On a bright weekday morning, Wallace (of Wallace and Gromit fame) is just waking up from a restful night’s sleep by an electronic alarm, which then kicks off a series of machines and gadgets that help him get dressed and into his day clothes. Various contraptions whizz and whir and his breakfast is made, he is automatically slid down to his table and then a self-driving car arrives to take him to work.
That’s what technology should be doing (albeit without the humorous slip ups that make the opening scenes of the program such fun) – making our lives easier, simpler, and less complicated. But as it turns out, more people than ever before are stressed out, even angry at the gadgets and computers that are supposed to make things go smoothly.
Beep, whizz, whirr…
When the human race was at its humble beginnings, looking for ways to survive the cold winters and find food more easily, the tools that were used (rocks, stones, spears and so on) went a long way to help us accomplish our daily tasks much easier, reducing stress and making life less burdensome.
Most technology today, and especially when it comes to mobiles, sells itself as making life easier and more convenient. But the opposite seems to be true much of the time. With all the gadgets around us beeping, buzzing and vying for our attention, we need to multi-task on all the notifications, social media feeds, apps and websites. We’ve become somewhat obsessed with following people on Twitter, and keeping up to date with all the various devices and software, which were in fact intended to help us achieve more with less effort. Instead, it’s complicating things more than ever before.
Take the case in point – on my desk I have a two-screen PC setup, a MacBook Pro laptop, an iPhone, an iPad and an Apple Watch on my wrist. I’m trying desperately to be more productive and get things done, but instead I find myself constantly checking each device on every beep and buzz. And things are not getting any easier. When the developer build of OS X was released on Monday, I gave in to the temptation and installed it right away, thinking it would help me do more with less. Unfortunately, I’ve now spent the best part of the day tinkering with the new features and reading reviews online.
But that’s only the Mac. My Apple Watch stopped showing me the temperature on the watch face, so I’ve now spent another good few hours restarting devices, looking online for solutions and so on. All this just to find out the temperature at a glance. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy having the Apple Watch (read a quick review here), but it certainly hasn’t made my daily routine much easier so far…
All these mobile devices, apps, high speed networks, and so on need to help things become more predictable and less difficult. Few people are effective multi-taskers (studies show that women are inherently better at this than men, in fact), after all.
Technology and mobiles in particular should be helping us to do away with the hundreds of app downloads, updates and upgrades. I can’t help thinking back to the movie Her, or even 2001, where you can just talk to a virtual assistant / evil robot / sexy AI, and try and achieve things that way.
Just last week I was at a social gathering in a wine bar, and almost everybody in there was sat staring at their mobile phones, frantically checking Facebook, Line, and a multitude of other apps. Today, I had a delicious lunch at a nearby café, and again there were five or six other people present – all of them playing on their phones, even the ones in couples and groups.
So let’s reflect for a moment just how easier things could be if we could put down our phones, take off our smart watches, and ditch the tablet for a day. All these devices make life easier in some ways – booking a hotel, finding a nearby restaurant, sending an email, for example. But that’s not making our lives less stressful in any way.
I took the advice of both books in 2010 when I quit my (comfortable and well paid) day job and took a second year off to travel and see the world. What an experience!
I sold all my possessions, packed a single 30 litre rucksack, and took only a simple Nokia mobile phone for communication. It was quite a revelation to be free of technology and the never-ending messages, emails, and daily tasks. Life certainly was more straightforward (and intensely enjoyable) with just a backpack and no roots.
So what are you waiting for? Put down your mobile, close your laptop, tell the boss you’re taking a few months off, and see what it’s really like to lead a simpler and less complicated life. Facebook will still be there when you get back…