When Jesse Eisenberg “plugged in” as Mark Zuckerberg in “The Social Network,” headphones snug on his head, fingers fluttering away at his keyboard, I didn’t draw a line between what he was doing and what I do every day. He was in a world of numbers and codes, algorithms for Farmville animals and “poke” buttons that would one day rule the world. Me? I import pictures of food, edit them in Photoshop, upload them to Flickr and then use them in blog posts and my newsletter. Only, while doing that (and other kinds of writing), I’m also Tweeting, Instagramming, chatting, e-mailing, Facebooking and checking Google Reader in an endless loop. It’s easy to get sucked into that vortex, especially when your job requires you to sit at your computer all day. Two weeks ago, I realized that I was every bit as plugged in as Zuckerberg in that movie. Not only plugged in but also cut off. Cut off from other people, cut off from reality. And so, two weeks ago, I decided to make some dramatic changes before leaving for Eliza Island where Craig’s family has a rustic cabin just off of Bellingham, Washington.
The changes were bold. I deleted chat from my computer. I reset my e-mail application from checking e-mail every minute to every hour. Then I decided to close the e-mail app all together and to only check it a few times a day.
The purging continued on Twitter, where I unfollowed 200 people (if you’re one of them, I still like you!) and on Reader where I unsubscribed from any blog that updates more than twice a day. With those specific blogs, I saved them in a folder called “Once A Week” which I’ll check every Friday.
This was all incidental. The real effort was psychological. If I’m going to open my computer, it’s got to be purposeful. If I’m going to do a post (like the post I’m writing right now) I need to focus on that post and that post only. If I’m doing 30 other things while writing that post, not only will my brain start to fry, the post will suffer. And I’ll begin to sink into the web like a bog, my brain growing more and more saturated with unnecessary information.
I knew that was a real problem when, right before my big break-through, I was starting to forget things. Little things. The name of the British guy on “Mad Men.” I spent 15 minutes in bed, really trying, squeezing my eyes shut and pressing my fingers to my head, straining to remember his name. Finally, it came to me: “Lane.” It shouldn’t have been so hard.
After the great digital purge, I started to feel different. Physically different. In the mornings, I would still spend time on the computer, doing what I needed to do, but in the afternoons I would go to a coffee shop with a pad and pen and write by hand. My brain unclenched itself and suddenly I was having new ideas, sharper thoughts, a deep sense of clarity.
When Craig asked me how I felt, I said that I felt like I’d been at the bottom of the ocean and that I was slowly coming to the surface.
And surface I did, a few days later, with Craig’s family on Eliza Island.
We brought along our friends Mark and Diana who, you may recall, had engaged Craig in a fierce debate about East Coast blue crabs vs. West Coast Dungeness crabs. And while still maintaining their sentimental attachment to their childhood crabs doused with Old Bay, they couldn’t refute the spiritual splendor of eating freshly caught crabs boiled in sea water right there on the beach.
Nothing gets you out of your own head more than sitting there in the sun with a crab claw, cracking away the hard shell and carefully pulling out the sweet, white meat. Craig’s sister would agree.
Of course, chilled white wine doesn’t hurt.
And when you run out of crab, Steve (Craig’s dad) will always row out and get you some more.
Whatever crab you don’t eat yourself will get used the next morning in scrambled eggs:
Which gives you a perfect amount of energy for kayaking around the island:
Then the Johnsons will reel in even more crab:
Which you’ll let your friends pick while you read Iris Murdoch’s “The Unicorn” which I’m not sure I fully recommend.
Your friends do a good job, you’ve got to admit. Look at all that meat.
Steve then conjures up a farewell dish which is almost cruel in the way that it makes you want to stay right where you are. That dish, of course, is a big platter of crab cakes.
Let’s cut in.
I mean…that’s just cruel.
As new guests come (including Craig’s cousin Chris, seen here), it’s time for the first crew to leave.
Before I know it, I’m back at a coffee shop, sitting at my laptop, “plugged in” and struggling to return to that Eliza frame of mind.
It’s not impossible. True, I did check Twitter and Facebook a few times while writing this post. Writing is lonely work. I kept my e-mail off, though, and haven’t chatted a peep. When I hit publish, I’ll write my newsletter, then close up my computer and head to the gym.
Will I be cured of my overcharged brain? Or is it the fate of every professional blogger to fall back down the rabbit hole?
Maybe all I need to do, in those moments of virtual weakness, is to click my heels together and transport myself, at least mentally, back to Eliza. Standing on that beach covered in multicolored rocks, listening to the waves lap against the shore as the crab traps are being hauled back in is pretty much irrefutable evidence that as engaging as life might be on the ocean’s bottom of the online world, life is much better on the surface.