It snowed all weekend in Providence. I was also fighting a fever, which meant I spent most of the past three days puttering about in sweats, sleeping, trying to get the most out of my fourteen-day Fandor trial, writing emails, and catching up with paperwork. Today, I bundled up and went for a walk around the neighborhood even though a steady snow was falling.
This New England winter is so different from a Brooklyn winter. Snow in the city didn’t really slow us down. We still had people to meet, things to do, errands to run. It just meant buying a cute pair of boots and a really warm coat. This year, I’m really slowing down. I learned to crochet a new pattern. I learned to make a six-spice curry. I’m writing more (hello) and I’m reading more.
Some city habits are hard to shake though. One of them, I’m sad to admit, is the frequency with which I reach for my phone. In the city, you’re on your phone all the time: for music, for directions, for texts from friends, checking emails. Bah. I’m not in the city anymore. I have a pretty simple life, yet I can’t seem to master this tech-twitch. The three days I was sick, I just kept reaching and reaching and reaching for it. Really drove me nuts. So I’m working on this. Not sure what the answer is…
In the meantime, it’s got me thinking about the habit-forming power of technology. Did you know we reach for our phones on average of 150 times a day? That’s what I learned while watching this PBS interview with Tristan Harris. Harris is a former Google employee and the founder of Time Well Spent, a non-profit that’s trying to get more people to realize the (not so great) habit-forming potential of cute little gadgets we use incessantly. He says some large tech companies (ahem, Google) design their products to be addictive because that’s how they make money (screen time = ad revenue = profit). He wants to encourage tech designers to be more ethical in how they design gadgets and consumers to be more mindful of how they’re using them.
In a similar vein, Anil Dash, CEO of Fog Creek Software, talked with Krista Tippet about the power of social media. He focuses mostly on the political power social media has gained recently, but also touches on the formative nature of design: “We bake our values into the choices we make when we design these tools.” He and Krista also talk about social media as a fifth estate, and discussed the tech industry’s lack of standardized ethical standards (unlike the fields of law, education, and medicine):
[T]here is zero ethical curriculum. You can get a top-of-the-line, the highest credential computer science degree from the most august institutions with essentially having had zero ethics training. And that is, in fact, the most likely path to getting funded as a successful startup in Silicon Valley.
Some people are tackling the more practical side of our culture’s tech-addiction. Like the folks at The Light Phone. I like this practical solution, but the problem with practical solutions is that they don’t always get to the heart of addressing why one ought to change one’s habits. Why ought we not to be on our iPhones 150 times a day? Philosopher John O’Donohue in Beauty seems to suggest that we can’t just stop (insert bad habit here), for the sake of it. We have to make something else a priority. He says that something else should be the patient life of the interior, which when attuned to, leads to greater wonder, empathy, creativity, and presence.
Consider his warning:
Our neon times have neglected and evaded the depth-kindoms of interiority in favour of the ghost realms of cyberspace. Our world becomes reduced to intense but transient foreground. We have unlearned the patience and attention of lingering at the thresholds where the unknown awaits us. We have become haunted pilgrims addicted to distraction and driven by the color and speed of images.
If you need a good reason to get out from in front of your computer and in the kitchen, check out this Brazilian fish stew. Perfect for a snow day.