I recently read a book called iDisorder, which was recommended to me by my onii-sanDavid Greenshell.  It’s about how the pervasive technology around us has encouraged the widespread development of behaviors that have the same symptoms as mental disorders, such as OCD, ADHD, addiction, narcissism, depression, and schizophrenia.  I highly recommend it because so many behaviors that seem “normal” now in relation to technology maybe shouldn’t be granted an exemption from concern.

Before I go any father, let me just say that I am not a naysayer to technology.  I have this blog, don’t I?  I also have numerous accounts all over the web, I own a cell phone (not a SmartPhone, thank God), and I probably spend more time than I should on Facebook and Twitter.  I suppose I am a little different from the majority of my generation because I do not have internet access at home, nor do I own a laptop, tablet, e-reader, or any other device that would allow me ubiquitous access to the world wide web.  Sometimes this is frustrating, even inhibiting.  It’s hard to look for, or even consider pursuing, an online job without a constant internet connection, and my friends can tell you just how furious I was to hear that Diablo 3 didn’t have an off-line option like its predecessors.

The net is creeping farther and farther into our lives.  The jury is still out on exactly how this will change us and our society in the long run; I’ll leave that up to historians and philosophers.  However, I can tell you, from personal experience, that the overwhelming presence of technology has had a major impact in my artistic life:  distraction!

Life in general can be a distraction, especially for artists, and the web is particularly seductive.  I believe that the web really should be another tool, and any tool has a time and a place to be used.  However, these days, it is nearly impossible to “unplug” from technology.  I know I’m guilty of it.  The first thing I do when I’m at a computer with internet access is to hop on Facebook.  Why?  “Because I might have missed something.”  Just stop and think about that for a moment.  “I might have missed something.”  Really, if there is something really important or earth-shattering, I think that I would find out about it even without the internet.

My family has never had commercial TV.  We didn’t own a computer or have internet until I was 12.  (Our provider was Wal-Mart Connect.)  Cell phones and gaming platforms (Xbox) didn’t enter the house until I was 15 or 16.  I didn’t join a social networking site, or even know what one was, until I was 18 (MySpace).  My brothers didn’t get laptops until last year, and this year was the first time anything resembling a SmartPhone arrived on our doorstep (but because of our location, it can’t get internet connection at our house.)  I didn’t own my own computer until I moved out four years ago.  And yet, somehow, throughout the years, I have always found out about important things and kept in touch with friends and family.  So maybe I’ve been a little more sheltered in my life from technology than many others.  I know the internet can be a fun-filled place.  But it’s also a hotbed of drama, misinformation, and meaningless distraction.

As inconvenient as it can sometimes be to not have internet at my home, more often than not, I’m grateful.  Whenever I am on a computer with internet access, even if I have the best intention to sit down and work, or even do meaningful research if I must use the web, I always end up on Facebook, Deviantart, Twitter…everywhere except where I said I was going.  And usually, by the end of the day, I’ve done a lot of commenting and viewing, but little research and no writing.  No work-related writing, that is.  If I ever expect to finish a novel, that’s a problem.  When I’m at home, my computer physically has no connection to the net, so when I turn it on, it really is to work.  I do have to be careful not to get sucked into “organizing” files on my computer, but even if I do, it doesn’t last long.  The room with my computer has no other electronic devices in it.  No clocks, no phone, my cell stays in the kitchen, and I’m surrounded by books.  It’s a far more conducive environment for writing than sitting down at a library or school computer, or even an internet café.

My computer is a big, bulky desktop, and I like it that way.  Big and bulky means hard to move, so I’m not tempted to try to take it with me.  For a while, this was a bit distressing when I wanted to write, but I wanted to do so outside where it was nice.  For a time, I compromised by either having the window open or taking a notepad outside and writing by hand during the day, then transferring what I wrote to the computer at night.  But writing the same thing twice can be more time consuming, not to mention tedious.  I liked the portability of laptops, but disliked the cost, the problems with overheating and short battery life, and the ubiquitous access to the internet.  From my previous experiences, I knew internet access means I don’t get any work done.  That’s when I invested in my Dana Alphasmart.  It’s a quarter of the weight and cost of a laptop, has a far superior battery life, no overheating, and its primary function is typing.  No games, no pictures, no music, no internet.  So when I break out my Dana, it is to work.  I literally can’t do anything else with it.  And, when I’m done typing, I can plug the Dana into my computer and transfer what I typed into a word document, or transfer whole files.  Fast, simple, uncluttered.

That’s also the reason I still have a very simple Tracfone.  I can hear the lure of the SmartPhones, but I don’t want to become one of those people who are glued to their phone all the time.  Having that kind of internet access seems dangerous and not conducive to my focus, work, or social life (what there is of one.)  All my phone does is make calls, and send or receive word texts.  Technically it takes pictures, but they can’t come off my phone unless I send them to another phone that can download pictures.  And the fact that I don’t have unlimited texting or phone calls (I buy a card with minutes on it and those minutes have to last), cuts down on a lot of the time that I might otherwise spend on my phone.  Having limited minutes also prevents those “Hey, what’s up?” or “Just called you to chat” kinds of calls and texts, allowing me more privacy and peace of mind.

