Spending a full two weeks offline turned out to be more interesting than I expected. Like many of my friends, I believed that I’d be itching for some connectivity or email or news or Twitters within a matter of days. But I wasn’t. I thought I’d end up feeling cut off and isolated having no access to Web feeds, news sites, email, or TV. But I didn’t. I thought that, by the end of my exile, I’d be relieved when I was finally able to get back online. But that didn’t happen either.
Instead what I discovered is that being online all the time is profoundly fragmenting, stressful, and distracting. It turns out that I really don’t need to be incessantly jacked into the Matrix, that having constant, up-to-date information about all the myriad details of global, economic, political, and technology news doesn’t make me better, stronger, faster, more knowledgeable, or better informed. What it does make me is more scattered, erratic, stressed, edgy, and flighty.
During my two week exile from the Intarwebs, I rediscovered my ability to read long, complex pieces of writing in a single sitting. I regained a sense of calm and an ability to focus of which I had forgotten I was capable. Without the constant distraction of email and IM and IRC and Twitter and Growl and SMS and Web feeds and the telephone and everything else, I found myself more present than I have felt in a long, long time. By contrast, the constant barrage of interruptions and distractions feels very much like a system that appears stable only because all the subsystems are equally unstable. Let just one of those subsystems get out of whack and the whole mess comes crashing down. This, I’ve realized, is neither wise nor healthy.
I also discovered that the lack of a clear line between “work” and “not-work” makes me insane. Now that I have regained some tenuous grasp of my sanity (which I hadn’t realized I’d lost until I stumbled across it again), I’m going to try to hang on to and strengthen it by being very, very disciplined about establishing and maintaining work/not-work boundaries. I’ve been working from home for four years now so this could be a bit tricky, and I’m bound to backslide now and again (and crunch-times are fair game, of course), but it’s a worthy and necessary goal. So far it’s working out.
It’s just time to slow down. I’ve spent the past eleven years continually ramping up my information consumption and communications channels, while gradually blurring the lines between work and not-work to the point of invisibility. I’ve been boiling that frog so unbelieveably slowly that I really had no idea just how stressful it had become. But now I do, so now it’s time to start fixing it.
Vacation lesson #2: Slow isn’t just for food.