Here on beautiful Cape Cod, Summer is in full swing with BBQs, sunsets and lazy days at the beach. On a particularly listless Sunday afternoon, I began thinking back to my childhood – and the perfect glass of Kool-Aid. Ahhhh, how that glass of Kool-Aid was SO refreshing when the mix was just right! …and this got me thinking about something else – technology. I know, I know – how can Kool-Aid and technology be related? Please, read on….
- I was recently on the T (public transit) in Boston and counted the people around me. Of the 22 people, 17 were interacting with technology gadgets.
- While waiting at the airport for a flight, 33 of the 45 people in my boarding area were on an electronic device.
- While standing on Main street I counted 100 cars. 22 of the drivers appeared to be talking/texting or otherwise distracted by a gadget in the car.
- At a small local restaurant, I counted 20 TV screens (20!). Every table and adult diner regularly glanced at an electronic screen/device.
These are completely un-scientific observations (hey, I’m a musician not a scientist), but I have a point to make…
Back in junior high chemistry (something I was not particularly good at), I remember a particular lesson quite well: “solutions”. It started with natural-gas fed bunsen burners and small beakers. In one of the experiments, we had to heat up the beaker to get more crystals to dissolve. When finished, I brought the hot beaker to the sink to wash it off. It exploded in my hands! (Note to self: never put a hot glass in cold water) Whoa – there’s a lesson I’ll never forget. Thankfully no blood or stitches – that could have been a turning point in my piano career…. but I transgress.
The experiments in ‘solutions’ eventually led to a concept called “super-saturation“. This is the point where a liquid can no longer dissolve what you’re adding. For example, to make our optimal glass of Kool-Aid, add the perfect amount of mix and water (adult-version recipes with alcohol here). Keep adding Kool-Aid mix, however, and the crystals will eventually… just….. float to the bottom. This is “super-saturation”.
Guilty! Guilty! Guilty!
Well, I think I’ve hit my super-saturation level for gadgets, ringy-thingies and technological distractions. Along with my un-scientific observations above (and to show my own role in this mess), here are some personal examples from just the past few days (yes, I’m a Naughty Boy!):
- While standing in line at the Post Office (all of about 3 minutes) – I pulled out my smartphone… TWICE. It’s a HABIT! Hey, I’m a musician, what could possibly be so urgent?
- While aboard a Boston-harbor cruise this past weekend – I felt the strong urge to post a photo and comment to Facebook (thankfully, I resisted the urge and instead, enjoyed the scenery and company around me – I posted the photo 3 days later). Why do I interrupt the ‘real world’ to entertain the ‘virtual’ one? This song says it all: Things that make you go, “hmmm” (I love this song.. definitely checkout the link!)…
- While practicing piano, I actually stopped to answer a ringing phone. Stupid me – isn’t that why they invented voicemail?
- Anytime I have to wait more than a minute (store, bank, etc..), I have the insatiable URGE to check alerts, social media, email – whatever. Heaven forbid waiting quietly, distraction-free for several moments… Oh, the agony! The PAIN!
- When I’m in a restaurant/bar with a TV screen in line of sight – I can’t help but glance!I must be related to flies – you know, the ones that fly towards light – even if it’s one of those bug-zapper things. Must…watch…pretty…lights…….BZZZZZtttTTTTTT!!!! ZAPPP!!! Maybe it’s in my ‘guy DNA’?…
And you know what? It’s not just me!! If you read these examples and can relate, well you know what I’m talking about!
I have a super-talented pianist friend who’s considering “downgrading” to a “flip-style” phone. Another friend just cancelled his Facebook account. Writers, artists, musicians, philosophers, spirtual leaders – ‘regular’ folk like you and me – we’re questioning our relationship with technology. We’re not ‘Luddites‘ – we’re just looking for balance. The optimal glass of Kool-Aid, right?
All this chemistry and technology talk brings me to an interesting question:
Who, precisely, is in control of this seemingly runaway technology?
