(The) End of Absence: #A-Z Challenge

“Absence isn’t going to return to us easily. Just as we decide to limit our intake of the sugars and fats that we’re designed to hoard, we now must decide to sometimes keep at bay the connectivity we’re hardwired to adore. We must remain as critical of technological progress as we are desirous of it…Every technology will alienate you from some part of your life. That is its job. Your job is to notice. First notice the difference. And then, every time, choose.”

The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection by Michael Harris

If you were born before 1985, you know what life was like before the Internet. But it’s understandable if you have forgotten those days. Just consider this chart of what happened digitally every sixty seconds last year:

Infographic: Done in 60 Seconds | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

What Are We Losing?

Harris isn’t a Luddite.

Technology is neither good nor bad, nor is it neutral.

Melvin Kranzberg
He sees the benefits of technology but cautions that, “Just as every technology is an invitation to enhance some part of our lives, it’s also, necessarily, an invitation to be drawn away from something else.”

In our world of constant connection, some of the things we are losing include:

  • comfort with the solitude that is necessary for new ideas and personal replenishment.
  • the ability to live with a question until the answer becomes apparent. We want to know NOW.
  • the creative leaps and intuitions that come from dumb accidents and cross-pollination, rather than “algorithmic surety.”
  • the range of perspectives that help us to think more broadly and deeply. Search engines and social media networks curate to feed us what we want and what we’re used to.

What Can We Do?

Harris recommends “Going Walden” after Thoreau’s experiment to “live more deliberately.” Go without all screens for a weekend. End the constant connection. See what happens when you stop filling up the silences. (Note: I plan to Go Walden on Sunday, our first day off from the A-Z challenge. Sue, from Sizzling Towards Sixty, does this and says it’s wonderfully freeing.)

When Harris, a busy journalist, tried this experiment for an entire month, he noticed that he was irritated by friends who paused conversations with him in order to reply to incoming text messages. Interestingly, his biggest problem wasn’t with the pauses in the conversation. It was “with the dullness of the conversations such fractures produce. A divided self is simply not a worthwhile thing to focus on.”

What have you lost and gained in our world of constant connection? Have you ever tried Going Walden? Would you?

 

44 comments

  1. This is a great idea. Like a secular honouring of the Sabbath. I’ve read lately about people (non-Jewish) doing just that. Making a day (doesn’t have to be Saturday or Sunday, but usually it is) sacred to rest and contemplative activities. No technology that day. Plugging back into real life, with no “duties” that day.
    I’d love to hear about your “going Walden”, Karen. I’d like to try it too. Does writing posts for the next week of the challenge count? “Cos that’s my plan for at least part of Sunday, and I’d want to use the computer for that.

    1. I’ll do an update about my Going Walden experiment in my RAW NEWS update at the end of April. I’m going to try it all three Sundays this month, giving it a good test to see how it goes.
      And yes, it sort of does mean that you can’t use the computer for writing your posts. 🙂 Maybe put off your Going Walden experiment until after the challenge? If you try to do it during and then have to be up every night until all hours writing your posts, I fear it would have to be renamed the Going Crazy experiment.

      1. Hehehe! The Going Crazy Experiment, indeed! I may have to put it off then…or compromise and use a writing program that blocks out everything else – they’re out there. I could live with that. Or go old school and use a pen and paper (and then retype? Uh, I don’t think so.)
        I think you’re right. I may have to wait and in the meanwhile live vicariously through you!

  2. I have the same conflicts with technology. It is hard for me to even watch TV without googling something. Inevitably I’ll look up an actor to see if they are still alive or to delve into their history if I’m curious about them. And I have to know now! Giving up technology for a day or weekend is a terrific idea. I am on it less on Sunday and do find the spaces are freeing. I, too, hate having conversations with someone who is ‘half into it’ and the other half into a phone screen. Because the truth is: humans can’t multi-task – we are doing one thing or the other and not both.

    1. You do that too, Molly? I thought I was the only person on the planet googling actors while watching them act.
      You’re so right about the multi-tasking. Strange that it doesn’t matter how much research proves that our brains can’t multi-task, that what we are doing is offering continuous partial attention as we switch from one task to another. Despite all of that, people like to insist that they are the exception. That’s fascinating to me since I can’t think of another single aspect of brain research that people are willing to say does not apply to them.

