Today’s guest post is by author, editor, and publisher L.L. Barkat (@llbarkat).
Stop the hype. Please. Your sanity and mine are at stake. And maybe the future of our writing.
In a recent article, Technology: Finding Our Way Back from the Flatness, I addressed the issue of how the internet and other technology keeps us on insanely high alert, ultimately producing an effect where we attend to everything and we attend to nothing (deeply).
It is my theory that this high-alert state is producing a fatigue that’s detrimental not only to our psyches and relationships, but also to the quality of our professional output. Fatigue is one reason I’ve recommended it is time for (many) writers to stop blogging.
This fatigue may have its roots in actual physiology. In The Plateau Effect: Getting from Stuck to Success, Sullivan and Thompson have discussed the chemical hits we receive when we see something like a new Facebook or e-mail alert. (I’m reminded of a dear friend who found herself diagnosed with adrenal exhaustion due to a 10-cup-a-day coffee habit. It took her months to come back from that and to rebound in her professional life.)
Sullivan and Thompson take the physiological issue a step further and declare that the alert-driven chemical hits to our brain may be producing actual addiction that keeps us in a negative cycle of interruption, costing the U.S. a cool $588 billion per year in productivity losses. To bring that down to a more personal level, when you let yourself get carried away by the high-alert cycle and give in to its constant interruptions, you lose 10 IQ points in each interruption moment (“the equivalent of not sleeping for thirty-six hours—or double the impact of smoking marijuana”), and it takes you about twenty-five minutes to fully return to your original project.
Some large companies like Intel have begun to fight this trend with Quiet Zones aimed at providing a more restful work environment, to increase productivity and literally cut their losses. The Quiet Zones are four-hour spans of time without meetings or technological connectivity.
Staking Out & Creating Quiet Zones
You can start by organizing a work-free space as part of your regular writing environment. But you can also, perhaps, commit to stopping the hype—halting a high-alert way of communicating—for the sake of helping create a culture that will benefit both you and others.
As an occasional book reviewer, a publisher, and managing editor of a top poetry site, I have committed to halting the high-alert mode that is so common in the current book and media industry. When I review a book, I do not recommend it to everyone as the must-read of the decade (!!!). I decide who might actually benefit from the work, if anyone, and why. I might also include cautions about who would not benefit from the book, as in this review of A Broken Thing: Poets on the Line—where I recommend that the book not be used as part of a vigorous classroom reading schedule. Likewise, as a publisher and a managing editor, I work hard to ensure that our group acts as a curator that sifts and sorts down to the good stuff and then shares it in ways that say, “This is for you if …”
The Bottom Line
Do you find yourself less productive as a writer, or fatigued, or working at lower levels of quality than you’d like to be? Maybe it’s time to seek out places that have stopped the hype—to create a quiet zone, if you will, around yourself, your work, and the work of others—for the future of your writing and the culture at large.
L.L. Barkat has served as a books, parenting, and education contributor at The Huffington Post blog; is a freelance writer for Edutopia; and is the author of six books for grown-ups. She’s also the author of a magical fairy tale, The Golden Dress, and the beautiful A Is for Azure: The Alphabet in Colors. Her poetry has appeared at VQR, The Best American Poetry, and on NPR.