Monday, November 21, 2011
Too Much Tech?
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Okay, we're all wired. Otherwise, we wouldn't be reading this blog on our desktops, laptops, notebooks, or smartphones. And we like it, or at least I do, I freely admit. But there is ongoing--and sometimes less than coherent as well as contradictory--research and dialogue about how constant exposure to digital data is affecting our brains and our lives.
The consensus among most researchers (as I switch from article to article on the internet) is that the human brain was not built for multitasking, and that it has not yet rewired itself. While that may happen sometime in the future, we are now doing many more things at once, and doing them less well. There's an upside, of course. A certain amount of social connectedness may make us more emotionally healthy, but there are limits. (I would like to have lunch with my daughter without her constantly texting someone else and checking in on Facebook. And my husband reads me posts on his Facebook page over dinner... He is, however, talking TO me, so maybe this isn't so bad.)
But in following the comments on our Jungle Red Writer's Challenge check-in the last few weeks, I'm most interested in how the constant deluge of data affects us as writers. Our challenge was to write for two hours every day without checking email, Facebook, or using the Internet in any way other than to do absolutely necessary research. And almost everyone who's participated has found cutting off the data flow a CHALLENGE.
I've started turning off email and Facebook on my computer, not just for two hours, but for big blocks of the day. And I've been turning off the notification alerts on my phone. It vibrates when I get a phone call, but I'm no longer constantly responding to the Pavlovian data ding. (Scientists call this reaction to stimulation a "dopamine squirt", which sounds really disgusting.) Imagine, using a phone as a phone!
Has it helped my writing concentration? Without a doubt. Have I missed the constant connectedness? Not too much. But I'm finding I really enjoy it as a treat a few times a day, and I've stopped worrying quite so much that I'm missing something if I don't check in all the time.
None of us are likely to give up the internet. For me, at least, it's an amazing research tool, although it still hasn't replaced books. But I think a lot about how much time we spend every day doing things that never have our full attention, and that we forget almost instantly. There are few of us, writers and readers, who are going to leave collections of letters or diaries behind for future generations.
So what about you, fellow Reds? How much tech is too much tech? Do you find you have to set limits, and if so, what works for you?
ROSEMARY HARRIS: I definitely have to set limits. There's a powerful urge to check emails first thing in the morning and first thing in the morning can quickly turn into 12pm if I'm not careful. I've taken to writing in another room just to be physically away from the siren song of the computer.
I also had a mini-epiphany when I realized I could turn off the Ping! sound my computer made every time a new email arrived. (Well...it COULD have been Johnny Depp emailing ..) The challenge has been great for me as it's made me more conscious of how wisely I spend my time online. I'm going to do it, but I've been less likely to check out Demi's marital troubles just because the link pops up 100 times a day.
RHYS BOWEN: I'm afraid the internet has become a huge time waster. I used to read my emails before I started work. Now I go on Facebook, Twitter, my own blog, Jungle Red, even check my Amazon and B & N stats before I start writing. I'm trying to cut down but it is addictive. However when I was out of email contact in Morocco for almost a week--guess what? There were no emails of great significance waiting for me. I have to tell myself that it really isn't important who has mentioned me today on Twitter.
And the internet has its dark side too--bad reviews in blogs from ordinary readers not qualified reviewers. (I blog about that on Rhys's Pieces this week) Being slammed on Amazon by those with an axe to grind. I know these things shouldn't matter but they depress me and hinder my writing creativity. So when I start my next book, I vow to keep up the challenge. No online until my number of words for the day is complete!
HALLIE EPHRON: Oh, yes yes yes! The Internet is a demanding and fickle friend. I turn off my wifi when I get serious about writing.
Reminds me of those pigeons in B. F. Skinner's operant conditioning chamber. When a pigeon was rewarded EVERY time it pressed a lever, it learned to press on the lever. When the rewards stopped coming, the pecking behavior soon diminished and stopped. But when pigeons were trained with rewards delivered not with every press but at random intermittent intervals, the pigeons kept right on pressing the lever long after the rewards stopped coming. We are addicted to news, emails, etc. just like old BFS's trained pigeons.
LUCY BURDETTE: Yes it's absolutely weird how sane people (such as ourselves) are turned into rats following the Internet's Pied Piper. I watch myself when I'm beginning something hard (like writing my fresh 1000 words/day)--that Firefox logo is like a giant magnet calling "touch me, open me, something urgent is waiting!" I have an old email address that's now difficult to access, though it still gets tons of spam. Every month or six weeks, I make the effort to check it. Very rarely do I find something I wish I'd had earlier--a few lost friends, but I can reconnect with those. If someone wants to contact me about a movie deal, I bet they'd try a little harder!
JAN BROGAN: The thing about email is this: You get an email: you respond. The sender responds to your response. You think of something witty and you just have to respond one more time. And thus ten to twenty minutes is completely wasted.
Interesting, when I cut way back on my email and Internet exposure, my mood improved. I felt really a palpable brain relief. And more than most people, I am not a multi-tasker. So it makes sense that too much digital data would mess me up. Now I think of email as having a glass of wine or a beer. Once or two you feel pretty good. If you have more than that in a day, you'll get a terrible headache.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: You know, it's funny-and I hope I'm not stepping on an toes. But the thing about answering emails immediately--I used to pride myself on it. Now--unless it's an emergency or something where someone obviously needs an answer--I just wait until I'm finished what I'm doing.
I just took a step to the dark side...and got an iPhone. I LOVE it. But I consciously try to stay away from it. I control IT--it doesn't control me.
The other life-change is how little I TALK on the phone. But that's probably another blog.
DEBS: So JR readers, how about you? Do you answer the bell, or let it ring? (At least occasionally...)