Did you know that the only people who refer to their customers as “users” are drug dealers and technologists. Dopamine plays a role not only in sex and drugs, but also in swiping and tapping the way we do on our smartphones. I admit, I am an addict. I spend more than three hours a day on my phone. I agree, it sound a lot but in fact, it is just a few minutes more than what a person spends on average a day on mobile devices. (To my defence, I do not use my phone to escape by playing games, I use it to stay connected with friends and colleagues through messaging and social networks.)
Manoush Zomorodi, host of the great tech podcast NoteToSelf, wrote the book ‘Bored and Brilliant’ following a long period of walking her crying newborn to sleep for hours. During this time she couldn’t distract herself with her phone, which first resulted in boredom and eventually in new creative ideas. She set off on a journey to answer the question: If we change our relationship to our gadgets, could we generate bigger and better ideas?
“Boredom is an incubator lab for brilliance”, claims Zomorodi and illustrates with the simple example of how hard it is to be objective and see things from the perspective of the other person when being in the middle of an argument. Anger, adrenaline, and the physical and emotional presence of the other person get in the way of contemplation. But the day after when in the shower or on the bus, our thoughts have time to wander and become more nuanced. When we are bored we look for something more meaningful, and more stimulating than what we have in our immediate surrounding. The thing is, we rarely give ourselves the chance to become bored because our phones distract us. Zomorodi provides one challenge per day for a week to help people to reflect and be more conscious about their online behaviour:
Observe yourself – track your digital habits: I followed Zomorodi’s tips to download the app Moment for Apple (BreakFree for Android) to track my online behaviour, and little did I know how much time I spend on my phone nor how many times I pick it up to look at the screen, which some days was more than 60 times (!). Download the tracking app and try it out, you may surprise yourself too.
Keep your devices out of reach while in motion – no wexting (walking while texting) nor listening to headphones: This was actually harder than I thought it would be. I used to have a rather smug self-image of not being one of those that walk while staring down my phone and bumping into people, instead I thought I was the type having my phone neatly tucked into my handbag and just listening to music and podcasts, The day I decided to challenged myself to keep my phone out of reach while in motion I realised that I’m not that different, I too check my phone when I feel it vibrating, wexting my friends or checking my Maps when heading to a new destination.
Have a photo free day: ‘Snapchat users share 8,796 photos every second. WhatsApp clocks in 8,102 photos per second and Facebook at 4,501 per second’. Pretty mindblowing figures, huh? Zomorodi writes “If your camera captures the moment then your brain doesn’t. You don’t engage in any of the elaborative or emotional kind of processing that really would help you remember those experiences, because you have outsourced it to your camera.” Interestingly, there is an exemption when your memory remains, that is when you zoom in on a specific part of an object. This latter piece of fact actually made me happy because it is often what I try to do when I take photos; capturing a detail of something in my everyday life that I have not noticed before (check out my Instagram for some of those impressions).
Delete that app – that you can’t live without: So I deleted Facebook because it is the App that I find myself wasting most time on, meaningless scrolling through a news feed of people’s lives, stopping to watch silly videos or pictures I don’t really care much about. It was good to make myself aware of my behaviour but as the addict I am, I must admit after a few days I downloaded it again but the short detox did help me to not go there as often.
Take a fakeaction – be in the office but out of touch: Recognise this behaviour? You are at your desk, typing in a word document and then your phone pings (or if on silent the screen lights up with notifications), you stop, check it and by the time you return to your screen you check some emails before you finally go back to writing that document. Did you know that, when we get interrupted, it takes about twenty-three minutes to get back to what we were originally working on. That is a really long time considerin how often it happens, and when we are always responding on that text or mail, we simply don’t take time to think up new ideas. Another interesting aspect is that with hyperlinks and scrolling screens we no longer read in a linear, deep and thoughtful way, as those of us growing up with paper books used to. We might have become efficient online skimmers instead, but our concentration span is short and we easily get interrupted or interrupt ourselves. Deep reading requires exercise. Zomorodi proposes trying out an uninterrupted day at work with the status “Teched out, checked out. Taking a little break from the devices. Thanks for your patience.” (I haven’t managed to try that one yet…)
Observe something else – reclaim the art of noticing: Zomorodi encourages us to pause; go somewhere public and stay for a while. Observe people and your environment, let your mind wander wherever it wants to go, see something you never noticed before, and surprise yourself. Have you thought about how for example a weekend feels longer when doing something new, and how it pass by almost unnoticed when doing the same as usual. My point is, seeking out new experiences and observations not only has the power to unleash creativity and new ideas it also makes time feel longer and richer.
As a final challenge Zomorodi asks you to set aside 30 minutes, putting away your phone, tablet, laptop or any other digital device, and engage in a meaningless activity such as watching water boil on the stove, in order to get completely bored. Immediately afterwards put your mind into solving a problem that you have long been avoiding or been confused about… and see if you can come up with new brilliant ideas and solutions.
More than 20.000 was the number of people taking on the ‘Bored and Brilliant’ challenge, six was the less impressing figure of minutes that people managed to decrease their smartphone consumption with. It illustrates how hard it is to break an addiction, although it doesn’t measure the increased consciousness of the ‘users’, which was the aim for Zomorodi. I myself have made small but meaningful tweaks to my online behaviour, such as: More often when out walking, I leave my phone and headphones in my bag and instead observe and listen to my surrounding, looking for something I haven’t noticed before. I also pay notice to keep my phone off the table when with friends, to give them my full attention, because Zomorodi is right – “If you’re thinking you are going to be interrupted, you’re not going to share something really intimate”.
Take the challenges and share your experience too!