In July of this year Prince released his latest album, dubbed "20TEN", in the UK using a distribution method that is quite unorthodox for the times that we're living in. He chose to bundle it, for free, with an issue of the Daily Mirror. That decision isn't wasn't what got him attention this past summer all over the internet, instead it was the interview he did with that tabloid where he offered this choice quote:
"The internet's completely over. The internet's like MTV. At one time MTV was hip and suddenly it became outdated. Anyway, all these computers and digital gadgets are no good. They just fill your head with numbers and that can't be good for you."
The outburst that ensued was biblical in scale. People wondered how dare he insult the medium that's responsible for many of the things we take for granted today such as blogs, Spotify, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and the myriad of other services that are too great in number to list. But I've got a different take. I think he's right, and it's something I've been thinking about for quite some time.
During the Spring of 2009 I was happily working for Nokia, facing an uphill battle with trying to bring some change to the organization, while cautiously watching every move I made since ruffling feathers is bound to attract negative attention. Sadly, I messed up. When asked if I could supply some sample images taken with Nokia's then announced, but not yet shipping, N86 camera phone by a friend of mine who writes for All About Symbian, I didn't think twice about the request and helped him out. That decision cost me my job, but at the end of the day it was worth it since it gave me some time to reflect on just what it was I was trying to do with my life.
When I rejoined the world of blogging a couple of months later after more than a year off, in my "Hello World. Again." post I said: "All progress could stop today, and I honestly would not give a damn." That was in reference to technology, but today I feel the same applies to the web. Never before has a tool been used to create and consume content, in the quantities that we do today, and we're only now beginning to feel the impact of our decision to be totally plugged in.
The apartment I'm living in right now in Helsinki has 2 floors and 3 other people living in it. All four of us moved in on the first of June 2010 and for the first week we didn't have internet access. One girl couldn't handle it and often went to the library with her laptop to get her fix, but for the rest of us we all just stayed in the living room, plugged our laptops and MP3 players into the stereo, and listened to music while telling each other stories and getting to know one another. It was when that week ended and I left a note on the refrigerator with instructions on how to access our now up and running WiFi network that I immediately realized the caustic relationship I was in with the world wide web.
Everyone went upstairs, locked themselves in their room, and spent all day doing their thing on their personal computers, coming down only for food or to smoke a cigarette on the balcony. Isn't the internet supposed to connect people? Instant messaging, Skype, social networks, wasn't their fundamental goal to bring us together? Why is it then that the face to face time we once enjoyed drastically dropped?
Not allowing myself to become a slave to my laptop, I stayed downstairs in the living room and fell in love with music all over again. During that first week, when the only option we had for entertainment was to share the songs and albums that we collected, the experience of listening to music changed for me. It was no longer background noise that stayed on while browsing the web, washing the dishes, or any other task. Listening to the music itself was the activity, and I've forgotten how rich and enjoyable that can really be.
From that month onward I swore an oath to myself to spend as little time in front of screens as possible. My laptop these days is on when I'm either working or grabbing something off BitTorrent. My iPhone stays in my pocket and is only used when I really need to figure something out, such as a street address or phone number. Just last week I bought myself a wrist watch off Amazon so I no longer have to take my mobile out to check the time and then be tempted to check my email just one more time or read the latest news.
To say I haven't been this happy in a while would be an understatement. Life has become enjoyable again now that I've limited the amount of time I sit in front of a display. My laptop, the tool that I once used for both work and pleasure, is now strictly a functional device to get my monthly paycheck. Of course I still use Facebook, Skype, Google Talk, and everything else, but only to organize face to face conversations over coffee or lunch. The conversations I now have are richer, more meaningful, and all the so called "weak ties" that I severed when choosing to focus on the people who are physically around me, instead of the people who I barely knew on the internet, made me recognize that they didn't really mean all that much to me after all.
With the internet, and technology in general, we marvel at the fact that we can get so much more done in both our professional and personal lives, but what if that isn't the case? What if regardless of how much faster we can get things accomplished, we're still limited to the amount of things we can do in any given day? Why are people electing to spend their free time filling their heads with whatever the internet throws at them instead of spending it with their friends and family?
People today treat the internet like people treated food and water back when man first began hunting wild animals. Any opportunity that came stick your spear into a wild boar you immediately took because you were unsure where and when your next meal would come from. Connectivity is the same. We're fiddling with our smartphones because we think that not being connected is somehow a bad thing. With a device that is with you at all times, surely you need to be reading, writing, watching or listening to what's new!
It's ruining people's lives. It's time to step back, collect our thoughts, and realize that OK, the internet is wonderful, brilliant, even helpful at times, but it is robbing us of our lives because we're letting it do so.
So stop. Turn off your laptop. Call someone and ask them to come over to your place so you catch up over some glögi instead of going to their Facebook wall and reading all their status updates.