Michael Stusser: ‘I am a digital monkey’
Freelance journalist Michael Stusser documented his weeklong techno-gorge and subsequent digital blackout in an article and then film, “Sleeping with Siri.”
Seattle Times staff reporter
“Oh, come on. It could be an emergency for God’s sakes,” Michael Stusser heckles his iPhone 5 as it takes its time loading the Life360 app, which allows users to track and be tracked at all times by people in their circles.
Stusser, 49, only uses the app for family members.
“Nobody else will participate with me — it is just way too invasive,” Stusser says.
Across the table from his charcoal button-up, graying ponytail and boyish grin, it’s hard to take this guy too seriously.
Life360 is one of countless mobile functions Stusser came back to after completing a weeklong digital blackout, which he documented in a Seattle Weekly feature and independent film “Sleeping with Siri,” directed by Marty Riemer. Originally intended to be a trailer for the story, the film made a case for itself once Stusser and Riemer started reviewing the material. It will be shown in the Seattle Shorts Film Festival at the SIFF Film Center this fall.
Before the blackout, inspired by a 2010 digital-blackout campaign at Shorewood and Shorecrest High Schools in Shoreline, Stusser threw himself into a weeklong “techno-gorge,” in which he used as much technology as he could — and ended up using his phone to track his sleep cycles.
Here’s what he has to say about his experiment.
Q: Why did you choose to do a techno-gorge before your digital blackout instead of just having an average week of smartphone use?
A: Well, what is funny about that is that the average person really is doing a techno-gorge. Teens are texting 3,700 times a month — to me that seems like gorging. Whatever the math works out on that, they spend 11 hours multitasking online every day, that is the average. So I don’t think I really did go over-the-top; I jumped in like a lot of people do.
Q: I notice you still have your iPhone. Since you did the blackout, how often do you use it compared to how much you thought you would?
A: I am over-the-top, sadly. I am a digital monkey still. I am going to have to do a better job of setting my own limits and my own boundaries on technology. I respond when there is an incoming message. If I hear that thing vibrate, if it’s Words With Friends or if it’s an email or if it’s a text message, I just go right to it. I know enough from my own research that multitasking makes you bad at several things instead of (good at one).
Q: How have you changed your lifestyle since the blackout?
A: I leave that thing (gestures to iPhone) behind sometimes. When I’m walking down Alki or if I’m going to dinner with somebody, I’ll literally leave it just in the car, but inevitably there is somebody else there who wants to share an email or a photo or a video and break up the sort of “free time.” ... I am by no means in balance. I think I am overly attached to my technological device.
Q: If there was one thing people could take away from your video or article, what would you want it to be?
A: I think finding structure with digital devices is a good idea. So for me, that will be when I am working on a project, I will unplug for 90 minutes before jumping back on to the Web. For other people it might be that during dinner, they don’t allow phones at the table. A school might try a digital blackout.
I hope people make an effort, an actual, structured effort, to find the balance instead of just saying, “Oh, well, I don’t use mine that much.” I think that would probably be it.
Who needs somebody who is 70 percent there, you know? Who wouldn’t like you to be 100 percent there? And I think that is going to require setting boundaries.
Hannah Leone: 425-464-2299 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was corrected on Friday, July 26, 2013. In an earlier version, Stusser's age was incorrect.