Turning Off

Now is the time to disconnect. Not forever, not always, but we need to disconnect so we can reconnect with the world.

There’s lots of new writing on the idea of moving away from our always connected state, from Paul Miller writing for The Verge about taking a year off of the Internet, to Douglas Rushkoff’s Present Shock which argues that we’re trying so hard to live in the moment that we’re actually living in the past and missing the present.

I’m also becoming a fan of the Slow Web movement. Not everything we do needs to be instant; it instead needs to be timely. I fell into this trap this week, as we launched our new app and I was immediately refreshing Facebook, Twitter, and various analytics services trying to see how fast it would go viral. I couldn’t turn off, because I wanted to see things happen in real time, even though I’m actually seeing what just happened in the “near past.” Fortuntely, I was touristing in Belgium, so once I left the hotel I was free from my addiction, but I’m sure I would have had mostly unproductive days had I been in the office looking at all the stats.

One of the most frustrating statistics when launching an iOS app can actually be somewhat freeing: Download numbers. Apple only updates your download & sales numbers once per day, so you really only get to see what happened yesterday. At first I was frustrated that I couldn’t keep checking and see live progress. After a couple days, I realized the delay meant I could stop obsessing. Minute-by-minute changes wouldn’t affect our plans, and would only serve to distract me further.

We (especially as developers) live in a world of push notifications, live-updating pages, and instant results. This speed gives us immense power but, most of the time, the distractions aren’t worth the opportunity cost of slowing down. With an iOS app it takes us about a week to push an update out to our customers so, unlike a website, we have little need to be so reactionary. Maybe my vacation was well-timed after all.

I think we’re coming to a new phase in our tech lives where we discard our always-on lives for a more deliberate usage model. We’ll applaud people who have super-productive spurts of connectivity more than the “inbox zero” champion who can respond to any message in seconds. I don’t see us ever removing the phones from our pockets, but I see us leaving them in the pockets more often.

We built Downside to combat the problem of people always being on their phones when in public, but our team has found it fairly easy to play. Something about having your phone in front of you helps remind you that you don’t need it. You can check that fact on Wikipedia later. You can answer your email after you get back from lunch.

I wonder if we’ll see a split between the super-connected and the “disconnecters” coming soon. The super-connected are excited about Google Glass, where the disconnecters are skeptical. The disconnecters are the ones who have found productivity gains by closing their email & Twitter clients during the day, and have turned off most push notifications. The super-connected are feeding their appetite and can’t go 5 minutes without checking at least one device. Here’s a tip for disconnecters: play Downside with the super-connected and wager on the outcome. You’ll get a lot of free lunches.

Photo of Daniel Morrison

Daniel founded Collective Idea in 2005 to put a name to his growing and already full-time freelance work. He works hard writing code, teaching, and mentoring.

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  1. May 07, 2013 at 9:08 AM

    Thank you for this post. It’s refreshing to get a pragmatic perspective on this (“I don’t see us ever removing the phones from our pockets, but I see us leaving them in the pockets more often.”) rather than demonizing one side or the other.

    Your advice seems to fit well with one of the great philosophers of our time, Ferris Bueller, who said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”