I once read a book called “What Technology Wants” by Kevin Kelly. He postulates technology is a sentient, “self-organizing” organism (called the “Technium”) – developing and building on itself. This is scary Matrix/Terminator-stuff, where theoretically, technology marches on regardless what we do.
Personally, I disagree.
In the end, I believe WE have control and each must come to our own personal agreements with the technology and distractions we allow into our lives.
I’m, by no means a “poster-child”, when it comes to limiting technology. I was the first to own a Palm Pilot and later one of the first smartphones (Treo 600). I now do most of my work on an iPad Air2 and carry an iPhone 6. I’m a ninja at email, CRM and all-things entrepreneur techy. I build and manage multiple websites and social media profiles. I embrace technology when it can help me be more effective and efficient. However, now that I’m hitting my super-saturated state, I need to bring more balance.
Here’s a list of some things I’m doing to reclaim my analog life – and help me become a more productive artist and musician. It’s still a work in progress so cut me some slack. Some of these I’ve been working on for over a year, others I’ve only started attempting recently.
Piano-Gary’s Guide to the Ultimate Glass of Kool-Aid:
1. Turn off ALL notifications on the smartphone (including “Badges”, “Sounds” and “Alerts”) for EVERYTHING except Calendar/appointments and my *VIPs (*VIPs are my wife and kids – so they can still reach me while I’m blocking everything else)
2. “Downgrade” any gadget which is not serving its ‘prime purpose’ – example, my iPhone has to go. I use the iPhone as my music player/exercise tracker (it’s too big and clunky), and I absolutely hate not having PHYSICAL buttons to answer and hangup the phone. And don’t get me going on ‘auto-correct’ (especially writing in Italian) – egad. Time for a ‘retro’ qwerty-key model with physical answer and hang up buttons. I can still use the iPad if I want to watch video, browse the internet or play games…
3. Become an email ‘Ninja‘ – cut all non-essential email. Inbox Zero everyday. (I’m getting pretty good at this.. thanks to David Allen, David Sparks and Merlin Mann)
4. Avoid the Social media Vortex (*- the vortex starts with a cute pic of a cat and 2 hours later you scream “oh SHIT, I gotta get back to work!”). Designate specific “Social Media Time” (not more than 15 minutes) – use a timer if necessary.
5. Designate specific “Email Time” (I’m experimenting with twice per day & having the email app window hidden from view the rest of the time)
6. Tech-Free family dinners (includes restaurants)
7. “Phone-less” weekends (if you call on a Saturday you’ll probably get voicemail, and you definitely won’t reach me on a Sunday – don’t take it personally!)
8. Read “Real” books (from the local library) instead of e-books
9. Schedule “Piano time” – ON THE CALENDAR. Treat this as a high-level meeting. Turn off phone ringers and eliminate distractions
10. Tech-free vacations (this could be as short as a day, and as long as several weeks)
11. Use hands-free devices while driving (why can’t phones just turn-off texts/alerts feature when phone is moving faster than 5 mph?)
It’s still a work in progress, but I’m experiencing less stress and more control than I’ve felt in a LONG time. I’m constantly trying to simplify, focus and be more present in everything I do. This is easier written than done. I’m mostly still off-kilter, a little out of sync, still in process. However, I’ve decided to be proactive. I believe this is helping me become a better artist and musician.
If you’d like to explore some of the resources I’ve found extremely helpful in my quest for more balance, check these out:
David Sparks – Email
David Allen – Getting things Done
Merlin Mann – Back to work podcast
Merlin Mann – Inbox Zero
Kevin Kelly – What technology wants
William Powers – Hamlet’s Blackberry (Building a Good Life in the Digital Age)
Anything written by Malcolm Gladwell or Seth Godin
What are some of the strategies, methods and resources you’re using to deal with technology?
I enjoy hearing from you – please leave your comments below!
lease excuse the random, cross-pollinated organizational headings (‘Prologue’, ‘Theorem’, etc..). This is purely for entertainment, and not meant to be scientifically or literally accurate!