Turn Off, Tune Out, Drop Into the Unwired Place

Take a deep breath and unplug

I've always been fascinated by the left-field ascent of a trend, a movement, even just a turn of phrase, as when snark … the word … went from non sequitur to ubiquity to backlash in the blink of an eye, or when that Hasidic reggae rapper starting popping up everywhere. And while we're at it … there's the increase in the arbitrary insertion of a period to create a sort of oh-so-clever stopgap, followed by a sentence fragment.

Which totally drives me crazy.

All of this is a roundabout way of getting at something … a notion, maybe a movement in the making … that suddenly seemed inescapable, at least to me, a non-techie, this week. It's the idea of unplugging … from the Internet, e-mail, Blackberries and iPods, modern living in general. My pal Beau, a professional screenwriter, went cold turkey back in January and said he loved it. (Granted, it helped that, with the strike, his need to be wired had significantly diminished.)

Last weekend saw Mark Bittman's piece in The New York Times Style Section "I Need a Virtual Break. No, Really." Bittman writes the everyman-foodie column The Minimalist, blogs at Bitten, hosts a totally charming travelogue-like show on PBS, and has also published the indispensable How to Cook Everything. In short, he's a pretty busy guy, and the piece details how he attempted to disconnect for a full 70 hours ("My name is Mark, and I'm a techno-addict").

Then I received an email from another buddy, Jake, about the kickoff of Internet Ramadan: "Internet Ramadan is an annual holiday. It lasts for one lunar month. Every day, once the sun has risen, observers of Internet Ramadan refrain from visiting the Internet for any purpose … The Web-fast is broken after sunset … During Internet Ramadan, observers are expected to put more effort into interacting with humans. "

Finally, I was kicking back with a little nightcap of Charlie Rose last night, enjoying a really interesting interview with TechCrunch's Michael Arrington, and there it was again. In passing, Arrington mentioned a Harvard study and the question of "when do we cut it off?"

Perhaps the more pressing question is how do we cut it off? Cold turkey just isn't feasible for most of us. But as I find myself firing up the PowerBook first thing in the morning and attaching at the hip henceforth, I'm starting to suspect that I, like so many other people, might have a problem. Yes, there exist certain tools, like Bloglines and del.icio.us, that mean to help us prioritize and filter, make order of the onslaught of information … but still, who hasn't sat down to look up "that one thing" and discovered, bleary-eyed and with something akin to a hangover, that three hours have been lost to the Internet rabbithole.

With SXSW Interactive kicking off, Austin will be flooded with perhaps the most plugged-in people on the planet. It'll be a celebration of the Internet, to be sure, but I'm betting there will also be a decent amount of discussion of this idea of overkill. They're smart kids, these tech types, and maybe there the ones who can light on a happy medium between all or nothing.

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SXSW, Michael Arrington, Internet Ramadan

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