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No more sleeping on it

By Jean-Claude Elias - Dec 06,2012 - Last updated at Dec 06,2012

“She said why don’t we both just sleep on it tonight,

And I believe in the morning you’ll begin to see the light”

- Paul Simon, Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover, 1975

“Sleep on it” the saying goes. That may a privilege of the past, unless it is taken literally of course, for we still sleep at night, luckily. Often the expression simply means “leave it for a little while, just give it time and let it simmer, and the solution will then come by itself”.

The digital world and the AORTA concept that goes with it leave no room for sleeping on it. AORTA stands for Always On Real Time Access, a term introduced by Mark Anderson, head of the Strategic News Service, at www.stratnews.com. It illustrates very well the state most of us are in today, always connected and doing something on the web, or even offline by moments, but with the machine nevertheless.

How can you stop worrying about anything in a totally and constantly connected digital high-tech world, when you feel compelled to be doing something all the time with a digital device of some sort? Aren’t you restless constantly checking the news, answering e-mails and phone calls, texting, searching the web for information and socialising on social networks in a kind of perpetual movement, night or day, come rain or come shine?

As if computers, tablets and smartphones were not enough, now TVs too are connected to the web and have gotten “smart” all of a sudden, leaving us no respite at all.

Being always pushed to do something without, in parallel, being given the time to think at all can be a terrible thing. It is not only exhausting for the mind, but can also lead to disastrous results in the very task you are working on. It can kill creativity and reduce mental concentration, greatly affecting one’s performance.

But here’s the problem, to think well or to “sleep on it” for that matter, you have to remain at a distance from the machine, to avoid even looking at it, to separate the thinking process from the working (i.e. the doing) process. We are less and less able to do that. Partly because the industry is pushing us to be with the machine, partly because we are gladly giving in! We certainly like it. No time to let it simmer at all.

Long before the digital age, the concept was known, understood and put into practice: “Action [is] only an implementation of thought” (Donald Schön, The reflective practitioner, How professionals think in action). Whereas adopting this approach was obvious and easy in the past, it is becoming more and more difficult to do so today because of the omnipresence of the machine and of the web.

“Stay connected all the time” a smartphone ad says. What if I do not want to be connected all the time? What if I do not see it as a good thing, as a benefit?

We’re probably already in a vicious circle that will be hard to break. Less time to think and to let it simmer means it will be more difficult to escape from the system.

It takes a strong will to come back home in the evening and to say “no, I am not going to check my e-mail tonight”. It’s even harder to say “I won’t take a look at my Facebook account; just this time.” Some people do it, sometimes! These people are very few and these moments rare.

Giving up the addiction — can you think of another word for it? — could prove to be like giving up smoking and as hard. Simple strong will is not enough; you have to find tricks to make it work. Like for instance spending a nice evening chatting (no, no, not online) with friends or playing sports. Again no, playing tennis with a Wii or Kinect machine does not qualify. It should clearly be a “digital-free, web-free guaranteed” thing. 

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