A Call to Disarm Technology & Hype (And Boost Your Writing Productivity)

Photo by fatllama / Flickr

Photo by fatllama / Flickr

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.

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration, Guest Post, Social Media.

L.L. Barkat

L.L. Barkat is the author of six books, including Love, Etc: Poems of Love, Laughter, Longing & Loss; The Novelist: A Novella; and Rumors of Water: Thoughts on Creativity & Writing (twice named a Best Book of 2011). Her poems have appeared at Best American Poetry, VQR, NPR, and Every Day Poems. She is the founder of T.S. Poetry Press and Managing Editor of Tweetspeak Poetry.

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69 Comments on "A Call to Disarm Technology & Hype (And Boost Your Writing Productivity)"

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Darrelyn Saloom

Laura, my quiet zone is mostly outdoors. I enjoy long walks without my cell phone. If I’m in the city, I take my phone on walks but turn it off. I find cell phones to be more disruptive than social media because I tweet and tumbl when it’s convient for me (unlike phone calls and texts). And I rarely follow socia media from my phone. That way I’m fully engaged in what I’d doing when I leave the house.

I’d love to read about your quiet zone (perhaps a future post?).

Every Day Poems

Hmmm. I see that for some reason I am replying as Every Day Poems. So be it. That is one of my quiet zones. Sitting at my dining room table (on a different side than I sit when I work), and reading Neruda poems in Spanish (slowly… because I’m learning the language). Or sitting on my back porch and looking out over my little herb garden with the broken shells from beaches I’ve loved. Oh, and almost every day, a walk. By the time I get home, I have a whole new world inside me. 🙂

Every Day Poems
Case in happy point. I disciplined myself to take my walk just now, even though I knew there would be conversations happening here that I’d want to listen and respond to. On that walk, as I turned my back on the river and rounded the corner, the first line of my next novel eased its way into consciousness. I did not know there’d be a next novel. The Novelist was only a dare I’d given myself to prove I could tackle fiction. I am a little daunted, because I realize this particular book is going to take some background reading… Read more »
Every Day Poems

And I should have said… I love your quiet zone. Those Louisiana sunsets are rich in my mind.

Darrelyn Saloom

Thanks, Laura. Soon as I left a comment yesterday, my computer went dark. My oldest son fixed the laptop last night, but I was able to enjoy a day of writing while listening to the rain.

Every Day Poems

oh my. Why do I love that so much? You were given a gift 🙂

Darrelyn Saloom

🙂

HisFireFly

no social media when connecting with the outdoors and the world? Yes, this!!

Every Day Poems

how else to listen to the pulse of the world? 🙂 Yes, yes.

Sharon

Hooray for this call to sanity. Glad to “have permission” to do the slacking off I’ve already begun. Let’s get back to quality of life.

Every Day Poems

Would love to know what your “slacking” looks like. Have you ever read ‘Last Child in the Woods’? It discusses the cognitive gains we make when we give time to “unfocused attention.” 🙂

Sharon

After seven years, I’m blogging only once a week, and even that schedule sometimes slips. I no longer keep a constant eye on Facebook or G+. Twitter? Never did figure that one out. I’m spacing out on most newsletters and blogs. I don’t want to lose track of onlline friends, and I do want to maintain my sphere of influence, such as it is, but I need SPACE. Room to breathe. And write. And “be there” more for close friends.

Every Day Poems

here’s to space. And breathing. Always breathing 🙂

philipparees

I am with Sharon on thanks for permission…small caveat…how will I ever believe that any more writing ( which could elbow its way into newly cleared space) will ever see light of day when the horse I am currently flogging/blogging jes lays down and dies?

Every Day Poems

Say more? What are you worried about? I mean, is it an issue of having the work get shared publicly?

philipparees

If that is addressed to me, the answer is no, I would happily give away anything I write to find readers, just that for as long as one keeps rotating, blogging emailing there is a lurking belief that one or other thing might work…if I were to turn away (Ah bliss!) and write what beckons me daily I would do so undermined by any hope of more than an eternal monologue. This link my give a certain insight…http://bit.ly/16mwcBj

Every Day Poems

Probably would be good for you to seek out other writing platforms (as recommended in that “stop blogging” article here at Jane’s). Larger platforms will gain you wider readership and the chance, if you want to (but I don’t think you have to), to build your blog in more powerful ways. 🙂

philipparees

Thank you for thoughtful application to the problem! The trouble is my book is a whole philosophy, so no matter how circuitous I get it invariably relates…I have no ‘here-let-me-help-you’ skills…no advice on editing..nada ( since you read Neruda too) Good to have met another of those!