    1. I didn’t either when I read the book, Sue. But I love the title. Even if we just think of the old chestnut, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” absence comes to have more meaning and importance in our lives.
      And I hear you about feeling chained to your computer. Me too. I’m loving this challenge, but oh my gosh, are we really only on day five?

  3. Because I’m on call for my daughter’s health situation, I can’t do exactly what’s proposed… but as she’s gotten healthier, I’ve been turning off my phone when I go to bed.

    I have truly enjoyed reconnecting with friends and family (and finding family I hadn’t known) through the internet. I use it to research my writings — totally indispensable for that. I love the way it opens up the world — and I’m free to choose which aspects I want to dwell on.

    I try to use Mindful Consumption with where I spend time. But every Sunday morning, I am out in nature, and my phone is not my friend!

    1. Good for you, Beth! I don’t think it matters how long you go without the tech. What matters, as Harris suggests, is making deliberate choices. I too find the Internet an absolutely indispensable tool, but I am noticing that as I participate in this challenge, I’m having more and more difficulty walking past my computer without checking to see if someone has sent me a message or put up a post or replied to a comment I’ve made.

  4. I love the phrase, “going Walden,” and have been thinking about setting limits, too. Mainly because when I sit down at the computer, it seems one thing leads to another, and hours go by before I look up. I have dogs to walk, and gardens to tend! I do not have HOURS to just give away! And yet I do. I’m not taking my computer on vacation with me (I have written ahead for the A~Z Challenge, and also for the 52 Lists Project that I do on Sundays), so I’ll have a break then. I’ll let you know how it goes!

    1. I hear you, Cindy. As you’ll see in the above reply to Beth, I too am struggling with the hours I’m spending on my computer. At the same time, I’m loving the sense of community that is building with all of the people, like you, who respond to comments I leave for them, and who take the time to read and comment on my posts.
      And I’m frustrated with and dropping the blogs I’ve visited where the authors either don’t reply to my comments or don’t visit and comment on my site. I know those people may be doing a better job of limit setting than I am, but if there isn’t going to be dialogue, if there isn’t going to be community, I don’t see the point and am just not interested.
      I’ll be really keen to hear how your limit setting goes, Cindy.

  5. I love going without technology. We spent three days camping in January with no internet access and it was wonderful (January = mid-summer here), and are planning another camping trip in 2 weeks.

  6. I’m probably “on” much less at the weekend, but I never switch off completely. I like being able to find the answer to what I want to know when I first think about it, because if I wait till later i’ll just have this nagging thought that there was something I meant to look up but I can’t quite remember what! Or maybe that’s just me ….
    Socially, I wouldn’t know all you lovely people i’ve met online so I would definitely say I have gained more than I have lost.

    1. I agree, Anabel. I’m definitely on the ‘gain’ side of the equation. I think the book author, Michael Harris, is too. He’s a journalist so the Internet is his lifeline. But I do appreciate his suggestion of making a deliberate choice, and my stiff neck is telling me that I’ve been sitting at this desk for way too many hours in a row.

      Still, I’m like you. I like jumping online to find something in the moment. This Going Walden experiment is going to be interesting. I think I’ll have to actually shut down my machines on Sundays this month or I’ll be tapping into Google without even thinking about it.

    1. Incremental changes? That works for lots of things. If you want to try it, here’s a post I wrote about how to make changes the kaizen way -https://profoundjourney.com/how-make-changes-kaizen-way/

  7. I’ve never been a very “on” person. My phone is often in another room…my voicemail message actually says something like “Hi, this is Pat’s phone and as usual, she’s not answering.” I tend to look at email just once or twice a day, I’m not much of a texter, but I adore the ability to research topics of interest when a question comes to mind (and yes, I’ve googled an actor on TV I thought was intriguing to find out who it was!). I won’t answer the phone in the car at all, and only when with others if it’s my Mom or sibling (sibling because I worry when they call me, it’s about an immediate problem – that’s is reality) – love my “Linda Calling” verbal notification.

    What I’m actually not liking about this month is the increase of time on the computer…reading all my friends A to Z posts and feeling like I NEED to comment. Partially because they are my friends & I want to support there efforts and partially because so many of the posts are very thought provoking. So I’m spending much more time (like hours) on-line getting through email in the morning and/or evening!

    But I think I am comfortable with solitude, do understand the need to not multi-task, and take time to delve into things more deeply. Not feeling any need to Go Walden right now! But more power to you for recognizing your soul’s need to try it.

