Monotasking, Slow Internet, and the Good Life

I really like my iPhone.  This little machine can keep up with my (five) email accounts, my (three) social networking accounts, my blogs.  It can help me figure out where a restaurant is, how long it would theoretically take me to drive to New Orleans instead of work, and what the weather will be like when I get there.

What I don’t like is how I use the iPhone.  I probably check my email, Facebook, and Twitter apps roughly forty to sixty times per day.  Why would I do that?

I’m not a doctor, my wife is not about to go into labor, and I have no friends traveling and waiting for me to pick them up at the airport.  In other words, nothing is pressing.  So why has this little device become an extension of me body?  Why do I have to take it everywhere?

I don’t know!

I don’t know why I carry it around, why I compulsively check for little icons indicating that somewhere, someone I know has done something.  What is the benefit?

An obvious one could be that it’s to alleviate boredom.  But when was I ever bored to begin with?  If anything, I’ve got more than a full plate as it is.  My options of what to do with my time are nearly limitless.

Another reason may to be to stay connected with people.  But if I’m in a room full of friends and we’re staring at our tiny machines, are we really connected? Am I actually closer to someone because I know that someone I went to high school with is at the mall?

For me, checking my phone and going down these rabbit holes has become a habit, a compulsion. It’s a rabbit hole.

I don’t like the way that it makes me feel.  I scroll through apps just because.  I skim articles without really thinking, I share things that I haven’t fully through myself.  I feel anxious, disconnected, uneducated, partially full.

I read an article last week about slow internet.  (Not the NPR joke from a year or two ago.)  For the life of me, I can’t find it.  I do that Maria Popova linked it.  (I didn’t provide a link here because I didn’t want to send you down a rabbit hole.  There’s a link to her website at the bottom.)

My version of slow internet involves me not thoughtlessly consuming, not skimming, but spending time with a small number of articles, sites, blogs with which I want to engage.  This way I can actually learn, think, and hopefully contribute.

My version of slow internet means that I only check up on email and internet reading once or twice per day.  The rest of the time I’m freed up to play music, write, work, think, exercise, or fully enjoy an action movie or a video game.

Last week, I found myself checking Facebook while playing a video game.  Why would I do that?

“Joey,” you might be saying, “What’s the big deal.  It’s free time.”

Yes, that’s true.  The big deal for me is that I feel anxious, disconnected, uneducated, and only partially full.  My brain is confused.  I’m doing too much at once.

Instead of trying to revamp my life with some sort of self-help plan or a half-baked rule of living (monk style) or a resolution, I’ve just decided to relax with my iPhone and internet use.

I’ll let you know how it goes.  And, if you don’t hear from me except for once a day, please don’t be bummed out about it.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t want to have a conversation with you.  It means that I want to have a real conversation with you.

Wish me luck, friends!


Maria Popova


4 thoughts on “Monotasking, Slow Internet, and the Good Life

  1. Leaving my phone at home for a week.. Best decision ever.. If someone really wants to reach you they will call the people around you.. No big deal. I advise this method 🙂

  2. You really put your finger on some things I’ve been feeling for a long time. About how I use technology, and how it feels like its using me. About how much it drains from my day. And how much thought I put into what I’m going to say on this or that blog (okay, this is the only blog I put any thought into right now) or this or that email (which seems like it should be an enlivening thing, but it isn’t somehow, it’s draining).
    Particularly quick information tools like google, wikipedia, wolfram alpha. I feel like I’ve given them a piece of myself. I wonder how much I’ve handed over my own hard-earned ability to problem solve or dig for the information I need.
    I’ve gone through different seasons where I set insane limits for myself. Those have always been good, but of course, they never stick. I’m wondering if there’s an additional discipline we need to develop? What is it that these technologies feed in me? Can I approach that hunger with something else? I have no ideas. But I’m interested in discussing this here. On the Internet.

  3. Very nice post, Joey and I completely agree. Sometimes I want to throw my phone in a lake…but most of the time I cling to it like my precious. My Precioussss.

    I’m working on two limitations to my phone/internet usage which I’ve found really helpful.
    1) Limit followers/friends. I check Twitter and Facebook all the time. But rather than pouring over thousands of followers, I continually go through my lists and limit to only those who I really don’t want to miss a post. That way I’m only checking the information I want to check and am more likely to engage in conversation regarding those posts/topics than just gloss over them because my timeline has 900 pending items. I currently only follow 75 folks on twitter and that’s on the high-side for me.
    2) No phones when hanging out with friends! If I’m hanging out with folks for dinner or what-not I’m doing my best to stay off my phone. It happens sometimes, but I have great friends and really want to enjoy my time with them rather than being so desparate to see the latest news on Wait, I don’t do that. I promise.

  4. I love this. I hide behind “using my phone for work” but the truth is that I
    ‘m constantly hoping that this little device will help me escape, that if I don’t check it I’m missing out, that the life I’m living in the right now isn’t as wonderful as someone else’s in cyberspace.

    I’m with you – I’m not sure what to do – but at least know we know that we’re going to do SOMETHING.

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