A plethora of unconsumed content

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Movies, books, magazines, music, and podcasts. There’s too much content and too little time.

We can try to keep up and multitask or listen to podcasts 2x their speed. But it’s a zero-sum game. The internet never ends. There will always be another Netflix show to catch up on.

Yet we mustn’t fret. We only have so many hours in the day.

An overdose of content. An underdose of time.

Attention competes with sleep.

We spend 18 hours of our day staring at the rectangular glow. How much of that time is consciously doing versus seeking distractive entertainment?

As tech journalist Jonathan Margolis points out, we’re consuming ever more media but not necessarily getting more intelligent. Yet, the sales of physical books are up! Go figure.

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Why some children struggle to hold pencils

According to doctors, you can blame tech for children’s inability to hold pencils. Apparently all that screen time is doing nothing to strengthen their thumb, index, and middle fingers which work together to form one’s basic writing technique.

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Illustration via The Guardian

Generation thumbs

Having grown up with perpetual swiping and speaking in images and emoji, the next generation is obviously going to encounter difficulty with old ways of doing analog things. Do they even teach cursive writing in school anymore?

We speak in images. But at least early cavemen knew how to draw with their version of a stylus.

Read Children struggle to hold pencils due to too much tech, doctors say

Scientifically optimized music to help you focus

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Music is a performance-enhancement drug. But it goes beyond pumping up athletes like Michael Phelps.

Music is also known to increase your productivity by sharpening your focus and putting your brain into a flow state.

But not just any music, nor any playlist, is guaranteed to help you get down to business.

Focus@Will has over 20 channels and thousands of hours of music that are scientifically optimized to help you focus and get stuff done.

I use the Uptempo channel at work when I need to filter out distractions and get in the zone. However, I turn on Ambient on medium intensity when I want to get into a contemplative state to journal or blog. I’m listening to the app now as I type this post!

Music = neurological focus power

“Music is part of being human,” Oliver Sacks wrote in Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. And the right music can make a huge difference in your workday!

Give Focus@Will a try on the computer or app. You can use this referral link to get a free 14-day trial with a credit of $20 applied to your account to use towards the subscription plan of your choice. I recommend the annual subscription, but you can also select month to month.

Get shit done. Be more creative. Sign up to Focus@Will and give your mind the boost it needs.

THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS. PLEASE SEE THE DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.

Have you forgotten how to read books?

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We need to relearn how to read books in the digital age. Online reading is a different experience than physical print.

For one, the digital experience is stickier because of its dopamine-hitting bells and whistles. We are constantly shifting between articles, apps, and text messages, hijacked by the latest gaze of entertainment. It’s the equivalent of flipping TV channels.

Writes Canadian author and journalist Michael Harris:

“Online life makes me into a different kind of reader – a cynical one. I scrounge, now, for the useful fact; I zero in on the shareable link. My attention – and thus my experience – fractures. Online reading is about clicks, and comments, and points. When I take that mindset and try to apply it to a beaten-up paperback, my mind bucks.”

Since physical books lack the immediate stimuli, reading requires an entirely different mindset. It enforces focus and patience. Said Harris: “I do think old, book-oriented styles of reading opened the world to me – by closing it. And new, screen-oriented styles of reading seem to have the opposite effect: They close the world to me, by opening it.”

Screens are for short-term readers; book heads play the long-game. The latter know that great moments in novels are as scarce a goal in a soccer game, but they can also be more exciting.

Books test our attentiveness while creating anticipation. Perhaps they are the only escape we have left from our distracted world. Constricted to one tangible novel of a screen, a paperback can help recalibrate the imagination and slow down time.


Losing control of our attention

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Screens are contagious. If we see one person look at their phone, we emulate them like we do catching someone yawn.

But the addiction is not totally our fault. With the vibrant colors of apps, the dopamine of Facebook likes and news alerts, on top of serving as a consolidated utility of our camera, wallet, and communications device, our phones are designed to hook us.

Tech is the “cigarette of the century.”

It’s amazing that in this post-internet world of surfeit information and 24/7 conversation we can even concentrate at all. We’ve numbed our thumbs from excessive use.

We’ve lost the signal to those little gaps of solitude and doing nothing where we reaped the benefits of a wandering imagination.


Can we get our bored minds back?

