July 18th, 2005

default, pepper

Personal space versus net life

Spurred by introspection this weekend—not only the trip around Sonoma on Saturday, but the relative peace of Sunday as well—I’m coming to the conclusion that I’m too connected. I don’t mean that I’ve got too many friends and relationships, nor do I mean this in the Zen way of having too many attachments (although that’s not entirely far off). No, I mean this in the uniquely net-enabled, wireless fashion of the early 21st century.

In the past I’ve quipped, “The good thing about having a Sidekick is that I’m always reachable; the bad thing about having a Sidekick is that I’m always reachable.” But it’s only been recently that the “bad thing” has really started to weigh on me.

When you’re always easy to get in touch with, people are not only always in touch with you, they get worried—or even angry—when you’re offline. But really, it’s not them, it’s you.

You expect to have that connection all the time. It feels a little awkward when you don’t. Even though objectively you know just keeping up with all the text-based conversations in IM and IRC and MUCK is taking up way too much of your brain’s processing power and you’re being more stressed than relaxed, you don’t want to “give up.” You don’t want to disappoint people and make them worried and angry.

Unplugging is like having caffeine cravings at the same time you’re thinking that, at least at that point in time, you don’t like caffeine very much. This is what I ran into on Saturday—even with the intent of being in a nice bubble of solitude, I’d still turn on IM and invariably get caught up in multiple conversations from which disengagement was difficult. I felt like I was disappointing people by not being available on IM, felt a little lonely by not doing so, yet when I was on IM, it didn’t take too many simultaneous chat requests for me to start feeling harried.

So. What I’m going to try to do, recognizing that it’s easier said than done, is just be a little less of a net potato. I need my personal space back, and it’s not the physical space I inhabit that’s been encroaching on me as much as the virtual space.

This isn’t about methodically restricting my net access as much as it’s about giving myself permission to restrict it—to not run IM all the time, to not idle on MUCKs “just in case” (just in case what, I have no idea). This isn’t easy for me, particularly thanks to some virtual relationships some of my characters roleplay; I get a lot of “you’re never on” from people because many of my characters aren’t on that much. But at least one of my characters is on virtually every waking moment, and right now I don’t think this is real good for me.

This doesn’t mean I’m not going to still be around, particularly in quieter virtual venues. And it certainly doesn’t mean I’m not going to be online in general—like it or not, most of my professional and personal life, from jobs to hobbies, revolves around the internet. It just means I’m feeling like I have to do a better job of tending to myself than I have been for a while.

Now it’s past time to head out to lunch, and to do something there I haven’t done on a lunch break in a long time: sit in a completely offline place, reading a non-technical book.