It started in my business world. Long gone were the days where leaving work meant you were out of touch with your office except for the rare phone call relegated to extreme emergencies (like, your place of work just burned down). Then there was email.
Email proved more invasive. Bosses could send you messages after work hours. Even if you didn’t respond, unless you avoided email altogether in the evening you still saw it, and read it, and fretted over it since it usually meant some pending crisis that you would have to deal with first thing the next morning. Over time those emails became more urgent and you would find yourself forced to deal with them more immediately.
That immediacy became even more the norm after cell phones. Now you could be reached after hours, while at lunch, while driving away from work, or while vacationing at Disneyland. There is nothing like feeling a phone buzz in your pocket as you are being hurtled around in the darkness of Space Mountain to bring home the point that you can’t get away anywhere.
Now we have texting, smartphones, instant messaging, Facebook notifications, and Snapchat. We are never out of contact with the outside world. Not only can your office find you, but all your friends, family, and, too often, complete strangers. Many years ago I found an internet cafe in Beijing to deal respond to urgent requests about a work project; today we can immediately video chat in the middle of the ocean on the phone that rarely leaves my body.
This constant contact with the world can be draining. I remind myself that I don’t have to bring my phone with me when I go hiking, but then again, what if there is an emergency, I say. So it stays with me. I do turn it off to save the battery and remove the distraction, but it is there, and it beckons me as the One Ring beckoned the darkness. Of course, as soon as I turn it on I am bombarded with latent text messages, phone beeps, and social media app notifications. The invasion is constant.
Psychologists tell us it is important to have some “me” time. This is especially true for the kind of introverts that so often find themselves as writers. Get away for a while, leave the phone and tablet and laptop and smart watch at home. Find a woodland trail to hike or bike. Do some activity where it is possible to be alone. Disconnect from the world temporarily.
It does wonders for the psyche.
Don’t worry, people will still be there waiting for your return, along with the buzzes, the rings, the beeps, the notifications.
David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.