…more commonly, Really Simple Syndication (RSS). If you don’t yet know what RSS is: RSS is a calm technology.
Introducing a quarter-century-old technology as if it were novel might seem a little strange. But despite the syndication format’s cult following, most internet users have never heard of it. That’s unfortunate, because RSS provides everyday internet users with an easy way to organize all of their online-content consumption—news media, blogs, YouTube channels, even search results for favorite terms—in one place, curated by the user, not an algorithm. The answer to our relatively recent social-media woes has been sitting there all along.
~ Yair Rosenberg from, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2023/03/social-media-algorithms-twitter-meta-rss-reader/673282/
Of course, the real problem is that we’ve all had the idea that “newer is better” broadcast at us for years. The Amish don’t eschew all technology; rather, they’re very particular and intentional about what technology they adopt. The Luddites didn’t want to smash and rollback all technology; they were technically skilled workers who thrived via technology, but who had a specific bone to pick about a new technology.
In recent decades we’ve been fire-hose, continuously fed the idea of techno-optimism… except without the really critical part: one can’t simply hew to, “technology is good.” Technology is nothing more than a tool. There are excellent tools, poor tools, and all tools can be used for good or evil. It’s the consideration we put into our decision to adopt or eschew a technology that matters most.
In March of 2022 I returned to tracking my activity. For me, what gets tracked gets optimized. I created the simplest tracking worksheet that did what I wanted and I set about keeping track. There are things I loath about my current FitBit; I can’t quite entirely disable the notifications. And touch screens don’t work with sweaty fingers, which leads to frustration just when I’m exhausted. I’ve never had an Apple Watch, but maybe it was time?
When I bought the phone last year, I went all out. I got the 1 terabyte model (a ridiculous amount of storage space, in hindsight), because I expected to have the thing for a while. But I’ve come to resent this phone.
~ Chris Bailey from, https://chrisbailey.com/smartphones-should-not-be-this-nice/
I went to the Apple Store to arrange for a battery replacement for my iPhone, and I intended to spend my waiting time examining watches. I spent an hour exploring and testing, and picked one out. I bought it, booted it up, synced it to my Apple ecosystem, and strapped it on. I went on my way with a new phone battery and $700 in conspicuous consumption on my wrist. Intending to lean into wearing and using the watch as much as possible.
And for the next two days I wanted to rip it off my wrist and smash it with a hammer. I spent endless hours trying to disable this, silence that, adjust this feature, avoid setting up that other feature… All because I wanted the Watch’s better GPS tracking of distance covered, and better biometric measurements. I struggled with trying to sleep with a digital screen strapped to my wrist—there is no digital screen that will ever exist, which is permitted in my sleep space. Alas, the Watch is the antithesis of calm technology and it was clear I was never going to change its DNA.
On the third day, I carefully put it all back in its packaging as best I could. I drove all the way back to the Apple Store. I knew Apple had a 7-day, no questions asked, full money back guarantee. I handed it back to a rep. They of course asked, “Was there a problem? Or something you didn’t like?” My reply—
“Meh.” And then I left.
I recently realized I’ve wasted 23 years. Way back in 1990 a good friend gave me a CD of MCMXC A.D. by Enigma. It was mind bending, and remains so; to this day, I use it when I really need to zone out and not quite sleep, but rest. It’s an album which I have never once listened to a single track separately. I’ve only ever started at the front and gone straight through.
The other day, I thought: I should see what else Enigma (the brain child of Michael Cretu) may have done since 1990. Followed by my ordering all of the other seven albums. I buy the CDs used, and that means they tend to trickle to my doorstop over a few weeks. Oh. I’ve turned into a lunatic, listening to music far too loud in the house. I’ve recently done this with other artists and suddenly I’m up to my eyeballs in great (in my opinion) music.
So, why 23 years wasted? The Screen Behind the Mirror was released in 2000. I’ve therefore wasted 23 years worth of opportunities to play it.
Basically I had just aged myself by twenty minutes. Two virtual cigarettes, and not even a fading buzz to show for it. I learned nothing, gained nothing, made no friends, impacted the world not at all, did not improve my mood or my capacity to do anything useful. It was marginally enjoyable on some reptile-brain level, sure, but its ultimate result was only to bring me nearer to death. Using my phone like that was pure loss of life — like smoking, except without the benefits.
~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2023/02/most-phone-use-is-a-tragic-loss-of-life/
I’ve no idea if you like Enigma. (You can thank me later if you just discovered Enigma and do like it.) But there simply must be some music that you do like! …find which music it is, buy a copy of it in whatever medium you prefer, and spend that twenty minutes—and the next 23 years, if you’re lucky—leaning into that stuff.
There is a time and place for maximum effort—yes, that’s a Deadpool reference—and there’s a time and place for stillness and calm. I’m fascinated by the relationship and interaction between physicality (as movement versus stillness) and mentality (as agitation versus calmness.) I’ve had transformational experiences at both extremes of physicality, with mental calmness. I do get mentally agitated. But I fear that too many people experience calmness far too rarely, possibly never.
This often means working more thoughtfully, and maybe even more slowly. Slow work is not unproductive work. What we lose in speed we more than make up for in deliberateness—as well as in undistracted attention, a critical factor of productivity.
~ Chris Bailey from, https://chrisbailey.com/the-productivity-payoffs-of-a-calm-mind/
Sometimes people ask me about Stoicism, and I suck at explaining it. Thinking and writing about calmness today, I’m struck that I should probably mention eudaimonia (eu̯-dai̯-mon-ía). Eudaimonia is a key value Stoicism advocates striving for.
