Time to Think
Jinx Davis, Millennium Group

I’m in a constant state of distraction and I am hungry for time to think.  Actually, I am screaming.

In the old days, which were just a few years ago, I could think while waiting in line at the post office or grocery store.  Now I am bombarded by everyone around me speaking on the cell phones or my own phone texting me.  My car used to only get a few FM radio stations and when I drove long distances I could experience long hours of silence, with only the sound of the road and the wind massaging my mind.  Now every car I get in has iPods, super antennas- or worse yet, passengers chatting or playing away on one mobile device or another.  Taking a break is now defined as watching Mad Men on Netflix while scrolling through entries from 13 different blogs listed on a Google Reader RSS feed while checking out a YouTube video.  Crazy.

Yes, I am able to grab a few hours on the weekends or late at night to read a book by a roaring fire or take a walk around the lake near our home but this is not enough.  I need much more time to think.

The sounds of technology are deafening.

I work all day on phones and computers and arrive home to do the same thing.  If we visit a bar for a strong craft beer there are at least 2 flat screen TVs playing Fox news or sports games at decibels that override my thoughts.  I can’t get off the damn grid, even when I unplug.

Vague memories now haunt me: memories of doing nothing and memories of ruminating.

Doing nothing isn’t easy anymore and collectively we seem to have no desire for inner thought and repose.  In fact, intimacy is escaping us, despite the constant blogs and Facebook trollings we earthlings do every nano-second to allegedly stay in close touch with friends and family.

Our minds need to wander if we are going to remain human.  We need idle time.  We need to be still.  We need contemplation.  We need to be.

I am not opposed to technology but multitasking has become a myth.  In today’s environment of constant sensory overload, it is becoming difficult to listen and even more difficult to be heard.  Now scientists and researchers are discussing the theory of threaded cognition that aims to explain the multitasking mind.  These independent streams of thought weave through the mind’s processing resources to allow us to be superhuman.  Fascinating, yes- but I’m exhausted from being superhuman.  Instead, I feel dysfunctional.

There is a new world order and it demands that we never again have to do nothing.  Doing nothing is absurd when there is available information to consume at our fingertips 24/7.  Think of all the books, articles and blogs we can read!  All the music we can listen to and the photographs we can peruse!  All the twitters we can follow!  Yes, it is fun!  It is so much fun there is no reason to ever sit on the front porch again and watch life go by.

It seems that the only place left to think is the shower- the last bastion untouched by Microsoft and Apple.

We say we need this, despite the fact that our need to consume technology is taking its toll throughout the connected world.  In South Korea, there are Internet reform camps for kids addicted to online gaming. The New York Times reported last month that some adolescents have grown so familiar to texting their parents immediately after a scholastic disappointment or achievement that they no longer have to wait until school gets out at 3:00, killing “the much-needed space to revel in independence or struggle with rejection – space in which, presumably, that 12-year-old could start to figure out who she was, or how he wanted to navigate the world.”  Now there is a new US government website called Distraction.gov that is devoted to the dangerous epidemic of distracted driving on American roads.  In 2010 alone, over 3,000 people were killed in distracted driving crashes.  Even walking has become dangerous because no one takes a walk anymore without a cell phone clinched to their ears.  An Ohio State University study said the number of pedestrians visiting emergency rooms after injuring themselves due to distractions is doubling each year in the US.

Why this need to busy ourselves — particularly with technology, which is the very opposite of intimacy? Doesn’t all of this indicate some growing societal desire to escape inner thought and repose?

Hallowell says it’s much simpler than that. We multitask because we can, and “because it’s fun,” he says.

Hallowell asks patients where they do their best thinking. Invariably, it’s the shower, where Apple thankfully hasn’t yet perfected the shower radio. The shower is our mind’s Last Stand.

I can’t afford idle time beyond the shower. There’s too much available information to consume at all times (All the books ever written! All the music ever made! All the photographs ever taken! All with a click of a button!). I have a place to go. How can I sit on my stoop for a few hours watching life go by when I have 128 items on my Netflix queue? Sometimes, I daydream about having a prolonged illness that would let me finally watch those movies someone at some point told me I just had to see.

If an opportunity for idle time presents itself, I get anxious and grab for my pocket in search of something with buttons. Ever so expectantly, I hit the home button on my iPhone, slide my finger across the bottom of the screen to unlock it and hit the e-mail inbox, begging for another correspondence.

I need this.

In reality, e-mail is the last thing I need. Conservatively speaking, I spend 30 minutes a day just deleting correspondence irrelevant to my life. But e-mail, that whore, is a powerful seductress, and so I return to the refresh button, again and again, like a lottoholic scratching tickets in a 7-Eleven parking lot.

This need to consume technology, like everything else that’s awesome, is addictive, and so it has even been given a name – “online compulsive disorder.” In South Korea, there are Internet reform camps for kids addicted to online gaming. Interestingly, much of our addiction to technology manifests itself in correspondence with other people, either via Xbox headsets, IM, Facebook, or e-mail — to be social, in other words, which is generally thought to be a good thing.

But not always. The New York Times reported last month that some adolescents have grown so accustomed to texting their parents immediately after a scholastic disappointment or achievement that they no longer have to wait until school gets out at 3:00, killing “the much-needed space to revel in independence or struggle with rejection – space in which, presumably, that 12-year-old could start to figure out who she was, or how he wanted to navigate the world.”

In other words, time to think.

But it’s more than that. The end of our collective ability to idle ourselves can also kill us. At least 6,000 people were killed by distracted drivers in 2008, according to Distraction.gov, a new federal website dedicated to the issue. The website calls texting the “most alarming” kind of distraction. In an indication of the urgency of the matter, the president recently issued an executive order banning texting while driving on federal business.

Even talking on the phone while walking – something some people believe to be the same activity – is fraught with peril. An Ohio State University study said the number of pedestrians visiting emergency rooms after injuring themselves due to distractions is doubling each year.

When was the last time you took a drive or a walk, alone, to nowhere in particular, without an electronic device in your ear, with no purpose whatsoever? It sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? It’s something I should probably do, too. Hold on one second while I get my smartphone and type “walk” into my to-do list…. Ooh! A new e-mail!

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