26 July 2009

An Online Life Examined

At the dinner table last night, my wife and I were discussing computers, social media, and related topics. I joked that we spent 30 minutes talking about Twitter.

It’s no surprise to anyone – even my 83-year-old mother-in-law, who doesn’t understand it – that the world is digital, online, and impersonal. We communicate through email, tweets, posts, blogs. Sure, most of us still know how to actually talk to other people, and interactions are inevitable when we want to have our car’s oil changed or buy a pastry.

Even phone communication is diminishing with more online chatter. Most of the time I don’t want to talk to some idiotic Bank of America credit card representative – especially after going through a 2-minute voicemail tree; being on hold for 10 minutes; and transferred 3 times. Just let me send an email or have an online customer service chat. And I can actually be in touch more frequently with friends via email.

I have a staggering 16 email addresses (but only 2 that I commonly check). My passwords for financial sites, shopping sites, online news services, weather sites, travel-alert sites, and more are frequently very different (security, you know). Thus, I certainly can’t remember more than the most commonly used dozen or so. My list of account numbers and passwords is 8 pages long.

Most days, I look at a couple of weather sites, 2 local news sites, another 4 international news sites, 4 or 5 financial sites, about 8 travel blogs, another 6 wine/food blogs, a couple of travel news sites, 2 social networks, and probably another half dozen random sites. Nearly all my bill paying and banking is now done online. I actually complain when a bill arrives that I can’t pay by electronic transfer from my online checking account.

Sure, being a home-based writer gives me more time to fart around online than most people. But even I’m beginning to get tired of many things online. Of course, I could ditch all the “discretionary” online time – I could probably do everything really necessary online in about 30 minutes a day. Which is probably no more time than my dad spent most evenings paying bills, reading the newspaper headlines, and balancing checkbooks.

But I’m trying to wean myself a bit. I’ve taken many of the blogs I used to read daily off my toolbar – I may now just scan them every few days. I certainly have a lot less interest in the social network sites – their newness wore off pretty fast. I do have to stay on top of things a bit, as it’s important to my writing. But I’d really like to spend more time typing decent words in a row than clicking a mouse button.

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates