Wifi on flights and trains is starting to become common place. It worries me because flights and train rides used to be the only places were I was forced to unplug from everything and just stare out the window. The allure of the next great email is just to powerful to ignore for too long if I know I have access. As one psychologist put it:
“What the Internet does is stimulate our reward systems over and over with tiny bursts of information (tweets, status updates, e-mails) that … can be delivered in more varied and less predictable sequences. These are experiences our brains did not evolve to prefer, but [they are] like drugs of abuse…”
But when I don’t have access, it doesn’t matter. I get time to daydream. To wonder. To be with my own thoughts, at my own pace. All of which is extremely beneficial for the brain.
But of course now, there’s Gmail Offline so when I’m “stuck” on a flight for two hours, now I can burn through my inbox instead of stare out the window because, on paper, that seems to be more productive.
Soon, I suspect I’ll have unlimited access to wifi anywhere I go. The allure will be to always check in. The real skill then is to learn how to check out. With every new technology comes opportunities and challenges. This generation is going to have to learn the skill of checking out whereas their parents didn’t have to learn it because it was given to them whether they wanted it or not. Maybe purposeful checking out will end up being a good thing because we’ll value the time more because it was our choice to check out instead of being forced to check out.