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Anatomy Of An Online Burnout

August 20, 2013

David Roberts at Grist is unplugging for a year:

It has been a dream job. I’ve loved it. I still love it.

But I am burnt the fuck out.

I spend each day responding to an incoming torrent of tweets and emails. I file, I bookmark, I link, I forward, I snark and snark and snark. All day long. Then, at night, after my family’s gone to bed and the torrent has finally slowed to a trickle and I can think for more than 30 seconds at a stretch, I try to write longer, more considered pieces.

I enjoy every part of this: I enjoy sharing zingers with Twitter all day; I enjoy writing long, wonky posts at night. But the lifestyle has its drawbacks. I don’t get enough sleep, ever. I don’t have any hobbies. I’m always at work. Other than hanging out with my family, it’s pretty much all I do — stand at a computer, immersing myself in the news cycle, taking the occasional hour out to read long PDFs. I’m never disconnected.

It’s doing things to my brain.

I think in tweets now. My hands start twitching if I’m away from my phone for more than 30 seconds. I can’t even take a pee now without getting “bored.” I know I’m not the only one tweeting in the bathroom. I’m online so much that I’ve started caring about “memes.” I feel the need to comment on everything, to have a “take,” preferably a “smart take.” The online world, which I struggle to remember represents only a tiny, unrepresentative slice of the American public, has become my world. I spend more time there than in the real world, have more friends there than in meatspace.

There’s a lot more here, and while I have never stayed that plugged in, that intensely (okay, I do admit that I often read my phone while I pee), I do wonder often about how much time social media and “being online” consumes, and what the opportunity cost of that time is. So much of what happens online is trivial and ephemeral, even thought it may feel vital and important in the moment. And it is so easy to get stuck in, and suddenly come to your senses hours later and wonder what you have achieved. At the same time, there are nuggets of truth and extraordinary connections that sometimes emerge. So it’s a dilemma.

I haven’t figured out an answer yet. But Roberts apparently has. It will be interesting to see whether he really will come back. I wonder.

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