poacher turned gamekeeper

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A little while ago I penned a post which cast a cynically quizzical eye over the addictive nature of Silicon Valley’s finest gadgets. Using the sharpest minds that academia could offer, the modern day Xanadu has crafted a suite of the most intentionally addictive gizmos modern society has ever encountered. In understanding exactly how their anointed architect, Nir Eyal, builder of everything from Fitbod to PaypPal’s teasing tools and author of 2004’s bestselling bible ‘Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products’, has now performed a 180 degree about-turn, it may be wise to re-read the initial argument: http://carlbeetham.com/time-well-spent/ before grabbing a copy of his latest tome ‘Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life’. Yep, now that we’re all addicted to his dopamine-dependent cunning cues, he’s kindly letting us in on how to kick the habit.

I recently came across a footnote informing me that no less than the pope himself wanted to alter a line of the Lord’s Prayer, from ‘lead us not into temptation’ to ‘do not let us fall into temptation’. Apparently, he thought it necessary to point out to us that any succumbing to potential temptation was entirely of our own doing, and not the ‘special one’s’ fault. No, not Jose Mourinho’s fault but the guy in the sky’s. No-one’s leading us to a veritable Sodom and Gomorrah, we’re off there completely of our own volition. This view seems entirely in keeping with Nir’s wrt being hooked on his tech: don’t shoot the messenger, it’s all your own fault.

It will come as zero surprise that my initial knee-jerk reaction is to agree with the flip-flopped tech guru and blame the weak-willed gormless user for being so naïve and easily-led, but that is to underestimate the sheer power of the potential addiction. Deep down, the author too kinda gets this too and hence prescribes certain techniques for resisting his distractions. These turn-out to be principally centred around something called ‘timeboxing’, which in practice refers to the almost anally-retentive scheduling of your entire daily life in order that no ‘white space’ (free time, FFS!) exists in the whole of your (Google) calendar. Complement this by ‘hacking back’ and disabling your external triggers and device notifications and your life shall once again be yours. And woe betide you for failing to do so as Nir believes you’re merely sloughing off responsibility for your own actions.

Now, if this reminds you of BT’s TV ad from a couple of years ago where trendy hipster types talked nonsense about reimagineering and the like, then I’m with you. The thought of timeboxing my day to use each and every second to full dramatic effect, intentionally leaving nothing to serendipitous chance and, hence, open to distraction, fills me with me more dread than I can convey. I fully get the fact that we wholeheartedly blame technology for our distracted shortcomings, and that yes, of course it’s people that distract people, but to ignore the role of the device, and its software, is to believe the National Rifle Association’s odious protestation that ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people’. It’s clearly the gun/person interface that’s the issue. And it’s equally clear that it’s the device/person interface that’s the issue here.

To spend years building these hooks and triggers into our lifestyles, amassing a not inconsiderable fortune en-route, and then to blame us for getting addicted in the first place is infuriating to say the least. Having just acquired my first iPhone (though still yet to use it in anger) the route to sanity salvation isn’t by going cold-tech-turkey, surfing the urge, timeboxing or even Clockifying and FocusListing, but to develop a healthy relationship with tech, with those you communicate and to value your precious time as it rightly deserves: don’t let the tail wag the dog. Everything in moderation as a wise man once said and don’t be afraid to just say no.

Personally, I find the whole thing highly distracting. No doubt just like the pointless email you’ve just opened and spent two minutes of life reading, two minutes you ain’t ever going to get back. Sorry!