The pleasure of waiting

James Sturm, the cartoonist who has taken a four-month sabbatical from the Internet, continues to write (and draw) about his experience as one of The Disconnected. Here’s a bit from the “halftime report” he recently issued, after having been offline for two months:

Whether it’s a sports score, a book I want to get my hands on, or tuning into Fresh Air anytime of day, I can no longer search online and find immediate satisfaction. I wait for the morning paper, a trip to the library, or, when I can’t be at my radio at 3 p.m., just do without. I thought this would drive me crazy, but it hasn’t. Anticipation itself is enjoyable and perhaps even mitigates disappointing results. I don’t seem to mind as much when the Mets don’t win (often) or Dave Davies is subbing for Terry Gross and is interviewing an obscure jazz producer.

In the two months since I’ve been unplugged, I have been experiencing more and more moments of synchronicity—coincidental events that seem to be meaningfully related. … I know this type of magical thinking is easily dismissed, but I keep having moments like this. So how do I explain it? Are meaningful connections easier to recognize when the fog of the Internet is lifted? Does it have to do with the difference between searching and waiting? Searching (which is what you do a lot of online) seems like an act of individual will. When things come to you while you’re waiting it feels more like fate. Instant gratification feels unearned. That random song, perfectly attuned to your mood, seems more profound when heard on a car radio than if you had called up the same tune via YouTube.

Sturm is onto something deep here. The Net – and it’s not just search – does seem to encourage the willful arrangement of experience, moment by moment. As he has rediscovered, sometimes it’s best to let the world have its way with you.

11 thoughts on “The pleasure of waiting

  1. Ivo Quartiroli

    If there’s a time in history where a long-term vision is needed, that’s our time. Both in the environmental and financial areas we are paying heavily the cost for instant gratification in energy consumption and in borrowing debts.

    The most fulfilling human experiences need a certain time to be internalized. To enter the flow of dancing, to research in science, in making love and to enter a state of meditation, just to name a few, time is needed. Looking for instant fulfillment is a childish peculiarity.

    The ability to hold and feel the frustration of waiting is en exercise to bring awareness to our feelings and to create a bigger container for them.

    Neuroscientist Susan Greenfield told the Daily Mail her fears that technology is “infantilizing the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment.”

  2. Leif Hansen

    Hi Nick,

    Ever since your “Stupid” article (harhar), your name keeps popping up for me as this is a topic I’m highly interested in & involved in –both personally & professionally.

    Though the new iPhone comes out today, I decided to ‘downgrade’ my iPhone two days ago. It was a decision to ‘upgrade’ my life. Now that I’m no longer constantly connected to the net, only via wifi, I actually feel somewhat liberated and I look forward to more of those sacred distraction-less spaces sprinkled with synchronicity.

    It’s funny how most people tend to think of the term ‘connected’ as a boon, but a connection can also be a chain of slavery. While I know it’s my ‘choice’ to check emails, Facebook, search for info, check news feeds, app updates, etc…I am a frail human and, as you point out, my brain has been shaped by my tech use in ways that make it much harder to resist.

    I run a small business called Spark Interaction whose emphasis, in essence, is to counter some of the effects of our technocentrism (though the problem is deeper than that) by helping people to increase the level of real-time engagement, interaction & community building in their work with groups (and in their personal lives.)

    Ever since our ‘SoulTech’ workshops, which were featured by the LA Times and by the Today Show, I’ve been talking and working with dozens of people who struggle with this issue. I’m not sure what shape my contributions will be in the future, but it still feels very urgent & alive to me.

    Thank you for the research and thinking you’ve done on this topic –let’s hope that it will help our society to enter a more balance, mature relationship with how we use technology.

    If you’re interested in learning more about what I’ve done and think about this topic, check out

    I also just yesterday created a Facebook page called “Tech-Pause” (someone shared your recent NPR interview on the page, how I ended up here) and I’d love if you could share it with people to help generate some viral awareness of the importance of more deeply reflecting before we adopt & use new technologies.

