My daughter caught me scrolling through facebook and said, “You’re not just doing that for work.” She was calling me out on what I’d been telling her, which was that I needed to be on facebook and instagram and twitter in order to stay in “the know”.
It was how authors promoted their books.
It was where I could announce my new literary agent, Carrie Howland from Donadio and Olson!
It was where I found interesting articles and learned about communicating in a social media world, which felt as natural to me as raising a baby whale.
I needed information!
But all this was relatively new.
I joined facebook, instagram and twitter only 18 months ago. I did that for two reasons. One, I wanted to promote my new blog; and two, I didn’t want to be left behind. I wanted to know what was going on around the globe, and I wanted to be a part of it.
Simultaneously, everyone in my family complained, bitterly, how I never answered my phone. And that was because I could leave it untouched for hours at a time while I wrote.
So over these 18 months, I became more connected and reliant. And little by little, something changed. (Read: Be Here Now.)
Just this weekend, I’d been wondering if I’d crossed some invisible line because last week, on vacation, in a first attempt to boost my numbers, I studied those social media sites for long periods of time when I was supposed to be relaxing on a beach.
It was my first vacation completely connected.
Before that friends teased me because I couldn’t manage to get my phone to work once I left the country. And of course, the truth behind that was I didn’t want a working phone.
Now that scenario seemed impossible, ridiculous, archaic.
So when my daughter called me on my behavior, it solidified what I’d been contemplating. I had to pay attention to what I was doing.
“I’m going to read,” I said. And I went upstairs. Alone in my room, I checked my wordpress numbers and read some email messages. Before I knew it, I was hooked and kept scrolling. Just a few minutes more I kept telling myself, my daughter’s voice in my head.
I stumbled on Oprah's SuperSoul Sessions.
I was elated!
I thought about how as a child, I got bored. But now, as an adult, with all this access, how could I ever get bored? There was so much to see; I couldn’t keep up.
The SuperSoul speaker was Elizabeth Gilbert. And she was speaking to a huge audience about passion and curiosity and I clung to every word with guilty pleasure. I told myself again and again, rationalizing, that I could’ve paid for seats in that audience and her talk would’ve felt like a cultural outing, something special.
Elizabeth’s speech was empowering and informative and yet as I watched her on my I-phone, I watched the clock intently aware that I was missing precious reading time. I’d been in my room for close to an hour, my book, unopened, at my side.
And here’s what happened:
I wanted to watch another SuperSoul Session but didn’t. I was intent on reading. And worried that the Internet had control of me, I made sure to read. It was a bargain, kind of like how an alcoholic decides he doesn’t have a drinking problem if he can go without alcohol for two days.
The trouble was, I didn’t get into the shower when I was supposed to, and running late, decided not to go out.
My Internet distraction, just like any addiction, had an impact.
There are so many possibilities of how my evening could’ve unfolded.
Maybe my daughter and I would’ve had a meaningful conversation.
Maybe I would’ve read more pages.
I definitely would’ve showered when I was supposed to and then my night would’ve taken a different direction. Instead of staying home, I could’ve gone to a jazz club and heard live music. I could’ve gone to a movie in an actual theater and not watched the stupid one I rented at home.
It’s not that any of these activities were necessarily bad, because I really did appreciate the Gilbert talk; it was just that they all felt a bit out of my control.
And while I had a nagging feeling that I was tipping into new territory over the last few weeks, I kept pushing the thought away, denying, and or defending my choice to send a text, answer an email, post a comment. As if any of these were actually choices.
The word addiction kept popping into my head.
Was I addicted?
That’s ridiculous, I told myself. Just 18 months before I didn’t even have a facebook friend.
But if addiction is a relentless and compulsive pull to a substance, or activity, and interferes with everyday life, I (shockingly) was guilty of that.
And then I woke up to the NY Times article: Addicted to Distraction and everything I’d been feeling was laid out in front of me.
I related to Tony Schwartz’s experiences wholeheartedly.
And yet, and maybe this is denial, I had questions.
Schwartz wrote about being less focused because of the amount of time he spent online.
I had been noticing the same thing.
He stated that reading was a focus building practice. And he wanted, like I did, to do that more.
So instinctively, I agreed with him. But why?
Why was reading a better choice?
Was that thinking outdated?
Maybe that's the equivalent of insisting we use horses for transportation. Horses are naturally more beautiful than cars and they don't have us relying on foreign countries for oil. In addition, cars go too fast and, as a result, we miss a lot.
According to Nicholas Carr, “We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or at least diverting information.”
We make trade-offs.
And that’s why we drive cars instead of horses. In time, problems get addressed and voila—the electric car is on the frontier.
Tony Schwartz gives suggestions on how to limit the amount of time you spend on your phone, and in fact, I was ahead of him in that I had my phone far away from me, on purpose, as I read the newspaper Sunday morning.
But these are short-lived solutions. This doesn’t really address the problem.
If there is a problem.
Maybe things are the way they are supposed to be.
Maybe trying to stay off our devices is a pointless fight against change and modernization.
But in the last few paragraphs of Schwartz’s article, he gets me.
He depicts a scene.
He recounts how he saw a father and his four-year-old daughter at a restaurant. The father is on his phone and his daughter cannot get his attention.
In my opinion, this scenario illustrates our biggest loss.
I’ll bet that father wouldn’t dream of bringing a book to the restaurant. It would be socially awkward and unacceptable. But his phone—no problem.
I’d like to say there is a time and a place for everything (because that’s what my mother would say) but when something is compulsive, it is compulsive. There are no boundaries.
We are scrolling ourselves into oblivion and the key here, and what makes these behaviors, or advancements, different than others, is its addictive component.
We are in denial (Denial= Don't Even Notice I Am Lying) or at least I was until my daughter finally got my attention.