Like most of you, I'm sure, I understand the hamster-wheel nature of the business we're in and how the relentless march of technology brings with it both good and bad. I wrestle with this on a regular basis, and while I at least can claim not to be a gadget-of-the-moment-shilling-fool like some others, I can certainly be part of the problem when it comes to the technology-is-everything mentality. I try, but sometimes it's easy to forget that technology is a tool, or a means to an end, and not the end itself. Anyone who has been consumed by the need to always have the latest and greatest, indeed anyone who spends time on sites like this, owes it to themselves to read this Wall Street Journal commentary, which is excerpted from an upcoming book, The Tyranny of E-Mail, I'm quite interested in reading. All we can do is try...
Sending and receiving at breakneck speed can make life queasy; a manifesto for slow communication
The boundlessness of the Internet always runs into the hard fact of our animal nature, our physical limits, the dimensions of our cognitive present, the overheated capacity of our minds. "My friend has just had his PC wired for broadband," writes the poet Don Paterson. "I meet him in the café; he looks terrible—his face puffy and pale, his eyes bloodshot. . . . He tells me he is now detained, night and day, in downloading every album he ever owned, lost, desired, or was casually intrigued by; he has now stopped even listening to them, and spends his time sleeplessly monitoring a progress bar. . . . He says it's like all my birthdays have come at once, by which I can see he means, precisely, that he feels he is going to die."
We will die, that much is certain; and everyone we have ever loved and cared about will die, too, sometimes—heartbreakingly—before us. Being someone else, traveling the world, making new friends gives us a temporary reprieve from this knowledge, which is spared most of the animal kingdom. Busyness—or the simulated busyness of email addiction—numbs the pain of this awareness, but it can never totally submerge it. Given that our days are limited, our hours precious, we have to decide what we want to do, what we want to say, what and who we care about, and how we want to allocate our time to these things within the limits that do not and cannot change. In short, we need to slow down.
Our society does not often tell us this. Progress, since the dawn of the Industrial Age, is supposed to be a linear upward progression; graphs with upward slopes are a good sign. Processing speeds are always getting faster; broadband now makes dial- up seem like traveling by horse and buggy. Growth is eternal. But only two things grow indefinitely or have indefinite growth firmly ensconced at the heart of their being: cancer and the corporation. For everything else, especially in nature, the consuming fires eventually come and force a starting over.
The ultimate form of progress, however, is learning to decide what is working and what is not; and working at this pace, emailing at this frantic rate, is pleasing very few of us. It is encroaching on parts of our lives that should be separate or sacred, altering our minds and our ability to know our world, encouraging a further distancing from our bodies and our natures and our communities. We can change this; we have to change it. Of course email is good for many things; that has never been in dispute. But we need to learn to use it far more sparingly, with far less dependency, if we are to gain control of our lives ...
Please be sure to read the full commentary.