Disconnecting

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We live in a very connected world. In my lifetime, we’ve gone from people only having phones at home to everybody carrying a cell phone. Half of the cell phones out there are smartphones which allow you to not only make and receive phone calls and exchange text messages, but you can also connect via email, Twitter, Facebook, and a long list of other “social” networks.

As a technology enthusiast, I’ve been an early adopter of these new ways to communicate. I’ve maintained a personal website since the late 90s. I think I had a livejournal sometime around 2002 and a MySpace some time after that. I joined Facebook in 2005 and Twitter in 2007. I also signed up for many of the now defunct (but superior) Twitter competitors (Pownce, Jaiku, etc.). I’ve used Brightkite, Foursquare, Gowalla, Google Latitude and other more “location-centric” networks.

When apps came to the iPhone in 2008, many of these networks became instantly accessible to me wherever I was. When push notifications came along, I became accessible to those services wherever I was.

It’s really quite incredible. The moment someone mentions my name on Twitter or posts to Facebook or checks in at a restaurant near me or sends an email to my Gmail, I’m notified. In some cases I can receive up to three notifications: my iPhone, my iPad, and my laptop. When breaking news happens, I can know immediately. Remember when the plane landed in the Hudson? We all had pictures of it on Twitter before the TV news reports even began.

And so, enamored with the apparent ability to know everything as it happens, I continued to sign up for more and more services with phone apps that can push information directly to me so that the incoming stream of information is so much that I can no longer process it. A great example of this is the new Twitter Mac app that has a live feed from Twitter. Every one or two seconds, a few more tweets scroll by. Not so fast that I can’t read them all, but fast enough that I could sit and read it all day and do nothing else. I realize that in my eagerness to embrace this connected future, I never bothered to step back and question whether this is a good thing.

Yes, I can be connected and notified immediately when anything happens, but do I want to be? The more I think about that question, the more convinced I become that this level of connectedness is more harmful than it is helpful. Last week, I turned push email off on both my iPhone and my iPad. Now, if I want to read email I have to go to my computer and check it. I’ve discovered that I haven’t missed much. I’ve also been distracted less than normal, which is nice. I’m now looking at other ways of continuing this trend.

I don’t want to completely unplug, but I definitely want to reduce the noise coming in, so that I can focus more on things that actually matter. I think a reduction of Twitter followers may be next. We’l see. I plan to chronicle my experiences here, so, if you care, stay tuned.

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