How to Survive the Digital Age

I didn’t get my first cell phone until 2002, and it was a novelty.  Up until that time my range of communications was limited to handwritten correspondence, emails, and the 45 foot range of my cordless phone.  When I was out at a bar or a restaurant, I talked to the person next to me.  There was something incredibly rude to me (and there still is) about distracted yakkers and texters.  Yet, somewhere along the line, probably around 2009 with my introduction to Facebook, and then 2011 with the purchase of my first smartphone, I got caught up in the madness.  I was always on.  Texting, tweeting, Facebooking, “connecting”; I became an addict.  I have become that guy who sits at the bar staring at his phone.  I’ve become someone who went from reading 10-15 books a year to struggling to finish one.  I feel like I’m always on call, responding to a text or a tweet, and I’ve become forgetful and unfocused as I constantly toggle between activities.  I actually welcome work because when I’m in the kitchen, pushing out food, there is no time for such indulgent foolishness.  And in the end, that really is what it is, self-indulgence.  It’s no longer good enough to sit in the stands: everyone now wants to be the show.

I’ve always been a communicator. A talker. My first grade sobriquet was “Chief Chatterbox.”  I’m also a good listener and have a gift for getting people to reveal themselves.  For me, Twitter is like mainlining heroin.  I can talk to almost anybody from anywhere and any walk of life.  It is the ultimate democratizing force in a sense.  And for someone who is more than a little in love with their pithy Oscar Wildesque bon mots, it becomes an addiction.  I found myself tweeting instead of reading, writing, or interacting with people.  My skin became increasingly thin.  One of the problems with having access to everyone is that they also have access to you.  Somedays I feel like I’m getting hit from all angles like a piñata except that I’m the one wearing the blindfold.

I have a tendency to let things get to me sometimes, and to wallow in negativity.  The pace and tenor of the digital age intensifies these feelings for me.  If it is human nature to complain, social media seems to be a pipeline for vents, rants, bile and cynicism.  I’m suffering from acute media overload.  At the same time, it’s the most expedient means of promoting my work that I’ve ever used.  The same speed cuts both ways.  Which leaves me confused as to what to do… how to navigate these shoals.

In the short term, I’ve decided to take both the Twitter and FB apps off my phone.  I don’t need to know what’s going on at all times.  In fact, most times I just need to worry about what’s right in front of me.  If it’s really important, someone will get in touch with me.  The important people in my life have my phone number.  I can still check in from time to time to say hello, but only when I’m home, which is never.  My blog will still link automatically.  In essence, social media will become a tool instead of its own end.  Hopefully I can strike a balance between being on and taking off.  Because this is all new to me, and I can still remember the freedom I felt when hanging up the phone and walking out the door meant something.

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