    1. I’m with you, Pat. We’re similar yet again. And like you, my biggest problem right now is tied to the A to Z challenge and the hours and hours I’m spending online. I’m looking forward to my Walden day on Sunday. And hey, for you as a reader, there will be no Sunday A-Z posts. A bit of relief!

  8. I tire of the expectation of constant connectedness and availability. When I was a kid, we knew that people’s phone lines could be expected to be busy. Getting an answering machine was a big deal. And it was always a guessing game as to who was calling because we didn’t have caller ID.

    1. You know, I’d forgotten that phone lines used to be busy. In fact, I got in trouble as a kid because my father had taught me to play chess over the phone and I tied up the line doing that with a friend.

  9. Another great topic, Karen, thank you. I find your posts make me really think about things and question why I do the things I do – I appreciate that because now I live with intention instead of just drifting along on automatic pilot.

    I am well and truly connected. As you know my YouTube channel is where? Online. There are emails pouring in constantly from people who comment on my videos that must be answered. It is the only way I want to run my channel. I personally detest posting a comment on a video and not getting any response for months or sometimes ever! You were right when you said, without conversations and community what is the point?

    I have a multitude of other social platforms that I have accounts on but I usually use them to share my YouTube videos around to give them better exposure. I don’t check on those accounts every day. Mostly I am on either YouTube or email. Coming up I will add our church’s website to that. The April 1st rollout got pushed back a bit but it is coming up soon.

    My cell phone is always on…even at night as it charges beside my bed. It also acts as my alarm when I need one and a portable way to check on my YouTube while we are out. I fear I am firmly entrenched in the online world. I may try to go Walden one day soon just to see how it affects me and my life, purely out of interest. I will let you know if or when that happens. Have a restful Sunday every weekend with your going Walden times.

    1. Hi Susan,
      Different strokes for different folks, for sure. We each do what works for us. If I were living your life, I’d probably do everything you are doing with the exception of checking YouTube when away from home. I do very firmly believe in replying to comments, but I figure that as long as it happens the same day that’s more than good enough.
      I’ll provide a Walden update at the end of the month.

  10. When my son was young, Sunday was ‘family day’. We did things together like play board games or hike. Time to “get back to basics”…

    1. Yes I’m with you, Cheryl. The nonstop technology use by kids really concerns me. Harris didn’t address that too much in his book, or at least I didn’t pay a lot of attention to it because I don’t have kids, but I do know that there isn’t one speck of research supporting the amount of time children are hooked to technology.

  11. I think “going Walden” is a fantastic idea. I am one of those strange people who has a flip phone, doesn’t get on facebook or any of the other social media sites. I firmly believe that we are losing the art of communication – and I find that sad. My grandchildren are glued to their technology every chance they get and I fear for the generations to come; how will they ever talk to one another if they don’t know how, and how can we teach them to let go of something that is so addictive? Perhaps “going Walden” is a good start.

    1. I agree, Anna. It’s a source of great and grave concern. And I don’t think this is the older generation’s version of “walking to school in our bare feet through the snow.” I think this is a sea-change we’re experiencing and we need to take action. I’m looking forward to going Walden.

  12. I love my technology. I can, and often do, spend hours immersed in it. On the other hand, I am also ok about unplugging.

    The last significant disconnection I had was the summer before last when I spent 3 days on an island up north with no electricity, no cell, no internet. The pace of life changes significantly without the distraction of technology. Contemplating life while sitting on a dock drinking coffee in the early morning hours is very different when there is no siren call of the small screen.

    I found the list of things that we ‘lose’ from technology very interesting, especially the last point that it may in fact be making us more myopic in our perspectives. Proponents are always saying that we have the world at our fingertips. That’s not quite true, is it? We really only access that portion which pre-determined algorithms deem consistent with our *needs*.

    1. Hi Joanne – I love my tech too, although for me the screen isn’t very small. I use my iMac 99% of the time. I absolutely detest my cell phone, turning it on maybe once a month for a minute’s call.

      I’ve forgotten what it feels like to have a run of time without the internet. Your three days up north sound idyllic to me.

  13. I rely on technology in my everyday life, but I do rather pine for the days before the ubiquitous smart phone and 24 hour news cycle. It’s so true that as we are drawn toward something, we are also drawn away from something else. I love the idea of “going Walden!” Maybe after A to Z. I think I will have earned it 🙂

  14. I’m conflicted, as no doubt we’ve lost the touch of personal connection, yet can’t keep away from being connected too long. And here we are, overly connected for a whole month. 🙂
    Great post with a lot to think about. Thank you.

