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Pico Iyer On Unplugging

Originally aired January 17, 2012. Listen to the original broadcast.

Enough with the “always on” digital world. Pico Iyer is unplugging. He’s with us.

Author Pico Iyer. (AP)

Author Pico Iyer. (AP)

We text, we tweet, we carry cell phones like they’re life lines. We check our e-mails, our Facebook pages, our online status six different ways.  And then we start again.  We’ve known for a while now that the digital world – great as it is – could be addictive.  Overwhelming.  An obsession.  A leash.  A prison.

Some people are breaking out.  Letting go.  Staying off.  Travel writer Pico Iyer is one.  He moved cell-phone-free to the boondocks of Japan for a reason.  Better to go slow, go quietly, go off the digital grid.

This hour On Point:  Pico Iyer, and walking away from the “always on” digital world.

–Tom Ashbrook


Pico Iyer, essayist and novelist who wrote the New York Times op-ed “The Joy Of Quiet.” His most recent book is “The Man Within My Head.”

Mizuko Ito, research director for the Digital Media and Learning Hub and professor of anthropology and informatics at the University of California Humanities Research Institute. (@mizuko)

From Tom’s Reading List

New York Times: The Joy Of Quiet – “In barely one generation we’ve moved from exulting in the time-saving devices that have so expanded our lives to trying to get away from them — often in order to make more time. The more ways we have to connect, the more many of us seem desperate to unplug. Like teenagers, we appear to have gone from knowing nothing about the world to knowing too much all but overnight. ”

Los Angeles Times: The Writing Life: The Point Of The Long And Winding Sentence — “‘Your sentences are so long,’ said a friend who teaches English at a local college, and I could tell she didn’t quite mean it as a compliment. The copy editor who painstakingly went through my most recent book often put yellow dashes on-screen around my multiplying clauses, to ask if I didn’t want to break up my sentences or put less material in every one.”

Salon: No More Vacation: How Technology Is Stealing Our Lives – “Friday before the 4th of July, my friend Sara and I walked to the local pool, talking about work stress, anxiety, difficulty relaxing. We were both struck by how lately, after 15 years of full-time work, we were so unreasonably tired. Why now, we wondered, when we have more experience and self-assurance, when we are amply compensated for our labor at comparatively cushy white-collar jobs, do we feel more spent than when we were strapped entry-level drones, running our tails off to please insatiable bosses?”


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  • Expanded_Consciousness

    Glad to hear Pico Iyer is walk onto the OnPoint digital world, digitally recorded, digitally broadcast, digitally streamed, downloaded onto my digital mp3 player, as I make my digital comment. Welcome back to the world of 0 and 1, Pico. There is no escape.

  • madnomad554

    You know, I gave up TV about 15 years ago and don’t feel I have missed anything. At 44, I have only had the internet for 4 years, but have never Facebooked, Myspaced or Tweeted.

    Just yesterday I replaced my broken 4 year old flip phone, with another simple flip phone and hope to get at least 4 years out of it.

    It has even been 20 years since owning a credit card, yet my credit score is currently around 830.

    It’s been great to feel free and untethered all these years, especially when I see someone tweet themselves into a park bench or utility pole using an iphone they probably purchased using a credit card and will take 18 months to pay off…just in time to purchase the next new iphone.   

  • Coastghost

    Timely topic if ever one was, though already folks’ll complain that WITHOUT cellphones assembled en masse in Boston on Monday, the bomb investigations would not be sizzling along.
    Be that as it may: all the posts here so far show signs of life and hope: a distinct pity we had to wait for the New York Times to hear about it.
    Two questions are: HOW to plug into ANY media and WHEN to unplug from ALL media. I do not Facebook or Tweet, I have no TV satellite, cable, or antenna. No cellphone, ever: one land line. One laptop w/internet connectivity. When paying attention, I can now get by with four 15-minute sessions online each day (when picking fights it’s always easier to stay online for hours at a time: vanity of vanities).
    By the way: have any cellphone carriers and/or phone manufacturers yet been litigated against successfully for use of their services or products in the commission of fatal and non-fatal automobile accidents? I long for our insurance industry to get behind such litigation. But if actually it made the news, we would have heard by now in some memorable fashion . . .
    Smartphone colonoscopy apps, anyone?

  • Payhole Everdouche

    I don’t care all that much for Techno-Geekdom, but I really love the new line of Sony Cameras. I would be willing to give it all up for just a few very intimate weeks with a Sony RX-1. A slice of heaven on this earthly plane. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=584989777 Brian P. Kasso Gaidry

    I accidentally left my “smart” phone at my office last night and as a result I noticed I felt much more peaceful, present and happy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/leonard.bast.90 Leonard Bast

    I understand your perspective and am glad technology has not negatively affected you. For me, however, being “free to work anywhere” feels way too much like being “never free from work” to be comfortable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

    Employer mandated “Quiet time”? Something oxymoronic about this concept. “Hurry up and meditate, folks, we’ve got cutting edge work to do & we don’t want your brains going soft on us.” Something like that.

  • stillin

    I use 4 hours of quiet time DAILY. I walk my dogs, I don’t have to talk to people or see people I live in a rural place. Don’t have a cell. I use the computer at work and at home with very limited time. I can live without it but I grew up without it. My youngest son is on way too much but I have noticed he even has to go on walks, I am hoping those increase and his time “online” decreases. I really resent hearing people talk on their cells when I am out and about I don’t believe in government bans but I wish people would understand others don’t WANT to hear them. I also wish the schools would follow the work place ideas of google…you would see test scores up or hold their own and much, much happier people. Also, we have a lot of Amish and I have always noticed how at peace they are…something missing in our so called culture.

