Wed, Apr 14, 2010 - Page 9 News List

Trying life in the slow lane

In a world driven by technology and the Internet, tweets and Facebook, one increasingly stressed man tries going app-free for two weeks, and finds he can reclaim the Internet rather than let it reclaim him

By Mark Hooper  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The other day I called someone up. An acquaintance, of sorts. Someone I’ve spoken to by e-mail countless times over the past two years, discussing work. Halfway through the conversation, it became obvious that we’d never actually spoken before.

“We must have spoken at some point,” I say, a little awkwardly.

“Yes,” she says, meaning no. “Maybe, a year ago?” Meaning never.

There’s nothing shocking in that. I’m sure you’ve experienced much the same situation yourself. But surely the fact that it isn’t shocking is something we should be shocked by? Why is it acceptable to not actually speak to the people we deal with on a daily basis? Why do we prefer faceless anonymity? Is it cowardice, or mere laziness?

Of course, the stock defense is efficiency. We’re so busy, the line goes, that we don’t have time for idle chitchat. We live — as we’re constantly told — in super-accelerated times. But no one seems to have decided what to do with all this extra speed in our lives, apart from e-mailing each other amusing YouTube videos. We’re so intent on consuming the new that we don’t give ourselves the time to properly absorb it, let alone reflect upon it.

Ironically enough, this is something I’ve been reflecting on a fair bit recently. For a variety of reasons, top of which was an almost perfect alignment of stress-inducing greatest hits (trying to move house while my wife was pregnant, and having to deal with the worry of unexpected complications) I felt the need to slow down a little. And there doesn’t seem to be an app for that.

I’m not just being facetious: More and more people appear to be thinking the same thing. Mobile phones have made us permanently contactable; remote e-mails mean that the work week stretches into the evenings, the weekends and even holidays. Under the barrage of tweets, Facebook invitations and instant messages, it has become almost impossible to switch off. The idealized version of social media is that it is like a river — you can just dip your toe in or you can dive in and get fully and joyously swept along with the current. Increasingly, I felt like I was drowning.

STEPS TOWARD LIFE IN THE SLOW LANE

By Mark Hooper

THE OBSERVER, LONDON

Mark Hooper offers some suggestions on slowing down — easy, medium and hard:

EASY

Reclaim your lunch hour.

It’s become too tempting to spend the one free daytime hour we have sitting at the same computer we’ve been staring at all day. So get yourself out of the office and go for a walk, find a nearby activity or just sit in a cafe and read a book.

MEDIUM

Limit your e-mail.

“Batching” similar tasks together is a proven way of increasing productivity and Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek, says it is particularly effective when applied to e-mail, which he calls “the largest single interruption in modern life.” Ferriss recommends checking e-mail only once or twice a day, and setting up an auto-reply that gives people a number to call you if they need a more urgent reply.

HARD

Kill off your online profiles.


Already, as I discovered while wasting time on the Internet, a report by Leeds University, England, has claimed a link between increased Internet use and stress. Recent research by Microsoft reveals that 99 percent of men use the Internet every day, 80 percent would feel lost without it and 18 percent checked social networks on their phone before they had even got out of bed. Cosmopolitan even found that three out of four teenagers claim to feel stressed if they’re not online.

But the Internet isn’t the problem: It’s the people on it. In other words, me. I spend so much time on my laptop that my wife’s taken to calling it my “square-headed girlfriend.”

So I decided to do something about it. And in true self-help style, my road to redemption began with a single step: I quit Twitter. I’d already been worrying about how easily I let myself get swept up in predictable online flash mobs of moral outrage. For a nanosecond, joining a campaign against a particular newspaper columnist might have seemed like a worthy thing to do. But step away from the stampede of indignation and you realize you’re just another one of the dumb cattle they’ve successfully prodded. And I’m not convinced by the supposed innate liberalism of Twitter — not if a vigilante campaign can become a tweeting trend.

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