You’re robbing me of my brain’s downtime.
Next in line for my car to come out of the carwash.
Minutes into being a passenger.
One minute after being in the line at the post office.
Seconds into waiting for a red light.
Instantly when a commercial comes on.
And countless nights lying in bed.
These are just some of the hundreds of scenarios that happen every day when I feel the gravitational pull to check you. Fear of missing out is absolutely real. The need to peek at you during a conversation is rude but unfortunately the norm and as of today, widely accepted. So I don’t feel as guilty as I should. But personally, I am constantly fighting internally in an attempt to resist the need to be validated and/or entertained by you. Yes, yes, I know that long periods of boredom have been eliminated because of you. But besides eradicating boredom you’ve done something much worse: killed daydreaming.
Did you know that daydreams are downtime for the brain? And in that downtime they ironically provide an amazingly powerful engine for problem solving. Smartphones have cut off our ability to park our brains and let the engine cool. Of course it really isn’t you and your other digital siblings that did this to us. We did it to ourselves. We willfully succumb to the ability to access or be accessed at any giving moment and that has reordered our priorities in ways that were likely never intended. Things like taking a deep breath, looking off into the distance, or just sitting quietly take a back seat to our insatiable thirst for smartphone consumption.
Daydreams are a way to give my brain the break it needs from sensory input. It’s kinda like my brain is yawning. When I daydream, it feels almost like an out of body experience. The world around me becomes muted and fuzzy. This allows me to be highly focused on one stream of thought. My daydreams are not planned and they just present themselves at random times. I may be driving or eating lunch or going for a walk. When it happens I am completely unaware of what is happening until I snap out of it. And you, dear smartphone, get in between me and my daydreams.
Daydreams aren’t frivolous. They directly create a sense of well-being and purpose along with our ability to grow as a society as a whole. Examples? Henry Ford’s production line. Landing on the moon. Climbing Mount Everest. Those were accomplishments that were conceived and solved for through daydreams. Daydreams are a great way to solve complex problems and, in return for that accomplishment, the daydreaming brain receives a reward. Harvard studies found that when an accomplishment of this type happens, it provides a dopamine injection to the brain which gives a sense of gratification and enjoyment. Unfortunately, checking email or Facebook trigger that same dopamine. This in turn makes smartphones a pleasure center and is why I find it increasingly difficult to resist my time with you. And just like other stimulants, I need you more and more to continue to feel the effects over time. But the real damage that is being done here is that my time to dream and invent, and to solve is suffocating. Maybe the movie WALL-E’s creators weren’t wrong to think that someday we may not even see the person right next to us, because devices like you keep us all too distracted.
I do look back and think about the path of disruption that lay in your wake. I just wonder if Steve Jobs ever thought that inspiration and the process to innovate would be one of the victims of its success?
I look forward to your reply. I’ll be sure to check regularly for your message.
Shannon (early adopter and gadget guy)