It's a disease that afflicts many. Without their knowing about it, they slowly sink into it, step-by-step, silently, intellectually, and without a hope of stepping back. Finally, it takes control of their lives.
Yes, I am referring to the perils of permanent connectivity. The situation (convenience!) where a person can choose to be connected to the online world (and its many distractions) on an almost 24-hours-a-day basis.
Based on my experience, the standard tools that one invariably uses, to accomplish the desirable act of staying online smartly are -
emails - both professional and personal
blogs - can be both personal and professional
professional networking sites - linkedin / xing etc.
social networking sites - twitter, orkut, facebook etc.
video sharing sites - youtube etc.
Typically, a smart professional or a smart youngster will be doing these things online, on any regular day
Checking his professional emails (multiple email IDs) several times a day
Checking his personal emails (one or two mail IDs, depending on marital fidelity) once or twice a day at least
Checking the various online social media sites at least once during working hours (it can be more than once too)
Spending at least 1 to 2 hours every late evening "updating" the social media sites (after all, who wants to look inactive in happening places?)
Add all of this together, and bingo! You just invested close to 3 solid hours doing all this. Each day! But the story does not end here.
The result of this mindless, endless daily investment manifests itself in various ways.
The quality of individual interactions (that one is part of on a daily basis) drops substantially. After all, one cannot do justice both to an email crying for attention, and a colleague making a serious point sitting face-to-face.
The quality of time that one spends with family drops substantially. While wife is longing for a loving hug, the next scrap on Orkut steals your attention. When the child desperately wants a pat on the back and a kiss on the cheek after her shakily drawn sketch of nature is ready, you are busy clicking a photo (with brightness and contrast perfectly adjusted) rather than giving that kiss.
The intensity with which one is able to think and contemplate seriously (on various matters) drops a lot. Various online avatars are vying for your precious time, and the cerebral hemisphere can simply run out of juice at times!
The overall sense of fatigue increases a lot. It may be beyond many people's potential to do justice to so many avatars simultaneously.
Every morning you wake up, you feel sapped. Drained. Empty.
Personally, I know all this as I am doing all this intensely. On a typical working day, I check tens of emails, make and upload at least one serious blogpost, update entries and scraps on Orkut, Facbook and Twitter, and check out Linkedin and Xing. I must make a distinction here - for a technical person (which many of us now will profess to be, in order to escape the inevitability of what's coming next) some of these perils of permanent connectivity may be unavoidable. But for most of us (professionals) and almost all youngsters (not working), we can avoid a lot of these fancy habits safely. Friends, it is a myth that by being online you are automatically more productive. Most users (and surprisingly even old-timers) at times do not understand the difference between nonsensical scrapping (on Orkut) and sensible professional messaging.
As I have done it for a long time now, wasted a lot of time and resources, I have learnt my lessons well! Let me share these with you.
How to be significantly online, and still be highly productive
Fix a time when you will check your social online media every day. If you are a working professional, it should ideally be in the night (at least an hour before you sleep). It is really a bad idea doing social media during working hours. If you are doing it, you are addicted. Seek help.
Bundle together your activities on online social media in this one slot - try twitting, orkutting, facebooking simultaneously. It will be a good idea as you can cut-paste a lot of stuff, saving precious time.
Fix a time interval between checking your emails every day - say 60 minutes at least. It will help you clearly focus on the task in the meantime.
Avoid Blackberries if possible. They are a disease. I do not speak lightly on this - having observed many people who use this, I can safely conclude that the tremendously advanced design (user-friendly) of this manufacturer is so sticky, so terribly sticky... one just cannot de-addict once stuck. Then the spectacle of heads bowed, both hands together, thumbing away, head nodding... ad infinitum. I have so far successfully restricted myself to the humble Nokia Communicator, which with its archaic keypad scares me when it comes to typing anything beyond a few hundred characters. So I am forced to limit my use, thereby increasing the quality of my human interactions.
When in a social setting, avoid using your gadgets. It is horribly irritating to others.
Try observing a no-internet day once a week. It may be very tough, but try it once.
Don't get into fancy technical stuff if you are not really good at it. It can suck precious energy out of your mind. It will, for no good reason, make you feel smaller and insignificant.
Don't buy gadgets just because you cannot allow being seen as outdated. You may be smarter in not using the latest gizmos that dehumanise.
Remember, when it comes to human impact - nothing is as powerful as a face-to-face warm human interaction. Simple voice calls come next. Then come text messages and social media.
Unfortunately in the race to be the fastest, brightest and trendiest, we are losing a sense of the finest of arts - warm human touch.