The last couple of year, I’ve increasingly scrutinized my relationship wtih technology, and the relationship we seem to cultivate in our culture. We instinctively react to its beeps and buzzes, we whip it out whenever there’s a quite moment, and we sometimes read texts out the corner of our eye during real-life conversations. It can be astonishing to walk around a busy place and see all the people staring at the phones, attempting to continue conversations with others while on their phones, or sometimes just gripping their phone in their hand as they walk so they won’t miss a single buzz.
The fact that our devices are rarely more than a few feet away has essentially eliminated the experience of actual boredom, if we choose to take that road. This has been me all too often. Check messages while going to the loo. Read reddit during class. Listen to audiobooks on headphones while doing anything boring that requires my hands.
Some see this as a victory over an uncomfortable emotion that has plagued humanity for all time, but many others are unconvinced that this counts as a victory. Manoush Zomorodi, tech journalist and author of Bored and Brilliant, points out that many of the greatest innovations in history were spawned of boredom; great thinkers like Einstein and Darwin made times in their days — every day — to walk around aimlessly and allow their minds to wander. And who hasn’t had the experience of gaining new insight on a problem or project while in the shower? Is it a coincidence that the shower is the one place we can’t use our phones at all? I think not.
It’s no secret that many of the apps we use on our devices have been specifically designed to absorb our attention as much as possible. It’s an uphill battle to allow ourselves the time to think, without the influence of a constant flow of information/
Recently, I’ve been trying to re-introduce a little boredom into my life. I’ve been finding this really hard at home, since my living room contains a smart TV, a Nintendo, a laptop, and usually my mobile phone — a stimulation conglomeration. But when out and about, at least, where the only real culprit is my phone, I’ve found a few things that have really helped me out.
- Keep the phone in a bag rather than a pocket, when practical. Gentlemen, this could mean getting a man-bag, or as I affectionately call mine: a “handy-bag”. Trust me, they’re great. Carrying everything in your pockets is impractical anyway. Keeping the phone in a bag adds an extra barrier between you and your instinct to immediately pick up the phone when there’s a lull in the day.
- Disable unnecessary notifications. For some reason, our phones come pre-configured to interrupt us as often as possible and notify us about the most inconsequential things. Be ruthless, and enable only the notifications you really care about.
- Use a usage-tracking app. This can be really eye-opening, showing you exactly which apps you’re using, when, and for how long, as well as how many times you’ve “just checked” your phone that day. I use one called Quality Time, which tracks my usage in a widget on the homescreen, and allows me to set periods in the day when certain apps and notifications are disabled, to allow greater focus on work or the people I’m with.
- Make your phone deliberately less fun. For instance, I swapped Firefox for Firefox Focus. Firefox Focus is a web-browser designed for privacy; it deletes all cookies and temporary files, and retains no history. This has the unintentional side-effect of making using social websites less fun because you have to reenter your password each time you visit. You could also delete some of your more addictive apps you’ve identified using the usage-tracking app.
- The most important one: find certain times in the day where you will just allow your mind to wander. I’ve found two situations where this works well for me. One is while walking or traveling anywhere. No podcasts, no games on the bus. Just enjoy the journey, and think. The other is any time spent waiting. For example, if I’m at a café and waiting for my order, I try to avoid just staring at my phone while I wait. Just look around, take in the environment. People watch. It’s quite fun actually, even if you feel a bit self-conscious at first.
A new page!
I’ve added a new page of “Stuff I like“, which is just a big list of recomendations. At the moment, it’s just a few pieces of software I like. Updates to come.
Links for this post:
http://www.manoushz.com – Manoush Zomorodi’s website, with links to her various projects about staying an authentic human in today’s tech-driven world.
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.zerodesktop.appdetox.qualitytime – The usage tracking app I use.