Remember on Fear Factor when they used have people go underwater and pick a lock or solve a Rubik’s cube or eat some disgusting animal part? Did you ever think about how you would approach that challenge? I always think about these things. I don’t know why, because I will never be on one of those shows, but if I were, I would have thoroughly considered my approach.
If I’m going underwater, and I need to get something done, I will be focused from the start. I’ve got 30 seconds’ worth of oxygen in my lungs; I can’t just dive in, turn a couple of flips, wave at the camera, and maybe plan my dinner menu for the week. If I do that, I’m definitely not going to get the lock open. Fortunately, as my body gets desperate for oxygen, the survival instinct will kick in, and I’ll go scrambling for the surface. So I may fail, but at least I won’t die.
Unfortunately I was not born with similar instincts for dealing with my computer. I have one thing I need to do. Maybe I need to send one email. Maybe I need to check tomorrow’s weather. Maybe I need to make one tiny update to some web page. It doesn’t matter what is. I need to hold my breath, dive in, do the thing, and get back to the surface. But my mind does not have the same fearful respect for the internet that it has for water.
I go in casually, oblivious to the danger, with no sense of urgency. I look at email, RSS feeds, Twitter, Facebook, CNN, Reddit. I willingly expose myself to every source of distraction conceivable. If I see anything interesting in one of these places, it pulls me further in. What’s worse, if I don’t see anything interesting in one of these places, I’m just stupid enough to think about where else I might look to find something interesting. It’s a black hole. At this point I have already failed to meet my goal, to accomplish my one meager task, whatever it was. But the really tragic part is that I don’t have the sense to scramble back to the surface to catch my breath. I’m already lost, and now the giant leech has attached itself to my life clock, gently sucking away the hours.
Computers are my livelihood, and I enjoy them. It’s hard to imagine life without them, but sometimes I like to try. Yes, they may make our lives hundreds of times easier and more efficient, but as good as they are at helping us get things done, I think they might be even better at helping us not get things done. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not going anti-tech on you. I’m just wishing there were a way to automate self-discipline.
There’s no app for that.