There are plenty of options other than riding the Facebook or Google monopoly on our attention. For as many tricks these companies play us, there as many tips to get away from them: turning our screen gray, just sitting and staring outside the window, and at the most extreme: throwing our phone into the ocean.

We can only harvest quality attention if we can escape the torment of distraction and external stimuli fighting for the inside of our heads. The world around us already creates a theater inside our head. We see the world once, with an intrinsic pair of eyes, with no need to record the outside world with a third eye.

“Attention is a form of prayer,” wrote French philosopher Simone Weil. We should insist on slowing down if we’re to restrengthen the human will.

Win back your attention by turning your screen gray 📱⬜👀

The variety of colors on our smartphone screens pop like candy. As advertiser Bruce Barton wrote in his 1925 book In The Man Nobody Knows, “The brilliant plumage of the bird is color advertising addressed to the emotions.”

We tap into Instagram, scroll through a few photos, and return to the home screen to bounce off to other apps. And then we repeat the process again in a mindless fashion.

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After a while, we start to lose all conscious brain power. We fly between apps like we’re hitting buttons at the casino. The variable rewards keep us spinning in a ludic loop. Technology undermines our attention by bombarding our senses with a surfeit of stimuli that lights up like a Christmas tree.

Turn it gray. That’s right: we need to dull our screens to bore our senses. Turning the phone grayscale doesn’t make it dumb, it just makes it less attractive. Writes Nellie Bowles in the New York Times:

I’m not a different person all of a sudden, but I feel more in control of my phone, which now looks like a tool rather than a toy. If I unlock it to write an email, I’m a little less likely to forget the goal and tap on Instagram. If I’m waiting in line for coffee, this gray slab is not as delightful a distraction as it once was.

Want to give your thumbs a break and regain some attention? Study the instructions on Lifehacker on how to turn your screen grayscale.

Your vocation chooses you

We all start out with a dream, a goal of someone or something we want to emulate. We keep that dream close, putting up bedroom posters and memorizing phrases that propel us to keep pushing toward our goal.

But then something else happens along the way? The creative gods tell us to do something else instead.

“The grind is not glamorous.”

Casey Neistat wanted to be a filmmaker, another Spielberg that entertained the masses. But he didn’t have enough money nor resources. So he chased the dream for ten years and succeeded: he entered Cannes and won some awards etc. until one day he realized he was pursuing the wrong end. “Fuck it,” he said. “I just want to make internet videos.”

See, when we hunt down goals, we usually get redirected to something else that’s more personal. Technology broke down all the barriers to traditional creativity, production, and distribution. YouTube is Neistat’s movie theater.


Check yourself before you wreck yourself

Sure, imitate at first and get really good — everything is practice. But we shouldn’t forget to reflect and dive deeper into a passion that excites us the most. As Jim Carrey said, ‘your vocation chooses you.’

Don’t fight what’s natural even if no one else is doing it yet. Give in to the original inclinations and push onward.

A crisis in boredom

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Remember what it was like to be bored before the internet spread its wings of distraction?

The newbies won’t confess. With everything available to them at their thumbs, they’ll never know a world where people once stared at walls for nothing. Magazines at the dentist’s office will remain untouched, replaced by the rectangular glow of entertainment on handheld devices.


But the adults aren’t any better. We confuse busyness with checking email, answering texts, viewing Instagrams, or looking up stocks.

Everyone is suffering at the mercy of accelerated time, of chasing the closest dopamine hit to avoid dealing with the ennui of the present. We busy ourselves going somewhere, overlooking the serenity of what is near and remaining hooked on a ludic loop to numb the pain of idleness.

Stuck in a state of perpetual refresh 🔄

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The newest app, the latest iPhone — we make an excuse to spend more time with our smartphones. What can be perceived as self-absorption is also hypnosis, as the phone’s rectangular glow grips us into a ludic loop.

Social networks intend to get us out of a trance and sting us into experiencing the world; at least that’s what Instagram and Pinterest promised to do at their inception. Instead, our phones have our first, second, and third eye, recording memories so we can consume and forget about them again later. We are walking zombies, skilled without an iota of consciousness.

The smartphone is an arsenal of distraction, a computer, tv, stereo, and communications device propping up the thumbs of our hands. But it’s also the most liberating tool we’ve ever had. Used wisely, we can shape it to goad our curiosity, make new friends, and explore our creative instincts.

