the internet | February 19, 2012

Alex Samuel: Stressed by Your Online Life? Don't Unplug--Go Deeper

In a recent Atlantic online article, Alexandra Samuel argues that the "Unplug" movement—the call to disconnect ourselves from social networks and give up the internet—is an unrealistic fix to the stresses of our online lives. The real solution, Samuel says, is to spend more attention to our online lives, and to "approach our time online with the same kind of intention and integrity we bring to our best offline interactions."

"Unplugging" is not realistic because our online life and offline life are inextricably linked:  "The offline world is now utterly defined by networks...from the pace of our work to the flow of our money." Samuel asks: why is time management and resource allocation only applicable to our offline activities? Why do we treat our online lives with such reckless, unfocused abandon? The Social Signal founder provides several ways to "unplug" while staying wired: you just need to understand what factors of our online lives cause stress and discomfort and then work to avoid them. By being consciously aware of such internet pitfalls like FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), disconnection, and information overload, we can steer clear of the negative online behavior in favor of positive online connections. Perhaps the most talked about bad habit associated with the internet—distraction—is one that we must pay the most attention to.

Here’s Samuel:

If you're routinely using three screens at once, distraction can feel like a way of life. But going online is only synonymous with distraction if you assume that what you need to pay attention to is necessarily offline. Sometimes the screen -- with that crucial email, inspiring video, or enlightening blog post -- is exactly what you need to focus on. So unplug from distraction by giving that one on-screen item your full attention: turn off your phone, shut your door, close all the windows and apps that are competing for your attention in the background. Commit to a single task on your computer or mobile device, the same way you might commit to an important face-to-face conversation. You can find freedom from distraction on-screen as well as off.

Alexandra Samuel is a breath of fresh air in a sea of techno-negativity. Only by giving value to our online lives and treating the internet with the respect it deserves can we truly embrace the power and potential of our online lives.