Mindful Disconnection: some counterthoughts about the always-on life
October 5th, 2007

Erik Kluitenberg and I wrote about “Mindful Disconnection: Counterpowering The Panopticon from the Inside” (PDF) as a chapter in OPEN no. 11 Hybrid Space. How wireless media are mobilizing public space.. I am sometimes set up as an example of a technology enthusiast or California ideologist, and I’ve taken some of this criticism seriously. It’s possible to criticize that which one also embraces, enjoys, and profits from.

Perhaps the act of mindfully disconnecting specific times, spaces and situations in our lives from technological mediation ought to be considered as a practical form of resistance – an act of will on the part of individual humans as a means of exercising control over the media in their lives. It remains uncertain whether it is possible or preferable to disrupt the technological augmentation of human thought and communication that is becoming available to most of the earth’s population. We are not as convinced as others that technology is only, primarily, or necessarily a dangerous toxin. There is a danger in locating technologies’ malignancies in the tools themselves rather than the way people use them and mentally distancing us from responsibility for the way we use our creative products might diminishes our power to control our tools. We are increasingly convinced, however, that we need to resist becoming too well adapted to our media, even as creators. Perhaps tools, methods, motivations, and opportunities for making the choice to disconnect – and perceiving the value of disconnecting in ways of our choosing – might be worth considering as a response to the web of info-tech that both extends and ensnares us.

The capacity and freedom to disconnect might well be necessary to prevent the intoxication of technology from tipping into toxicity: it seems more effective and more humane to resist technologies’ dangers through mindfulness, not through prohibitions, regulations, revolutions, or guardrails. It makes sense to expend intellectual energy instead of fossil fuels, deploy thought instead of bureaucracy, employ awareness rather than conflict. Mindful disconnection doesn’t require a top-down change in large-scale institutions or a redesign of installed infrastructure. It only requires that enough people make a decision and act on it

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