This morning, while in my car moving at snail’s pace in Cairo traffic, I realized that sometimes the lack of options is good thing. My inner monologue went something like this:
“Should I listen to the playlist I spent an hour selecting songs for on my iPod, or the podcasts I downloaded to my iPhone? It’s nice and warm this morning, let’s open that sunroof! No. Too sunny, and I am getting all the traffic pollution in my lungs. Let me switch on the A.C. instead. Man, I wish my car had digital climate control, this A.C. is either too chilly or too warm. I need to call the office and let them know I’ll be late for that meeting. Where is the number? Oh, now I remember that I saved it to the Blackberry, not the iPhone. I need to sync everything when get to the office. Where is my headset? Here it is, but why is it flashing red instead of blue? Did I forget to charge it? I have a portable battery charger in my bag, if I could only reach back and get it without rear-ending the car ahead of me. Why does the damn traffic keep moving the second I try to look for something in the car? I might just use the car charger and speaker phone instead. Oh, I forgot to put on the music. Which playlist was I going to listen to again? The one on the iPhone? Yeah, ok just let me check my email real quick while I am stuck at this intersection. Why is the signal here that weak? Oh well, I’ll check it when I get to the office. Now where was I? Ah, music. I am almost at the office, forget the music. I need to untangle this cable mess when I park”
It would’ve probably been a nicer morning commute if I didn’t have all this technological crap with me.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE technology and gadgets. Just look at some of the older posts on this blog. I just feel that I am entering a “technological burnout” phase. I am sick of screens, batteries and cables. I do not want to – and cannot – get rid of all my gadgets, I just want to trim things down a bit. In a quest to maximize my utility, I will minimize my ownership. To start using more, I will acquire less.
We have developed a weird sense of entitlement. If something does not work the way it should, even for just the shortest of times, instant anxiety and resltessness sets in. Last week I found myself complaining to about my desktop computer, saying that it “takes ages” to start. My computer actually takes about 50 seconds to start from the moment I hit the power button. Those 50 seconds, however, are spent by me staring at the progress bar on the screen, tapping my fingers impatiently on the desk and wondering if I should back up my data to a DVD and throw the damn thing in a trash can.
This is absurd.
We have also developed an unconscious “collectors” mentality fueled by the culture of availability and demand for instant gratification that we foster every day (how come do we foster such culture ourselves? Keep reading). I have 189 feeds in Google Reader. I often “star” the items that I want to read later. A look at a sample of my saved items and some quick math revealed that I have read a measly 3% of my starred items so far. Similarly, I only read a fraction of the number of books I have on my Kindle. We want to collect – to acquire - stuff that we think that we’ll use now or later. We might, but chances are that we won’t have the time, patience or attention to use what we set aside, simply because it’s all too much.
Unless we put some kind of filter in place.
In his book (and TED talk) the Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Barry Schwartz talks about how too much choice creates anxiety, even depression. Schwartz suggests that if some choice is definitely good, then it does not follow from that that more choice is better.
I fully agree with Dr. Schwartz in his analysis. He believes that this all boils down to the fact that it is becoming increasingly difficult for us to be “pleasantly surprised”. We cannot be impressed as easily as before. B.B. King summed it up nicely: “The Thrill is Gone
Does that mean that we have to accept mediocrity sometimes? I don’t really see it this way, but if such is the case, and only when it comes to satisfaction we gain by acquiring stuff, I’ll accept the “good enough” instead of tearing my hair out trying to decide on and then acquire “the best”.
This post is not just the result of the in-traffic epiphany I recounted above, it was also triggered by recent accounts from that echo the same feelings. Sara reflected on a similar sentiment after she had lost most of her belongings put in storage in an unfortunate and strange incident.
Regardless of income, it is no doubt that we (and when I say “we” I realize that I do not speak for all of society) have more “stuff” and access to things, information and options than ever before. We often take this for granted. We should not.
We must acknowledge that this is a self-inflicted crime. Don’t blame capitalism. Don’t blame clever marketing. Don’t blame the Internet. It is you (and I) who seek it all out and overdose on it. We have internalized the negatives of availability and access. Once we realize the error of our ways, we must set things straight or risk becoming part of the mob.
Reclaim your attention span. Kill the distractions. Bring back the thrill.
P.S. In case you’re wondering, no you cannot have my iPhone.