“We have such a high-quality camera with us all the time. But it becomes irrelevant if you can’t actually enjoy the photographs you’ve taken. Even 30 years ago there was always a box somewhere containing hundreds and hundreds of photographs. So this isn’t a new problem. What is a new problem is the sheer degree, the colossal volume of memories that we have recorded, and as important as the recording is the way of enjoying what you’ve recorded, and I think that’s something that’s just an ongoing experiment, and it’s an ongoing creative project for us.”
Smartphones make it too easy to capture and even easier to consume photos. Given the profundity of images, we don’t spend enough time reviewing them.
To quote Om Malik: “We have come to a point in society where we are all taking too many photos and spending very little time looking at them.”
The age of abundance combined with undeterred distraction poses an interesting creative problem that’s more complicated than storing boxes of photos in the attic, never to be seen again.
Since the dawn of market society, owners and bosses have revelled in telling workers they were replaceable. Robots lend this centuries-old dynamic a troubling new twist: employers threaten employees with the specter of machine competition, shirking responsibility for their avaricious disposition through opportunistic appeals to tech determinism. A “jobless future” is inevitable, we are told, an irresistible outgrowth of innovation, the livelihood-devouring price of progress. (Sadly, the jobless future for the masses doesn’t resemble the jobless present of the 1 percent who live off dividends, interest, and rent, lifting nary a finger as their bank balances grow.)
I doubt the rise of technology obviates the need for human brains and hands. We are thinking machines while the automatons themselves excel in action, at least for the time being.
The bigger problem seems to be the perception of jobs. Most people allow work to justify their existence when really it’s the things we do outside the office that should make us feel needed. There’s more to life than a paycheck!
The machines are going to be there like they’ve been all along, helping people get their work done more efficiently. The bots versus brain chasm is a non-zero-sum game.
But if it just so happens that all we do is push buttons all day, perhaps it’ll give us a chance to do other things like making better art.
“Our writing instruments are also working on our thoughts.” Nietzsche wrote, or more precisely typed, this sentence on a Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, a wondrous strange contraption that looks a little like a koosh ball cast in brass and studded with typewriter keys. Depressing a key plunged a lever with the typeface downward onto the paper clutched in the underbelly.
It’s well-known that Nietzsche acquired the Writing Ball to compensate for his failing eyesight. Working by touch, he used it to compose terse, aphoristic phrasings exactly like that oft-quoted pronouncement. Our writing instruments, he suggested, are not just conveniences or contrivances for the expression of ideas; they actively shape the limits and expanse of what we have to say. Not only do we write differently with a fountain pen than with a crayon because they each feel different in our hands, we write (and think) different kinds of things.
I like to believe that my best writing appears in long-form first. Writing by hand produces this magical experience of disfluency, where the brain moves swiftly with the pen in synchronicity.
Writing on the computer, on the other hand, tends to make me overtype and therefore edit most of my words. However, I have noticed that drafting a note on the phone with one hand typically produces something more thoughtful than typing two-handed on a desktop.
Whether we write with a digital device, pen, or pencil “we become what we behold,” Marshall McLuhan reminds us, “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.”
How much of our thought process do we want to relinquish to artificial intelligence?
Even Gmail’s auto-replies takes the burden out of typing in two-word responses with pre-populated text likes “yes, great,” “sounds good,” or “awesome.” Soon enough the computers will be the only ones conversing and high-fiving each other.
Just as the painter imitates the features of nature, algorithms emulate human memes. The problem is the tendency to abuse these recipes to avoid thinking altogether. Bathing in such idleness set the precedent for laggard times.
Without thought and action, our memories will starve. When we type, we produce pixels on a screen. Auto-reply forfeits the experience of being there. But such detachment may not be as harmful as we think.
The symbiosis of man and machine begs for innovation. AI may free up cognition for other more intensive tasks. In other words, having a dependable personal assistant may compel us to do even more great work.
