Digital Dissatisfaction

The struggle with the digital lifestyle continues. I have long been an advocate of using technology to improve one’s lifestyle, improve collaboration, and to keep things more or less organized. In most cases, I am a walking solution looking for problems that lack technology.

Yet, I find myself at odds with technology when it comes to making significant strides in my personal and professional goals. I have always required some degree of deep concentration and time to process all that must be juggled. Lately, however, the need is becoming more pronounced.

While reading Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work, I find myself nodding in agreement as I read through the chapters. The basic premise of the book is that our modern technological habits and work environments are not conducive to truly meaningful work. The constant interruptions inherent in being available for quick visits, email, instant messages, and social media prevent us from performing at our best.

It is for these reasons that I find myself, lately, unplugging from my computer and going back to pen and paper. I have many responsibilities that require reasoned and planned out work, which I find myself unable to do at a computer. It is to the point where I will shut down the computer for most of the day. By the time I need to use the computer, that use is already planned out and circumscribed.

I find myself looking back to when my problems with concentration and focus first began. I used to be organized and capable of reading books while oblivious to the world. I can’t help thinking that the rise of the Internet, in the 1990s, coincides with my decline in capacity. I spent a lot of time at the computer labs while at University. Most of that time was spent tinkering, not doing school work. Even at home, I have spent a great deal of time on the computer, doing things that I could just as easily have done on paper. It is rather obsessive, come to think about it.

As I have grown older and am wanting to achieve more, experience more, and as more is demanded of me, I find myself having to let go of technology. I am beginning to admire single-use devices such as the Amazon Kindle, the FreeWrite, and the up and coming reMarkable. These devices are technology that only does a limited number of things very well. No pop-ups, no alerts, and no apps. Ultimately, you still need a computer to finish the work you start with these devices; but, the real work can be done without a computer. The rest is just finding the right font.

Another product that has caught my attention is RocketBook. This is one product that I am currently testing. It allows me to work on paper and easily scan my notes to different destinations. You do not have to purchase the notebook, there are templates you can print out which allow you the same actions.

The products I have just mentioned are not just technology for the sake of technology. They are the result of a very real and important need that we have, the ability to step away from the computer and the Internet in order to focus and concentrate on the important things. If you look at their basic functions, the products help us read without distraction, or write without distraction.

And so, I find myself, lately, questioning what I really need in life. Having mastered technology, I find that I do not really need it to find fulfillment or meaning, at least not the way that it is packaged and sold to us. I especially do not need to be connected all the time to everybody’s whim. The glamour of technology has worn off. I see it now for what it really is.

While this is slightly disappointing after so many years it the thrall of technology, it is also very empowering. It means that I am free to use technology rather than to be used by it. Before investing in finding technological solutions, I think I will first try pen and paper solutions to the important matters in life.

It is so easy these days, to scan a document and send it, or take a snapshot with my phone. There is little reason for work to have to originate on a computer anymore. Back in the days when scanners were expensive, slow, and complicated, it made sense to type things on the computer. Back in the days when we had dial-up and GPRS, it was painful to send anything but text. The problems we had with technology were caused by the limitations of technology. Today, analog to digital takes a click and a destination. Perhaps it is time to go back to what works for us rather than what works for computers.