To tweet, perchance to dream

The future, it seems, is too much for Nick Bilton. The New York Times’s in-house webstud, and author of the book I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works, had something of a Joycean epiphany last week. Perched atop a rocky cliff, watching the sun dissolve majestically into the Pacific, he immediately did, he writes, “what any normal person would do in 2011”: he whipped out his iPhone and started farting around with it, eager to come up with something “to share on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.”

But then a wave of self-doubt broke upon his consciousness:

Here I was, watching this magnificent sunset, and all I could do is peer at it through a tiny four-inch screen. “What’s wrong with me?” I thought. “I can’t seem to enjoy anything without trying to digitally capture it or spew it onto the Internet.” [the guy even talks to himself in stilted prose! -snarky blogger]

That gave him pause. It was like one of those moments when Pandora stops the music stream and asks you if you’re still listening. And so, “after talking to people who do research on subjects like this,” Bilton made a resolution for 2012: he will, he says, “spend at least 30 minutes a day without my iPhone.” He is nothing if not ambitious.

Now, followers of Bilton may at this point be feeling a little shiver of deja vu running up their spines. It was just a year ago, after all, when he announced his resolution for 2011, which was – you guessed it – to spend a small amount of time offline every day. He would, he wrote back then, be “retreating just a little bit from the digital paraphernalia.”

I will leave it to the addiction experts to interpret Bilton’s behavior. What interests me is what he plans to do with his half hour of daily disconnectedness this coming year. He’s going to devote the time, he says, to daydreaming. “Daydreams, scientists say, are imperative in solving problems,” he explains.

I used to think that daydreams just sort of happened, that they weren’t really something you could plan ahead for, like a dentist appointment. But, I have to say, Bilton’s plan sounds appealing. You schedule a 30-minute daily daydreaming slot onto your Google Calendar, and when the moment arrives you switch off the iPhone, iPad, etc., and immediately enter a fugue state in which your subsconscious is allowed to work its magic. You emerge, a half hour later, refreshed, bursting with creativity, and ready for some high-octane problem-solving.

In fact, now that I think about it, maybe this isn’t a case of Bilton retreating, tail between legs, from the future. Maybe, even in taking his daily 30-minute daydream break, he will actually still be dwelling in the future. I bet when the Google Brain Plug-in finally ships, it will come with a Daydream App. For a half hour every day, your brain will automatically be switched into blue-screen mode. Disconnected from the data flow, you will be plunged into a regenerative state of unconsciousness, broken only by the occasional subliminal advertisement.

6 thoughts on “To tweet, perchance to dream

  1. Seth Finkelstein

    This is such an amazing welter of class signifiers. Some cultural critic could have a field day:

    “Oh, my expensive technology is not bringing me happiness, as it alienates me from natural experience. I plan to engage in the high-status behavior of doing nothing, despite the constant demands on my time which are necessary from the extensive group grooming I’m expected to do to maintain my social connections. But I’m not being lazy, like lower-class people are said to be, it’s medically approved by intellectual science and might even give me a competitive edge in the knowledge work I do”.

    And this post: “Don’t think of it as empty. Think of it as the next frontier for commodified experience”.

  2. e.m.griffin

    I think what I hate most about this is that I see myself in it. I understand the human urge for connectivity, for wanted to be heard and understood, but I despise myself even now for writing this. Who are we to assume that we care what each other thinks? And yet here we are, strangers in a surprisingly not-so-foreign land.

    What is the line? Where do we cross between making fun of the person who can only experience life by broadcasting moments through social media, and the danger of actually becoming that person? Am I better because I want to have some form of what I hope will be intelligent discourse, rather than just letting you know that I am about to eat a jelly sandwich? (I am not, incidentally.)

    I am really struggling with the idea of making technology truly meaningful. If I am just using it to post my musings, or to ensure myself of my own superiority by casting down others, is that really adding any quality to my life? C.S. Lewis wrote that “we read to know we are not alone.” It always made perfect sense to me. I think of the internet in much the same way…except perhaps I am noticing that aloneness is inescapable, whether we know about each other’s jelly sandwiches or not. The singularity of existence and experience remains, and somehow our grand efforts to connect have left us more disconnected, and disconcerted, than ever before.

  3. Sprague Dawley

    Talk about misdirection… I find a terribly melancholy undertone to Bilton’s piece — which he dresses up in cognitive surplus and mock neuroscience — but which is really about loneliness and anxiety. He tips it when he likens his disconnected self to a bereft child. He obsessively “shares” because he’s afraid that if he’s not constantly observed he’ll cease to exist, vanish. His desperate attempt to carve out a mere 30 minutes a day when he is *by himself* is really an attempt to maintain himself without social reinforcement. I predict he will continue to fail in his attempts because he’s not addressing the real issue.

    It ain’t about cognitive surplus.

  4. Will Aft

    This is fantastic. I’m going to immediately start a social network focused around off-line time to share our scheduled serenity.

    Quiet alone time is soooo much better when it can be digitized, internetized, and shared with others who value solitary contemplation.

  5. Jeffrey Pillow

    From time to time, if we pay attention, the Web holds up a mirror to let us see how ridiculous our actions are, have become/are becoming. ‘Disconnecting’ from the internet for 30 minutes a day to spontaneously (within a set 30 minute window) daydream is as ridiculous as tweeting or Facebooking every highlight of your day/life, frame by frame. Bilton is confusing self-inflation with self-awareness.

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