• Patrick McAndrew

The Problem With "Always On"

Last night I attended an event hosted by an organization called Company. They host a wide variety of great events and yesterday they hosted Cal Newport to talk about his recently published book, Digital Minimalism.

Cal Newport has become a well-known author in recent years. He is a computer science professor at Georgetown University and the author of quite a few best-sellers, including So Good They Can’t Ignore You and Deep Work, an incredible book about the importance of focus in a society that is so easily distracted.

At the event, Newport discussed a variety of ideas within his new book. One concept that really resonated with me was solitude. Many great thinkers have praised solitude over the years, from Albert Einstein, to Pablo Picasso and Henry David Thoreau, yet, Newport brought up a valid point; because of today’s “always on” mentality, most of us no longer practice solitude, solitude being defined as being alone with one’s thoughts.

Not many of us leave time for reflection. How many of us think about what we want to accomplish in a day? How many of us think about 3 things we loved about our day and 3 things we wished had happened differently? We don’t leave time for this deep, inner reflection, and it comes at a cost.

Many of our employers expect us to be at their beck and call 24/7. If we receive an email, we feel that we are expected to reply right away. I want to challenge this belief. If I put myself in the shoes of the sender, I’m coming at this with the mentality of, “I just want to clear my inbox.” While the receiver may feel that something is urgent and that they must respond as soon as possible, the reality might be that the sender is just trying to “keep up with the Jones’s,” so to speak, when it comes to digital communication.

Though, I also understand this isn’t always the case. Sometimes managers and bosses expect replies shortly after they send an email. And this doesn’t only go for work. There are many of us that become offended if someone we text doesn’t respond right away. “How dare they not answer their phone!” We have become entitled to other peoples’ time, and that is dangerous territory.

In the spirit of an “always on” culture, it makes complete sense that depression and anxiety are on the rise. If we are at the whims of our employers, friends, family, or significant others, we don’t really have time for ourselves. We lose time for our own lives. And time is our scarcest resource. We can never get that time back. In the age of hyper-connectivity, we need to be painfully intentional with how we spend our time, or else it will be taken from us quicker than we realize.

Cal Newport ended the event on a very positive note. He believes that awareness is being spread about the power that technology has over us. Now, it’s up to us whether we will seize back control of our lives or fall deeper down the rabbit hole.

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