March 20th, 2011
Put this on your To-Do list: A Not-To-Do list
A point I had made before was that the brain, at least mine, is a greedy bastard. Back in the 20th century this was less problematic, as there were no distractions. There was TV, but it had three programmes and televised for maybe half a day. You might remember the infamous "Sendeschluss", the end of broadcast, later accompanied by the national anthem. My daughter will never believe me.
Nowadays, it's much harder not to be polluted by information. It's everywhere. I have bought a smartphone this year, which is a lot smarter than I will ever be. If I was to encounter aliens, they would surely address my phone, and not me. And with a companion that intelligent, I'm not speaking of using the phone, but the phone using me. I feel like being on the device's leash, a data collector who should be paid instead of having to pay. But that's another story.
There is no end of broadcast for the internet, and there's nothing wrong with that. But the internet is truly addictive, as it has a low entry barrier, provides instant pleasure, but the experience is not regarded as rewarding in the long run. Instead of saying addiction, which somehow has a negative connotation, you can also use a phrase from happiness research, "mispredicting utility". According to Bruno Frey et al. it's something humans are pretty good at.
So some people use to-do-lists in order to keep focussed. The design flaw in to-do-lists is that they only specify what to do. The thing that happens to me is that I also address stuff not on the list, and the more items I shove in, the less time I have for each individual item: Simply put, items on the to-do-list will not be done. I guess everyone is familiar with procrastination.
So for me, a natural companion to any to-do-list should be a not-to-do-list. If you want to spend more time reading, you need to throw the TV out. If you want to spend more time walking or cycling, get rid of the car. I guess you know where this is going. I'm warming up the slack time again. If you want to change, you need free time first.
With respect to internet usage, a helpful analogy of a not-to-do-list is a blocking tool. I have recently tried LeechBlock, which allows you to group websites into several categories. You can configure a regular blocking schedule for each category, for example block a category during work hours on weekdays. Apart from the configuration, you can start a so-called lockdown immediately, or simply use the tool for measuring the time spent on the sites mentioned. I especially find the time-measuring interesting in order to get some feedback on my internet usage.
Out of curiosity I also gave a self test by NetAddiction a shot. They say I'm in control of my internet usage, but I think more control would not hurt. Give it a try and let me know what you make of it.
I strongly feel that future technology will have to be designed in order to satisfy the long-term needs of the individual user. There will be less features. There will be more feedback. The user must be in control, not the device. I think there is a lot of potential in combining the findings of happiness research and the design of consumer goods, which could lead to devices that are less obtrusive and significantly improve people's life.
I only know my smartphone isn't there yet.