The only fear of AI is complete human dependence. We need elements of crazy to keep creating. We’ll die off as soon as we stop winging it.
Whether it’s trying surfing or playing the guitar when’s the last time you did something out of pure joy?
In this Instagram-edited era where everyone gets their own stage, people only like to do things they’re good at. The thought goes: ‘if I can’t share it and show my best self, why do it?’
The aim for perfection limits the urge to enjoy hobbies for hobbies sake. As the author Tim Wu notes:
“But there’s a deeper reason, I’ve come to think, that so many people don’t have hobbies: We’re afraid of being bad at them. Or rather, we are intimidated by the expectation — itself a hallmark of our intensely public, performative age — that we must actually be skilled at what we do in our free time.”
The comedian never knows how their material will reciprocate until they get on stage and try their material. The jazz musician tweaks their tempo to test audience reaction. The writer publishes a first chapter of the book for feedback. In terms of professional life, showing your work is critical. But as a hobbyist, you don’t need reassurance. Again, writes Wu:
“Lost here is the gentle pursuit of a modest competence, the doing of something just because you enjoy it, not because you are good at it.”
Playing is natural, reception is artificial. It is hobbies that feed the soul with pure goodness. Showcasing the hobby is not necessary, but if so, neither is acing it.
Hobbies shouldn’t feel like work. They are a process to enjoy.
“The physical universe is basically playful. There is no necessity for it whatsoever. It isn’t going anywhere. It doesn’t have a destination that it ought to arrive at. But it is best understood by its analogy to music. Because music as an art form is essentially playful. We say you play the piano, you don’t work the piano.”
The to-do list is a strange paradox. It compels you to get stuff done yet it can also make you feel inadequate for leaving boxes unchecked.
“We like lists because we don’t want to die,” said Umberto Eco.
Perhaps instead of trying to do everything you pick one thing to execute.
Called the Hunter Strategy, it asks you to surround yourself with a simple Post-it note to get stuff done.
All you do is choose one task that is going to be the focus of your day, even if it doesn’t take you the whole day to complete. You write that item down on a Post-it note, stick it to your laptop (or a wall, we presume) and use it as your lodestar. Look to the note when your mind begins to wander to your waiting text messages, to your dry-cleaning, or to any of the ridiculous things people do when they should be working.
How do you know which task to start with?
According to the CEO of Jotform Aytekin Tank, “If you’re having trouble thinking of something I’ll give you a hint — it’s usually the thing you least want to do.” That thing is probably the activity we reserve for the end of the day, other than brushing our teeth.
There’s no need to throw our phone into the ocean just yet. But if we‘re using the mobile as a way to procrastinate, perhaps we should consider it.
Luxury today and tomorrow will be defined by the ability to disconnect, to live a secret life where there’s no need to stay constantly connected for the sole purpose of a future job or fear of missing out.
Social media is a poor insurance policy. Except disconnecting is not the goal — moderation is.
An excess of anything will make you sick, your eyes roll and stomach turn. The culprits: beer, candy, coffee, tv, and screen opiates.
Drunk and unconscious, the dopamine on loop — you aren’t meant to pursue hedonism all the time. You need time to restore some willpower.
The connective power of the internet is uncanny. Mobile tech is too good to be true. But we don’t need to be a millionaire to stem its negative impact.
The key to unlocking hashtag heaven is to take a deliberate break every once in a while. Leave your phone behind or you’ll unconsciously use it.
Ziming Liu from San Jose State University has conducted a series of studies which indicate that the “new norm” in reading is skimming, with word-spotting and browsing through the text. Many readers now use an F or Z pattern when reading in which they sample the first line and then word-spot through the rest of the text. When the reading brain skims like this, it reduces time allocated to deep reading processes. In other words, we don’t have time to grasp complexity, to understand another’s feelings, to perceive beauty, and to create thoughts of the reader’s own.