“Were we gods, we might be able to live well without rest and contemplation, but we are not and we can not.” -Mark Helprin
If you’re like me, you might be unsure when it happened. One day you found yourself waking up, still half asleep, looking over at the mobile phone next to your bed to see if you “missed” any notifications while you were sleeping. Before you had the chance to even brush your teeth, you felt that slight twinge of anxiety that you were already “far behind” and the day had only begun.
If you’re like me, you might be unsure when it happened. One night you found yourself up very late, bleary eyed, trying your hardest to read “just one more article.” After falling asleep next to your computer, you woke up and realized that in the brief moments of your 30 minute snooze you fell even further behind in your quest to have a “full understanding”of the topic at hand.
If you’re like me, it got to the point that you were reading article after article on the loss of solitude, the “acceleration of tranquility,” and the lengths people will go to in order to avoid introspection. Every article seemed to confirm exactly what you were feeling and although they recommended “tuning out,” it felt like these articles were worth staying up late to read.
If you’re like me, you have decided it is time for a change.
“If not constantly interrupted, he is at least continually subject to interruption, and thus the threshold of what is urgent drops commensurately.” -Mark Helprin
In Mark Helprin’s piece, “The Acceleration of Tranquility,” he creatively looks at two paradigms related to information through the lens of two characters, one is a man living in 1906 and the other is a man living in 2016. At one point Helprin contrasts these two characters and mentions how in 1906 when a person went away (wherever they were) they were separated by both time and distance from others, while in the future (now) any one of your acquaintances can step into your “study at will.”
In the current age of information, our “study” no longer exists. It is not that it can not be created, it is simply that in a time of hyper-connectivity “retreating”to our “study” becomes increasingly difficult. As one author has described it,the internet has brought on an “end of absence,” which includes a loss of “solitude, daydreaming, reverie” and other “things that are very hard to quantify.” With our computers, tablets, smart phones and other devices we never have to feel bored, but we are also never afforded the time for interruption free contemplation. All of this nonstop “busyness” leaves us feeling scattered and lost.
“Being clear about what we’re doing and why is the first step in doing it better. If you’re not happy about the honest answer to this question, make substantial changes until you are.” -Seth Godin
It is this “lost and scattered”feeling that has been really bugging me lately. Just last night I was speaking with Corey about this at dinner and it is clear from his recent blog post that he has internalized this battle as well. While we owe many of our ideas and inspirations to the articles, tweets and Facebook posts that have entered into our lives; there is also something to be said for taking the time to reflect on those ideas without constantly searching for more. This is no easy line to draw here, but the closest I have come to really finding this balance is in thinking about the quote above.
I have slowly begun to approach information with a clearer idea of what I am doing and why I am doing it. Don’t get me wrong, there are still many moments where I find myself chasing information down a worm hole that ends two hours later with my mind exhausted and my Evernote storage limit nearly at its max. The thing that is different now though is the awareness of the process.
In a nod to Corey, I will outline the ways in which I hope to become “more aware” of this process:
1. I have started to use Clear Focus when I am working as a way to monitor how much time I am spending on a given task. Clear Focus is a timer for the “Pomodoro Technique,” where for every 25 minutes of work you take a 5 minute break. While I am not always great at taking the break, what I do like is adding up the intervals it takes me to do a certain task and the fact that the timer silences your phone during the 25 minutes so you are not interrupted in the midst of work.
2. I too have turned off all notifications on my phone. I will still use my phone to stay up to date with social media and articles I enjoy reading, but I will now be doing it on my time.
3. I am going to focus on one task at a time while I am using the computer. If I am reading an article, I am going to wait until I have reflected on it before clicking on any hyperlinks within the text. If I am working on something else, I am not going to keep my tabs for email and social media open. The idea is that whatever is open in my tabs is essential to the activity at hand.
With these small steps I hope to regain some of the tranquility that has been lost in the midst of constant connection. I hesitate to even write these words, as I realize that with each letter I am adding to the very information that I am trying to slow down. It is in that last sentence though that I think lies the point. We live in a time where we can share our most intimate moments in an instant and find the answers to the things that make us most curious. This is an amazing time, but we need to slow down and take the time to enjoy it. There is no reason that you can not let everyone into your “study,” just take the time to greet them one by one rather than all fifty at time.
Again adding to the flood of information, here are some articles I have been reading related to this idea. Please take a look, but remember to read them one by one and enjoy the information before skipping on to the next one.
- The Acceleration of Tranquility
- Net Loss: Is the Internet Killing Solitude and Downtime?
- No Time to Think
- Reboot or Die Trying
- What’s it For?