Every Day Poems

I think it’s good to maybe picture your career as going beyond a single book, since no single book ever captures an author’s fulness, and rarely will it make a successful splash that results in wide readership or $. For this reason, I’m thinking you want to build a broad platform that garners real “readers” and not just a community of aspiring writers (I’m guessing that’s the community you have at your blog? Maybe? Or, say more 🙂 )

philipparees

I have a novel and a collection of short stories waiting to be published, but the current Magnum opus has cost most of my pension so ‘career ‘ is probably unlikely! Most of my readers are readers rather than writers…very few writers have much time although three generous ones have both read and reviewed. The difficulty is that I do not fit any genre and i suspect a book that may appeal will not sell the next entirely different one…if I should be so lucky.

Maria Polson Veres

I’m spending a little extra time online so I can re-read and print your great post. I can’t help smiling at the irony of this. I’ve always put limits on my online/social media use. But in some ways, I think being online has made me more creative and connected as a writer. It’s always a tradeoff and a balancing act. Thanks for reminding us all of what really matters.

Every Day Poems

Some irony in it, yes. But there is much to be gained through technology. I think the trick is finding a way to navigate through “the flatness.” Ultimately, this will probably fall to a need for: better curation practices and systems, better personal organization systems, and better website and other technology design. That’s my instinct on the mater. 🙂

Melanie Ormand

By responding here, I’m admitting my guilt. Isn’t that self-defeating?

Every Day Poems

What’s the part that’s self defeating? 🙂

Marlene Cullen

Excellent post comes at a good time. . . . no wonder I’ve been feeling jangled! Guess I will go for that swim this afternoon!

Every Day Poems

oh, the swim. Yes! It will free the mind and boost the heart 🙂

MsLorretty

You did it. You convinced me of what the Spirit had already told me. Thankyou.

Every Day Poems

Any particular steps you can take to implement a new approach? 🙂

MsLorretty
I am going back to writing with paper and pen. I find that when I step totally away from the machine I have no excuse to check “just one thing”. When I am online now, I’ve been trying to set a kitchen timer. I don’t have a “smart” phone and I’ll avoid it for as long as possible. I’ve already noticed that having a Facebook and Twitter account has done very, very little towards generating traffic for my blog. What does move it along is word of mouth…which means I must produce QUALITY…content worth mulling over and passing along. I… Read more »
simplyscott

Oddly, my quiet zone is at the office. I work in a secure environment where we don’t have access to the internet, my cell, etc., and it’s there that I find I have time to think, not just react. Also, because I walk there (about a mile), that is even more quiet time, time that I find myself using to write entire conversations or chapters in my head for this or that novel. Yes, it’s when I’m isolated that my brain feels like it has a nice break to do it’s own thing.

Every Day Poems

very cool. 🙂 My work environment is… complex 🙂

Rebecca

I completely agree with you but when I talk to editors or people in publishing they say that you need to have a on-line platform to get a literary agent. And as you know, establishing and building a platform takes an incredible amount of time. I find myself not having very little time to work on my writing.

Every Day Poems

This is changing, Rebecca. At a recent writing conference I attended, the buzz was beginning to shift. I think at least some agents and editors seem to be realizing the terrible price that is being paid, without comparable ROI.

Every Day Poems

Just wanted to add that we are a publisher and…

1. we do not work through agents

2. our top-selling titles are by authors who do not blog (but rather have offline platforms and write for big online outlets like The Atlantic, etc.). We believe that blogging and a lot of social media activity is not necessary for success. Well, because… it’s not 🙂

Debra Eve

Laura, this is so timely. Two days ago, the city took my street off the grid to do upgrades. For six hours we had no electricity, in the middle of the day. I’d charged up my lap top the night before, so I wrote. I read. I journalled. It was so quiet. I felt so calm. It’s not just the hype, but the electrical buzzing all around us.

When the electricity came back on, it was jolting. I immediately jumped online. I thought, “There’s a problem here.” You’ve described it perfectly and I’m definitely creating that quiet zone. Great article!

