Tech detox

I know I said I was going into hibernation. Even though it’s summer, and the root of that word is “hiver” or winter. Well, it’s winter in Australia, isn’t it?

But this is just too good to pass up. There’s an article in the NYT today about internet addiction, and how Silicon Valley firms are debating whether they have any responsibility for what increasingly appears to be a true physical addiction to the stimulation of going online.

Kelly McGonigal, a psychologist who lectures about the science of self-control at the Stanford School of Medicine (and has been invited to lecture at the business school at Stanford), said she regularly talked with leaders at technology companies about these issues. She added that she was impressed that they had been open to discussing a potential downside of their innovations. “The people who are running these companies deeply want their technology and devices to enhance lives,” said Dr. McGonigal. “But they’re becoming aware of people’s inability to disengage.”

She also said she believed that interactive gadgets could create a persistent sense of emergency by setting off stress systems in the brain — a view that she said was becoming more widely accepted.

“It’s this basic cultural recognition that people have a pathological relationship with their devices,” she said. “People feel not just addicted, but trapped.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. About the constant need to be, as the French say, branché, or plugged in. And that was part of my decision to go offline on the blog for a while.

I think it’s admirable that they’re even discussing the issue in the tech firms. Quite the contrast with the food industry, which keeps engineering our food to enhance physical addictions and keep us buying more processed crap. They do this in full awareness that eating frankenfood like this leads to diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease and skyrocketing health care costs.

Here’s a metaphor for you. If life is like a river, then the fast current in the middle, that sweeps everything along with it, could be the internet. If you spend all your time racing down the middle of the stream at breakneck speed, you don’t really get a chance to savor the little things, the small smoth pebbles on the bottom, the little creepy crawly things, the cool clear pools. Even the fish take a break now and then. It’s kind of a lame metaphor, but I think it’s pretty visually accurate.

Are you addicted to the immediacy of the internet? If not, how do you keep it at bay and not let it take over your life? I’d be interested to hear your strategies.

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