Franckly speaking: Maybe I could go back to school with a new major

By From page A4 | May 20, 2011

Marion Franck. Democrat photo by Megan Jeremica

I’m addicted to technology and I know I’m not alone.

Recently, I hit rock bottom when I carried my cell phone up to bed and set it on the nightstand, even after what had happened the night before.

The night before, I had awakened at 3 a.m. to go to the bathroom. Normally, I fall back asleep immediately, but this time I noticed that the little green light on my new smart phone was blinking.

I tried to ignore it, but the thought of e-mail sitting there, winking at me in unrequited enthusiasm, became irresistible.

I clicked on the phone and read my messages. One of them was about a mistake I had made, which jerked me wide awake and kept me awake. I swore I’d never check e-mail in the night again.

But the next night, there was my phone on the nightstand, settled in like a kitty on my legs.

Technology has me bewitched.

Last week I read about two programs that I could download for $10 and $15 respectively that would stop me from incessantly checking e-mail or the Web. The first, simply titled “Freedom,” blocks your computer from the Internet for an amount of time you specify.

The second, “Anti-Social,” keeps you off networking sites like Facebook, Skype and Twitter, also for the amount of time you specify.

You can change your mind and go back online, but only by rebooting your computer, which takes time. Apparently, rebooting is enough of a pain that most people let Freedom and Anti-Social keep them away from their narcotic.

Both offer free trials.

I should sign up because, on a typical day, I waste a ridiculous amount of time jumping around the Web when I ought to finish my column.

Three hundred words seem to be my limit. After I’ve typed them into my computer, I get an irresistible urge to check e-mail, my gateway drug. Once I’m there, I get drawn into a labyrinth of links.

I click on Stephen Colbert to watch the previous night’s giggles. I pull up a kayaking hotline, even if I can’t go boating, to see the hour-by-hour flows on my favorite river. At this time of year, if a company e-mails me something about “free shipping,” I’m on board for at least one look at their Web site.

In the millisecond it takes me to move to each new location, I never question what I’m doing. I go. Would staring at the draft column uninterrupted make me a better writer or a more unhappy one? Visiting the Internet has become an essential mini-break for me, not very different from lifting my coffee cup to my lips.

Obviously, one copy of Freedom wouldn’t be sufficient to stop me from surfing. I’d need to load it onto my smart phone, too.

Two weeks ago, while on a mini-break, I came upon a new area of academic inquiry, contemplative studies.

I learned about it from an article in the Brown Daily Herald. Turns out Brown University offers contemplative studies at its medical school and may offer an undergraduate major in the same subject some day.

UC Davis seems to be riding the same wave. The cover of the most recent UC Davis Magazine shows the Dalai Lama touching heads with UC Davis neuroscientist Clifford Saron. The accompanying article describes a 10-year, multi-phase study of meditation involving several local researchers.

The articles about contemplative studies suggest that students pursue a variety of activities, but meditation is the top choice.

The problem is, I’ve tried it. Two years ago I joined a small group of women, led by a close friend, and once a week we gathered quietly together. Short sessions went beautifully. Long ones made me antsy. Either way, I loved chanting “Om.” But I never took what I learned home, never adopted the practice when I was alone.

Maybe contemplative studies is not my thing. But I’m happy to know it’s out there and growing. It reminds me that the world seeks balance and when we go too far in one direction, we then tilt back the other way. This applies to individuals, to societies, and to politics in a manner that makes everything a little less scary.

I’m not sure, however, that contemplative studies will work for me. It may be too late.

Actor and NRA president Charlton Heston, now deceased, said memorably and repeatedly that someone someday would have to pry his gun from his “cold, dead hands.”

I may not own a gun. But I do own a smart phone.

Marion Franck is a part-time resident of El Dorado County, with her primary residence in Davis. She writes a weekly column for the Davis Enterprise. Her column appears occasionally in the Mountain Democrat.



Marion Franck

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