Every Day Poems

There are some very interesting studies on the issue of noise pollution. I’m thinking electricity pollution is related. I have trouble sleeping, because in my neighborhood (and even my house), there are too many intermittent, jolting sounds. Best thing I did for myself recently was to go away for three days and include a full day at a quiet cove. Amazing. My whole self (both physical and emotional) reoriented.

Curious to know how you’ll carve out a Quiet Zone 🙂

Christopher Willson

I recently deactivated my FB account. I’m sure that I’ll be reactivating it, but it was taking up way too much of my time, and I couldn’t concentrate on writing!

Every Day Poems

Because I use Facebook professionally, I have to “deactivate” in different ways, like closing its tab and bounding when I check it (I often save it for end-of-day when my mind is ready for a break). I love that you took this step towards concentration. Have you felt any loss as a result?

Christopher Willson

I have felt a sense of loss, but I have also gained some newfound productivity. I will have to eventually reactivate it as I start networking my writing online, but for now, it may be good for a few weeks. I’ll decide then how I may want to use it. I think it’s easy for a writer to replace friendships with Facebook. Not a good thing!

Every Day Poems
Just repeating a comment I left for another respondent… “Our top-selling titles are by authors who do not blog (but rather have offline platforms and write for big online outlets like The Atlantic, etc.). We believe that blogging and a lot of social media activity is not necessary for success. Well, because… it’s not :)” I might encourage you not to reactivate. Twitter is more useful and, I think, less rabbit-hole addictive. But honestly? That’s not necessary either. On-the-ground activities will take you further and deeper. To that: as a publisher, we much prefer authors with offline platforms. Let a… Read more »
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[…] Friedman | A Call to Disarm Technology & Hype (And Boost Your Writing Productivity) – Stop the hype. Please. Your sanity and mine are at stake. And maybe the future of our […]

Ikana Juana Leighere
You advocate to slow down, recharge, not to click on every alert or post, but how is your article any different from all the rest of the alerts/notifications I get? If you hadn’t posted it on Tweetspeak poetry, I would have never gotten a notice about your article concerning attending to everything and attending to nothing deeply. Or does that not apply in this instance? I get what you’re saying but I don’t need someone to tell me what I already know. If I get too many notifications, I just mute them and delete the emails sight unseen. Besides, poeple… Read more »
Every Day Poems
Great question, Ikana. Maybe it isn’t different, in which case it is not so great that the article perhaps wasted your time—especially if you already knew everything that was being said here. This is part of the problem of technological “flatness,” where it’s hard for us to discriminate between that which is worth attending to and that which is not. I think we need better systems to be able to make those judgements. Or, if you just discovered, for instance, that Tweetspeak Poetry does not consistently point you to places that are valuable for your needs, then you’d know not… Read more »
Every Day Poems

One more quick thing. 🙂 What was the actual source of your disappointment? You clicked over, because you had some kind of expectation that, I’m guessing, wasn’t met. What was the hope that went without fulfillment? (Just curious.)

Ikana Juana Leighere
It wasn’t something I clicked over; like I said, it was a notification I got on my phone. I didn’t realize by logging on through Facebook I would get notifications. Oh and by the way, I’m not disappointed, I was just making an observation. Now, I wouldn’t normally reply but to be courteous to you I did, but this will be my final answer. Remember, I usually just delete but since I love poetry I thought it might be of interest to me to see what was being said, but after reading it, I gathered is really wasn’t. Nice talking… Read more »
KathrynB
I came upon this article when I clicked on a tab I’d left opened yesterday. How ironic! I’ve known for a long time that I need to wean myself from the constant flow of new information on the internet. I’m a true addict, and unfortunately I believe what you say about our brains is the truth. The problem is, it’s not easy–addictions are never easy to rid ourselves of. What do you suggest? Technology has failed me, since the very machine I use to write is connected to that tempting web browser. I use a desktop computer almost exclusively; I… Read more »
Every Day Poems
A lot of writers I know (and see MsLoretty’s comment above) are going back to writing with pen/pencil and paper. In fact, that’s how I wrote this piece. There’s an expansiveness that happens on paper, and, yes, it takes us away from the distractions. As with any addiction, I think we need to soul search. Not from a guilt-inducing perspective, but from a “needs” perspective. What need is the constant stream filling for you? (No need to answer here 🙂 The link in the article above, on organizing a work-free space, has some ideas you might like. Personally, I feel… Read more »
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[…] made a Call to Disarm Technology and Hype. Most people responded positively. One person got annoyed. It was that person who suddenly […]

S.K.Falls

This is why I love the Freedom app. Ironically, it’s a case of technology giving me a break from technology. 🙂

Joe

At the end of this article, there were links to share this on Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest and Google Plus… sorry… I just thought it was funny.

