A day in the life of a South African technocrat is hectic.
For starters, we email a lot. We also check our Facebook pages, update our status, and comment quite a bit. And tweeting is definitely not just for the birds. Then we check our email. We text. We update our MySpace pages, and then we tweet about our update. And this cycle of lunacy continues throughout the day — and you can do it anywhere. From your bedroom, in the boardroom, on the toilet, while driving, and if you have it all rigged up correctly you can SMS to your email to tweet about your Flickr account which automatically updates your Facebook.
In some ways the degree to which we are connected is truly remarkable. Just think, for example, of how many people you interact with on a daily basis. Now, how many people would your grandparent have communicated with? Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Gmail, and Flickr: these are the de facto community halls of the technorati, they are the chopping boards we use to serve up 140-character servings of our everyday lives.
But to my mind our fascination with, and constant connection to the electronic community comes at a price. For one, it seems that our brains have become so attuned to constant external stimuli, that we are no longer capable of amusing ourselves: we need something plugged into our ears, or a screen in front of our eyes. Incapable of simple contemplation, we seem to crave some form of distraction from our immediate world, and any opportunity for idleness becomes one in which we can “refresh” our online presence. The result is that each pause in the day becomes precisely the opposite: a period of frantic thumbing and electronic activity — most of it trivial. How much time do you spend every day on email jokes you’ve heard a million times before? Not to mention their environmental impact.
According to one of Twitter’s developers, each tweet has a carbon footprint of around 0.02g of CO2. Multiply that by the 50 million tweets sent per day, and you have roughly 1 metric ton of CO2 pumped out daily. A Google search “costs” roughly 10 times that, and a joke email with images is almost double that again.
But these are not the only costs. How familiar is this scenario: An email arrives. It’s from a holiday company offering you the chance to win a holiday for two to any destination of your choice. You click the link, and just like that you’re sucked into a 20-minute black hole that thoroughly breaks your concentration — and worse, you commit a 3rd degree cyber-felony: forwarding the evil email of doom to 5 friends, spreading its tentacles of distraction through cyberspace. Shame on you.
I’d bet a pretty sum that our net productivity is inversely proportional to the rate at which we receive and check emails. In the past I tried only checking email once every two hours, but found that when I did, I actually received more emails, their tone one of sheer dismay. People just couldn’t understand why I was taking so long to reply, surely the idea of instant mail was that you replied instantly? It’s a vicious cycle.
But despite my rant, I don’t want to sound entirely backward. The ease, fluidity and richness with which we can communicate these days is really something to get excited about. With sites like WordPress one can publish the most amazing work for almost nothing, and the power of Twitter to amplify messages is phenomenal. In many ways the flow of information has become far more democratic, though to be sure it is still only a very small percentage of people who have unfettered internet access. Nonetheless I can’t contain my excitement when I see one of us little people taking on a giant multinational in front of the entire twitterdom.
I guess the point is that our electronic gadgets, widgets, applications and tools are potentially very powerful. They have become such an important part of our lives because we find them so useful and entertaining. But we need to take stock of how we spend our time, and ensure that we don’t distract ourselves from achieving something truly worthwhile.