I’m probably about as disconnected as someone of my generation can get.  I confess that I can hear the siren call of the NookColor and some of the other tablet items that act as computers, cameras, e-readers, and mini TVs, but thank goodness the prices still make me flinch and look elsewhere.  I have a camera, I have a TV, I have access to the internet and computers when I need them, and I prefer books over screens, so why do I need an expensive piece of distracting tech that combines them?  Convenience?  Sometimes it’s better to have a few things be inconvenient.  It teaches you discipline, focus, prioritizing, and innovation when everything isn’t at your fingertips 24/7.  Not to mention less stressful.  When I come home, I want to shut the world out.  I don’t want the world intruding on my personal space.  I am very selective about what I let in and out of my private domain, and frankly, I think I’m better off for it.

I know that the prevalence of technology has affected my writing in a negative fashion.  I’m inundated with information and my ability to stay focused on one task has dropped exponentially from when I was a child.  I’m the kind of writer who needs quiet with few distractions in order to get writing done, but even writers who like working around others I think can suffer from all of this tech.  If you like writing on a busy street corner or in a café, it isn’t the same as being surrounded by technology.  You hear the hum and bustle of people in the background, but you are focused on your writing.  The rest is just white noise.  But the tech is training us to become ADHD, constantly losing focus, changing tasks, seeking ever-increasing levels of stimulation.  How long before “social” writers find themselves being distracted by everything going on around them so that they are unable to write?  I’m sure at least some of you have noticed these changes, the decrease in attention span when the task isn’t multimedia like a video game.  How many paragraphs can you write before wanting to stand up, look around, check your phone, check your e-mail, check Twitter, check the thing check the thing CHECKTHETHING!  How many sentences?  Words?  For writers and other artists, whose work requires investing long hours and attention to detail, this kind of mental derailment can be catastrophic.  We must be extra-vigilant of our relationship with technology.  (Actually, we need to be extra-vigilant period since poor diet and lack of exercise can also contribute to lack of focus and energy, since our work tends to encourage a sedentary lifestyle.)

This fall, I plan on moving out of my current home to a new one.  I’ll be losing my beloved Blue Room, but gaining more space and that double-edged sword known as the Internet.  With the web at my fingertips at both work and home, I may have to employ some creative measures to prevent my time and attention from being hijacked.  Yes, it is more fun to surf the web for pictures of Tom Hiddleston, but that is not what I’m supposed to be doing when I have free time at home.  As handsome as he is, Loki will not help me write my novel.  I’m not sure how things will be set up yet, but I plan on having two computers; one without an internet connection, which will be my work and storage computer, and the other one, which will hopefully be faster, have a bigger monitor, and a high-end graphics card, will be my “play” computer that has an internet connection.  Placed on opposite sides of the room, or perhaps in completely separate rooms, I hope to use my laziness to my advantage.  If I have to get up, walk over, and turn on a whole different computer to play games, watch videos, or surf the web, then I might be less inclined to do so while I’m working.  Perhaps I’ll be too tempted and have to take more drastic measures to shield my time and focus from distraction, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

By the same token, the internet, despite its numerous distractions, can be very useful for artists.  I’m bad at social networking.  I can advertise, but I can’t really network with people.  In fact, I’m not really sure what “networking” even means in this day and age.  My Facebook is just for me to keep in contact with friends.  The rest of my “publicity” is pretty much a form of advertising.  I got a Twitter account primarily to promote my writing blog.  Every web account I have on the net has a link back to “The Cat’s Cradle.”  I got a Reddit account to share the weekly uploads.  I’ve asked friends to share links to my blog, especially if there is an entry they particularly liked.  Writers are at a disadvantage on the internet because visitors have to read, and, with the world suffering from ADHD, a visual artist is more likely to grab someone’s attention than a writer will.  Still, the sheer number of visual artists on the web is overwhelming and they have to work very hard to make their work stand out, to be distinct enough that people will buy their work or commission them.  Still, the internet makes spreading the word about one’s art easier and cheaper and to a wider audience than ever before.  So the internet can be a very useful tool…as long as you don’t let it take time and energy away from actually creating what you’re publicizing!

3 thoughts on “Distractions

  1. I love this entry and completely agree. I grew up without acess to a computer until I was well in my later teens. We did have gaming consoles, but we never stayed on them that long. Back then my artistic self exploded. I spent so much time drawing and hashing out storys to bring my creations to life. Now I have internet access at my finger tips (I'm even writing this on my phone) and so many gadgets and gizmos to drag my attention away that I haven't had that level of creativity in years. A few months ago I actually came to the realization I was becoming the kind of person you had described above after being yelled at for being connected to my phone 24/7. I realized my attention span had shortened, and that I was always reaching for it to see if "I had missed something". Later I read a post on facebook and saw someone comment with tl;dr. After I looked up what that ment, I was taken aback. The post wasn't that long maybe two paragraphs. I've begun to notice that phrase more and more now, and I've since then resolved never to end up like that, where I loose the ability to take the time to read. So in the past few months I've been trying to distance myself from the "distractions" of the electrical world. Honestly it's hard, I don't have a "blue room" like you, and the only room without a computer is the bathroom. But I'm sticking with it and I believe I will be a happier person in the long run.Good luck with staying away from the lions cage. 🙂

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