How much of your day to day experiences and activities are related to being in front of screens? For me, it’s at least 14 hours. Especially since the pandemic. I sleep for average of 7.5 hours per day. I do knowledge work for average of 6.5 hours per day. The remainder of the time I would be reading, browsing the web, checking social media, conversing with friends and family, all through screens.
And I’m quite sick of it. There’s a sense of being disconnected from the real world that’s bothering me. I want to see less of the world through lenses (screens) and more through my senses.
I am in a much better space now mentally but 6-9 months ago I’ve had recurring urge to throw away my smartphone, put my laptop away for a month. Being stuck in this loop of screen after screen, switching between apps after apps. Combined with the monotony of what’s on the screens. Cabin fever.
Aside from that, my eyes were frickin tired.
When I go outside and/or offline, I notice several things happening:
- I see more new things, the chaotic pattern of nature. The unpredictability is refreshing.
- I would still first try to document and capture the experience, moments, and activities through lenses. I need to ensure I won’t lose any trail of the memory before I ditch the phone and do whatever activity I intended to do. Especially if the experience is not something I expect to be able to repeat in the future. I won’t stop doing this anytime soon because I know documenting allows me to be able to fully relax and be in the moment afterwards. It also gives me something to rediscover in the future.
- I am grateful with the fact that 1) I cannot operate any gadget when I’m walking because my hands are busy holding onto the crutches, which forces me to “be” the world. I am also grateful that 2) my brain is silent (no internal monologue). I am already someone who’s living in my head too much, can’t imagine how distracting it would be like if the thoughts are actually audible.
(Image credits: John Blanding)
I need screens
As much as I am sick of screens, my life and my brain are now configured to operate optimally in front of screens. Let me explain.
- I enjoy thinking but I need to trap my thoughts in words to “think”.
- It’s nice to be able to partially outsource your mental functions to external systems (remembering events, tasks)
- Screens is my gateway to curiosity rabbit holes. It’s still my main source of information intake and workflow. I take screenshots of things I find interesting, want to remember, or will be useful as an audit trail.
I can do #1 on paper, I can do it by having conversations. Scribbling out my stream of consciousness on paper forces me to slow down, which is nice. Having conversations is most helpful when I find a conversation partner I’m comfortable rambling with, else I need to first have some sort of thesis or idea of what I’m trying to say. I have to admit that conversations is indeed the most effective way to organise and clarify your thoughts.
Most of the time, I converse with myself. I can do it on the phone or as a voice note, but I do it best on the laptop. Why?
- I find that rereading my thoughts helps me process and refine them. So having only voice notes will not cut it. Even if the voice note is transcribed, it still needs extra touch to punctuate it and make it less garbled.
- Having my notes only in physical form gives me anxiety. so I’d end up retyping, transcribing, or paraphrasing all of my paper notes. Digital imaging notetaking solutions like Rocketbook helps immensely but I still produce the best thoughts when I’m streaming them through full-sized keyboards, version-tracked, and indexed.
- Typing something long form on the phone is quite frustrating. This is why I secretly admire people who post long-ass captions on Instagram — I know they could be drafting and posting from the web interface now, but still an extra effort! I bought a bluetooth keyboard for my phone thinking it will allow me to think more freely anywhere without having to carry a laptop around but the phone’s screen is still too small for my aging eyes and I ain’t getting a tablet just for this.
Now let’s talk about #2 and #3….
Revisiting the memories
The thing is, I rarely make time to revisit the mementos.
I don’t post these to social media or my friends either. That’s another knot I need to untangle but that’s something for another day.
So what’s the point of taking these screenshots, pictures, and videos? It’s a combination of “in case I need this later” — security blanket at the moment, and “oh interesting… I’ll research and write about this later” — for later but never.
If you’ve been reading my stuff for a while, you’ll know that I keep on coming back to this idea of the power of revisiting. Compared to our hunting, gathering, and accumulating new things, we would benefit more from resurfacing, rediscovering, savouring, reminiscing, refining, and improving existing things. The older I get the more I appreciate the value of being able to look at the same thing with different eyes.
I’m slightly obsessed about building helpful tools, affordances, and mechanism to make this process more effortless and with less friction.
I appreciate how Google Photos and Facebook have started doing this. I would get randomly reminded about events from years and a decade ago. I also make it a habit to open up a photo randomiser app on my phone to get these novelty slot machine started.
- I think screens are useful and I’m only sick of it when I’m trapped in the loop of same set of apps, and using it as a mind pacifier. I like it better when I’m using it to produce compared to to consume.
- The thing I want to learn to be more comfortable is to share more half- ideas and have more offline conversations.
- First produce, second document, third experience, fourth reminisce.