Internet, the final frontier. Endless. Silent. Waiting. This is the story of our daily enterprise to seek out all relevant information and contact others like us. To explore. To travel the vast expanse of data, where no man has gone before…
We have come to live in a world that is so technologically advanced that only rarely do we glimpse the fact that we’re already living in the future.
Not only are we stalking out coffee shops on our smart phones’ GPS, ordering pizza by text message or watching virtually any movie whenever and wherever we want.
These are the fruits of technology, its applications.
Accompanying these gimmicks and gadgets, there is a lingering side-effect.
Is The Screen A Window Into Another World Or An Invisible Prison Wall?
William Gibson once said in an interview that every new technology or platform we use changes us almost immediately. It’s so obvious that it takes some practice to spot.
First, let’s take an outer perspective:
This is increasingly how we spend our time, hunched over keyboards, craning our necks towards the promising worlds unfolding from our screens.
At work we are staring into computers and hand-held devices, in our lunch-breaks we quickly order that (almost) forgotten birthday present from Amazon over a hastily devoured mound of spaghetti. After work, we slump on our sofas and stare into our Netflix-fed plasma-screens.
In 2008 researcher Linda Stone first coined the term Email Apnea, the disruption of breathing patterns when checking email.
In the short term, disrupted breathing can increase feelings of stress, as it is linked with the vagus nerve, part of the “animal brain” which oversees basic flight and fight responses, among many other things. By breathing irregularly, the body triggers a nervous response, tensing, dumping chemicals into the nervous system, and confusing the body. Email apnea may also be linked with weight gain, according to Stone, as the vagus nerve is also involved in determinations of satiety; so by not breathing in the morning while you check your email, you may interfere with your lunchtime appetite. (source)
If this is correct, checking emails has wide-ranging effects on our whole organism and well-being.
Remember: being online is not the exception, anymore, being on has become the norm.
Therefore, we’re constantly breathing shallowly. The animal brain is taking over. Multi-tasking frenzies fire up fight and flight responses. We’re constantly stressed-out, not because something is happening but because it is becoming our modus operandi.
And if it’s true for email, it can be extended to any kind of online exchange of messages from chats to Facebook, Twitter, etc…
What if what Stone called “Email Apnea” is becoming a sort of “Online Life Apnea”?
Maybe we’re already slowly turning into cyborgs, half human, half machine, paying for our “extended nervous system” with a sense of relaxed contentment, deep concentration and all kinds of other things that make us human?
Getting Off The “Always On” Treadmill
Since I am working full-time online as an independent publisher and language coach, I experience both the benefits (being able to work from anywhere in the world and being able to do whatever I want) but also the downsides described above, so I’m constantly interested in finding a better balance, half intrigued, half-shocked by what technology is doing to myself and people around me.
Very often I find myself in the middle of a constant battle with distraction and mindless information binges.
I’ve already written about my Facebook experience, earlier. Recently I tested a browser extension, called StayFocusd which allows you to set a timer for the most distracting websites and when your time has run out, you’re blocked from accessing it.
Plus, it has all kinds of extra features like blocking you from changing any of the settings when your time has run out, so you don’t cheat and if you do try to change the settings later the extension will force you to do all kinds of annoying exercises so you stick to your commitment.
In theory, yes.
But you can deactivate the extension whenever you like. Case closed.
Media-Fasting: Islands of Isolation Or Paths To Re-Gaining Sanity?
So while these tools are all nice, they don’t so much offer a solution as they emphasize our condition!
Personally, I’ve found only one thing that really works:
I set myself to take regular time-outs in which I don’t touch a keyboard, mouse, mobile phone, or remote for a certain period of time.
And while I was sceptical at first, I can only recommend it.
Not because it’s some kind of magical solution but because it illustrates our current state of mind by juxtaposition.
When I first tried it on a weekend (so that there was no excuse of having to be “available”), I was almost shocked. I could actually sit down and read a book, undisturbed. I felt I had all the time in the world. My breathing and eating patterns changed. Shortly: It felt pretty good.
Want to try it, too?
Spend 24-48 hours without any electronic media (yes, that includes TV, mobile phones and consoles)! 1000 students from all over the world already tried the experience and you can read about their experiences, here.
Many of them felt bored, stressed, craving for access.
How will you feel?
And most importantly: What will you do?