Anatomy Of An Online Burnout

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.

A Food Writer’s Manifesto

We all need one, and Grist’s new food writer lays his out:

Many food controversies tend to boil down to the same debate: One side insists on the necessity of progress through the application and advancement of ever more intrusive forms of technological control. The other extreme wants to chuck it all and go back to Eden.

This looks like a stark choice in the abstract, but in application, things always end up being a mix. I think we need to make every acre produce as much as possible, but that shouldn’t be our only goal. Our food should make the world cleaner and more beautiful rather than uglier and more polluted. Our food should support a broad middle class rather than tycoons and destitute laborers. Our food shouldn’t require the torture of animals. Our food should make us healthier.

Mainstream agriculture fails to deliver on any of these counts. The question is, can we come up with something that does any better?

Sounds good to me. In many ways this is the most important environmental and ethical question of our time.


The Costs Of Car Commuting

Serendipity: on the day Washingtonian posts my article arguing for using variable congestion fees to reduce traffic, Treehugger posts a great graphic on what car commuting really costs.

One of the reasons people hate the idea of paying congestion fees is that they are often pretty bad at calculating what traffic really costs them. But time is money, as they say, so congestion fees are offset by the time savings you gain. Plus, the revenue can be invested in transit improvements and options that are currently paid for with a gas tax. Think about it.

Anyhow, if you really want to save money, this graphic really drives home the key point: try to live near your work! The Suburban Dream is very expensive.

Bicycle Economics

I’ve (half-) joked about bicycling saving the world. But I keep coming across more and more analysis to back up the claim. Elly Blue, over at Grist, has been posting some good stuff on bicycle economics, which help make the case (though I hold no illusions about how far rational argument goes in our completely dysfunctional political culture).

Here’s what she has to say about the cost savings associated with moving from cars to bikes:

Imagine getting a $3,000 to $12,000 tax rebate this year. Now imagine it coming again and again. Every year it grows by around a thousand dollars.

Imagine how this would change your daily life.

Sounds like a teabagger’s wet dream, but it’s actually a conservative estimate of how much you’d save by ditching your car, or even just one of your cars — and getting on a bicycle instead.

Read the whole thing, which has links to some good studies. I’ll leave you to ponder the power of Bike-o-nomics with this graphic (click image for larger version).

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