Every Day Poems

🙂

Every Day Poems

🙂

stu102
I feel writers are more productive and are being more challenged since the quantity is higher of published work due to the internet age. Self publishing means we have more exposure to many influences and you can not help but benefit from this lack of editing and restraint. The hype means cultures from everywhere have a voice and a platform every writer needs to step up their game to stay current and suave. Sure it also means there is a lot of drivel out there and it may take you a while to find something worth while to read. But… Read more »
Every Day Poems

I like the idea of bookmarking the best. It will be interesting to see what kinds of systems arise to help us curate, and we ourselves can begin to curate better, perhaps. I know that I have gradually let the “average” stuff slip away—even my own blog, which was perfectly fine writing but not the level I’m capable of when I spend more time on fewer writing projects 🙂

hughosmith

I went kayaking the other day and as before I put the boat in the water I realized that I’d forgotten to pack my dry bag, so I left my phone in the car. 10 minutes later it was like I was suffering from withdrawal. An activity that was supposed to be peaceful and stress free was definitely not, all because I didn’t have my phone grafted onto my body. It took me a few minutes more but I calmed down and enjoyed my afternoon but it only serves to illustrate the truth of your post.

Every Day Poems

It *was* withdrawal. Perfectly normal 🙂 Interesting that you got to experience it! Our phones and computers can be like people to us… because, they are our connection to people. So it’s maybe a question of learning to be alone and attending to ourselves in solitude. Kayaking! I have just recently wondered if I might like to try it.

hughosmith

Our connection to people. I’ve never thought about it like that.
Kayaking is great, I only discovered it a few weeks ago and to my surprise I found 2 places 30 minutes away from me where I can go. I would highly recommend you try it, it’s very restful (once you get over the phone D.T’s) and great exercise.

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[…] A Call to Disarm Technology & Hype (And Boost Your Writing Productivity) […]

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[…] A Call to Disarm Technology and Hype by L.L. Barkat […]

Dawn Jordan

Silence and alignment of body, heart and mind are my sources of inspirational writing. That’s the cool aid I drink.

Cyd Madsen
I love this! I’m nearing the end of a month-long social media fast and think I may have developed a new addiction to that old thing called writing stories. The fast came about because I was feeling terribly cranky, completely out of touch with what I want to write and how I want to tell the stories I want to read, and a need to just sit and read and talk and be with inspiring people. It’s a completely different world, and I may not ever go back to that high alert addiction. And it is an addiction in the… Read more »
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[…] I read this simple line in an article (the whole article is good, but this line caught […]

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[…] for ways to be more productive and creative? L.L. Barkat says disarm the technology and hype: Quiet Zones are proven to promote productivity. And creativity? Creativity is really just persistence, and science can prove […]

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[…] this fascinating article “A Call to Disarm Technology & Hype (And Boost Your Writing Productivity)”,  the blog writer, L.L. Barkat, suggests the internet and other technology keep us on an […]

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[…] I’ve never expected that the corporate world would change its ways on these matters. But this blog post on the topic indicates that in some quarters these issues are being […]

Wil Forbis
Couldn’t agree more with this post. It reminds of an observation I was thinking about a while back. If we go back 200-300 years in the past we find art (paintings, architecture, music etc.) that is very detailed and ornamental. When we jump forward to the present we see much less of this; we see minimalism and simplicity. I suspect artists of yore could focus more deeply on their works-in-progress because they did not live in the culture of interruption we do. And audiences could also focus deeply on appreciating the work for the same reason. Now, personally, I like… Read more »
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[…] wastes your time and erodes your confidence in me if I go around saying every book I encounter is a must-read!!! and life-changing!!! In fact, you also know that I will always tell a writer exactly (gently) what I think. I […]

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[…] A Call to Disarm Technology and Hype by @llbarkat via @janefriedman – This felt important to me. We are so overwhelmed with technology and the study of its affect on our ability to create is bringing forth more and more frightening possibilities. […]

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