Tales from Digital Rehab (3): This Is Where Our Lives Go

Thursday, September 25, 10:21 AM

blog-digital-distractionsJeez,  is it already almost 10:30?  I was so sure I’d be at the keyboard by 10.  A few minutes before 10, I was almost done clearing my inbox of the detritus that I’d let accumulate by mostly ignoring it the day before.  And then one thing and another… and now it’s 10:21.  Another half hour I’ll never get back…

See, that’s the quandary.

Time slips by in tiny increments… one small distraction after another, and before you know it a quarter, a half, a whole hour has slipped by and there’s nothing to show for it except time spent with the RTG – The Random Trivia Generator.

The Random Trivia Generator is not just Facebook. It’s the whole Universe of digital distractions.  Here we see the downside in the interconnectedness of all things. Maybe it starts with an indispensable tool like e-mail, which by now is mostly littered with  e-newsletters of varying degrees of actual interest, each with their own links to something brighter and shinier beyond.  Once you’re in the browser, there are more links, most of them of the “link bait” variety that promise even deeper satisfaction if you just give into your curiosity and… click here.

I’d snuck into Facebook for a minute.  Just to clear an item I’d left in my inbox from yesterday, a link I needed to post to The 1861 Project’s Facebook page, which these days serves as the Project’s website. Since the actual website attracts so little traffic – and conversely the Facebook page gathers whatever interest there actually is in the project – we just redirected the domain to the Facebook page and we “engage” our “audience” there.

Tales of distraction: I’m suddenly tempted to drop the developing stream of consciousness that was forming here in order to follow up a phone call I made a few minutes ago with an text msg.  But when I open the phone I discover that an e-mail I thought I’d sent from my phone hadn’t actually been sent.  It was stuck in a digital limbo called “Outbox.” So I had to (?) drill down into my mailboxes to find the unsent message and attempt to “Send” again.

And now I’m tempted to check the device again to see if the message has sent. And that’s when I realize:

This is where our lives go.

Suddenly I remember something I need to get done today, a task that I didn’t know about before yesterday.

I go to the dock to open Reminders to create a task.  But once the dock is open (even though I’ve got my word processor open “full screen” mode, the dock is accessible) in a futile attempt to eliminate screen-bound distractions…)  I see that the “App Store” window has a little red icon indicating there is an App that needs updating.  Instead of typing my memo to myself I start to open the App Store…. this time I caught myself.

See? This is where our lives go.

And where was I? Oh yes, relating the story of my guerrilla strike into Facebook to post a link to a “business” page.

In addition to the actual link, I want to enter and tag the names of three individuals who wrote the track that I am linking to.  But you know how  Facebook is:  there’s this incomprehensible Chinese wall between the “Profiles” and the “Pages” side of the site.  So if you’re posting to a page as the owner of the page, you can’t tag people who are your friends on the other side of the Chinese wall.  Now you have to switch your user from the “Page” owner to your personal “Profile” so that you can enter the names of the people you want to tag.  And back and forth a couple of times, and another 5 minute task has taken 15 minutes…

And this is where our lives go.

I reach the end of that thought… and reach for the phone to see if that message that had been stuck in Outbox Limbo earlier had successfully sent.  It has.

Now then… where was I?

Oh, yes, telling tales from my Digital Rehab… but, wait a second, suddenly the gizmo next to me is buzzing… is it a phone call from the person I left a message for a while ago?  No, it’s the timer.  I set it for 20 minutes, because that’s as long as we leave the new cat outside at a stretch.  We’re letting him get acclimated to the outdoors, but not giving him free reign of the cat door, which has been sealed shut since his arrival several months ago.  Now the door is propped open but he hasn’t returned yet, so now I have to stop typing (I hesitate to call this “writing”) and find the cat and bring him back in.

And this is where our lives go.

As I was saying…

So I slipped into Facebook for a few minutes this morning in order to perform a business chore.  I also had to correspond with somebody who is hosting an event tomorrow night but hasn’t posted the address on the Event page – which is the only way invitations for the event were disseminated – because it’s at her personal home.  I guess I can understand that’s a reason not to post the address.  Not that burglars are scouring Facebook for street addresses, but… whatever.

So there were two reasons why I needed to open Facebook this morning.  And again the analogy to Overeaters Anonymous -v- Alcoholics Anonymous seems pertinent:  an alcoholic can abstain from alcohol altogether, but a human can not long abstain from food.  So a person who has substance abuse issues with food has to learn how to manage their compulsions, unlike the alcoholic who can just consign their consumption permanently to their past.  Overeaters don’t have that luxury.

And likewise, it’s pretty hard to be a sentient creature on planet Earth these days without having some exposure to the infinitely diverse culture of digital distractions and gizmos.  So the exposure has to be deliberately and diligently managed.  Just like an over-eaters intake of food.

But I’ll confess, I did succumb to the temptation once I was on the site… For some reason I was on my Facebook home page, and before I realized it the old habit kicked in, and suddenly I was starting to scroll down through the Random Trivia Generator…

This is what is known in the 12-step programs as “a slip.”

And this is where our lives go.

Where was I? Oh yeah… while I was in Facebook I was tempted to post this:

“Yes, I was here. I did what I needed to do and got-the-fuck out.  Anything else that appears here was generated by third-party apps.”

But then I thought better of posting anything quite so snarky  – a few words that seemed to imply that the little  time somebody might spend reading it was not really worth the time I’d spent writing it. It was a rare moment of snarky-self censorship.

This time I caught myself and clicked the “x” at the top of the page.  I think I saw three posts before I realized what was happening.  I didn’t click any further than that.

But this is where our lives go.

I’m going to “publish” this now.  And then in a few minutes I’ll start to wonder if anybody has seen it, if the link as has gone through to Facebook and Twitter, if there are any “Like”s or “Favorite”s or, god forbid, an actual comment.

In other words, I’ll be wondering if I’ve succeeded in interrupting somebody else’s data flow, if I’ve shown up in their Random Trivia Generator.

Because that is exactly the way our lives go.



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Paul Schatzkin