What’s the Buzz? The Tolls of Our Digital Addictions
At age 24, Levi Felix was absorbed in the Los Angeles high-tech lifestyle, literally living and sleeping at the office and with his computer. Then his doctors warned him: With an ulcer and blood level 70 percent below normal, they told him he was killing himself.
We love our digital stuff to death. At Wisdom 2.0, Lee Raines of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project said as much. We’re producing content, making videos, sharing online. Over 80% of adult Americans are online. As of 2012, 98% of Americans earning $75 k or more are online.
But something’s afoot in this Internet culture that makes many people – however intelligent, creative, or tech-savvy – feel off-center, drained, and off-track. What this “something” is is hard to pin down and articulate. I want to flesh out some of my thinking here and invite your perspective.
We’re confused. On one hand, we see digital tech’s promise. It can bolster our business, spread our art, get the word out about our creative medicine and message. On the other hand we know with that promise there’s a price. Our fixations on all-things digital takes a toll on our stamina, focus, relationships & human interactions, quality of life experiences, potentially our capacity or willingness to think deeply.
It’s hard to think when there’s so much buzz.
The World of Buzz
We live in The World of Buzz filled with distractions and dichotomies. The distracting white noise tells us to “Be Big. Be Bold. Be Sexy. Be Loud.” The distracting white noise keeps us buzzing with busyness with digital technologies at our disposal.
The false dichotomies: We’re either messy, disorganized creatives, or we’re analytical, organized business people. We must choose art or relationships, art or family, art or life. Make art or make money. The good life or the compromised life.
The World of Buzz has its virtues:
Be big, sexy, and loud. To get attention in this World of Buzz, you must stand out. The more outrageous, the better.
Bustle. Fill white space with white noise. Speed is a virtue. Slowness is sloth. Revere the White Rabbit. Get things done in four-hour work weeks. Make your start-ups into lean, mean machines with little patience for messy human interactions.
Bumble. With so many apps and gizmos at our fingertips, we can rewire our brains to handle a dozen tasks at once. (Uh, except no scientific study corroborates that.) You can do it and have it all. Now. Impatience and entitlement are virtues.
Be bifurcated and broken. Work or life. Art or life. Virtual reality or reality. Family or freedom.
Professor Sherry Turkle of MIT admits that when she’s spent a day answering email and getting her calendar and her meetings in order, she feels like “the master of the universe.” Yet by day’s end, she says she’s been busy all day and she hasn’t really thought through anything very deeply – which is missing a deeper pleasure that sustains us creative creatures. “I mean, the point of it (of life and education) is to be our most creative selves, not to distract ourselves to death.” (Digital Nation, PBS)
Which is what Levi Felix almost did. After receiving his doctors’ warning, he left L.A. with his girlfriend for Cambodia. For two years, he surfed, volunteered, lived on farms, and even ran a guesthouse on an island. The device-free lifestyle so changed them that Felix and his girlfriend came back to California inspired with a new vision. They now hold 4-day Digital Detox retreats where techies and corporate types surrender their devices and learn to meditate, practice yoga, and gaze at the stars again.
In a New York Times feature, Felix said this: “I’m a geek, I’m not a Luddite,” Mr. Felix added. “I love that technology connects us and is taking our civilization to the next level, but we have to learn how to use it, and not have it use us.”
Intention + Attention + Arete
I’m still convinced that behind the white noise of distractions and false choices we can craft a meaningful life of creating & elevating imbued with integrity. A life that feels less broken and more whole. Regardless of age, we can learn the craft of writing books, shaping stories, and designing new brands that not only reward us but also potentially change the lives of our audiences.
I think we can join thoughtful digital geeks like Jason Lanier (You Are Not a Gadget) and Douglas Rushkoff (Program or Be Programmed) and approach digital tech with intention and intelligence.
Attention is among our most precious yet finite commodities. We are what we pay attention to. When we gain or regain the skill set to harness our attention – even for the recovering digital or social media junkies among us – then we can make wiser decisions about when, how, and why we use digital technology and the Internet.
When we approach certain digital technologies and Internet communication as potentially expansive skill sets to master, then we naturally approach our enterprises – creative and commercial – with more intention.
Less buzz, bumbling, and bustle. More integrity, intention, and impact.
That’s the quest I’m on this year. You?
Let’s continue the conversation in the comments section below.
Thanks for running with me,