My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

An argument for immersion

Lately Merlin Mann has been helping Spark listeners build their "Digital You." Implicit in this new series is the fact that technology is now an ingrained part of us--how we appear online is as important as how we dress in public. Your online presence, like your personality, can be diverse: open and inviting, cold and formal--whatever works for you and gets you the audience you want.

The era of ubiquitous technology is upon us. Smartphones are getting smarter, the Internet is (at least in places other than Canada!) getting faster. And thanks to this ubiquity, we can always be connected.

Often people claim, however, that disconnecting is the best way to improve productivity. Close all those email programs; close the chat program; don't go on Facebook; don't update Twitter. Multitasking, after all, makes us lose focus and be less productive, right?

Those people are right. When it's possible for anyone to reach you, anywhere, at any time, you've become too connected. I love technology, and I love the Internet, but there is a point at which immersion makes it harder to sit down and focus--or even just relax.

But I said that this was an argument for immersion, so here it is: immersion eliminates temptation by the simplest mechanism possible--giving in.

If you disconnect, unless you physically remove your ability to use the Internet (which probably isn't practical if you're working at the computer anyway), you will be tempted to reconnect before your work is over. Perhaps exhausted and frustrated, you'll rationalize that a little break is in order--what harm comes from checking Facebook? Before you know it, two hours have gone by, and your essay still isn't done.

On the other hand, if you are constantly online while you're working, you can turn the immersion into background noise. That's the key. I agree that immersion is no good if you are one of those people who has to read the email the moment you know it's there. Perhaps disconnection is your only option. But for those who can acknowledge (or even just ignore until you want to acknowledge) the alerts without jumping to read the emails ... immersion works. At least it does for me.

I don't drop what I'm doing to read my email. I just want to know it's there. That way, while I'm doing homework, I won't be tempted to check if I have email. I'll know I have email. But it can wait until I'm done. Remove the temptation to distract yourself by collapsing the universe's wavefunction((Alternatively, you can create a universe.)) and confirming one of two possibilities: either you have email, or you don't.

Now for heaven's sake, go open the box already! Poor cat.