Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Balancing Act

While tuned in to NPR as I drove between Alabama and Georgia on Sunday, I listened with great interest to an interview with Sherry Turkle, a Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at MIT.

Among the many topics discussed, there was an in depth conversation about our attachment to technology and how being constantly connected can lead to a new kind of loneliness and a new found social anxiety.

I found myself nodding vigorously as the conversation progressed. Yes, I know how that feels, I thought, as the interviewer confessed a compulsion to check her e-mail constantly, to obsessively follow up on blog comments, to answer every e-mail in her inbox before it becomes unmanageable, to post facebook statuses that look as if she is witty but not trying too hard. And to do all of this while being fully present in real life.

I don't think this anxiety is news to anyone. I suffer from it: big time. I'm nervous that I'm not living my actual life to it's fullest because my finger is scrolling to find a new e-mail. I'm worried about not being conscientious enough with my responsibilities in the digital world ('she read my blog today, what happens if I don't read her blog today?')

What did surprise me is that this panic is widespread, that people are desperate to find the right balance, that, as a society, we are unhappy about not being able to find it. And Turkle is not some kind of luddite. She's not recommending we shut out the digital world entirely. Technology is her life's work. She's been advocating for it her entire career. Instead, she's ready to start a dialogue about it.

This conversation was eye-opening for me because I feel pretty good about most of the ways I balance my time on the internet. A lot of the 'inadequacies' I feel in the digital space, I've been able to accept. I can't get to everyone. I can't do everything.

Except for one thing: I am very worried about my obsession with checking my e-mail. I used to have a really great system. I only checked it once a day and answered all of my e-mails in the evening. I felt really good about that system.

Since getting a smart phone, however, my finger is constantly at the ready, desperately searching for the alert that someone e-mailed me. I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that I check it at least 100 times a day and it distracts me from many other things. (As a side note: all of this started when I began querying agents last year.)

So, I've officially decided to leave my smart phone home during the day and go back to that system of checking and replying to my personal e-mail only in the evening. By the way, I don't want anyone to read this post and stop e-mailing me or something. Because it would make me cry if all I got were ads. (See. Anxiety.)

I'd love to know if you're worried about striking the right balance between your real life and your digital life? Does it freak you out that there is actually a distinction between the two? (It totally freaks me out.)

And a quick reminder about my giveaway to win a collection of Beth Kephart books. You do not want to miss this.


  1. You are a brave woman! I find myself checking throughout the day as well, but I do turn my phone off at work, so I won't have the distraction. Interesting topic.

  2. I do all my online activity during the day, mostly in the morning. That way I can spend time with my family at night, and veg out watching sports on TV.

    I can see how it can be a problem though. For example when I'm on vacation I freak out a little bit if I don't have connectivity. I need to be able to let go of that.

  3. Great topic. Besides the expense factor, I'm hesitant to have a smart phone for the reason you mention--it would invade places where I usually have some mental space to think and daydream and create, like my train commute.

    My hubby has a much worse addiction to social media than I do--constantly tweeting and google+-ing every interesting thing he reads, photos of what he cooks, etc. I tend to underutilize it, and wonder if I come off as standoffish, when in truth I just can't give it that much time. Especially now that my hubby has to use my computer for class prep in the evenings--his new laptop won't be ready to pick up until next week.

  4. I have decided I'm not allowed a smart phone. I'm too obsessive. I need the break. And still, when I'm gone ALL day - for the first hour I'm all anxious about email and then it doesn't hit again until I'm almost home.

  5. I'm constantly struggling with this, but it's changed over time. I find myself wanting to check my email constantly and pop back on Twitter to see what's going on--which is seriously distracting when I'm supposed to be focusing on writing a scene or edit something that I'm struggling over.

  6. I loved the connections I made with writerly people when Twitter was new to me 2 years ago. But now that I've been actively tweeting for over a year, the "new toy" gleam of it has faded, and it's now in check. It helps that I have categorized other SM vehicles: facebook (which I barely tolerate) is only for family; blogging is for when I have something to share; email is for longer correspendence with close friends; goodreads is to keep my to-read stack organized...
    At the end of the day, I view tech/SM as I view any other tech: tools to make my life easier, not something I need to be anxious about. Once I see that I'm not the one in control (of anything) I immediately take a break from it and focus on the REAL priorities of life.

  7. I check my emails so often, even when I'm not expecting anything, that it actually worries me.

  8. Oh my goodness, I needed to hear that interview! My husband got me an itouch which shows me all 3 email boxes at a time! Good because my work comes in so randomly that I do need to check it often in the day. Just not THAT often. I need to find a system.

    And yes, querying has made me batty about it!

  9. My SIL and I were just talking about this, I think she heard the same NPR thing. I wish I didn't have internet at my work. I check my e-mail WAY too much, and it's only gotten worse with having a blog. I really want to strike a balance. I guess I need rules for myself or something. Thanks for the post, I don't feel alone in this.

  10. I have a smartphone, too, and am constantly checking my email. I also feel that anxiety about finding the time to read and comment on other people's blogs, which I do enjoy doing. But people in my real life must take precedence. Since I joined Twitter, I barely go on Facebook now. I don't know how people have time for twitter, facebook, and google+