    1. Thanks so much for visiting, Silvia, and for your comment. I’m happy to learn of your site and have popped in to read and write comments for your B through E posts. I’ll continue to read and comment from here on out. Looking forward to seeing what you do with F.

  15. Hi, Karen – I agree that mindfully giving ourselves some screen-free time, on a consistent basis, can help to restore much needed balance. At my last school, we had ‘Screen Free Fridays’. It was wonderful to watch the other activities that quickly took place of screens on Fridays (outdoor play, library use, conversation and longer time spent eating lunch….to name only a few)!

    1. That’s a great idea, Donna. And I remember not that long ago when you decided to spend less time at your computer. The A-Z challenge aside, how’s that going?

  16. Because I have 3 children (16, 19, 21) living across the country — I keep my phone nearby but I do enjoy the computer free hours that I try to fit in — at least on weekends. And, of course, I find I am much more able to unplug in the nicer weather — so I am looking forward to spring and summer. I do love the phrase ‘Going Walden’!

    1. That’s a good point, Janet – that it is easier to unplug in better weather. I’m looking forward to that too. I think that phone conversations can be a great form of connection although I imagine with the ages of your kids, there’s more texting (which feels like computer work) than voice?

  17. It is just incredible how technology, and mainly our devices, rule (ruin) our world. It’s as bad as any other addiction, if not worse. There are many benefits, of course, but I feel they are in charge of our time and attention span now, instead of the (be)holder.

    I’ve always been annoyed with TVs being on as background noise when I visited people in the past. Worse is when their phone draws their attention more than I do, in the rare events that I actually meet up with someone. Luckily, because I rarely see friends back in Belgium, the phone usually remains hidden. 🙂

    I don’t have a phone, so you’ll never see me glance away. Plus, I believe in good and powerful connections and conversations in real life, so I wouldn’t tolerate those distractions from others (without saying anything about it). The only time one of my friends grabbed her phone, was – after an apology – to check on a message of her daughter, to make sure she was safe. I have to be OK with that. 🙂

    As far as my laptop goes… I sit behind it all week to work, so I gladly leave it off during the weekend, whenever possible. I have to admit I’ve never totally ignored social media for a full 24 hours, except, when we went away for the weekend in our van. Yep, I need more practice with that! I do look forward to less screen time in the future, though. I can’t wait, to be honest. But first, some major projects need to get finished.

    1. I admire how strong you are in your convictions, Liesbet. I truly think it is terrific that you know and act on exactly what you value. I suspect that you’d be a wonderful person to talk with in person, for many reasons, one of which is that you haven’t been tainted by the draw of technology. Cell phone distraction is at epidemic levels, including driving while talking or texting, and it makes me crazy. I admire you for living a life that is already Walden in many respects.

      1. Thank you for all these compliments, Karen. I’m sure you and I could have some interesting conversations.

        The texting and driving is one of the most annoying and dangerous phenomena of this era! As far as the going Walden for me, I wish I could agree with you on that. I might not have a phone, but I am “attached” to my computer and the internet as long as I need to make a living. And, for social reasons as well. 🙂

    1. Isn’t it great? Some people feel connected when they carry their phone every minute of every day. I just feel tethered.
      Thanks for reading and commenting, Shirley.

  18. Rob and I like to go camping in wilderness areas where there is no Internet, or even cell coverage (yes, there still are places like that in Canada!). However, even then, we still find ourselves using our iPads after dinner in the evenings when we are relaxing. Rob likes to read novels on his screen rather than reading physical books because he can adjust the font and light level for his mature eyes. I still prefer to read physical books, but I write fiction, articles, etc., on my iPad when I am traveling then email the files to myself when back in an area of coverage. We charge them on the truck battery, or by plugging them into electrical sockets along the way (at campsites, in restaurants, and so on). However, I always feel more connected to the landscape and the events of my life when away from the Internet/cell coverage — as well as to Rob. When at home, many evenings we will both be sitting in our living room together, but staring at our separate screens. I do not think that it is good for IRL relationships.

    Jude

    1. Your experiences clearly show both the advantages and the drawbacks of technology, Jude. We wouldn’t want to be without it. At the same time, it’s so important to actively make choices as to when and how we use it.

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