If you’re like most Americans, you probably spent most of the long Fourth of July weekend hanging out at a family BBQ, watching baseball, enjoying the fireworks and… obsessively checking your digital devices for the latest news from your friends, followers and assorted other virtual acquaintances. If you stayed at a hotel or resort, you probably received a Wi-Fi password upon check-in –- and then heard the young kids in the elevator talking about their latest Snapchats, and everyone else ooh-ing and aah-ing over the latest red-and-white-and-blue Instagram holiday pics.
So is there any possible way that this 24/7 digital addiction might actually be good for us?
If you buy into the conventional wisdom, then we all need a digital detox every now and then: We should all #UNPLUG from the Internet for extended periods of time. In the current cover story for Fast Company magazine, Baratunde Thurston describes how he took the equivalent of a digital detox for 25 days, even going so far as to hire a "Chief of Staff" to deal with his Internet presence in his absence. The problem, as Thurston sees it, is that all the daily emails, pings, alerts, updates and notifications from your digital devices will eventually completely burn you out, leaving you unable to function as a normal adult. This is an easy argument to make, because let’s face it, it’s obviously exhausting to keep up with the tsunami of digital 1's and 0's these days -- even if you're not an Internet celebrity like Baratunde Thurston.
However, let’s take a Darwinian view of what all this 24/7 connectivity is doing to us. If you buy into a “survival of the fittest” view of life, then #UNPLUG may be one of the most dangerous ideas you’ve heard this year. Removing yourself from the continuous streams of information and data flowing past you for long stretches of time means that you (and your offspring) will eventually lose the evolutionary race to competitors better able to deal with the daily digital flow. The people best able to compete will develop the digital era equivalent of opposable thumbs -- they will figure all this out. They will not only eat stress for breakfast, they will consume an extra-large bowl of tweets and Facebook updates as well.
That's the point, in part, that digital thinker Mitch Joel makes in a recent piece for The Huffington Post - he argues that it's not the Internet that's to blame for making us stressed out, it's our poor habits and behaviors. Don't turn off technology, turn off your bad habits. Learn how to make the digital tsunami work for you, not against you.
As Hybrid Reality co-authors Parag and Ayesha Khanna point out, we are experiencing a co-evolution of humans and technology, and that's what's making things seem so hard. This speeding up of the evolutionary process places an ever-greater premium on our ability to find new ways to handle the constant flow of data and information in our lives. Just think of all the computing firepower you now have in the palm of your hand and all of the rapid technological advances that have already been made possible by our unwillingness to #UNPLUG – it’s given us Big Data, the cloud, and a diverse range of ever more-powerful digital devices capable of processing information on the fly. You can now surreptitiously check your email while barbecuing at the grill, or send a tweet while toweling off at the pool. Your evolutionary ancestors, if they had a chance to meet you, would think you were a super-human.
And it's not just Charles Darwin -- Adam Smith wouldn't want you to #UNPLUG either.
As Robert J. Samuelson recently wrote in The Washington Post, “Americans flunk vacations.” However, maybe, that’s a test that we don’t want to pass. Compared to the rest of the hyper-industrialized world, Americans simply don’t know how to take vacations. While the rest of the world mandates a minimum of 20 paid days of vacation, Americans are alone in failing to provide a single guarantee of paid vacation time. But all this relentless foregoing of life's simple pleasures makes us stronger -- it means that (compared to our friends across the Pond) unemployment rates are lower, that wages are not stagnating, and that our economy is more robust. Yes, it’s counter-intuitive at times, but the ruthless American approach to vacations has helped us win the “survival of the fittest” in the global economy. Adam Smith would want to shake your Invisible Hand.
So, the next time that you’re on vacation, remember to check your Facebook account, your Twitter feed, and your Instagram account. Update your status as often as possible and don't #UNPLUG. You’re not only doing yourself a favor, you’re doing the human race a favor as well.
image: Monkey looking at another monkey on a computer / Shutterstock