technology

The Desire to Unplug

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Last week, I read an awesome, thought-provoking Outside piece by David Roberts. He’s a longtime Grist blogger, which means that he—like most of us—spends a crazy amount of time in front of a screen: blogging, tweeting, reading, etc. As he put it:

My mind was perpetually in the state that researcher and technology writer Linda Stone termed continuous partial attention. I was never completely where I was, never entirely doing what I was doing. I always had one eye on the virtual world. Every bit of conversation was a potential tweet, every sunset a potential Instagram.

For one year, though, he took an unpaid sabbatical from his job and just unplugged. No work e-mail, no social media, no daily news cycles. His journey from over-connected to disconnected is fascinating; read the whole thingВ here.

I’m quite envious of Roberts’ year off the grid. I estimate that I spend about 10-11 hours in front of a screen per day. (I work a full time digital job and, of course, post here, in my spare time.) I try to limit my screen time whenever possible—taking walks during lunch, reading paperbacks instead of ebooks while commuting—but it’s hard! I do love writing, blogging and seeing/reading other peoples’ works online. Plus, my livelihood requires it.

I can feel the effects of being so plugged in, though. My neck and shoulders are always stiff. I often feel dazed and slightly headachy when I step away from my computer, at the end of the day.

There’s no doubt in my mind that’s why I value ballet and traveling so much. Ballet is one of the few times in a day when I can completely unplug and be in the moment. It certainly helps that we dance to live music. And you really can’t dance if your mind is more on your to-do list than on ballet combinations.

It’s the same with travel. When I’m outside of NYC, I check my email as little as possible. I just enjoy the experience of being in a different place with its own sights, sounds and smells. Sure, I take photos and note down things I want to remember. (Or post on this blog.) But it’s just so liberating to be away from 11 hour days in front of a computer. I can actually feel myself relax and slow down during that time.

…as you can imagine, I am counting the days until my trip to Spain.

Do you often feel the need to unplug, too?

(Image via Pinterest)

My First (Work) Computer

The other day, a co-worker introduced me to the awesome Tumblr, My First Computer, where readers submit photos of themselves with (surprise!) their first computers. In typical Tumblr fashion, most snapshots feature people in their ’80s glory alongside clunky computers of the time:

You get the idea. After scrolling through the posts, I was tempted to send in a photo of me with an ancient computer. But it’s not from 1985. It’s from 2005:

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From 2004 to 2006, I worked at the Boston Herald (which was a great gig). At the time, they were just starting to move the newsroom off an ancient computer system–called Atex–and onto PCs. The shift was gradual and done by seniority–so as a lowly editorial assistant, I was not at the top of the list to receive one. And I never did. For the two and a half years I worked there, I used that crazy-looking, 1970s-era computer in the photo above. It had no mouse (all on-screen actions were done via a series of commands), no internet (and therefore no e-mail), no color (just green characters on a black screen) and no audio or video capabilities.

I’m still amazed at everything I was able to accomplish on that machine. At the time, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, podcasts and digital music were in their infancy–and I covered all that (and hundreds of other stories) on a computer straight out of All the President’s Men.

I was thrilled to get a normal computer at my next job. But I still have fond memories of Atex. In fact, there are some days when I sit at my PC and wish I could tab over a row of text and capitalize or lower case each letter with the click of a button–like I could on Atex.

(In case you were wondering, I’m wearing a shirt made of duct tape in that photo. My co-worker was covering Duck Brand’s duct tape prom outfit photo contest and I decided to prove that yes, you really can make clothing out of duct tape.)