Ding. Buzz. Chime. – Interrupting Digital Distraction

“Hello, my name is Bob and I check my e-mail while on the toilet.”

That’s a line from a piece I wrote about the digital urgency problem. It seems my editor liked the line enough to also entitle the article with it.

What is the digital urgency problem? It’s the problem that has caused the interruption filled lives so many have now come to accept as commonplace. It’s the yielding to text messaging while with friends, checking e-mail a million times a day, and more generally allowing the instantaneous and mobile nature of digital technology to rule our lives:

In the always-on always-connected urgent world, so much time can be spent “keeping up” with new stories, new e-mails, new text messages, and new updates of various types that “keeping up” becomes a task itself. In fact, it teeters on becoming the task of the day; the news of our lives never stops.

But how much is too much? How many times a day should we check e-mail? How many times a day should we allow the phone to interrupt us? How many times a day do we need to find out what our friends are doing? How many times a day should we get the headlines on what’s happening in the world?

Keeping up can create a psyche of paralysis. If you don’t keep up, you’re “missing out on something” but if you do, there’s a good chance you aren’t getting more substantive or important things done 

The crux of this article, stated early in the piece, which some in the comments missed, is that due to the digital urgency problem, people are not getting important things done (the examples I provide include things I would classify as substance — work, reading a book, listening to a friend’s problems, paying attention to the kids, etc. — that’s obviously subjective).

Unfortunately, some got caught up in the silly toilet line (probably because it was the title of the article) and lost track of the progression of the digital problem I’m addressing: yielding to digital urgency followed by digital addiction. The point is that the problem starts with being less productive, less polite, less intellectual, etc. yet can quickly evolve into obsession. Checking e-mail on the toilet is about the latter.

Again, urgency is not a new problem. I note what Charles Hummel wrote about it in 1967. It wasn’t new then either. The technology of his time was the telephone. The technology for another time was the letter. I would argue today’s technology is vastly different than any of those in the past. Regardless, technology is not evil. It is not bad in and of itself. The difference is how it is used — and how people are using it is what I ask them to consider:

Man must re-build the walls of his digitally infiltrated castle. He must find his place of quiet, of solace, of meditation, and of focus. The important must supersede the urgent once again; it starts with the off switch.