For 15 hours last week, I had no email. Not that people weren’t emailing me. Not that my iPhone, iPad, laptop and desktop computers weren’t working.
For some glitchy reason dealing with a computer back here at the office, all my incoming emails — and there are a bunch after 5 p.m. — were huddling in the cloud, waiting for when the connection could be restored and they would rain down on me again.
For those 15 hours last week, I did not know whether to rejoice or recoil in terror. For 15 hours, I was essentially untethered from responding to the world.
I will never don an airlock suit and take a space walk, but I felt akin to an astronaut at his tether’s end: such freedom, such awe of the unknown.
We live in a distracted world, where our devices wink and bing and blink and chirp at us. Look! Notice me! I have updates! This just in!
Email and texts are my distraction.
But I know others — perhaps you — whose devices push out “notifications” like the Hershey factory pumps out tin-foiled Kisses. I occasionally see my children’s phones when they lay them down on the counter — rare — and it’s like watching the runway at Hartsfield International in Atlanta.
Ayden likes to load his phone with apps for games. Each app, when it loads, asks if you want to allow notifications.
Whether it’s a conscious choice or not, he mostly leaves notifications enabled. I’m surprised he has not burned the screen out yet.
In this he is far from alone. Teachers at his middle school recently did an in-classroom assignment to heighten students’ awareness of how often they are getting distracted by their devices.
The teachers asked their kids to get their phones out of their lockers and bring them to class. During the class, the kids would catalog the number of notifications they received. The teachers posted large blank sheets of chart paper on the walls for kids to record the notifications.
The pictures were stunning. You almost can’t count the number of hash marks logged for Snapchat, texts — even Powerschool, the site students and parents use to track school grades, was sending kids notifications...during class!
The students were also asked to write down how they feel about all the distractions.
“Hurts your eyes.” “Forget to do important things.” “Alone.” “Lose friends.” “You hurt the people you love when you ignore them for your phone.”
Of course, it’s not just the kids. There’s a reason why Apple, in one of its more recent iPhone updates, is now giving us weekly updates of our screen time. In some circles of Silicon Valley, it’s fashionable to have a simple flip phone — or even to have no phone.
We are driven to distraction today in ways we never fully imagined — or now understand. If you keep your phone on the nightstand next to your bed, it is usually the last thing you see at night and first when you wake. And if it’s loud or bright enough, it’ll chirp at you all night if you let it.
What’s too much information anymore? When did we become so insatiable to be updated on everything at every minute of every day? And how can we possibly process this and still live normal lives?
The military actually has a phrase for this: “helmet fire.” It originates from pilots who, saturated by multiple tasks, voices and information coming at them simultaneously, cannot process an adequate response. They lose “situational awareness.”
You do not have to be flying F-15s to lose situational awareness. The real question, though, is are you ready to take off the helmet or fry your brain from information overload?
In those 15 hours last week, semi-detached from the mothership, I floated there, unsure of my next step, suspended in my … what? Good fortune? Disbelief? Awe?
Peace — maybe it was peace.
Contact editor John Nagy at (910) 693-2507 or email@example.com.