Aiming for quiet(er)

I find myself constantly drawn to articles like this about the benefits of silence, meditation, reflection, getting away from screens, and so on. Drawn to them not out of some belief that a quieter, lower tech life is more virtuous or healthy (a belief that’s often the first step toward some elitist, first-world-problems kind of crap that sets my teeth on edge), but rather because the idea of turning the devices off, even for a short time, strikes me as so nearly impossible that the people who do it must be in possession of superhuman quantities of willpower. My compulsive tendencies mean I pick up habits easily and have a hard time breaking them. I check all the things all the time—Twitter, email, Google Reader, the comments to a blog post I’m interested in, everything—and feel a very insistent mental tug when I try not to.

It’s equally difficult for me to give up working on a computer in favor of pen and paper. I type very quickly and have to slow down significantly when I write things out longhand. You might argue that’s an advantage, as it allows for reflection, but I actively try to work against an overly-reflective drafting process. My goal is to get everything out on the page and then refine, but my natural instinct is to refine as I write, so I try to structure my drafting process to fight that instinct.

The result of all that is a lot of time spent in front of the computer—writing, reading, taking breaks—pretty much my entire day is spent interacting with some kind of screen. And though I think there’s a fair bit of unnecessary hand-wringing over what technology is doing to kids these days, I do recognize that I’m fairly dependent on the Internet to engage me whenever I’m not doing something else.

That being said, I think back to my pre-Internet days, and it wasn’t much different, except that instead of having the Internet on hand for all of my idle moments, I had a book. Sure, I was twelve, but I think it’s possible I’m just not cut out for contemplative silence and reflection. I’ve been conditioned by technology, yes, but not the Internet—the written word.

Still, print dependence is about as bad as Internet dependence, and I could probably benefit from a bit more deliberate reflection in my day-to-day workflow. The first step is to replace Internet breaks with sitting-and-relaxing breaks. See if I can get myself to think of restful contemplation as a reward for working hard, instead of reading yet another post on productivity techniques. If I can do that, then I’ll start thinking about step two, but I’m not holding my breath.

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