Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Vulnerable to Digital Overload?

All the time I was growing up I saw terrible statistics about how many hours the average American spent in front of the television. Supposedly this made us lazy and dumb and materialistic and incapable of focusing on anything for more than five minutes. I did my share of TV watching, at times: in eighth grade I remember coming home after school, making enormous snacks, and watching show after show until Mom got home. But by the time I was halfway through high school my days were too full for that sort of thing, and I've never gone back to it.

Not unless you count the endless hours of TV I "watched" in Uzbekistan, where I lived with a local family and had no choice in the matter. But of course since I couldn't understand a lot of what I saw, it couldn't stimulate or numb, fragment or distract me as programming in my own language might.

Yet the internet has done to me what television never did. While logging on gives me an initial sense of peace or connectedness, my online behavior takes me from one small stimulus to another so quickly that after an hour or two I sometimes come away as dazed as if I'd spent the time madly flipping television channels or glued to one of those modern news shows full of short, frightening stories, overlaid with sidebars and breaking news scrolling across the bottom. Overstimulated and jumpy.

Tearing myself away from looking for messages, checking on this and that, I do something physical like tidying up the kitchen or going for a walk. Or I do some writing - even on the computer - or read a book. It's still media, but feels completely different.

Now that I'm working from home and have a reliable computer and great Internet connection - even without  an iPhone in my pocket - I think I will need some limits. Not like my friend's ten-year-old son, who is only allowed two hours of "screen time" a day, but certainly no more than two hours at a stretch. It wouldn't hurt to schedule some two-hour meal breaks with no electronic devices nearby. I think I'll need regular vacations from 2010 just to stay sane.

The NPR program "Fresh Air" included an interview on this topic today. See Digital Overload: Your Brain on Gadgets.

3 comments:

Money Minded Mama said...

I just tried to go on a digital diet of sorts for a few days. I mainly put limits on internet consumption - I would only allow 15 minutes a day for all internet usage, including checking and responding to emails. And I about died. :) I could only last for a few days, because I realized that as a stay-at-home mom who is on her own for 11 hours a day, interacting with my 3 year old and 1 year old all day doesn't cut it. I know that they say that the internet isn't an adequate substitute for true interaction, but for me, the few times I can check certain blogs/emails and respond make me at least sane throughout the day, because it's hard to find opportunities to interact with people otherwise when you have naptimes, etc. I'm sure everyone has their own "isolation" story that isn't ideal, but a reality that we grapple with in this day and age.

Marti said...

It's pretty tough to set policies and rules for anyone else, or even to find practices that continue working for oneself for long periods of time - I think this kind of thing takes a lot of experimentation. There's not something inherently wrong - or right - with being on the Internet. You have to look at your life and how you're behaving and how that compares with how you want to behave and how it's affecting your life.

Sometimes it seems ironic that the same tools can be instruments of connection and instruments of isolation.

I'm glad to see so many moms finding new resources to feel connected, on the Internet. The phenomenon of mommy blogs seems to be providing a real outlet - and input - for many who otherwise wouldn't get to interact with other adults as much as they would like! I'd say go for it....

On the other hand, if internet devices are serving as a form of procrastination, increasing stress, and messing up your attentiveness to the relationships that are most important, than a change of diet is worth exploring!

I can think of a few days I'd like to see putting away their iphones instead of letting them pull them away into something while they sit in the back of the meeting or hang out with their family and say they're "still listening." Uh huh. Unless you're a brilliant multi-tasker, it's probably not true...

Marti said...

Oops, typo: I meant to say "I can think of a few dads I'd like to see put away their iphones." I know this is sexist, but if it's true that many men have more trouble than many woman, multi-tasking, and you have all these guys thinking they need the latest tech gadgets - than it seems a just critique: men, you may need to put away those gadgets if you want your kids to think you're paying attention to them. Of course, if those kids are glued to their own devices...