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Our inability to turn off our gadgets and disconnect

I’m writing this week’s column on my lunch break. I have a tuna salad to my left, my desktop in front of me, e-mail open, my iPhone to my right, and a second screen showcasing nothing but Twitter accounts I follow. Every once in a while my phone rings or someone knocks on my door, despite it being closed. A moment of peace, you say? What’s that?

Toula's Take

 

The idea to write a column on our inability - or at the very least, immense difficulty - to enjoy solitude in today’s world, came to me when I recently read Cuban author Pico Iyer’s poignant opinion piece in The New York Times, entitled “The Joy of Quiet”.

“In barely one generation we’ve moved from exulting in the time-saving devices that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them,” he writes, while recounting stories of “black-hole resorts” (hotels that charge high prices because you can’t get online in their rooms), or writer friends who pay good money to get the Freedom software that enables them to disable the very internet connections they so desperately demanded years ago.

A few days later, another excellent opinion piece, “A Time to Tune Out” by Roger Cohen, found its way into the same paper.

“Connectivity aids productivity,” Cohen writes. “It can also be counterproductive by generating that contemporary state of anxiety in which focus on any activity is interrupted by the irresistible urge to check e-mail or texts; whose absence can in turn provoke the compounded anxiety of feeling unloved or unwanted just because the in-box is empty for a nanosecond.”

The author goes on to cite the case of Antonio Horta-Osorio, chief executive of Lloyds Bank, who suffered severe employee burnout after he was afflicted with “inability to switch off.” I didn’t make that term up. ITSO apparently exists, and I suspect more people will be diagnosed with it in the future.

Predictable of the ironic, always contradictory, times we live in, the article ends with an unintentionally-laughable footnote, urging readers to follow Roger Cohen on Twitter. Sigh…

“Inside myself is a place where I live all alone, and that's where I renew my springs that never dry up,” wrote American author Pearl Buck. Thanks to these omnipresent malicious, yet magical, devices, there is no such place anymore. Not unless we turn them off.

How can we focus adequately on the task at hand when everything is “breaking news” and everything demands to be heard, read, commented on NOW?

We need solitude to function, to process our thoughts, to regain our composure, to allow our conscious minds to roam free and hear ourselves breathe.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found that adolescents who cannot bear to be alone often fall short of enhancing any sort of creative talents. I feel the same way about serial daters.

Yet, here we are… living in a world that has harnessed the kind of technological tools that have made us addicted to contact with others at all times. While I certainly benefit from them, they can also be intrusive and terribly destructive.  How can we even think clearly when a million external stimuli are coming at us at record speed at any given moment? How can we focus adequately on the task at hand when everything is “breaking news” and everything demands to be heard/read/commented on NOW?

“The more that floods in on us,” Iyer writes, “the less of ourselves we have to give to every snippet.”

In essence, that’s the problem right there. By trying to be everywhere, we’re really nowhere. We’re diluting ourselves…

There are severe drawbacks to always being no more than a cell phone or text message away, and while I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions, switching off occasionally is going to be mine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Organisations: New York Times, Lloyds Bank

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