Taking the time to think

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Philosophy

It probably won’t surprise anyone that I wish I could do more of what the woman on the couch is doing. I truly treasure the mental and physical space to think about those intractable intangibles that have puzzled philosophers and deep thinkers since the advent of thinking deeply.

Only I don’t know if I can do it anymore. I may have trained myself out of this particular trait in my quest for super productivity. (I do love trying to untangle the Gordian knot of super productivity, but I wouldn’t for half a moment trade it for philosophical pondering).

This weekend presented the perfect conditions for existential pondering: it was cold and rainy; my schedule was open; I had a nasty, achy cold. In the past I would have used this opportunity to do as little as possible—mostly undirected free association with sleeping tossed in for flavor; perhaps some writing if I was feeling especially energetic.

Instead I worked. And I thought about work. And I agonized over work. And I felt guilty about not working. And I added tasks to my work projects.

And when I wasn’t doing that I was reading, or doing Facebook free association (following a link from Facebook, then following a link, then another, ad infinitum), or futzing with this blog and my work blog. I slept, too, but only because I was, actually, sick. When I awoke I had a number of tasks to add to my projects.

In short, I ended up compulsively doing something the whole weekend. I couldn’t just sit still. I couldn’t just think. I certainly couldn’t allow my mind to slip into the semi-conscious alpha state where philosophy resides. The closest I got was forcing myself to spend about an hour looking out the window at the rain falling on the slick street. I watched the drops bead on the green Jetta in our driveway. I saw the clouds thinning and breaking up, the sun slicing through and painting the trees a bright green. I marveled as faces and figures took shape in the crystalline water droplets high above me.

And I thought about the topic and content of this blog. It seems even an hour of nothing, done under duress, produces creative thoughts.

I hope my current inability to not do is not permanent. I believe if I had a few days to truly disconnect and reset my mind that I’d be able to access my innermost existential zeitgeist. (I realize some of my friends are looking for their Super Soakers). I’d like to get the opportunity to do that sooner than later. Retreat, anyone?

How about you? What do you do to balance the doing with the nothing? I’d love to hear if you have ways that work for you. Or are you struggling to maintain the balance like me?

Complex solutions for simple problems

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I went to the restroom at the Ventura mall on Friday. Never mind that I was in a mall. (You will never find a more wretched hive of greed and superficiality). The point of this story is elsewhere. More specifically, in the restroom. Like many commercial restrooms everything there was automatic–the urinal, the faucet, the soap dispenser, and the towel dispenser. Everything.

The problem was, the faucet and the soap dispenser were broken. I waved my hand like a crazy person in front of the sensors for the faucet and the dispenser. Nothing.

Frustrating, yes. Annoying, yes. Unsanitary, most definitely. Technologically questionable, also yes.

When an older faucet or dispenser broke the fix was mechanical, which meant even I could get it up and working again. A trip to the local hardware store and boom! Sir Fix-a-lot (yours truly) conquers another DIY dragon. With the new hardware the issue is digital, which means that pretty much no one can fix it. Yours truly doesn’t even know where to start.

This issue has several dimensions to me: epistemological (are we designing ourselves into an epistemological corner where a tiny percentage of people will be qualified to repair these items?); ecological (is this a good use of very limited resources—such as rare earth minerals?); complexity theory (as things become more complex do they become more inefficient?); and practical (how do we fix these items in a timely manner?). I can envision a time when people won’t be able to do the easiest of tasks, like changing the spark plugs in their…oh, wait, never mind.

Seriously, why are we spending time and energy making simple things more complex? Unfortunately, it seems more like a fascination with gadgetry than a valuable contribution to our future. That’s my half pence, at least.

Changing it up

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After seeing Michael Lopp’s home screen for his interview with MacSparky, I decided to do a little cleaning of my own.

Enamored with the new iOS functionality I had consolidated all of my apps into folders. Even before I read the article I was considering a change. (The clicks, they were adding up).

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For the change, I applied Michael’s methodology, placing all my most-used apps on the first page and moving all the folders to the second page. The result: a much cleaner front page, with my many guilty pleasures prominently displayed.

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It can be a lot like life, this changing your tech to make it work, can’t it? I’ve noticed that I tend to change my tech whenever I feel the need to change my life. What I haven’t determined is whether it’s a proxy or a precursor.