"The answer, in the peer-reviewed study of the online habits of girls aged 8 to 12, finds that those who say they spend considerable amounts of time using multimedia describe themselves in ways that suggest they are less happy and less socially comfortable than peers who say they spend less time on screens."
I owe my livelihood to technology and I love the raw capability it offers us as a tool, but I fear it a bit more than most people do. It's a tool, but it's not quite a hammer, because a hammer doesn't seduce you into sitting around lonely in your underwear for 6 hours at a stretch clicking on youtube videos and refreshing Twitter. I fear technology because I fear that bad feeling I get after a three day XBox binge I go through every year around the holidays. I fear technology not because I think it's evil, but because it's too easy to start clicking and never stop, even if the stream of data starts to go from meaningful to useless after the top 5%.
I am fascinated by this study because everything I have been doing in the last year professionally and personally has been to reduce the overage of technology and noise in my life and it has increased my happiness by many fold.
Happiness is the most important metric in personal tech. If it improves lives, it is important. I've always suspected that sitting around on the Internet was a sort of rot, but I had no proof until I read this piece on the Stanford study. I just don't know why this research isn't getting as much attention from reporters as new iPads, CEO changes, earnings reports, acquisitions, and other bulls_it that only affects the greedy. People think I'm crazy for complaining about tech news and how stupid and boring the mass media Internet has become, but I think they're wrong. And I think most are writing about the wrong things.
It's the perfect time, with this abundance of pages to read and videos to watch, to consider Clay Johnson's book, The Information Diet. In his words, the book is about "How the new, information-abundant society is suffering consequences from poor information consumption habits" [see http://www.informationdiet.com/ ]. The book also outlines a plan for metering the kinds of content that we consume, as we do with food diets that need to be balanced between junk food and healthier food that initially taste worse but will make us healthier and happier. (For every milkshake, I average out a glass of green kale juice.)
Informationally, we are becoming lard-asses. In the pageview and ratings driven media economy, too much of the content these days is designed to be just like junk food to quickly boost quantifiable viewership. If you make content that is the intellectual equivalent of gummy bears, your site will appear to grow quickly. Advertisers reward size, and growing fast is expected in most places I've seen. Last month I visited Xeni Jardin, my blog-sister from Boing Boing and she said to me, "Only cancer and bulls_it websites grow fast." It's happened to TV with reality shows, radio with clear channel, and it's happening to words online. I've never seen a world-class sized publication that was founded in the past decade do world class quality work. It's not because the people running them are dumb-it's because they don't have enough time to think their work through because there's no short term incentive to. There's an excuse there aren't enough resources to go around, but that's bulls_it. It just takes a little confidence in the long game.
I had a powerful moment of reflection when applying for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute's Journalism fellowship last year. I realized I didn't have as many clips I was proud of. I was spinning my wheels online. I didn't get in. I would say over 5 years, my animal instincts were enhanced to the point where I could guess how many clicks the wolf-whistling mob would provide my website with a high level of confidence, but my intellect was dulled and my patience for books and feature length films was non-existent. I'm fixing that now by slowing down so I can make more time for the things that make me feel good to consume.
The first thing I did was to take back my time. I quit all the online content that was id-provoking and knee jerk. I stopped reading the stupid hyped up news stories that are press releases or rants about things that will get fixed in a week. I stopped reading the junk and about the junk that was new, but not good. I stopped reading blogs that write stories like "top 17 photos of awesome clouds by iphone" and "EXCLUSIVE ANGRY BIRDS COMING TO FACEBOOK ON VALENTINES DAY." And corporate news that only affects the 1%. Most days, I feel like most Internet writers and editors are engaging in the kind of vapid conversation you find at parties that is neither enlightening or entertaining, and where everyone is shouting and no one is saying anything. I don't have time for this.
They're. Also. Splitting up. Their sentences. Into. Individual words. So they can make more. Traffic. They're also calling things stories that are not stories. This is not a story. The Wirecutter leaderboard is not filled with stories. If there's no stake, no conflict, no resolution-if it's not a story you'd tell a date to excite them-it's all marketing. And all we can hope to do is be helpful and pay our bills and then go experience the rest of life. I'm guilty, too. I just keep my commerce quarantined in a really small holding pen with an electric fence. By the way, those amazon book links are laced with affiliate codes.
Tech news has become the kind of party you show up for filled with corporate drones where no one is really having fun, and leave as soon as is socially acceptable to go find good trouble and get weird at the dirtiest bar you can stand on the bad side of town. Sometimes you find other refugees at the far end of the counter. But few have the sense or guts to act differently at the party and get crazy and honest about it at work.
If something important happens, I'll read about it on twitter from one of the smart editors I follow or someone will call me. I won't know about it instantaneously, but I will know about it.
