Tuesday, January 31, 2012

internet discipline and information de-cluttering

I've noticed feelings of restlessness lately, in part due to task lists and a myriad of thoughts and questions regarding my work. But it's also due, in part, to an inability to streamline my use of technology and filter information. What with x number of gadgets with which to check email, read the news, my favorite blogs, watch a yoga instructional video, etc etc... information is literally at my fingertips with a touch or swipe of the screen (thanks to the "fruit company" - remember that from Forrest Gump?). Coupled with my anxious and distractible tendencies, that does not make for a good situation.

The physical effects of technology (over)use

The challenge is that my work requires me to be in front of a screen for hours on end, searching research databases, reading research articles in pdf/electronic form, typing on a document, creating presentations, participate in webconferencing for online teaching, attend "webinars" for professional development... So much that I started feeling my eyelids throbbing, headaches, as well as shoulder and neck tension.

And then there's a matter of all this screen time making me more sedentary. I am really feeling the effects of the extended periods of sitting, in contrast to my previous job teaching children, in which I was almost constantly moving. Humans were not meant to be sedentary, and my lower back ache and shoulder aches are reminding me of that. My comical older brother once told me his prediction that thousands of years from now, with all these modern conveniences, humans will evolve into butts with eyes. As funny and ridiculous as it sounds, it does seem like we can head into that direction at some point - with all the time we spend sitting on our tushies. Funny, yet scary thought.

Is technology making me antisocial?

Because so much of my work is solitary, I realized that I need to be much more thoughtful about how I spend my non-work time. I work on campus 2-3 times a week, the rest of the week I work at home. And I can go a little bit crazy not having real face-to-face interaction with a human being after a few days of solitary work. With the many ways to cyber-connect with people - there's Blogger (stating the obvious, I know), Facebook, Twitter (which I don't use), Pinterest (a recent addiction - but I'm not using it for networking, just archiving images), LinkedIn, etc... all these give an illusion of being truly connected. I do believe in how it does help connect people to a certain degree. I've found "long-lost" friends through these social media. But it's certainly not a replacement for in-person interaction.

Also, after having moved to a new city, I have to say I have not built the same kind of friendships that I had when I lived in Cincinnati. Such things take time. Once again, social networking can lead me to think that I'm in touch with people. But that's not entirely the case - as nothing beats a phone call, or better yet, an afternoon tea or coffee date with a friend and being truly present with that person. So last week, I was curious about a friend of mine whom I have not talked to in a while. Instead of checking her status on Facebook, I decided to give her a call. Although she lives in a city 4 hours away, a phone conversation was certainly better than quickly checking her Facebook page. It can be all too easy to just check her page, but I'm glad I chose another way.

When it becomes too much...

When I was working full-time in a structured 8-5 schedule (outside of the home), I was probably checking Facebook maybe once a week or even once in two weeks. All that started to change when my work situation changed - and I found myself checking it everyday, sometimes even two to three times a day. Not so much to update my status (I don't think I need to announce what I'm doing 24/7), but just out of curiosity about others. It can all be so overwhelming. So for the past few weeks, I decided to only check it once a day. (side note - what do you think about this article about the potentially negative emotional effects of Facebook?). But...I have not one but two Facebook accounts - one for personal reaons, the other solely for professional purposes, because I like keeping them separate. And then I'm also an admin for an organization's Facebook page. Aaaaaaahhhhh.....

I had a recent email conversation with this friend, with whom I was on the same page feeling overwhelmed about the Internet. She decided to limit her Internet browsing time to 2-3 hours a day. While I'd love to do the same, unfortunately my current work situation requires more screen time than that. But again, it's about making a choice - given that I have to spend much of my day in front of a screen, outside of my work do I mindlessly sit in front of the computer and search the Internet for random things, or do I make more thoughtful choices about how I spend my already limited free time?

So... I'm making my list to de-clutter and manage the information coming my way.

  • Check Facebook (personal and professional pages) only once a day
  • Unsubscribe from mailing lists that are no longer relevant or in which I'm no longer interested
  • Check blog updates on my Google Reader 3x a week instead of everyday
  • Create short blocks of time to do solid work without checking email; or, schedule specific times during the day to check my email inbox

I'm hoping that with better time management, I can then have more time to engage in more meaningful communication with others - give someone an actual phone call, a more personal email, or even a card via snail mail. I love technology and the possibilities it offers to make work more efficient, collaborative, and creative. But technology should be a means to an end, not an end in itself.

How do you feel about technology and the Internet? Have you at some point felt like it was interfering or taking over your life? How do you do your own "information management"?

Ed. 2.3.12: I have decided to reduce my facebook checking even more. Once a day for my professional/group page and personal page 4-5x per week.

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