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Sunday, Dec 21, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

Otto: We’re all in need of a reboot

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From a distance, they look like the walking dead. You see them everywhere, in cars and restaurants; at ball games and in the workplace. Their heads are tilted slightly and they move with zombie-like steps. They are the barely-undead. They are the plugged-in, usually attached to a so-called smart phone or staring at a tablet device as the world churns around them.

The world could come to an end and they wouldn’t know about it until that final tweet came flashing through or somebody posted a picture of a giant explosion on Facebook.

You are probably one of them. I am.

I didn’t think so until the other day when we got in the car, drove five or six blocks and I realized I didn’t have my cell phone. For a second, there was panic. I felt naked and vulnerable. What if someone sent me a text and I didn’t get it instantly? What if I missed the weather report? The stock report? The lunch specials at Castillo Brothers Restaurant in West Tampa?

We did a quick U-turn as I began to sweat until we were safely back at the house and my hands clutched the phone.

Over the weekend, a group known as “Reboot’’ held its fifth annual “National Day of Unplugging.’’ I don’t know how I missed it. It was everywhere on the social media.

The idea was that for 24 hours, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, we would unplug.

For an entire day we would go without cell phones, lap tops, game machines, anything connected to the Internet.

In its place, we would reconnect with the world outside, reflect on life, maybe actually hold a verbal conversation while looking at someone not on Skype.

Tanya Schevitz is a spokeswoman for Reboot. “I think that people are overwhelmed,’’ she said. “It’s physically taken a toll on people. If you think you have to respond to everything, all the time, that’s an unrealistic expectation.’’

I’ll buy that. I can remember when we purchased our first cell phone. The idea was that the Frau would carry it in her purse but it was only there for emergencies. I think that lasted for about a week when the first “emergency’’ call came to me at the office with her asking me to stop by the grocery on the way home.

Meanwhile, down at the Type and Gripe factory the digital world had already begun to swallow us up. The typewriters were long gone, replaced by word processors that would lead us steadily down the Internet until we were trapped in webs we could not comprehend.

The Reboot people say that there is growing evidence that multi-tasking is inefficient and that the brain can’t focus as it jumps around, pausing every few minutes to check email and maybe a sneak peek at Facebook.

That’s all true. But right now I’m at home, sitting in my closet-den writing on a laptop. Three feet away hundreds of digital pictures we took on our last trip are flashing on and off the PC screen. Fifteen feet away in the bedroom, Babe the pig is herding sheep on a giant TV screen, which doesn’t bother me because I’m playing music on a CD attached to the computer.

Could I turn all of this off for 24 hours, cutting off immediate contact with family, work, my daily dose of spam promising to make me a sexual stud and those offers to put me in touch with someone in Nigeria who wants to give me millions of dollars, not to mention hearing from my 4,000 or so very close friends on Facebook?

I’d sure like to give it a try but I have to check my email first.

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