I also stopped reading twitter and facebook regularly, because most of my online acquaintances are nice, but I like to think about these experiences as shallow and yes, also I don't give a s_it about 99% of people I interact with online. I've met some great friends online, but once I find them I would prefer to spend that time and energy with the few I would do anything for. Also, clicking the like button 1 billion times will never give you an orga_m or a hug or a high five.
All this has freed up about 3 hours a day for me.
I bought a model boat. I'm going to built it, and paint it. In the time I did that, I could watch 100 batman trailers (BAIIIIINNNN) or post that same batman trailer and rack up 100k clicks on The Wirecutter. I'm not batman-ing. I'm building my boat.
While writing this, I flipped to a random page in a book about technology I want to read but haven't gotten around to yet:
"The naive optimism of the 18th century led some people to believe that technological progress would lead to a kind of utopia in which human beings, freed from the need to work in order to support themselves, would devote themselves to philosophy, to science and to music, literature, and the other fine artsInstead of using their technological means of production to provide themselves with free time in which to undertake intellectual and artistic work, people today devote themselves to the struggle for status, prestige, and power and to the accumulation of material goods that serve only as toys. In effect, American popular culture has been reduced to mere hedonism, and hedonism of a particular contemptible kind."
Technology lets us do things faster and more efficiently; why would we use that newfound free time to do more and more of the same old thing? I'm not just talking about smarter consumption of content like Johnson is- I'm also saying, fu_k consumption.
In light of the Stanford study I'd take Clay Johnson's argument further-instead replacing junk media with more high end media, try using technology to work and read and watch faster. Then use that time to go explore the world or do whatever makes you happier. Is it hanging out online? If you think this, then you probably have not seen the things I have seen away from my computer. You can argue that different styles of life are better and worse for different kinds of people, but as the Stanford study implies, online worlds are just not as of high resolution as real worlds and experiences. You can argue styles, but you can't argue quality. Quality is quality. Again, Like button < hugs/orga_m/highfives.
Exploring the world away from the digital one is not so important for the sake of finding new ground. Internally, exploration is also about testing and growing the self and to live a life that isn't painted by number. (I think exploration and adventure are essential to the happiness of every person, but I can't presume to present this as anything but my own opinion. Most people are pre-naturally more happy than I am, out the gate.)
Thoreau, when he spent two years on Walden Pond to live simply, wrote,
"Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously course labors of life that its finder fruits cannot be plucked by themHe has no time to be anything but a machine."
Thoreau had to abandon work and friends to live simply, but he was not against it. He just had no choice at the time, given the technology at hand. I think we-and information workers like programmers, designers and writers especially-are capable right now of living a fantastic life that marries the wild vitality that Thoreau experienced at Walden with the better parts of civilized living. This is a life that Ted, if he were still in his cabin, could be envious of-if we could only muster the discipline to get away from the noise.
See, for the first time ever, the trade off between living a powerfully exciting life close to nature and adventure and having the basics of civilized, boring life are largely gone. We don't have to abandon civilization and our friends and our work and technology and run off into the woods to live a simple, powerful life.
With my three extra hours a day, I will often go to the beach. Cook a healthy meal. Do a bunch of exercise. Have a drink with friends. Read a book. Write a poem. Mow the lawn. Go skiing while checking my email from the chair lift. Visit a museum. Get into my van at 10pm at night and drive to Joshua Tree by morning without worrying about having an editor to report to. My van has a bed, a stove, a closet, a fridge and and auxiliary battery, 4g modem and my laptop. I can work from the desert, the beach, the mountains, reception withstanding. My life has never been fuller and I've never been more meaningfully connected. I'm not making as much money as I was before with my hyper intense news job, and I might run out of money and need to work at McDonalds one of these days, but for now I'm using Airbnb to pay my mortgage and it's working out just fine. It's a little scary at times, but I'm going to keep going with it. Having a van is not really the point. It's just a symbol and metaphor and tool for having both freedom and security through technology.
All it's cost me are LOLs and LIKES and YOUTUBE VIDEOS OF EXPLOSIONS and news about startups. It's more than a fair trade-it's a no brainer. And I think almost anyone with a job based on information can set up a similar life that is just as enjoyable. It might take a few years, but you can't do it while you're rotting online reading junk content. Get on, make the most meaningful information and connections, and then get offline. Then, live purposefully towards happiness. Because I've never met a person who spent their days and nights online that was happy as I am right now.
The Right Running Watch -- go to website and play the video -- http://thewirecutter.com/2012/01/happiness-takes-a-little-magic/ ******************************************************** -- Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University 625 Wham Drive Mail Code 4610 Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O] (618) 457-8903 [H] Fax: (618) 453-4244 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org