    Facebook page is here:


    Leif H. Hansen

  3. Anand Ramanathan

    I agree with the value of mindfulness, and can see how just being mindful can show us the interconnected of things and events around us. However, waiting for the sake of waiting doesnt make sense, when i know what I need is at my finger tips on the internet. One may choose not to go to the internet till he is over the obsessive patterns it has addicted him to – and at that time, he may choose to wait for things. But once he has found ways to stay off those patterns, he should definitely use the internet to find things that are available easily.

    While it is weird to sit behind the browser hitting the refresh button every second, it is perhaps equally weird to walk halfway across town to the library to look up something that was right there on the browser (unless of course, you actually wanted to take that walk to smell the roses).

  4. Laurence Plouvier

    Heard about your book on KPFA, glad people are starting to wake up. I’ve been working on computers for way too long, using the internet both as a working and a communication tool. It keeps fascinating me how empowering and numbing the internet can be, on one hand pushing the brain limits to solve multiple problems in record time, on the other hand shrinking its ability to simply be aware. I’ve been alternating crazy periods of intense engineering with Vipassana meditation boot camps to keep a somewhat sane mental state. Dreaming about daring to break off from the whole thing one day!

  5. Brian O' Hanlon

    I read a piece about the 1980s Apple Mac Plus recently, at hubpages dot com. It was entitled ’86 Mac Plus Vs. 07 AMD DualCore. You Won’t Believe Who Wins’. It made me think of Nick Carr’s writings and blog for some reason.

    In particular, this line from the conclusion: When we compare strictly common, everyday, basic user tasks between the Mac Plus and the AMD we find remarkable similarities in overall speed, thus it can be stated that for the majority of simple office uses, the massive advances in technology in the past two decades have brought zero advance in productivity.

    And that’s just plain crazy.

  6. Alain Yap, Morph Labs

    Just read about the ‘peak-end rule’ in about best vacations. Felt that there’s quite a connection there with reference to ‘anticipation’ – according to a Dutch study, can be a more powerful force than memory thus rank higher in the happiness scale of things.


  7. TonyComstock

    Last Spring passage by sailboat from the USVI to New York provided me with the opportunity to be *very* offline for a bit more than two weeks; radio contact with passing freighter every now and then, but mostly our own completely self-contained world.

    One of my crew (a former USAF Captain) left me with two bits of wisdom that seem apt vis a vis Brian O’ Hanlon’s comment about computer speed/power:

    About the appropriate state of mind for certain high-stress situations, my crewman said “If you’re not task-saturated, you’re not doing it right.”

    About life in general, he offered, “It’s not the time you save, it’s the time you spend.”

  8. Thomas Schmall

    “As he has rediscovered, sometimes it’s best to let the world have its way with you.”

    I think this really highlights the quarrel I have with your whole thesis. It seems totally unclear what you actually want. It all comes down to “things were better before”.

    This argument here goes basically opposite of your usual critique of internet folks browsing randomly from bit to bit. Now its suddenly good to get random input.

    Contrary to what you say, you’re not really looking for deep thought. Because now you’re endorsing lack of control of flow of information and media. Not getting information you need makes deep thought harder. Not to mention that things like media from the radio tends to be always mass compatible low quality.

    I’m waiting for some solid, empircal, provable argument of what is going wrong with the internet. All I see is fuzzy feelings and anecdotes.

  9. Psimon88

    I can’t completely agree with all of Thomas’ points, but he does seem to make sense here:

    This argument here goes basically opposite of your usual critique of internet folks browsing randomly from bit to bit. Now its suddenly good to get random input.

    Maybe there’s a nice balance to achieve with regard to randomness? Some is great online but some is great offline.

  10. Julie Carle

    An interesting and relevant perspective Nicolas as more of us suffer connectivity addiction, the love of serendipidy but still wanting the old ways. Here Bob and Sue, two adult learners returning to Higher Education discuss many of the frustrations and issues in grappling with learning in today’s technology ridden gadget-centric world. The setting is a UK Educational networking

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