[…] is a state of being and consciousness that is consistent with the active, effective activity of ideal agency and in general is characterized by the calm (equanimity; tranquility) that comes from the absence of further moral struggle and the absence of retrospective regret or prospective alarm about things outside one’s control, together with the confidence that comes from the effortless persistence of moral purpose.
~ Lawrence Becker from, A New Stoicism p91
2.5 millenia later… calmness, equanimity, tranquility?
The idea of a changeable-bits, screw driver is brilliant. There were dozens of different screw-driving tools that varied only in the shape of their pointy end; their handles and other properties were identical. This was the perfect opportunity to create one tool to perform many functions.
You might wonder whether life is really simpler this way. Wouldn’t it be far more convenient to use a single device to accomplish all of these tasks?
Technically, yes. Psychologically, no.
While there’s an undeniable ease-of-use factor to housing a phone, internet browser, entertainment center, camera, and GPS in a lightweight rectangle that fits inside my pocket, the proximity of each of these tasks to one another leads, inevitably, to constant distraction. If you’ve ever tried to find the perfect angle for a photo while your Instagram post is blowing up, or answer a work email while your mom is calling you, you know what I mean.
~ Talia Barnes from, https://www.persuasion.community/p/the-case-for-digital-minimalism
I agree with Barnes, and her point about proximity is one I’d not seen clearly expressed. And there’s a more obvious argument for digital minimalism: It actually works.
The multi-bit screw driver works exactly as well as the dozens of tools it replaces. But my “smart” phone is a less capable phone, a less capable camera, a less capable correspondence tool, etc. Yes, clearly, it’s more convenient. But “the best camera is the one you have with you” is only true if your definition of “best” is: I captured the photo. “The jack of all trades is master of none.” holds true. If instead your definition of “best” is: I did the thing well. Well, then, you need the right tool. And the right tools—the right technology, is calm technology.
I’m sold on the idea that mindfulness is the key which unlocks everything else. I get chuffed when something grabs my attention. I’m fine with noticing; It’s good that I notice emergency vehicles. But realizing I’ve blown the last 5 minutes doom-scrolling in Instagram? Not cool.
There’s a reason for this. Our experiences in the digital realm are usually very novel—and this novelty leads to the release of dopamine in our brain. Dopamine doesn’t lead us to feel happy and satisfied in and of itself—it leads us to feel as though pleasure is right around the corner, so it keeps us wanting more. The more novel an app, the more we get hooked—we feel a constant rush and keep using the app until we remember to stop. (Here’s looking at you, TikTok.)
~ Chris Bailey from, https://chrisbailey.com/5-lessons-i-learned-switching-to-a-flip-phone-for-a-month-2/
This is a longer than usual article from Bailey and it’s stuffed full of insight. One item of note is he frequently gets very intentional about testing things to their logical conclusion. This article comes from him trying to live his life without a smart phone. His conclusion (and I agree) is that smart phones are awesome. Unfortunately, there’s some bad opportunities mixed in too. (Ocean and surfing, yay! Sharks, not so much.) Want to see how addicted you are to your phone? Try this.
The most potentially interesting, challenging, and profound change implied by the ubiquitous computing (UC) era is a focus on calm. If computers are everywhere they better stay out of the way, and that means designing them so that the people being shared by the computers remain serene and in control. Calmness is a new challenge that UC brings to computing. When computers are used behind closed doors by experts, calmness is relevant to only a few. Computers for personal use have focused on the excitement of interaction. But when computers are all around, so that we want to compute while doing something else and have more time to be more fully human, we must radically rethink the goals, context and technology of the computer and all the other technology crowding into our lives. Calmness is a fundamental challenge for all technological design of the next fifty years. The rest of this paper opens a dialogue about the design of calm technology.
Designs that encalm and inform meet two human needs not usually met together. Information technology is more often the enemy of calm. Pagers, cellphones, news-services, the World Wide Web, email, TV, and radio bombard us frenetically. Can we really look to technology itself for a solution?
But some technology does lead to true calm and comfort. There is no less technology involved in a comfortable pair of shoes, in a fine writing pen, or in delivering the New York Times on a Sunday morning, than in a home PC. Why is one often enraging, the others frequently encalming? We believe the difference is in how they engage our attention. Calm technology engages both the center and the periphery of our attention, and in fact moves back and forth between the two.
~ Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown from, https://www.johnseelybrown.com/calmtech
Calm technology is designed to be unobtrusive and blend in with daily life. The opposite is technology that is distracting and disruptive, creating agitation and stress.
Never before have I seen, nor imagined, the adjective calm associated with technology. It never occurred to me to question where technology falls on a spectrum of calming to agitating. Mark my words: Calm technology is going to get mentioned by me going forward.
Read the headline, tap, scroll, tap, tap, scroll.
~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2017/07/filter-bubbles/
Well, there’s your problem. Right there in that first line of that article.
But it’s not your fault. There’s a huge asymmetry in the modern struggle.
The solution isn’t to flee, but rather to grab all the technology doo-dads by the, err… doo-dads and make them do your bidding. Notice when something annoys you, and then take the time—it might be seconds, minutes, hours or days—to solve that problem. Triple-word score if you can eliminate something entirely; delete your account from one social network that you’re ok with being without… that fixes annoying notifications. Delete an app. Find some web sites, (hey thanks for following mine,) that work the way you want them to. Subscribe to email if you like, use RSS if you like, etc.
Blogs are different. There’s a presumption of informed mature decision making. I come out with a new book, I mention it and then we all move on. You’re smart. You can handle it.
~ Seth Godin from, https://seths.blog/2005/06/treating_people/
You may have noticed that there’s nothing other than [what’s called] the “center well” on my blog.
Perhaps you have you wondered why that is?