Last week I fell prey to the almighty Overwhelm.
I was on a bus on the way home from work, half staring at an article about something on my iPad and texting a colleague about some work, and suddenly it hit.
For me, it feels like a hundred rubber bands being stretched from the tip of my nose over my scalp, a tightening behind my eyes, and the sensation that something really is going to burst somewhere in my non-stop, marathon-running mind. My body suddenly felt completely zapped.
It was the middle of the day, and I was going home to have some friends over for lunch. I called my man and got him to cancel, then caught a cab up the hill, had a long hot shower, flopped into bed and slept for three hours.
For the next 24 hours, I couldn’t go near my phone/iPad/laptop without feeling it well up again, the big Overwhelm hanging around the edges of every email, phone call, to-do, update…
In her new book Thrive, Arianna Huffington talks of how we revere our smartphones, complete with “altars” that replenish them at the end of each day, yet when it comes to us there’s very little left. Where’s our charger? Why can’t we go blank for a couple of hours with a reloading battery sign?
None of this is new.
Open any lifestyle magazine and chances are there’ll be at least one article about screen addiction, switching off, inability to disconnect, the business of busy-ness… Visions of a more time-liberated, leisurely future predicted by people 20 years ago sound completely naive to us now.
The devices, processes and leaps ahead in convenience technology haven’t freed up our time, rather, they have cut down the minutes we spend on one thing so we can cram more things in minutes that have been freed up.
Long gone is the work reality of “shut the door at 5 p.m”. We are attached 24/7—connected, plugged in, wired up, online. So, where’s the end point of all this? Do we stop only when we all fall in a heap, physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted, stressed, agitated and ill? Do we wait for someone to invent a machine that produces more time?
I think about this constantly and it sure takes some conscious thought to not reach for my emails before I get on my yoga mat each morning, not fall down the social media hole for longer than 30 minutes a day, not refresh my email every ten minutes just because. But is this what we really all need? Another thing to feel we have to monitor and refrain from? I’ve never been much into following diets but I can tell you that this sure feels like one of the tech variety!
Somewhere along the line, we’ve quietly downloaded an idea of urgency from technology’s constant march forward—that what is in your inbox right now can’t wait, that the comments on your post have to be viewed right now. It’s all about the now. It’s also the perfect marketing ploy to keep us plugged in even when we walk away from work each day.
I mean, will we really suffer that much if we all just leave our devices alone for a few hours and go outside and kick a real-life ball around?
When was the last time that you really truly allowed yourself to get bored doing nothing so that your mind took over, your creative thoughts pinged on and you began to daydream?
So, how about we come at this with the view to empower rather than bring guilt into the mix. Rather than restrict the amount of time doing the mindless extra stuff in the virtual world, we can make choices that can give us our time back. Ride the train/subway/bus and stare out the window and have a good old-fashioned think; to finish the brick of a book that’s been lying on our bedside table since last October, ignored for at least four months because there always seems to be a refresh button to hit and a social media hole to slide down.
Making some space, observing our habitual tech patterns, and challenging ourselves to switch off and walk away when we might normally stare at a screen can teach us way more about this world and our role in it than any I F*cking Love Science Facebook post ever could.
I forgot my phone the other day in a (not unusual) rush out the door. As I got on the ferry to work, I reached for it and realized my phone was still next to my toothbrush in the bathroom (yes, I had been checking emails while brushing). A few loud-whispered expletives and an immediate rush of tech-junkie panic followed.
For five full minutes my mind banged and crashed around and I felt that familiar stretched, tightening feeling of the big Overwhelm settling in.
I was so swept up in it that I didn’t even hear the motor start as we slid forward through the perfectly still water and into the most perfect, sun-drenched, beautiful morning. As the sun hit my face and the decision to have a device-free day was made for me, I felt strangely calm and a little bit empowered. At that very same moment, the ferry driver announced that there was a whale and her calf right ahead in the harbor.
Damn, I wish I could tweet that.
So, are you screened out? Do you have a weird twitch that comes out if you’ve fallen too far down the social media rabbit-hole? I’d love to hear your thoughts below, and in the meantime, if you like this post, stare out the window and ponder it a while.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editorial Apprentice: Ola Weber / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Pamela Angus/Flickr