of your life? There are two reasons…maybe more. One is simple: There are only 24 hours in a day. As electronic communications and entertainment take up more and more of your time, they take over your life.
The average person with an iPhone checks it 1,585 times per day. We just made up that statistic, but you get the idea. There’s even an app that tells you how much time you spend on your iPhone…ostensibly to encourage you to reduce your iPhone use. But it’s probably just another way to draw your attention away from whatever you were doing and keep you on the phone.
We check our smartphone to see what the weather will be…what the stock market is doing…or what the latest headlines are. We check it in the elevator or on the street to avoid eye-contact with strangers. Mostly, though, we check it to see who’s trying to contact us…and what message they have for us.
Can’t it wait? Of course it can. Unless you’re an emergency heart surgeon or you have the White House’s nuclear codes in your briefcase, messages are rarely that urgent. We can’t remember ever getting a message that couldn’t have waited at least 24 hours.
The exceptions are messages from people cancelling meetings at the last minute…or changing plans. Those are the types of messages we don’t want to get anyway. People could perfectly well respect the arrangements they’ve made and show up on time!
Wrong place, wrong time
‘I’m running late…Can we meet in 15?’ comes the text.
‘Where r u?’
‘Forgot about the dog. Let’s go to Luigi’s instead.’
We don’t know what the dog has to do with it, but if we don’t pay attention, we’ll end up in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But we get hundreds of messages every day. Almost none of them are really important. But some are. Which ones? We don’t know until we sort through them all — paying attention, spending time…and ultimately responding to the whims, greed, and agenda of others, rather than our own.
There’s something about the immediacy…the urgency…of a phone connection that demands our attention. You almost can’t help but check…and respond. This is, of course, a classic error, elevating the urgent above the important.
And by the time you finish checking your phone and responding to all the ‘urgent’ messages, pictures of kittens, smiley faces, YouTube sequences, and other unnecessary noise…guess what? You have no time left for the important things. You’ve even forgotten to say ‘Good morning’ to your wife…and missed your granddaughter’s birthday party.
In fact, most often…in all the commotion, you’ve entirely forgotten what was important anyway.
Fake information technology
Which is another reason to get the electronics out of your life. Not only do they take your time…they also eat away at your brain.
One headline tells you something Mr. Trump has done…as if it were the most serious mistake ever made by a U.S. president. Another tells you that California is about to be consumed by forest fires. Still another tells you that neither of those things matter; instead, the important thing is that the sea level is rising.
One headline after another. One message followed by another. In our field — finance — we just learned that there are 3.7 million different indexes of publicly traded assets available globally, with more than 400,000 created in 2018 alone.
And a recent study tells us that the typical American receives 5,200 pieces of ‘information’ per day. We made that statistic up, too, but it’s something like that.
And what does it matter? What’s one more piece of fake ‘information,’ more or less?
Yes, that’s right. Much of the ‘information’ you receive is fraudulent, foolish, or just plain wrong. Only some of it is true.
But how do you know which is which? Again, it takes time.
Real truth. Fake truth. Kinda, partial, virtual truth? With so much of it coming at you, you can’t possibly take the time to know how much truthiness is in each bit.
And yet, each little fragment takes time to receive and process. Then, it is stored somewhere in your brain, like an old pair of boots you put up in the attic. You may not ever think of it again. But it is still there somewhere, taking up space.
And your brain space — while remarkably elastic — is not infinite. In order to make space for the old boots, you might have tossed out your grandmother’s diary and forgotten your phone number.
Technology has a tight grip
Not only do electronic messages capture your attention and devour your time, they also take over your emotional life.
Little by little, you come to care about people you’ve never met…battles you will never fight…and issues that don’t really matter.
The next thing you know, you will find yourself not just a spectator ogling the on-line circus, but an actor…another clown…voicing an opinion, taking polls, leaving comments, and joining ‘chat’ groups.
Then, you are practically beyond hope. The internet has gotten a tighter grip on you than heroin on a dope addict. That world — the fake one that takes place in digital space — has become your world.
That is where you live…where your time — your physical life (sitting in front of a computer screen) — and your emotional life, too, will be spent.
More to come tomorrow…