Death by Information:
April 22, 2001 6:55 AM   Subscribe

Death by Information: "Does the word 'pedestrian' frighten you? Could you survive for an hour without a cell phone, laptop, or - even worse - a television?"
posted by Zeldman (24 comments total)
I read this other guy awhile ago (i forget the link) who would save up all his reading and tv watching to one day (Sunday I believe) and lock himself in his room and take it all in and then be done for the week. Definately a bit stranger than this person's prescription of meditation and smelling the roses.
posted by redleaf at 7:09 AM on April 22, 2001

Great catch, Sir Zeldman. (I've linked it over to an article I wrote on TV Turnoff Week which, coincidentally, starts today.)

While it's not the same as disconnecting entirely, I've taken quite a bit to stopping at a local park on Sunday nights and just watching the sunset. I have a favorite tree already picked out - it doesn't even have its leaves yet! - but I just sit, look, and let it all flow through me. It's easily my most relaxed time of the week. No computers, no cell phones, nothing but me and nature. It's a glorious thing, and so simple.
posted by hijinx at 7:15 AM on April 22, 2001

Personally, I don't think that I could live without getting some sort of information, though it doesn't have to be electronic. A newspaper, magazine or something will do.
posted by Cavatica at 7:17 AM on April 22, 2001

Read Thoreua's Walden.
posted by Postroad at 7:29 AM on April 22, 2001

did anyone see the reading in harper's this month where rupert murdoch berated himself for only having 100,000 'productive' hours in his life? the impulse to know everything, to be constantly connected goes hand in hand with the drive in today's economy -- and i'm really hoping that the slowdown will make this a bit more sane, i'm hoping so much -- to produce, to make insane deadlines for really no other reason than to just keep working like a dog; the pace on these projects, too, is generally so frenetic and rushed that the end product isn't very good. it's basically just like busy work plus. so what's the point? i mean, really, at the end of the day, if you're tired and frustrated and overwhelmed, do whatever paycheck you're pulling down, the factoids that you can spurt out at parties, the arguments you can always win -- are they worth it?

(further reading.)
posted by maura at 7:38 AM on April 22, 2001

...and besides, if you know "everything", or claim to, what else is there to seek out?
posted by hijinx at 7:48 AM on April 22, 2001

I don't own a television (or a cell phone or a laptop, for that matter) and haven't watched TV since I moved to Seattle two months ago. I find its absence liberating, considering I'd always preferred creating things (apps/designs/images/etc.) to accomplishing nothing in front of the idiot box.

It's a double-edged sword, however. Television is the most (and perhaps only) successful example of 'push' technology; the constant feed of news and information requires no user interaction. The Net is notoriously a 'pull' medium in that, if you don't specifically seek out information, you don't find it. My friends are often surprised to discover that I hadn't heard about such current events as riots in Cincinnati or spy planes in China.

Of course, I could rely on Metafilter as my primary source of news, but it's all liberal-biased tripe and ALL YOUR BASE jokes, which would leave me far more ill-prepared for topical discussion. (Kidding. Mostly.)
posted by Danelope at 8:36 AM on April 22, 2001

In the long run, we all die...why bother, seems the attitude of some; bother and try to make a difference by voicing your concers on important issues you read about--seems the opposite. You choose.
posted by Postroad at 9:22 AM on April 22, 2001

I myself have taken that first step to getting out of the house. Anyone who knows me or Googles me is aware that I spend most of my time online-and some of it online while watching TV. I've begun taking herbalism classes at a small botanical shop downtown. It gets me out of the house at least one hour a week and exposes me to something that's healthy and good for me.

Although I have to admit, I am sorely disappointed with the lack of "nature" in Eastern Mass. and on the North Shore. I was extremely spoiled by spending almost 10 years in Western Mass where there are no shortage od woods, gullys, ponds, streams, lakes, and wildlife. It's not that they're non-existent around where I currently live, it's that they are hard to find and few in amount compared to the west.

