I have terrible tendonitis of the forearm. Not tennis elbow or carpal tunnel's, but a throbbing, chronic pain in the muscles on the top side of my arm that run from my elbow to my wrist.
Many people have wondered, upon hearing me complain of debilitating pain in my arm, whether it's due to my jewelry work. Thankfully - mercifully - the answer is no.
The tendonitis is due to hours upon hours of using a laptop and mouse, which is good and bad. Bad in the sense that these days, computer use is truly inevitable for most people in most professions in most parts of the world. I'm bound to overuse my arm in bouts for the rest of my life (translating, writing papers, emails, web updates, even blogging when I have an idea that I furiously need to record lest I forget it forever). The good news is that I can, in fact, reduce my computer use.
While a nearly imossible task to ponder, especially if the bulk of your daylight hours have been spent on or near a computer for the last 7 years, and admittedly quite anxiety-inucing to think about (What will I miss out on? An important email? A Skype call? A heart to my Etsy shop? A comment on my blog?), I am happy to report that it's possible. More than possible. It's a pleasure.
I am happily semi-connected these days.
Sometimes it's in intense bouts of blog posts or copy-writing, but for the most part I'm offline. At least to compared to my computer usage before the tendonitis problems (which really started to interfere in my life in the last few months we were in Maputo, to the point where for several days I was unable to hold a fork or a pen, much less do anything "productive").
I make myself turn off the computer at night, and I never bring the laptop upstairs if I can help it. Our decision to make the downstairs part of our house the Work level, and the upstairs part our Life level has totally helped. Unlike our work-on-the-dining-table, eat-in-the-office patterns in Maputo, we actually have parts of our house that are totally dedicated to work. We still don't maintain super-rigid schedules, but it makes a tremendous difference in being happy working from home.
Okay, sometimes we break down and eat takeaway pizza in front of our computers while working, but it's infrequent. I swear.
Back to the arm thing. Having a physical separation between "computer on" and "computer off" zones has helped get disconnected. School has definitely helped, too. Being in studio classes for 6 hours a day, during which I have absolutely no inclination to look at email or read celebrity gossip, I couldn't care less about a computer. Even about a phone (I am notoriously terrible for ignoring my calls, forgetting to listen to voice mails, forgetting my phone on silent/off)...
Speaking of the phone, I think I am the only person on earth who can say that getting a Blackberry lead to decreased internet use and time "connected". It's been a wonderfully unexpected silver lining to me finally agreeing to get a Blackberry. Remember the description of my phone use habits above? I was perfectly happy with a phone that didn't access the internet or any of that hoo-haw. I used it to make calls (and ocasionally receive them). I didn't even text because, despite my LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE SMS back in Mozambique, texting is damn expensive here and I refuse to pay $0.20 to say "Running 8m late".
I was content in my phone simplicity, but getting a proper website for my jewelry made me aware that it's important to be able to respond to an email in the middle of the day far from the computer. If I get a sale, I want to know asap so I can plan the time I'll need for production, if necessary. Hours can actually make a difference. So I agreed to Rico's long-running attempt to convince me to get a Blackberry.
In the beginning, I was frustrated because I didn't know how to use all the buttons. So I used the phone even less, and didn't even go online. But then I learned how to retrieve my emails, and all was good in the world. In my break between classes, I can quickly check to be sure there's nothing urgent. The rest of the emails or Facebook updates or whatever...I IGNORE. Part of me can't believe I've conquered the "Oh my God, what a ludicrous blog post on development in Mozambique, I HAVE TO RESPOND IMMEDIATELY with my opinion!" instinct that plagues so many of us online, but seemingly I have.
And what does responding immediately, via Blackberry, to the important stuff and simply letting the rest wait until I am ready to sit at the computer for a few hours accomplish? It gets me away from the trap of hour-upon-hour of vague, aimless surfing of the web and checking to see if I have any new emails just because I went online to answer one little thing, or make a comment on a blog post. It horrifies me to think about how much time I've spent over the years moving my fingers and exhausting my forearm muscles with absolutely no productive aim, no entertainment value, or even a semblance of a connection (with others)? Just compulsive refreshing of the inbox and the Facebook home page, with occasional outings to read blogs or look up random things on Wikipedia. I've wasted a horrific amount of hours doing nothing online. It's no wonder my arm hates me.
Between my newfound ally (the Blackberry) and my school schedule, however, things are looking up. Sometimes I go for 2 or 3 days without even switching on my laptop. Instead I garden, make jewelry, or watch tv. Okay, lots of tv these days. I'm not sure if switching internet gossip for 16 and Pregnant can be called a good trade, but my tendonitis sure feels better. And part of me feels, in a very humble way, like a miniscule 21st-century trimph has been made: we can actually choose how much time and effort we spend online, on the computer, connected. Although some days it's hard to believe there's not an umbillical cord stretching from the monitor, anchoring you to your chair.