Going Offline: Technology, Hurricanes and Productivity

Every once and a while something happens and we are in the somewhat unfortunate state of being “offline”. With smartphones, tablets, netbooks with built-in 4G technology it’s a rare occurrence that we actually have a chance to disconnect from the hyper-highway of digital input.

Admittedly, disconnecting is a hard thing to do even during “Me Time” before and after work. I constantly catch myself checking email, surfing blogs and listening to podcasts. Usually all at once while indulging in my Netflix queue or watching another rerun of that same episode of Law & Order: SVU. It’s a miracle my eyes havent crossed and my brain can still function normally. It usually takes something drastic and urgent to pull me away from my digital connects but within a short period of time I’m back at it.

The past few days, the whole Mid-Atlantic has been getting pounded by Hurricane/Tropical Depression/Tropical Storm Sandy. With high wind, relentless rain and falling trees, many people were forcibly disconnected from their computers, tablets, smartphones and TVs when the power went out. This is usually enough to push most teens, “tweens” and some full-grown adults into full blown panic. Luckily this time around, my power stayed on which allowed me to track the storm in full 1080p, 60K vivid color detail while others stumbled around in the dark looking for a flashlight. And as nice as it was to go to relax watching HGTV with my family, I was jealous of those who were sitting in the silence.

Why am I jealous? Well because of all this technology for the past two days I’ve been “telecommuting” along with my co-workers, working from the comfort of home. But besides having a reason to be a slacker and watch the Price is Right all day long, I’m jealous of all the time those people without power are getting to spend with their own thoughts. It’s not that I don’t enjoy avoiding the traffic to the office on my morning commute or that I don’t enjoy the presence of my growing family but it’s all just more distractions to deal with. The crying baby, the urge to poke around in the fridge, the feeling to need to watch the TV glowing over my shoulder and family and friends texting and calling to see how we are. Even thought I raise the volume on my headphones, silenced my cellphone and closed all the other windows on the computer, I can still hear the chime of all the emails I receive, the phone vibrating on the shelf behind me and the TV commercial jingles that are 20 dB louder than the volume of the show my wife is watching.

Paul Miller, One of the writers of The Verge, one my favorite technology news sites, has been living without the internet for a little over 6 months now proving that you can exist in today’s world without technology…but the real question is, without constant connectivity can you stay relevant? If you were to ask him, I would image that the answer would be a resounding yes. But it wasn’t all that easy to get started. In his most recent post, Offline: missing out, Paul Miller outlines some of the nagging, compulsive, repetitive things we do each hour of each day to ensure we’re not “missing out” on literally everything going on around us and how he was able to overcome them. Having abandoned the internet, he has felt more in control of his time. He writes about how much easier it is to focus on one task at a time, kind of like a mental deprivation chamber, eliminating the distractions and dead-end stray paths we commonly get distracted with.

Though I don’t see how I could personally do all that he has living without the internet but it’s certainly reassuring that commerce, friendship and life can exist with, or without, the internet. I would certainly encourage all of you to venture into the unknown and unplug for an extended period of time. Start small and see if  you can go 6, 7, 8 or even 12 hours without using the internet. Don’t check twitter, don’t check your Facebook, email, or text messages, watch broadcast TV and step away from the computer. It’s scary at frist but once you get over that initial fear of “missing out” you’ll see how much more you can get done and how much more you can do and how clear your thoughts can become.

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