But I woke up this morning to an absolutely gorgeous Spring day - lotsof warm sun and a nice cool breeze, which will now force me to go to the National Park Web site to see what's around because I've GOT to get out today.

posted by bkdelong at 9:25 AM on April 22, 2001

An hour? Cake. No problem. An hour is nothing. I can spend an hour just finding clean socks. I have spent as long as three weeks without television, computer, radio, any sort of telephone. It's quite easy: make sure you have no choice. The best way to do that is to completely modify your lifestyle in a single moment by walking out the door. Just leave. No pausing for a pee, no quick change of the answering machine message, no note with the neighbors, no underpants in a bag, no checking in with Mom, no turning off the thermostat, nothing. Maybe your wallet, your housekeys and a jacket.

(And free the pets into the wild).

As for Thoreau, he was the biggest faker of them all. He sent his laundry into town to have it done and used to jaunt down the path for a pint.
posted by Mo Nickels at 10:15 AM on April 22, 2001

Disconnect? Never! I love all of these modern appliances and conveniences. My mother visited this week from Florida, and she is truly baffled as to why I carry a cell phone. She said that everyone seemed to get along just fine before the introduction of cell phones. I tried to explain to her that it is indispensable for "peace of mind" and keeping tabs on the kids, being able to call ahead to a restaurant, letting folks know you're running late, or just spending a few minutes chatting with an old friend. And, of course, if the car breaks down on a lonely road...well, I won't ever feel "guilty" or apologize for being addicted to my phone, or the rest of technology. Cheers to those who feel the need to disconnect, though - it frees up more bandwidth for the rest of us!
posted by davidmsc at 10:37 AM on April 22, 2001

Apropos topic for what I've been going through lately - I just got back from a long-needed 2-week vacation where I spent almost all of my time in the woods, on the water, watching animals, reading or sleeping. After many years of the high-level info-processing and high-stress life (that most of us all have), my body gave me a not-so-subtle reminder to "be here now". Slowing my pace and abandoning some old habits are just the first steps. For a longer, more personal take on this, see "Unplugging", which I finished just before I left town.

In fact, it's a nice sensation right now because my keyboard feels a little unfamiliar to me, and I had to actually consciously think about grabbing and moving the mouse earlier - as opposed to just attaching it to my right paw as second nature.
posted by kokogiak at 10:38 AM on April 22, 2001

"I tried to explain to her that it is indispensable for "peace of mind" and keeping tabs on the kids, being
able to call ahead to a restaurant, letting folks know you're running late, or just spending a few minutes chatting with an old friend."

This is exactly the kind of anxiety it would be nice to be free from for a while. You know, things will be fine. If the restaurant is full, wait a little while for a table, have a drink in the bar.
posted by chrismc at 11:04 AM on April 22, 2001

the turn off your tv folks want you to turn off your computer, too.

just so you know.
posted by rebeccablood at 11:33 AM on April 22, 2001

more reading: amusing ourselves to death: public discourse in the age of show business by neil postman. the paperback is listed as being published november 1986, I'm not sure when it was first written.

tv-centric, but postman brings up a key issue that the web has only exacerbated: the "now this" mentality. tv news moves from one story to another with no reflection, from the famine in korea to a kitten that was rescued by the police department earlier in the day. all the stories are presented in a row, no differentiation whatever. each is as important as the next, or at least that's the effect.

I find myself in the same trap, desperately trying to read everything I can (only it's the books that get left behind: I've had 'data smog' for a year, and *still* haven't gotten to it) and always feeling like I don't know enough and can't quite put it together.

it really is desperation I feel. and this lack of reflection is one of the things that drives it.

the classic how to read a book aims to teach the reader *how* to read: different levels of attention to different levels of books. and makes the very wise (to me) argument that reading *more* and *faster* is a useless exercise. reading a few things worth reading, and reading them *well* is what we should strive for. and of course, reading well involves reflection. which, with all of this information coming our way, is harder and harder to come by.

I've said before that in the age of the ubiquitous internet, the key is going to be individual discipline, choosing when to be connected, and definitely choosing not to be connected at times.

data > information > knowledge > wisdom.

