Saturday, January 23, 2016

Going Off-Line As Privilege Signaling

Sometimes you have to do a little signaling.
What better way to show you’re too cool to be ‘on’ all the time; that you need space to think great thoughts? 
That, and when you have the machines on, sure as hell somebody's going to try to contact you.
From the Guardian:

How living offline became the new status symbol 
It was a death as intensely private as the mourning was public. David Bowie was cremated this week in New York without fuss or fanfare, following an illness he managed to conceal from the world. Not for him the gawping graveside circus, the paparazzi stalking famous mourners. He turned his back on all of that years ago, by choosing to make so little of his recent life – apart from his music – available for public consumption.

And perhaps that’s the only really radical thing left to do, in an era saturated with way too much information – to just stop talking. Run away from the attention everyone else seems to be compulsively seeking; disappear, disengage. There is no status symbol so powerful now as not having a status – or not, at least, in the “look at me” Facebook sense – at all.

Over Christmas in the Peak District, with no phone signal and only unreliable Wi-Fi, I finally got around to finishing some of the half-read or postponed books that had been cluttering my bedside table all year. The first happened to be Jonathan Franzen’s Purity, whose heroine is raised “off grid” in a cabin in the redwood mountains by a hippyish mother apparently seeking a cleaner, simpler existence.

It turns out to be anything but clean and simple, of course, since almost everyone in the novel is trying to keep some catastrophic secret. But although the book has been out for a few months now, its themes felt oddly prescient.

Without giving anything away, it’s perhaps no accident that Franzen places their cabin near San Francisco, one of the most connected and technologically advanced places on the planet – but one that isn’t immune to the occasional yearning for a simpler, purer life. Steve Hilton, the former Downing Street staffer turned tech guru, explained in the Guardian this week why he hasn’t carried a mobile phone for three years, despite running a Silicon Valley startup and being married to an Uber executive, and why he never wants to go back to something he associates with “stress and tension and anxiety”.

In his book, More Human, Hilton also admits to not letting his children have phones or tablets – they use computers only at school – and proposes a ban on internet-enabled movie devices for under-16s, mainly to shield them from porn.

The Oscar-nominated actor Eddie Redmayne has also admitted that for much of last year he resorted to an old school “dumbphone” that does nothing but make and receive calls or texts, to wean himself off obsessive email checking.

After decluttering, dry January and the dreaded clean eating, the next big fashionable purging movement looks set to be the Wi-Fi detox; a bit like colonic irrigation for the mind, flushing out all the unnecessary gunge. Which may be why carrying something with all the functionality of a 90s housebrick has started to become positively hip in some circles. What better proof that you’re just too cool and creative to be “on” all the time; that you need to be free to think great thoughts?

For just as dieting suggests you were eating too much to start with, and decluttering is only for those who have acquired far too much pointless stuff, going cold turkey on connectivity is only really for those privileged and popular enough to have binged on it in the first place. (Not to mention, perhaps, being rather easier for anyone with PAs and flunkies willing to handle all those pesky toxic emails on your behalf. Like the Queen refusing to carry cash, unplugging can in certain circles be a sign that, frankly, you’ve got people to deal with all that.)...MORE
There is that.
HT: The Paris Review's linkpost, "Inside Incubabula, and Other News"