Part of the job description for being an American today is the ceaseless accumulation of crap, compounded by the ever-increasing giving of one's time to some screen filled with words, video, or work to do. This can and does become a spiral of dizzying glaze, a subtle anxiety bubbling up or threatening to if the television is not on or the email isn't pulled up or the phone isn't open or the iPod isn't humming. Because: what if we missed something? What if we aren't being entertained? What if there is silence?
Like so many others in this situation, my wife and I are intermittently but perpetually involved in simplifying our life. We have been especially convicted as of late, and have begun to take steps seriously to diminish the role and time-consuming power technology has in our life. For example, we got rid of one of our TVs (the one in the bedroom), and are requesting that our cable service shift from the 80-odd channels we currently receive to the handful of basic network channels. We considered getting rid of cable or the TV altogether, but because we would like to have the news as an option, alongside special televised events (the Super Bowl, the Oscars, elections), and also because we value the visual medium as an art form (films, of course, as well as quality shows like The Wire or Battlestar Galactica), we decided to keep them, at least for now.
We also got rid of one of our two laptops, but that was because it broke. It has been a blessing, however, only having one computer, and now we have discovered (belatedly, it seems) a most wonderful tool for limiting our computer time: Freedom.
Freedom is only for Mac OS X, so PC users will have to look elsewhere, but it has already been a gift to these two members of the internet generation. Put simply, Freedom disables your computer's ability to get on the internet for the amount of time you tell it, up to eight hours. If you must get back on, you can simply restart the computer and the internet will be up and running for you.
The idea is that we are all unwittingly addicted to the internet. Email, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, ESPN, blogs, news, politics, opinion, whatever. We have lost the ability either to get any real work done on a computer without getting endlessly sidetracked or simply to do something offline, away from the computer, without feeling the nagging urge to "check our sites."
Enter Freedom, which is a kind of hopeful question mark on the possibilities of technology to check itself. Freedom offers the opportunity to learn the habits of healthy technological engagement, to form ourselves in a way that, in partnership with a program on our computer, we might learn to live life away from the computer. Of course, if we are so undisciplined that we will simply restart the computer to get the internet back, it won't be of any help. But on the other hand, if we can click "180 minutes" on Freedom, close the computer, and turn to other business, we might just feel liberated enough to know that a book, a person, a walk, or a prayer has our entire, unworried self for a whole three hours. Such attentiveness is surely the first step in a long-term rehabilitation from the virtue-sapping idol our television, computer, and cellular screens often become, a healing that might lead us to a place that creates and employs technology not to the detriment, but in the service of, human life.