Monday, May 27, 2019

Technology’s Intention Deficit Disorder

The emptiness of never allowing yourself to be bored

I’m grateful for having lived long enough to remember what it was like to be truly bored. Painfully bored. So stuck with nothing to do minutes felt like hours and hours like days that would never end. Once the honeymoon of school's end faded, the summer months of my adolescence morphed into predictable rituals, that once exhausted, landed me into the solitary confinement of feeling like there was absolutely nothing to do.

With prosumer technology still decades away, "gadgets" then were bikes, broken appliances or anything with gears I might take apart to fix all over again. Even the word "technology" was foreign, sounding academically remote and certainly not the growing scope of scientific knowledge that would transform the world.

Strangely a simple pocket calculator was my first hint of what was yet to come. Barely bigger than an eight-track cassette tape, the 'TI 2500 Datamath' was Texas Instruments hundred dollar answer to memorizing mathematics tables. It was magical. You pushed buttons and complex answers emerged through a dimly lit display barely visible in the sunlight of a dull summer day. Here was science, engineering, creativity and ingenuity working in concert to invent a future few understood or knew we even wanted. Technology tends to work that way.

Since then being bored has become a thing of the past. Screens dominate our landscape with a precision no one could have imaged even a decade ago. Seduced by the power, convenience, and instant gratification of today’s digital services, platforms and tool sets, humans are subjected to a steady stream of technologies that seem hell-bent on preventing any sincere degree of quiet reflection into our daily lives.

Having transcended such contrasting eras, I watch myself struggle with the efficacy and elegance of my well-designed digital sphere while sincerely missing the tactile and “quieter” sensibility of its analog forbearer. I miss not only the physical and psychological gifts of this kind of quiet, but also the simple capacity to actively and confidently cultivate it within my life.

The human relationship with quiet, contemplation or just the absence of distraction, often cultivates our best and most innovative thought processes. It can be one of the most beneficial ways in which we discern, digest and invent what we know about the world. Artists, scientists, politicians and athletes often describe times when events slow down and the world becomes silent as they navigate a canvas, equation, speech or field of play with the deftness of someone energized by the meditative process of gently quieting the mind.

For me it’s often before bed or before everyone wakes up that my brain synthesizes that idea, sentence or sound I’ve been desperately trying to capture during the commotion of any regular work day. Audio engineers might call it our own interpersonal signal to noise ratio. I tend to think of it as the relationship between attention and intention, or the practice of bringing more rest, contemplation and play into my life.

Witnessing my own attention drifting more than I'm comfortable with of late, I'm actively choosing books over screens, physical conversations over social media and time with nature over the virtual world. It can be a delicate balance, especially as my living is made with the same technologies I’ve grown increasingly weary about, but the rewards have outpaced the inconvenience and withdrawal symptoms I feel as I intentionally disengage from the digital world.

Learning to not have to fill up the empty space of my days has made life richer, even if the roses I smell are cold, wet and not as brilliantly red as they might be online.