Sara Pauff: It’s good to switch off now and then

January 9, 2012 

You know the feeling.

It’s late at night and you’re watching TV or wasting time on Facebook before bed, when the power goes out. You’re alert, antsy, feeling slightly adrift and totally in the dark. Thank God your cell phone still works. There’s no one you would call at this hour, but this tenuous connection to the outside world makes you feel a little less helpless.

It’s amazing how much a power outage, a computer crash, or a lost phone can screw with your mind. You feel like you’re missing something important. You can’t think about anything except your current lack of technology until the problem is fixed and you’re reconnected.

Sometimes, when I have a choice in the matter, I like switching off. A couple of years ago, I stopped paying for cable and got rid of my TV. At the time, my decision was mostly motivated by a dwindling bank account (cable television is ridiculously expensive) but now, I don’t think I’d ever go back to traditional TV. My apartment is quieter and feels less chaotic, more like a haven from work and the rest of the world. I don’t get sucked into cooking show marathons like I did in college. If I’m bored, I read, listen to music or go outside. Eventually, everything you can see on TV is on the Internet anyway. And the Internet is where my problems begin.

My favorite thing is probably Twitter. I don’t tweet excessively, but I follow a lot of people and click through a lot of links. It’s where I find ideas for blog posts and sometimes columns. I find new recipes I want to try or new books I want to read. I gather a ton of writing advice from journalists and authors. And there are also funny accounts I just follow because they consistently make me laugh in fewer than 140 characters.

But here’s the other thing about Twitter and the Internet in general: it’s easy to waste time and it’s hard not to feel like your mind is going in 10 different directions at once. At least, that’s usually how I feel after I’ve spent too much time on the Internet. I can’t focus. So I check my email -- again. Heaven help me when I finally get a smartphone (it’s on my wishlist).

I wouldn’t want to go back to the days without easy access to email, Twitter and the Internet. That’s too much free information to ignore and as a reporter, staying connected and in touch with people is crucial -- but so is creating moments where I forget that Internet distractions exist, so I can concentrate, write, do my job and also, maintain my sanity.

You have to have balance. Step away from the computer or put down your smartphone. Facebook will still be there when you get back and anyone that needs to contact you can leave a message. No one likes being disconnected and in the dark, but if you pick the moments when you shut off those Internet distractions, then you feel calm and in control -- and that’s a good feeling.

Contact Sara Pauff at 706-320-4469 or spauff@ledger-enquirer.com. For more commentary, read her 20-something blog at www.ledger-enquirer.com/sara.

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