Today while driving I listened to the first two episodes of the Power Down Podcast. Although the podcast is co-hosted and co-founded by my good friend Heather, she doesn't know I'm writing this and my opinions here are completely my own. (The * in the title is to symbolize that it's only my favorite because, in general, I don't like podcasts and have never actually been able to make it through a whole one before. But still! Favorite!)
Power Down is a podcast about integrating what you might call "real life" and "online life." It's about learning how much interaction is healthy and how much is problematic. It's about setting down the camera and being with your kids instead of taking pictures, Instagramming them, and posting them on Twitter. I've spent a lot of time today thinking about the things I heard.
I got my first smart-ish phone (let's call it a solid B student) in 2008, right around the time I got pregnant with C. I couldn't access the internet on it, but I could get to Facebook and my email, and it did have a keyboard. I honestly don't remember using it that much, although I'm sure I did, until after she was born. You know those pictures you see of moms nursing their babies and having both hands free to read or, I don't know, make some shit off Pinterest? In my personal experience, that's some bullshiz. My squirmer required a death grip to stay latched on. The easiest position for me to feed her was lying on my side next to her. So, during my maternity leave, when I seemed to lose much of my (admittedly tenuous) grasp on the outside world, I would lie next to her in my bed, and read my emails and Facebook with one hand on my phone. I quickly became one of Those People, who can't walk out of the room without carrying her phone with her. Who has been known to leave work on the rare occasions I've left my phone at home. Who (literally) gets the shakes when the battery dies on My Preshus iPhone. I have chargers stashed everywhere, just so I never have to be too far from it.
I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing. Before I joined the world of social media I would have said I probably had three or four really close friends. Now I probably have twenty. I'm a bizarre mix of introversion and compulsive oversharing. I hate the sound of my own voice. I tend to process emotions via writing. The Internet was practically invented for people like me.
Yet I've noticed some disturbing tendencies in myself. The checking incessantly after sending a tweet or posting a Facebook update... how many likes? how many favorites? Why aren't people reacting to this? This is way more engaging than that thing I posted last week that got 40 retweets. (Okay, I've never actually gotten forty retweets. At least not on the same tweet.) And earlier this week, in an attempt to be more productive, I downloaded Leechblock onto my computer. Which only served to drain my iPhone battery as I looked up every time I got a push notification about Facebook or Twitter or email. (What? You don't have your cell right next to your laptop at all times? Weirdos.)
I also find myself really scattered lately (kind of like this post, right?). It's very hard for me to sit and read, watch a movie, write, or do much of anything that takes extended focus (at least, not without checking my phone every few minutes). I have blamed a lot of this on "pregnancy brain" never leaving -- the timing certainly works out-- but as I think about this, I wonder if it's a natural progression of the dependency on my phone, the little red numbers at the top of my Facebook page, my tweets. Has my addiction to multitasking eroded my ability to focus?
One thing I thought was interesting in the podcast discussion was how the moderators and panelists seemed to feel like the desire or pull to be online all the time, to be available, was part and parcel of working in an online space (like being a professional or semi-professional blogger, or having a coaching business that generates all its leads online). They mentioned that, when you work online and not in an office with defined hours, it's very hard to shut down for the day and leave your work behind. As someone who makes zero money from blogging (negative money, actually), and who has an office job, I would have to say I disagree with that. Anymore, corporate employees are expected to respond to email within 8 hours, if that. I used to turn off my phone notifications on my work email when I came home at the end of the work week. I stopped doing that after I realized how unproductive my Mondays had become when all I did was respond to emails that had piled up during the weekend. Sure, I probably take 15 minutes every time an email comes through to answer it on the weekend, but it seems less time-consuming when it's 15 minutes 8 times a weekend as opposed to 2 hours on a Monday morning.
On the second podcast today, Megan Jordan of the Velveteen Mind talked about a few years ago, when she moved into a new home and just didn't get cable or Internet service hooked up for six months. She talked about how much easier her life seemed, less stressed, more present. It honestly gives me the shakes. Not the cable part--I could mostly do without that, as long as I could still get Mad Men online--but good God, the internet. How would I be a part of my community? How would I interact with my friends? How would I, you know, buy things online? The fact that I can't stop thinking about this, and how much different (SO MUCH DIFFERENT) my life would be without internet access at home, means there's probably something behind it. Maybe not going without my computer for six months, but maybe for six hours. For the first hour and last hour of my day. I'm going to keep pondering all this, and keep my eyes open for observations of how I now serve technology instead of it serving me.
Anyway, if any of this strikes a chord with you, I recommend checking out Power Down. The third episode was posted this week and I can't wait to listen to it! I'd also love to hear from my peeps how they feel that social media/email/smart phones have changed their lives, either for the good or the bad, and how you're balancing all of them.