Has our ability to stay present in the real world largely been destroyed by the internet? If so, how has that happened? If we erected internet “stop signs” would we be better off?
While we were saturated with different sources of information, news, and entertainment as recently as the Twentieth Century, those sources had naturally occurring stop cues that allowed us to pause and consider disengaging from the sources.
For example, when we reached the end of a section of the newspaper, or even the entire newspaper, we stopped, and likely decided to move onto something else.
While reading a book, we came to the end of a chapter, or the completed book, and then we were done, freeing ourselves up for something different in the world.
When we played a record album, we had a natural stop built in when we finished the side of the album.
As we watched television, there were limited channels and shows to choose from, and when our selected show ended, we often used the break and decided to go do another activity, and frequently not a passive activity.
When we wanted to watch a movie, we went out to the theater, saw the movie, and then got up and left to return to our real lives.
But now the sources of information, news, and entertainment are bottomless. What is meant in this context by the word “bottomless”?
By virtue of the ultimate saturation provided by the internet, we have lost stopping cues. For example:
- We can check ever-updated news sites constantly.
- There is no dearth of constant updates provided by social media sites.
- Even when reading books, by doing so electronically we can move seamlessly and endlessly from one book to another.
- We can stream music non-stop without even coming to an end.
- We have numerous online ways to watch a multitude of television shows and movies without ever having to stop; there is more content than we can ever handle.
So, What Do We Do to Build in Stop Signs on the Internet?
Some of the stop signs can be mandated by employers, for example.
Indeed, one company toward the end of the work day has all desks automatically raised to the ceiling. The workplace is transformed into a yoga and dance studio. Obviously, the employees do not have the option to continue working at their desks on their computers. Rather, they are provided the choice on certain days to engage in yoga, and on other days to participate in dance.
Another company, when an employee is on vacation, provides automatic email replies that tells email senders that the employee is on vacation and that the email will be deleted. Thus, the email sender has the choice of waiting to contact the employee once the employee is back from vacation, or to contact a different employee who is not on vacation. The point is to treat as sacrosanct the vacation of the employee so that the employee truly can get away.
And at home, certain stops signs can be put in place. Rules can be agreed upon; for example, it can be decided that smart phones must be placed far away from the dining table during meals. The same thing can be true when it is agreed that in-person conversations are going to happen.
We all must find ways to protect ourselves from the ubiquity of the internet. The internet can become omnipresent, but we can take steps to build internet stop signs.
Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod’s columns, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author’s law firm or its individual partners.