Sometimes it's hard for me to remember a time without social media, the internet, a mobile phone; that sense of being 'connected' all the time to...everything. To remember a time when I wasn't ruled like one of Pavlov's dogs by the relentless ping! and beep! of notifications and messages via multiple interactive platforms.
Digital communication is great and it's not.
It makes life quicker and it makes life slower.
It makes me feel part of something and it makes me feel isolated.
It gives me a buzz and it zaps my energy.
I can't live without my phone; am constantly picking it up, checking my favourite social media sites (Pinterest, Instagram), and waking up to notifications stacked on top of each other in a never-ending list.
It feels like I can never reach the end.
My inbox is cluttered with newsletters that I want to read, but if I read them all I'd do nothing else. So instead they linger, colour-coded, filed, forgotten, starred in a hierarchy, gnawing at my consciousness.
I've unsubscribed from things.
I've turned off notifications from online groups.
I've got multiple folders and folders within folders.
I have rules.
But, but, the need to consume, to read, to absorb and then deal with each email in turn is so completely addictive I have to ration myself.
Just another 5 minutes...OK 15...
'If I get to the end of X task, I'll 'treat' myself to reading that long newsletter that I always enjoy...'
Really? Is that what life has become, a battle to get through the omnipresent intangible chatter of words and images on a screen?
I've read about people who have taken the final step: removed themselves from social media, do not own (have never owned?) email accounts, or even more rebelliously, have hit 'delete' on their entire inbox.
Wow. I want to be able to do that, I really do, but...I can't.
Because I might miss out on something important, something I really need to know. FOMO strikes again.
If you divide the volume of communications 'in' by the hours available in the day, the equation becomes impossible, the idea of 'catching up' ridiculous. So what to do?
A lot of the time I choose to remain oblivious to the news, to my Facebook feed, to the latest joke or link that I've been sent; not because I don't care, but because I can no longer deal with the amount of information that comes at me each day. I have to censor it and by that I mean censor myself.
I ration my exposure to the plugged-in-always-on-world like I'm an addict, and to do that I've found myself deploying my phone's 'Do Not Disturb' function during the day as well as at night.
It's not that I don't like keeping in touch, it's just...sometimes it's nice to take a step back and reclaim my time, make time to process my own thoughts for a while. But then I add to it too through my own links when I choose to share them, through the words I share on this blog, through the act of living and interacting where the lines between reality and online become blurred.
The fast pace of the (digital) world is eroding concentration spans too, making us all less patient, and I've noticed those things in myself.
If a page doesn't load in a second or two, I don't have time to wait, and if the internet goes down for any reason - it's unthinkable really because how can you live your life effectively in the western world without the internet these days? I know people do, but when it happens to me and those around me it's like the end of the world, creating stress and prompting rage. This is the price of being plugged into technology, yet it's also given us so much.
So far I've resisted buying a Kindle in favour of a real book, and recently I've been investing in my vinyl collection rather than stream or purchase music digitally.
There is nothing wrong with those methods, and I'm not slating them, but I like the sense of ownership, the tangible reality, the feel and smell of a book or record in my hands. And I like to take back control and 'unplug', sometimes for a whole weekend; I always feel the better for it.
For people who don't use the internet (like my Mum!), it's harder to get good deals for everyday things or even buy from or communicate with a company at all, and I think that's a bit sad. It's like forcing people to 'plug into' something that they don't want to.
So for me the plugged v unplugged debate is about finding my own balance, something I can be happy with and that suits my lifestyle.
It's not exactly the dream of living the 'slow movement' that I aspire to, but it's something, it's my way, and I'm clinging to it.
(Interestingly, the novel I'm writing is set in a time not so long ago when the internet wasn't a 'thing' and most people didn't own a mobile phone. Crazy eh?)
Maybe one day I'll be brave enough to hit 'delete' on the whole plugged-in world.
Maybe I won't want to.
What do you think? Which do you prefer? Can you remember what your life was like before you 'plugged in'?