Editor's Column: Finding time to disconnect
Published: Monday, February 4, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 4, 2013 01:02
Intelligence is a tricky commodity. How can we measure such an indefinable and intangible concept? As a society, we trust standardized tests to churn out a few meaningless numbers that apparently dictate our ability to be successful in school. These vague numbers also dictate how we place ourselves on this mysterious intelligence ruler. Our intelligence becomes, in essence, wrapped up in our self-esteem and our view of how we stand against others in the world.
Today anyone really has the ability to be “intelligent,” or at least to pose as intelligent. Anyone can read countless pieces written by the “intelligent elite”—becoming, supposedly, “intelligent” themselves. With a simple “Retweet” click, John Doe can repost a brilliant political observation—regurgitating his friend’s revolutionary thoughts. Does this make these thoughts his? Does this make him intelligent, or simply plugged in?
In the past, those with money and influence held a monopoly on intelligence. But today, we are bombarded with unrelenting shards of intelligence—for better and for worse. Knowledge is currently the only free commodity, and we are all simultaneously traders and shoppers. As a whole, I would argue that we are a much more informed population than has ever existed before. Yet with knowledge spinning around on so many different platforms on the web, there is also the dilemma of information overload.
It is undeniable that the chaos and fast pace of modern society has shortened our attention spans. We love to jump from site to site, swallowing disjointed snippets of information. I noticed the other day, while trying to sit down to read a long and dense article for my political science class, just how distracted I was. I had planted myself in an O’Neill cubicle—an act of self-prescribed isolation. Yet I couldn’t help but notice the notifications lighting the screen of my phone. Someone tweeted at me? Someone snapchatted me? And I actually began to feel suffocated. I was so frustrated with myself for being so tempted to divert my attention, angry that I couldn’t even resist.
After calming my anxieties by, admittedly, checking my phone, I began to assess my habits. Was I unable to devote my full attention to the political science reading because I am no longer capable of giving my undivided conscience to anything? These thoughts are scary, but very much enmeshed in the threadwork of our generation.
It is bizarre that, as an English major, I have never read The Great Gatsby. It’s crazy, I know, but for some strange reason, it was never included in my high school curriculum. When I go to grab a book to read for pleasure, The Great Gatsby is not at the forefront of my mind. My mother was shocked when I asked her if we had a copy of the classic lying around the house. “How have you not read that?!” she said condescendingly. Perhaps it was easier back in the ’60s when there were fewer distractions. Now, when the cyber world is begging you for your attention, is it completely shameful to scour Perezhilton.com rather than indulge in an American classic?
Arianna Huffington, president and Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post Media Group addressed this problem eloquently in an interview with Bob Jeffrey, Chairman and CEO of JWT Worldwide, marketing communications brand. “The greatest innovations in the future are going to be around a paradox. The paradox is that as billions more people become connected to the Internet, we are all going to become obsessed with disconnecting, and [The Huffington Post] wants to be at the forefront of that,” Huffington said. “We want to be at the forefront of disconnecting from technology, for a period of time everyday, in order to connect with ourselves, because that’s the ultimate source of wisdom.”
In this fractured world, the ability to disconnect is vital. It’s something I definitely need to work on. Even more frightening is witnessing how connected my 12-year-old twin sisters are. Their generation is even more consumed by the viral world, and there is no doubt in my mind that they would choose Instagram over The Great Gatsby.
We are so fortunate to have the world at our fingertips—literally at the click of a button. But with this comes a dependency on something that can be detrimental. As a society we need to catch our breath in the real world every once in a while.
A personal goal of mine is to disconnect for a time period on a daily basis, allowing myself a repose from the fast-paced nature of the cyber world. Maybe I’ll even get around to reading The Great Gatsby. In this splintered world, I challenge you as I challenge myself, to take a break. Breathe, and turn off your phone while you read that political science article. We will definitely get more out of it.