I remember getting my first email account in college and learning how to change the text color. I remember the fight for computer labs to work on class assignments and requesting the proctor to throw off people playing solitaire or visiting non-school assignment related websites. I also had a beeper in college and knew the numeric language of messaging—007734 included. There was something exciting about researching without going to the library and connecting with friends in faraway places instantly with email. I remember my first Blackberry, my first iPod, my first iPad, and my first iPhone. Each device represented so much excitement in the evolution of connecting with others with greater quality and precision. Then something changed.
Being online became mandatory. I had a smart phone for work purposes. I remember early in my career calling my blackberry my work leash. And then, even though I left the office, it never left me. I’d see friends and instead of talking like we used to, conversations started about what was posted on social media. I now had to keep up with my friends’ lives even if I wasn’t with them? And then came the oddity of always being available to answer a call or text. It felt as though being connected wasn’t a choice anymore—it was mandatory whether I wanted to be or not. This is not what I had in mind.
I recently took stock of my digital habits for one of my graduate courses. I picked a Wednesday to document all the times that I was connected to a digital device or medium and what I did there. Unsurprisingly, almost every aspect of my life was digitally related. Here is a summary of what I observed:
- Total connected time 11.75 hours out of about 13 hours.
- Much of the way I consume media is on my phone—personal and work combined.
- There is a major distinction regarding what uses I use for each device, including items looked up on the internet and apps downloaded. Also, because I am aware that my work can see everything I use my phone for, messages and apps included.
- Thanks to the MS Teams software, I use my phone and computer for phone calls and team messaging.
- People I connect with, socially and professionally are all over the US and the world.
- I am picky with what apps are downloaded to my devices. I refuse to download any direct Google apps on principle-because I don’t want to be spied on, however I am ok with Amazon, since I have various apps on my phone. I have also downloaded many entertainment, shopping, and security apps.
- Having my phone around, leads me to browse the internet, shop or read emails, regardless of whatever else I am doing.
- I choose my devices on what it most convenient to my location and which has the most battery power.
Analyzing the observations of my digital diary I feel the gravity of the digital world in a way that is both liberating and confining. I can know the answer to almost anything and work from almost anywhere. But that is also the problem, the expectations personally and professionally, that result in the capabilities of our digital world. I guess that is why the time I enjoy most is flying, with my devices in airplane mode and a good book in my hand, digital world be damned—at least for a few hours.