The War on Mobile Stimulation

by Scott - 2 Comments

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I love the internet. It solves many of the world’s problems and enhances the lives of countless people. What’s even more awesome is it’s now in the palm of my hand. But as great as the mobile web is, I think there has been some less than beneficial side effects on human behavior. Mainly, the mobile web has contributed to a culture obsessed with instant gratification and digital stimulation. They’re often one in the same. I know because I’m getting shelled in the trenches by these forces constantly.

Phone Distraction

Six months ago my mornings went like this: Wake up to to silence my phone alarm. Check my email while I’m already there. Efficiency! This inspires me to think about the conversations that await my response while I make eggs, shower up, and get ready. On my trek to the subway my head looks up and down intermittently looking at twitter and emails. I stand on the subway anxious that I don’t have service; I’m sure someone is saying something I want to see on twitter and I can’t respond to emails. This is not cool. I get to the office and give half-hearted “hows it going” to people on the elevator as I whip out my phone. Then I finally get to my computer where I answer emails that I didn’t feel like responding to on my phone because of poor the experience.

I used to think this was a hyper-productive way to live.

I now realize there are far more productive ways to live then the picture painted above and that this is not how I want to spend my life. I still do some of these things, but I’m doing them much less and trying really hard to eliminate them completely.

I see many problems with this lifestyle which I characterize as one heavily influenced by digital stimulation:

1. Our thoughts our reactive instead of intentional. We occupy our minds with thoughts dictated by whatever we encounter instead of purposeful thinking. I consider this akin to spending an entire day hanging out in your inbox instead of accomplishing a list of goals. In both cases, we’re letting external forces sway our momentum and actions. This is rarely the straightest route to achieving our goals. I’ve found it far more productive to define something I want to focus on and channel my intellectual horsepower in that direction. Specifically, I’ve found it highly effective to keep a list of problems I want to solve (micro and macro) in the back of my moleskin and pick one to think about from the time I wake up till when I get into the office. The results have been incredible.

2. We’re not enjoying and engaging in the physical world. One of the inspirations for this post was Hiten Shah’s “The Art of Right Now” published earlier this week. Instead of savoring and maximizing each and every moment, we pull ourselves in two directions trying to balance the now with the interactions on a 3x6in device. Professionally, this lack of focus can lead extreme ineffectiveness and unawareness. Personally, we sacrifice the richness available through living in the moment. We trade observing the amazing world around is for a quick hit of stimulation. It’s ironic considering real world interactions are our greatest teacher.

3. We become accustomed and dependent on control. A new friend of mine brought this rich insight to light. One reason we revert to our phones instead of interacting with the world around us is because we can control the interaction. Thus, it’s low risk and comfortable. When we limit ourselves to comfortable interactions we not only miss out on awesome things, but we’re also inefficient: discomfort = hesitancy = lost time. Fact: anyone whose ever changed the world has engaged in hand to hand combat with discomfort. Thus, when I stifle growth in this area by opting for comfort I feel worse off.

I’m a firm believer that getting comfortable with the uncomfortable can unlock trans-formative changes in your life. “The ones with balls win.” A few years back on vacation a family member said that to me after I chickened out of talking to a really pretty girl at a restaurant. I think it’s true and I haven’t forgot it.

Don’t get me wrong, the mobile web has been amazingly positive for the world. More readily available access to information has saved lives, helped the helpless, and ignited positive change at a grand scale. I just wish the behavioral side effects I described above didn’t exist. I can’t speak for everyone and understand the value in keeping up to date/accomplishing tasks on the move. I just feel the way I do because a personal behavior shift has resulted in a dramatically positive changes in my own life. I wish the same results for everyone who reads this.

Roses always smell better when you stop to smell them.

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