Just about a year ago, I sat across from some of my Labs coworkers as we discussed our varied uses of mobile technology. I, at the time, was new to the team — and as I began to describe how I preferred to steer clear of toying with my iPhone when I strolled or Metro-ed about town, they looked at me with bewilderment.
“You do know where you’re working, right?”
Oh, how times have changed. Many apps and emails later, my life on my mobile is the most intensive and complex it’s ever been. From sunrise to sunset, the little machine resides nearby on a desk or in a pocket, always gleaming and shimmering under the light, seducing me with buzzes and dings and vibrations. It is my portal to the world — but am I its prisoner or its master?
A few days ago, Pico Iyer wrote in The New York Times a piece about ‘The Joy of Quiet‘ — that is, the importance of unplugging ourselves from technology and searching for the “emotional and moral clarity that can’t be found on any screen.” He claims to not use a cell phone, not tweet throughout the day, not follow his friends on Facebook. He reminds us that “all the data in the world cannot teach us how to sift through data; images don’t show us how to process images.” To Iyer, nothing is better than being wholly absorbed in “a book, a conversation, a piece of music… it’s joy.”
The extreme life of disconnectivity he lives is striking, but when contrasted with the alternative — the average teenager sends 75 text messages a day, according to Iyer — it seems nothing short of necessary.
As I read his commentary, I couldn’t help but think: is Labs’ work improving people’s lives? Are we bringing others joy through innovation and efficiency, or are we tethering them to information overload? Is it possible for our team to invest our days in an online space that benefits others? Unplugging is essential to our well-being, but how do we reconcile that with the products we deliver every day?
The answer may not be clear, but WaPo Labs’ intentions are. We strive to create, innovate, and incite curiosity. We want to make peoples’ lives easier, to effortlessly make knowledge and information accessible through digital mediums that burgeon with opportunity. And if we can do that, we’re well on our way to achieving many successes.
When you’re finished reading this paragraph, turn off your screen and go for a walk. Breathe some air. Strike up a conversation with a stranger. And, the next time you’re ready to plug in and turn on, know that we are too — dreaming and working and, sometimes, enjoying being not-so-quiet.