The music we play


Vinyl, cassette tapes, CDs, and MP3s were at one point mass produced. They were placeholders, meant to expire at the mercy of technological change and evolving listening habits.

So if we take the stream, a file-type that’s in infinite cloud-based inventory, what type of file emerges next?

The next development will focus on the quality of sound, just as mobile cameras improve the quality of resolution. And like photography’s countless editing tools, we’ll be able to work backward to tweak or filter out the type of sound we want to hear.


For instance, we can manipulate music files so they project a sound mimicking vinyl’s surface noise. We reshape it, like putting a black and white or red preset on an image.

The next evolution of music is therefore a personalized sensory experience, whether you want to hear sound in its cracked, hissy, compressed, raw state, or in its mass-marketed radio format.

Music will always be the “killer app” that people make their own.

Don’t let social media use you

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Attention is a gift that the social networks want to steal from you. Here’s a simple trick to ward off their magnetism and catch yourself: put the social apps on the fourth home screen.

That’s right: make it harder to access Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest with just a couple taps. The design hurdle allows the mind to pause before engaging into a sinkhole of distraction and emotional envy.

Take back control of your time and don’t let social media use you. Direct its intention by redirecting your attention. Let the story be about your presence.

Move your phone to the living room

 

digital detox, mindfullness, digital detox how to, challenge social media, phone addiction, can't sleep, phone addiction helpOur phones are an escape from reality. We turn to them to avoid the tension of waiting.

Immediate gratification helps numb the stress of the moment. It also impedes our progress at work, relationships, and our innovation in general.

As Simon Sinek points out in the video below, the two things that take the most time to develop are our jobs and communication skills. There’s no app to help us succeed at these difficult and messy things other than our willingness and patience.

All the time spent staring at screens instead of observing our surroundings impede the serendipitous discoveries that lead to innovation. How can we think of new ideas when we’re preoccupied with a bright shiny object?

Our willpower is weak. To strengthen it, we can start by changing our habits. We can leave the phone behind when we go to dinner with friends and replace apps with a real alarm clock.

A phone is a convergence machine. It can do and be everything, yet get in the way of what’s important. There’s no way around the fact that good things take time which needs us to play the long-game. We have to find enjoyment in this slow but steady process called life.


Shake it up

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They say that it’s better to start something new when you’re young to avoid humiliation. As an adult, you’re not expected to learn new stuff: languages, sports, art, etc. Your skillsets are permanent. While that may be true, it doesn’t hurt to shake up the system to remind yourself that you’re still alive.

Think about how far you’d already come. You would’ve never thought you could pick up photography before the iPhone. Without music software like Garageband, you never thought you would’ve made music. Without Amazon Kindle author, you may have never been a publisher author. The list goes on.

Technology turned us all into foxes instead of hedgehogs. We might be amafessionals, but we’re far more capable of creative pursuits than before. It turns out all we needed was a widget, the Internet’s connectedness, and a little bit of curiosity.

We’ve been conditioned to avoid error and taught to keep doing what we’re good at. But learning to do more stuff keep things more interesting.

Beyond filters

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Nobody uses filters anymore like they used to. The overall consensus seems to be that #nofilter is just fine. But it’s also partly because people are better editors — mobile apps like VSCO and Instagram offer free toolkits that make it easy to adjust contrast, exposure, and saturation. You can also tweak the strength of the filter; a feature VSCO had all along, and Instagram has since copied.

Filters aren’t dead, though; they’re just evolving to meet visual means of communication and an appreciation for aesthetic. When Snapchat introduced facial lenses, users wanted to make their images more personal and playful. Meanwhile, Prisma’s popularity demonstrates the appetite to revert photos into pieces of art.

Smartphone users and social media enthusiasts love to dabble in photography. Having a good eye is not enough. Your images won’t stand out in the feeds unless they provide interesting context or are reimagined enhancements of reality.

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If you’re into new presets, be sure to download the limited edition Distortia Preset Pack from VSCO. Released to celebrate the company’s 5th anniversary, you can “reimagine the boundaries of color with these presets, created for unconventional looks and customizations.”

And while you’re at it, play with the with Mars effect of the Nike Sportswear filter as well.

Long on filters, or presets, whatever we call such special effects.