I'm doing good when I get to the information stage at this point....
posted by rebeccablood at 11:58 AM on April 22, 2001

"As for Thoreau, he was the biggest faker of them all. He sent his laundry into town to have it done and used to jaunt down the path for a pint."

You are confusing the man with his work. And you may as well dismiss all mankind, because there isn't a single one among us who stands higher than the rest. Thoreau's essential weakness and humanity doesn't change the truth or greatness of his work. To say that he was the the biggest faker of them all is to miss the point of Walden entirely because ultimately Walden transcends Thoreau. It's extremely difficult to imagine that he didn't know that.
posted by muppetboy at 12:06 PM on April 22, 2001

I don't own a television (or a cell phone or a laptop, for that matter) and haven't watched TV since I moved to Seattle two months ago.

I did the same thing when I moved to Seattle, except it was more like four months. Of course, that was just until I could afford a new 27" flat-screen and a DirecTiVo. ;)
posted by kindall at 12:16 PM on April 22, 2001

How is turning off the television for a week any better than sitting in front of these glowing boxes of ours for hours on end?

Anyway, I just got back from camping and off-road cycling this weekend. I hurt, I have bites where I didn't know bugs could get and I'm sleep deprived. I really enjoyed myself.

The first thing I did when I got back, however, was check my favorite sites for updates and interesting tidbits. *shrug*
posted by Spanktacular at 1:08 PM on April 22, 2001

Armed only with a typewriter, a fountain pen, and (apparently) a crystal ball, E. E. Cummings nailed this problem back in the early 1940s with "pity this busy monster,manunkind" Mighty interesting.

At the same time, Orwell and Eliot and Sinclair were attacking the same syndrome of more information, faster living, frantic brains. All of this when radio and movies were about the most advanced technology on the block. Oh, and atomic bombs, as well. Let's not forget those, shall we?
posted by ghostwriter at 3:35 PM on April 22, 2001

Well, I'll be going with very little tv for a while now, since I brought it home. I'll be studying for exams. Going without the computer is more difficult, but since I don't have a laptop, I do that for a number of hours every day. Don't have a cell phone, either.

I must say, sitting in the woods and doing absolutely nothing for a while can be fun. Did that once this year, when the weather was exceptionally nice.
posted by dagnyscott at 4:25 PM on April 22, 2001

In addition to rebeccablood's offerings, is Sven Birkerts The Gutenberg Elegies, in which Birkerts discusses how reading take completely envelop the reader. As one reads a mystery/suspense the reader's heart will race and their mind becomes intrenched in the story. Birkerts compares this to reading digital offerings, which seem to get processed in a slightly different manner. This collection of essays is a great small collection for those who love words, reading, writing, or just understanding how a reader interacts with printed/published works.

I can live with out the television, but the computer would be a little more difficult (just being honest).
posted by vanderwal at 8:20 PM on April 22, 2001

It's not coincidental, I think, that the "modern era" begins at the time when "knowledge" finally managed to evade the grasp of the individual.

Being receptive is important. But inhale all the time, and you suffocate. Spend a little time talking, writing, responding to the world, and it makes a lot of difference.
posted by holgate at 9:26 PM on April 22, 2001

Is there a 12 step program for information junkies?

I know I'm bad because of how many times my system runs dangerously low on free memory. I have way too many instances of the browser running. Winamp is pumping out fast music. I am writing notes in a text editor...My system has 768megs of RAM! Of course, it's Win98...

Anyway, I got to end with a quote:

"Reforms by advances, that is, by new methods or gadgets, are of course impressive at first, but in the long run they are dubious and in any case dearly paid for. They by no means increase the contentment or happiness of people on the whole. Mostly, they are deceptive sweetenings of existence, like speedier communications which unpleasantly accelerate the tempo of life and leave us with less time then ever before. Omnis festinatio ex parte diaboli est--all haste is of the devil, as the old masters used to say." -C. G. Jung
posted by john at 10:25 PM on April 22, 2001

I've been inspired.

posted by dhartung at 10:42 PM on April 22, 2001

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