"Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life."
Our second Single-Tasking Sunday occurred the same day Virginia Heffernan's column, debunking the notion of Internet addiction, appeared in the New York Times. New pastimes have often drawn widespread condemnation, she noted, but today's Web-enmeshed folks are merely finding new ways to play, do some intellectual exploration, and (yes) waste time that might be used clearning house.
At first, this might seem to rebuke my efforts to create a day each week that isn't dominated by the Internet and electronic doo-dads. I don't think so, in part because I believe Heffernan is largely correct.
After all, I spent a day last week hosting a Facebook thread about Paul Ryan's proposed budget, a sometimes fierce blow-by-blow that featured contributions from really smart and passionate people from coast-to-coast--some of whom I have never met in person, but whose place in my circle of online friends I find nonetheless enriching.
And on Saturday night, we hosted--in person--new friends here in Philadelphia whome we'd most likely never met without Facebook. They were friends of a Facebook friend, another man whom I've not met in "real life," but whose interactions I've valued. He recommended we me Joe and Stephanie, Philadelphia residents whose daughter is just a little younger than our son. It's been a real pleasure getting to know them. And I can provide several more examples of how Facebook and Twitter have widened our circle of attachments here and thus rooted us more deeply in Philadelphia. Many of the good things that have happened in my life have been connected, in some way, to the rise of the Internet during my adult life.
There is one thing the Web does not give me, and that is a few moments of quiet, a chance to sit, to watch people walk by my front door, to be bored, to be at a momentary loss for what to do next. It is always there--especially in this still-young era of the mobile Web--coloring in the blank spaces.
I don't know how to explain the worth of my one-a-week down time, then, except to note that I find it valuable. So many days of the week, I wake up and plunge straight into cyberworld, sometimes not coming up for air again until it is time to sleep. The self-enforced day off from that world distrupts the pattern, lets me think more clearly, lets me think without distraction, and gives me space to think about how to live more intentionally the other six days a week.
Heffernan suggests it's not such a bad thing to be distracted from our most depressive and anguished thoughts by an immersive pastime--and, true, angst is way overrated-- but I can't help but suspect that complete and total distraction is somehow hollow. Perhaps I'm a Puritan after all.
But I don't think so. I do not rebuke the blessings of the Internet--I'm not wearing the Information Age equivalent of a hair shirt--but neither do I surrender completely to its charms. One day a week spent drying off next to the digital pool isn't the first step toward giving up swimming. It's an attempt at balance, an effort to ensure that the fingers of my experience (to stretch a metaphor way too far) aren't always pruney.