Digital overload (or, in praise of boredom)

I am currently reading ‘Reclaiming Conversation’ by Sherry Turkle.

 

This post is not a review of the book (I’m still reading it). I will simply reflect on some points which set the background of the book.

 

Reclaiming Conversation is an overview on the state of affairs for how young people who were born in a time when fast speed internet and social media were around before them, unlike myself where I saw its emergence. The state of communication for these young people (and their families) is a picture of a world that I somewhat recognise but not fully.

 

It seems that there is a generation who takes communication by messaging apps as a default, so much so that it is preferred over an actual face to face interaction. The default of digital affects the way in which such persons interact with the world, in making relationships and articulating their feelings and intentions.

I began reading this book, then I was moved by a suggestion in it that I stopped reading it for two weeks. Some of the subjects which Turkle has interviewed for her monograph had suggested taking deliberate time off from social media and being around their phones. The heightened state of being involved in a perpetual conversation wherein the reactions of all parties are known as quickly as a satellite can put through a message.

 

This is a social situation that I recognise in some part. In my working life, I make a point about either calling or having a face to face about an issue that is really important. For example, to apologise to someone or to explain a complicated situation.

When there are so many modes of communication and modes of expression presented, I do suspect there’s a distinct overload and a reduction of clear thought. In using such apps as a mode of communication, our way of interacting can also be predominantly defined by the confines and scope of the app. We now have terms such as ‘ghosting‘ (outright ignoring a person after a detailed interaction online) or even ‘breadcrumbing‘, which consists of holding a pretence of committing to social engagements but cancelling.

I must admit I’m guilty of the latter. There are so many apps which present so much choice. It is the perception of choice that seems to limit us.

Turkle refers to how the social media age has killed boredom. With our phones we are never bored. Turkle asserts that boredom that invites creativity, being outside of our familiar and our comfort zone enables us to perceive the world in a new way or at the least, invite such a new perception of the world. I was quite taken by this because in recent years I’ve found that I’ve never been bored. There’s always netflix if I can’t think of anything, or my many pet projects. One of the pet projects of mine was to read a book a week. At the time it was ‘Reclaiming conversation’ by Shelly Turkle. I decided to change things up. Starting with not reading the book anymore.

I have a regular routine of listening to a music playlist on Spotify whenever I am walking. I decided one day to stop. I felt anxious without my playlist and I felt distinctly less than myself without it. When I was without my  spotify playlist, I realised that much of my life was on rails, like a ‘rail shooter’ game where the path of the journey is predetermined and the player is given the impression that they are in control. They aren’t.

Without my music I began thinking. I thought about whatever came to my head. With my music in my ears, especially with songs I’ve listened to hundreds of times (my last.fm account attests), I don’t really think. My thoughts are mostly repetitive and do not stray to anything different with the same songs. Without music I thought in an unstructured way. I began also thinking about music. I began thinking about music that I don’t listen to anymore and began to revisit it. I also began to think about Music (captial M, meaning music I play).

 

I began whistling, humming, Glenn Goulding it up. Without my spotify playlist I began thinking about tunes, 3 and 4 part harmonies, piano parts, clarinet fingerings and more abstract things as harmonic progressions. I began improvising in my mind, combinging thoughts and feelings that I do not normally combined. I remembered what Boredom and idleness was.

Nietzsche once said that his best thoughts came through walking. Nietzsche wrote in an age before Samsung bluetooth earplugs that take phone conversations, play music and read your heart rate. I began seriously thinking about a life with less apps, and time away from interconnecting my soul to the world wide web and internet.

I’m trying to rethink how to be less attached to the nebulous control of the many apps, computers, accounts, household appliances and wearable things have on my sense of autonomy, on my sense of self and even my entitlement to live a life with boredom. I suppose it is my way of trying to be a luddite in the most purposeful way.

 

As I get older I begin to appreciate the actions of those Luddites, destroying the mechanical weaving machines. Those weaving machines were a germ of the bourgeoning automisation of work, which we still see today. Those mechanical weaving machines redefined a way of working life as it was once known.

 

Perhaps I am having my own Ned Ludd moment.

 

Being without my spotify and bluetooth earbuds inspired me to revisit my Beethoven practice.