Power down for a bit

“Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave?”

In the 1968 classic Stanley Kubrick movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey, an incredulous H.A.L. 9000 supercomputer, fresh off of eliminating most of the crew of the Saturn-bound Discovery, is quite concerned that Dr. Dave Bowman is proceeding to power him down.

In Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, living rooms are dominated by flat-screen televisions that bring the viewer into the drama depicted in the show.

George Orwell in 1984 describes an authoritarian state with a watchful eye – Big Brother – who sees into your home and monitors your behavior.

2001 is 51-years-old, Fahrenheit 451 was copyrighted in 1953, and Orwell published 1984 in 1949, 60 years ago. While the dates might be a decade or two off, they certainly had a vision of what was to come today.

Is it any wonder that now, with immersive technology, artificial intelligence, and the internet of things (building the web into other objects), some of us get mildly nervous regarding the future of civil liberty?

While it is my hope that we continue to guard against “newspeak,” the “thought police” or the “firemen,” it is hard not to see the current climate of mass media and social media intoxicating us with its ever-present echo chamber. And, that we are continuing to be divided further into our tribes and closer to openly assaulting the First Amendment.

That said, we are really not all that far from quickly going from “marketing efficiency” to Draconian society. Without a doubt, we are being watched. Marketers crave our data to tailor their product offerings directly to us. Politicians, too.

They love to know our voting patterns and pet issues to ensure we’re aware that they’re on our side. And the media and social media giants are guilty, too. They seek to offer you your personal clickbait for the purposes of advertising and have what appears in your feed be exactly what you want to see.

While you might expect the rest of the column to be about my making points about how to prevent a dark, dystopian society, I’d rather focus on a simple, much more personal and highly practical action that we all can take to forestall authoritarianism, totalitarianism or mob populism.

It’s easy and incredibly simple, and, as we move into August, now is the perfect time for a reminder: take a break. You have to unplug and unwind. Take a walk. Stop and smell the roses – or the seafoam.

What better way to ensure that the behaviors that guard against a societal downward spiral – love, patience, tolerance, personal ownership, integrity, etc. – than to simply relax?

Take a vacation. Rest. It’s common sense that if you sleep and rest well, you wake up in a better mood, and that means a better world.

If a vacation isn’t in the cards, another easy way to reset is simply by putting away our phones and social media for at least one day a week.

Wouldn’t it be nice to just go one day without hearing about a Trump tweet and the subsequent global response?

In “The Hard Break: The Case for a 24/6 Lifestyle,” Aaron Edelheit argues that productivity improves simply by putting the phones down for one day a week. With the barrage of emails, texts, and tweets keeping us ever connected, the mobile phone which was supposed to be a business optimization tool isn’t actually making us any happier – or more productive, as designed.

So, do yourself a favor this August: take a break. Put the phone away.

Keep the laptop shutdown. Put your smart speakers on silent. Do this if only to preserve your sanity and, ultimately, our democracy.

And, if you haven’t already, use your newfound free time to watch 2001 and read Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. Maybe even visit Sandbridge or Knotts Island to simply listen to the water.

It’s the American thing to do.


This article also appears in The Princess Anne Independent News