David Levy On the Agony Of Going Offline

David Levy, in “The Useless Agony of Going Offline“:

(He went offline for 72 hours over the new year’s long weekend. Productivity ensued.)

I didn’t miss my smartphone, or the goofy watch I own that vibrates when I receive an e-mail and lets me send text messages by speaking into it. I didn’t miss Twitter’s little heart-shaped icons. I missed learning about new things.

During the world’s longest weekend, it became clear to me that, when I’m using my phone or surfing the Internet, I am almost always learning something. I’m using Google to find out what types of plastic bottles are the worst for human health, or determining the home town of a certain actor, or looking up some N.B.A. player’s college stats. I’m trying to find out how many people work at Tesla, or getting the address for that brunch place, or checking out how in the world Sacramento came to be the capital of California.

What I’m learning may not always be of great social value, but I’m at least gaining some new knowledge—by using devices in ways that, sure, also distract me from maintaining a singular focus on any one thing.

I struggle with this (as I’m sure everyone does). “Screen time.” On the one hand, I’m shocked at how much time I spend with a magic internet device in my hand. On the other, I’m amazed at how much I read, and on such an incredible variety of topics. Pretty much instantaneous access to any current information, from pretty much anywhere on Earth. Is that a good thing? Breadth over depth? Is this mediating my experience with the “real world” – and does the “real world” mean “everything except those things that have a MAC address” (or are these things now part of the “real world” and so the either-or deliniation is false anyway)?

And, was David Levy’s sudden burst of non-screen productivity a result of non-screen-ness offline time, or was it the novelty of the situation that resulted him in doing a bunch of other things? Try it for a few months to find out… (I haven’t. I don’t think I will…)

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