Friday, August 10, 2012


Every August, Ateneo teachers take three days off to go on retreat.  It's one of those optional-but-highly-encouraged university activities; but it's also well ingrained in the psyche of the school that participation is fairly high, without any of the arm-twisting that you might expect.  Many, in fact, do look forward to it.

My first two years, I opted for the live-out retreat.  The schedule is much lighter, the venue isn't nearly so far away, and most importantly, I get to go home and sleep in my own bed at the end of the day.

This year, though, I finally took the plunge into the full-on stay-in silent retreat.  Apart from giving up my home comforts for two nights, there was the prospect of a three-hour journey to Kidapawan (in reality, worse than I imagined).

What drive me to such a decision?  The need for spiritual enlightenment?  The quest for inner peace?  Well, no, and no.  What I really wanted, more than anything else, was to disconnect myself from technology for a few days.

Over the years I've noticed an increasingly disturbing pattern about my Internet habits.  Early on, it was email, eventually evolving into blogs.  On the one hand, it was necessary for work; but on the other hand, it can't be too healthy if you're checking for updates every half hour (which is what I was doing).

Habit-wise, things just got worse and worse as the years wore on.  Friendster (yes, I had one), Multiply, Livejournal, Flickr, YouTube, Digg, and the ultimate soul-sucking time-waster, Facebook.  How much time did I actually lose to these social networks?

With Facebook, I took the extreme option and nuked my own account, leaving some 700 "friends" high-and-dry.  As I've written before, it was a liberating experience, and one that I would recommend to everyone.  As for the rest, well, they all just died a natural death (the latest one being the once high-flying Multiply.)

Funny thing about these social networks, though: like the mythical Hydra's heads, when one dies another seven rise up to take its place.  Twitter, Plurk, Instagram, Pinterest, Google+, 500px, Reddit, DeviantArt (and I haven't even gotten started on the really niche services).

It all starts out so innocently: you're tired of your usual social networks because everybody else has discovered it and they're not cool anymore, so you move on to the next one that promises to be more exclusive.  But before you know it, it's the same shtick all over again.

With today's smartphones, the connection is even easier, and hence the temptations are even greater.  You know what they say, right?  There's an app for that.

Take a photo, leech on to a wifi signal, and zap!  You've just updated your Instagram.  And...hey, I got 2 Likes!  Must Like their pictures back because, you know, we don't want to be rude.  On and on, on and on.

You might think that I'm turning into a Luddite in my old age.  Quite the opposite: I'm easily attracted to the latest shiny thing to come out, whether it's a gadget or service.  Which makes me all the more susceptible to these little addictions.

Which makes it all the more important for me to cut the cord and disconnect every now and then.