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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,


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  1. Brilliant, Jeffrey! Exactly the direction I’m heading more and more in my life and in my work. I recently had a “visual branding” marketer tell me my business name and overall web-based look wasn’t hot enough. Luckily, I’ve already worked my way from being swayed by too much “bright, shiny object” syndrome and checked back in with myself and a few trusted friends. Undergoing new web design, will contain much white space, less words, more soft invitation for folks to lean in…ahhhh.

    1. Oh, Sharon, good for you for checking in with your center. I forgot to add “Be Hot” to the list of Buzz Virtues. I appreciate the marketer’s intent – to help you appeal to the masses. The problem often is that an outside marketer does not properly attune the media consulting to the niche market or to the founder-creator’s innate ways of captivating and elevating people. Branding has to work from the inside out whether you’re Volvo or Sharon.

      Exciting that you’re changing your web design.


  2. Hustle and bustle as the new normal is what branding and marketing are about. I’ve learned how to resist marketing’s pulls and pushes but it requires stamina I don’t always possess. Nevertheless, I discover the most profound thoughts when I realize I neither need nor want someone else’s hustle to bustle me. I will continue to learn the technologies that are meaningful to me but at my own pace. In the meantime, nothing feels more sensual to me than holding my favorite pen or mechanical pencil between my fingers, and guiding the dance of composition. That is where I want my focus to remain this year and onward.

    1. Nick ~ Yes, the “new normal” is what we’re countering, aren’t we? Resistance does require stamina. Literally a lot of blood sugar burns to redirect our distracted attention. This stands out to me: “I will continue to learn the technologies that are meaningful to me but at my own pace.” That’s a theme to live by for any of us creatives who see the promise in digital technology and the Internet. Best to you on your dance this year.

  3. Bravo! The video gave me chills… the sort I want to have every day, the sort that get me out of “Wouldn’t it be nice if…” and into action.

    This is the same reaction I had when I read this article (and reread it!) when it landed in my inbox during the holiday. I was taking a necessary break from most media and work, less by choice but because my brain simply refused to take in anything other than novels and exploring my daughter’s Christmas toys with her. This piece pierced right into a place within I have been trying to describe and bring to light for at least three years when my entrepreneurial journey really began.

    My business is called Online Empowerment because I yearn to find the life-affirming potential in the midst of all this digital chaos. It constantly eludes me because I risk being _of_ the internet rather than _on_ the internet the harder I work. Your words take me a step further on the quest – thank you.

    1. Marisa ~ I really appreciate your vulnerability here. So many of us are finding it a challenge to head off the seductive absorption of media and online marketing buzz. A couple phrases stand out to me: 1) “life-affirming potential in the midst of all this digital chaos.” Right. Why can’t it be life-affirming instead of life-draining? 2) “I risk being ‘of’ the internet rather than ‘on’ the internet.” I agree this is the core of the challenge. I’m relearning the art of attention and intentional action. I have to relearn it every day. Thanks for doing your part.