After seven long weeks of researching deep work, focus, and technology for my master’s coursework, I realized that the majority of my stress was coming from places designed to do so. Each feature on my smartphone was carefully created to elicit a neurological response and hormone release so that it became harder and harder to put down. After learning that I spent upwards of three hours a day just on my iPhone alone, I began to astutely observe exactly how technology impacted my life.
After tracking my usage, I confirmed that at the end of an average day, I would be spending at least 14 hours of it in front of a screen. Quantifying my usage and becoming more aware of it, made it easy to see the negative impacts of smartphones and social media. The constant typing and tapping on my tech caused old injuries in my wrists and hands to become inflamed. My sleep was so affected that I would often time struggle to stay awake during the morning commute. Life became increasingly more sedentary, more depressing, and it was a miracle if I ever managed to get outside. This realization caused me to feel disappointed in myself – this wasn’t optimal and it certainly didn’t feel like living anymore.
During my Data Detox, it was clear that I felt so much better once I was finally able to relinquish my screens. I paid more attention to the important things, and I even felt like I smiled more. This experience urged me to talk about what I had been feeling and to spread the knowledge I’ve learned. My white paper “Get Deep: Improving Your Health and Wellness by Changing Your Mind” culminates technology addiction, deep work, and the research conducted on this blog so that others can start recognizing and reestablishing their personal relationship with their tech, mind, and body.
Last night, I had an epiphany while waiting in line at Walmart to use the self-checkout – I know it sounds crazy, but let me set the scene… It was Friday night when my significant other and I went out to do some last minute shopping. I was attending a bridal shower over the weekend and I needed some finishing touches to complete my gift. After choosing the perfect bag to complement the themed card and tissue paper, we trudged our way over to the checkout lines. In true Walmart fashion, only five of the near twenty lanes were open. Disgruntled by the slow cashiers and their customers hauling abundant carts, we decided the self-checkout line would be our best bet. As we walked, the overflow of stuff in my arms caused me to surrender my phone, keys, and wallet to my boyfriend who then stowed them in his massive pockets. Jealous of his functional clothing, I parked myself in the line and waited. The line was easily ten people long – this was going to take a while. My boyfriend, without hesitation, took out his phone and started playing a game. I glanced over, stretching my neck to be included. With my hands full and with my phone in his pocket, I had nothing to do but just stand there. After a while, the itch to scroll through my phone became insatiable. If I couldn’t do it, I rationalized, Max shouldn’t be able to either. “Put your phone away!” I snapped. He looked at me incredulously, mumbled a response, and continued playing. Was I really getting snippy because he had the ability to use his phone while I couldn’t? Why, yes I was! As the line crawled, the craving to look at my iPhone screen grew, and with a rush of disappointment, I realized that I couldn’t cope without my technological crutch. I couldn’t handle being bored.
In the design world, especially in an agency, projects are ricocheting in and out of inboxes. The barrage of pings and pop-ups are not only disorienting and distracting, but they are a rather poor way to keep track of work. People interject changes in the thread wherever they want to, download links to assets expire, and many larger projects have multiple pieces that need to be accounted for. After working in the design field for nearly 5 years, project management is not just a fancy word organizing an inbox, but rather, it is a complex and personal necessity.
Imagine a machine that an operator did not control, but rather, the machine controlled the operator. This “sentient” machine was introduced in Part 2, Rule #1 of Cal Newport’s book, Deep Work. Conceptualized by architect, David Dewane, this machine is actually just a building. This building has no moving parts besides the people moving through it. Deriving from the ancient Greek concept of eudaimonia, this building aims to bring its users to a state in which they are achieving their full human potential – or as Newport would say, this building aims to enable the user to practice the deepest of deep work. The Eudaimonia Machine, as Dewane refers to it, is a long, rectangular series of five rooms. Each room is designed to have their own distinct purpose to facilitate the transition to deep work. The rooms are as follows:
As an artist, I always have a pit in my stomach when I work in traditional mediums. Every detail is painstakingly applied, with a watchful eye and sweaty palms. Moments like these take me back to printmaking where any mistake, no matter how small, could ruin your final product. I left every single one of those classes exhausted and sore. My fingers were cramped from carving into wooden planks and my shirt looked like it had been used to mop up a molten rainbow. Some studio nights would last until four in the morning, yielding nothing but failure – and yet, there was something about that class that I loved, especially when I got it right.
“Living the focused life is not about trying to feel happy all the time…rather, it’s about treating your mind as you would a private garden and being as careful as possible about what you introduce and allow to grow there.”
– Winifred Gallagher
“The world is getting smaller!” declared one of my undergraduate marketing professors during my Marketing 102 course. While the earth isn’t physically becoming more diminutive as time passes, my professor wasn’t spewing drivel in his class. Our world is becoming smaller due to the fact that it no longer takes weeks to obtain information or to meet people. Computers and mobile devices have transitioned from professional tools to personal extensions. Because laptops and cell phones are so easily at disposal, people are constantly locked into the grid. While some are perturbed by the fact that they are reachable at all times, many of these individuals have had to deal with this type of intimate connectivity for their jobs. In Chapter 2 of Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, author Cal Newport explores this new “Culture of Connectivity” and how the workplace has changed to accommodate it.
As children, we always dream of becoming the best. How many times have you heard a kid say they want to be the best firefighter or the greatest ballerina? This dream of being the best transcends into adolescence and early adulthood, as we work tirelessly to get a quality education and a respectable job. While many of us share the urge to be the best at what we do, how is it that only some of us become experts?
“An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes
that can be made in a very narrow field.”
– Niels Bohr
Since the dawn of the industrial revolution, there has been speculation that one day machines and technology would take over the world. The rise of the inorganic would always damn the human race to servitude, or worse, in these stories. This future, although undeniably bleak, has caused many to muse about what this new world would look like; spawning engaging films like The Matrix, Extinction, and The Terminator. Although the fantastical “tech takeovers” seen in these films are seemingly far off, the machines and their integration into society strengthens with each passing day. As jobs become increasingly more automated, many will feel the stress of being replaced, and only a select few will be able to continue making strides. To prove this fact, let’s take a look at the revolution currently taking place.
How many times have you found yourself looking at your phone when you’re supposed to be doing something important? Five times, ten times? If you’re a typical working professional, this number easily skyrockets to at least 80 times a day. Now that’s significant! Scrolling your thumb on a phone’s smooth screen is satisfying, for people of any age – but is this seemingly innocent addiction harmful? The answer to that is yes. Studies show that the presence of a cell phone, even when it is turned off, affects our cognitive capacity; in other words, our ability to learn and perform tasks. The habitual compulsion to check our phones derives from it being a device that is constantly relevant – we can achieve nearly anything with this portable tech in a matter of seconds. While cell phones are great for boosting efficiency, people who are too attached to them may experience social impairment and health issues. Clearly, cell phones have evolved from commodity items to negative objects that slowly, and unapologetically, eat away our focus.