    • DrewInGeorgia

      “something missing in our so called culture.”

  • JGC

    Oh no, did I hear Caller talking about his On Point addiction? GUILTY! I better get out of here and do some laundry, clean out the rabbit cage, or something  else more productive…


    What I notice is  that people don’t seem to have any sense of privacy. I hear conversations about financial issues, problems with spouses, friends and children, idle chatter about your day, and sometimes deeply personal issues that no one should hear, except your counsellor!  All this takes place in the grocery store, malls, gyms, and anywhere people can plug into. It is embarrassing and annoying to listen to people carry on about their lives while we are trapped in their “orbit.” 

    • http://www.facebook.com/leonard.bast.90 Leonard Bast


    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

      Everyplace is now a public stage for exhibitionists. I used to feel embarassed for people whose personal conversations were clearly audible to strangers but now I figure they’re completely aware of it and they just don’t care.

  • TheClocksStruckThirteen

    I think I am going to vomit. Tom you are so pandering to your audience but I guess it is your show and you do regularly cover substantive issues so you are allowed. Thank you for the online therapy session for wealthy, first worlder 5%’ers to kvetch about their voluntary distractions and irritations – their largely self-imposed existential torture makes me cry.

    • TheClocksStruckThirteen

      Ah ha – is rebroadcast – you are off hook!


  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1408098372 Mari McAvenia

    The caller Caitlyn ( guessing at the spelling ) pointed out how imbalanced & isolating life can be in this time of 24/7 technical connection. Young folks are having to make up their own social rules because the old rules no longer apply to them. The digital devices all around us can make people feel genuinely connected to significant others & included in a group, but at the same time, the bonds that are broken- in real life – are constantly rubbed in our faces, too, compounding the grief & pain of separation. It’s tough.

  • Up_here_in_Vermont

    Back in the day I was a software engineer doing internet development before most knew what the internet was.  I always had the latest and greatest technology (tv’s, cell phones, cameras, computers, etc.) until I began to realize the insidious nature of these technologies.  I was losing control of the life I wanted to lead, finding it difficult to live in the present moment under a barrage of interruptions and information.  Today I have ditched the technology (tvs, cell phones, tablets, etc.), and my life has improved immeasurably.

    Time to feed the chickens and plant the peas…

  • gnhuser

    I would like to call attention to the 3rd annual Slow Living Summit Conference in Brattleboro, Vermont.
    http://www.slowlivingsummit.org/    June 3-4-5

  • Drew n Tiffany Morgan

    I think this starts at a young age. Most kids start as infants put in front of the baby sitter aka The television. When they get in the car they can’t travel down the street before they turn on the DVD player. I think parents are making their children dependent on constant stimulation. So as they get older smartphones, television, facebook have been so ingrained in their daily lives. I noticed 3 years ago that I was basing my life around what was playing on TV. I was addicted! So I got rid of my cable. I put us on a TV limit. I am a 31 year old mother of 2 wonderful girls 8 and 5. I have my own home business. I also home school, which also came about the same time. I noticed how I had unplugged on my life and plugged into the life of technology. My girls get TV twice a week and only for 2 hours a day. They are encouraged to read, play outside, work in our urban garden, or play with the family pets. Parents have found a connivence in technology for their children, it’s child care. For the parents it’s unplugging for the day by plugging into others lives. 

    So unplug and LIVE YOUR life! 

    Aiken, SC

  • Tracie O’Brien

    Good Morning – It is refreshing to hear a conversation about “unplugging”  We seem to live in a world that does not want us to think our own thoughts – you go to the gas station and they have videos playing – I have a smart phone but I am not on any social networks – I enjoy face to face interaction. I insist that my two sons, 18 & 21, put their phones away at the dinner table

  • Trond33

    I have always argued that individuals should master technology, not let technology master them.  Remember when the Web first became a fad, people spent hours doing nothing but surf web pages aimlessly.  

    Technology is like anything else in your life, it needs to be managed and used to better your life.  Its akin to eating right, exercise and getting proper sleep.  

    Smart phones and tablets are 90% content delivery vehicles.  Up until now computers have been a balance between content delivery and content creation.  Its the content creation aspect that most people do not engage in, but is where the healthy aspect of technology interaction resides.  

    Personally, friends and associates are shocked to learn that I have things like databases and presentations on my iPhone and iPad.  To me, these devices are a tool to make my life easier.  I could not mindlessly spend hours playing games on them, to me that is too much being captured by the device – by Big Brother delivering content to a docile mind.  

    On a side note, it seems contradictory, but I find the iPhone comforting when out hiking.  I often hike just with my dog.  With Find My Friends, the two people I am connected with via that App can see where I am at.  I’m out enjoying the peace and quiet to the mountains, but having a technology lifeline is practical.  

  • http://twitter.com/Everhat14 Everett Hathaway

    Absolutely great show today.

    I have never been enslaved to technology and still hate my basic cell phone. My wife and I don’t Facebook, smartphone or have cable TV. I have only recently started a Twitter account and have found it nifty but not at all necessary.

    I think a point to be made here is that each person chooses to connect and chooses in what manner they connect – the devices and the tech environment do not connect themselves to you on their own.

    We all got along without all of these gadgets for years before they appeared. The all have good and effective uses, I just don’t at all think they are necessary.

    I would genuinely enjoy a face-to-face conversation over a Twitter exchange or a Facebook posting….and you can share a meal at the same time!

  • rich4321

    Funny that so many people bought into these useless services such as Facebook, Twitters… Is there a need to know what your friends doing every minute? I certainly don’t need to know every minute where my friends are, what my friends ate for lunch, when my friends poop…

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