Mak­ing time to live off­line

The Compass - - EDITORIAL - Rus­sell Wanger­sky Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Me­dia’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­ Twit­ter: @ Wanger­sky.

Shoot­ing down the slip­pery dirt road to Monkstown, wa­ter ev­ery­where and the rain pound­ing down, the road tak­ing all my at­ten­tion the way it should. Some­times deep loose gravel, some­times slick mud, some­times bare sheets of stone. Both sides of the road a sym­phony of New­found­land fall colours, sedge and beige and brown.

It’s 27 kilo­me­tres, threaded through ponds and gul­lies, with reg­u­lar cul­verts car­ry­ing brown wa­ter from one side of the road, and at the end of it, a hand­ful of houses on a great long shel­tered bay, the other side’s hori­zon a roller­coaster of round­ing grey-black hills, a town as much at the end of the road as any place I have ever been.

You could stop the world out there, turn it down to the slow, square-by-square pace of the cal­en­dar, and never miss any- thing else. The per­fect place to be out of reach — ex­actly what I wanted.

I had my phone with me, that jug­ger­naut of in­stant com­mu­ni­ca­tion and con­stant Pavlo­vian dis­trac­tion. But af­ter a bruis­ing Satur­day on­line, I had the thing locked down in air­plane mode. I was tired of hate and sar­casm, of the kind of quick cru­elty that peo­ple dis­pense elec­tron­i­cally, but would never de­liver in per­son.

Not once did the phone shiver or sing. I sang, though, and stood in the rain watch­ing wa­ter carve and spin a mat of foam on the wa­ter’s sur­face at a road­side cul­vert. I drove and rock­picked quar­ries, stood and lis­tened to the ex­haust sys­tem on the car ping as it cooled.

I thought about that again Mon­day morn­ing, as I passed, in­vis­i­ble, along a row of parked, run­ning cars where ev­ery uni­ver­sity stu­dent driver was pray­ing, their heads bowed to their phones in com­plete con­cen­tra­tion. And I thought about a week­end New York Times ar­ti­cle — para­dox­i­cally, de­liv­ered to me by Twit­ter — sug­gest­ing that it might be a good idea to hang up on so­cial me­dia. To save the time, and to save your abil­ity to con­cen­trate deeply on com­plex sub­jects. I know the ar­ti­cle is right; I know how the sharp jabs of con­stant con­tact de­rail the long game, whether it’s writ­ing, read­ing or sim­ply med­i­tat­ing.

And I came to a small deci- sion.

I think so­cial me­dia is valu­able — or at least, I think there are valu­able parts to it. It cer­tainly gets in­for­ma­tion out fast, and of­ten, and that in­for­ma­tion is use­ful. Of­ten, as well, it’s false. I’ve been a jour­nal­ist for a long time; I know what li­bel looks like, and I know I see plenty of post­ings ev­ery day that are ac­tion­able, if peo­ple had the time and in­cli­na­tion to take ac­tion.

But while there is value, I won­der if the value is worth the time in­vested and the dam­age clearly done. Does it make me a more com­plete jour­nal­ist? No. Does it make me a hap­pier per­son? Def­i­nitely not.

I know my em­ploy­ers would pre­fer us all to be multi-skilled, to have a hand in so­cial me­dia and a pres­ence — an on­line per­son­al­ity, as strange a con­cept as that is. Per­haps an on­line sim­u­lacrum would be a bet­ter term, a rea­son­ably drawn elec­tronic fac­sim­ile.

There are jour­nal­ists whose so­cial me­dia pres­ences are lead­ing-edge, whose work on­line is sig­nif­i­cant and timely and worth­while.

I think my skills lie some­where else — and maybe I should re­think how I use time. Close a few win­dows, per­haps.

And I don’t think it’s an “old dogs and new tricks” sort of thing. Maybe it’s just there are bet­ter — and hap­pier — ways to spend my time.

In down­town Monkstown (I’m jok­ing), the road curls along the base of a huge cliff, and a brook runs die-straight down it. And on Sun­day, in high wa­ter, it was worth watch­ing for ages.

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