Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

Shut Up!

Quitting chatter and going offline are having a moment.

Tue, Jul 30, 2013, 13:34


I read Charlie Brooker’s latest (and last for a while) column on “reducing word emissions” yesterday in some rare quiet time on a train while my phone was dead for pretty much an entire day and I managed to enjoy several hours offline, something that I’m finding increasingly welcome. Instead of being a phone zombie, I read some newspapers and wrote in a notepad. My aversion to screens appears to be growing more intense.

Anyway, Brooker is dead right. The niggling feeling he’s articulating has been at him for some time. People who give out about the inanity of Twitter are met with a barrage of opposition from Twitter evangelists. But obviously, most of the chatter on Twitter is pointless, in the same way that most of everything is below average; most music, most TV, most media, most conversations. But his remarks about “Events and noise, events and noise; everything was starting to resemble nothing but events and noise,” is perhaps more pertinent. News cycles are increasingly structured around incident and reaction. There is so much space to fill and so the tiniest incidents get analyzed and reacted to because everyone must have an opinion and ‘news’ itself – if you can even call it that anymore – is increasingly moving towards opinion, comment and reaction. That drive is because an awful lot of reporting in newspapers is redundant because everyone knows the facts about something almost as soon as it happens due to internet news cycles, and so we look to newspapers for something more ‘dissectionist’ (to coin an ugly new word) or reflective. So the news cycle which used to be: something happens – what happened – what does that mean, quickly compresses to something happens – instant reportage – what does that mean – what do I think – what do other people thing – what does it mean that other people think that – what does all this mean in some kind of abstract gigantic context – what did celebrities say about it on Twitter – what do you think.

And on top of this ‘noise’ element, is the urge to disconnect from it all. If only for some bloody peace and quiet.

For some further reading (*irony klaxon*), I wrote this post recently about experience being an offline thang.

The whole downsizing one’s communication is pretty hot right now. On the cover of the most recent issue of Fast Company, there was this article by Baratunde Thurston about his digital departure for 25 days. It’s quite self-involved (how could it not be, I suppose), but he does come to some interesting realisations that I think are common amongst many people at the moment, such as:

“I am neither a Luddite nor a hermit, but I am more aware of the price we pay: lack of depth, reduced accuracy, lower quality, impatience, selfishness, and mental exhaustion, to name but a few. In choosing to digitally enhance, hyperconnect, and constantly share our lives, we risk not living them. We have collectively colluded to take this journey, but we’ve done so inches at a time, not realizing that we have traveled leagues in the process.”

That sentiment goes back to the tipping point of this Jonathan Safran Foer commencement address which I’ve linked to several times, but is really worth highlighting again.

Or there’s this article by Paul Miller who was 26 and burnt out when he went offline for a year.

You’re going to see more and more articles about technology detoxes over the next six months or so as this sentiment bleeds into the mainstream, and it’s an interesting conversation that inevitably will become a gimmick or a self-satisfied state. Or perhaps it will just become increasingly reacted to and analyzed, because hey, we all have something to say now and somewhere to say it so let’s fill every possible void. Even if it doesn’t actually serve any purpose.