Recently I met a 98 year old woman, she lived alone, and she seemed more active than most folks half her age. She was happy. I remarked to her that I was in awe of how much technological and social change she must have witnessed in the course of her life. She replied “Oh the stories I could tell you.” I wished that it was a sincere offer, and that I had the time to listen.
This inspired me to think about the arrival of my 38th year in this world. So I’ve been reflecting on life, as people do on occasion, but on this occasion I’ll do so publicly via this blog. I have almost 38 years of consciousness under my belt, what would it feel like to live for 60 more years? It’s slightly embarrassing to acknowledge that it’s only recently I have become aware of how subtle habits translate into longterm changes. Like the butterfly effect, it’s all the little things we do that seem swirl into full hurricanes later in life. With the current expected life span of men at 76 and women at 81, there seems to be ample time for storms to brew. Though a long life in the modern world comes with an abundance of choice, opportunity, and freedom to decide how to spend our time; an increasing life span also creates more opportunities for benign choices to become malignant tumors. If I only lived to be 30, my diet might not matter, nor my frivolous expenditures, but long life provides time to reap the compound interest of every habit. The longer the life, the more impact we’ll feel from the smallest degrees of deviation from optimal.
Lately, I see the tiny flutter of my current habits and wonder what hurricanes I’m forcasting for myself. Am I eating well enough? More importantly: what about my habits of mind? And my children: Are my words of guidance and advice unintentionally instilling insecurity or building confidence? Am I providing a framework for lasting happiness, or building structure doomed to collapse? Am I spending money on frivolous things? 5 bucks a day wasted at a gas station could be the difference between a comfortable retirement and 5 extra years of work. Most often, I contemplate time spent on my smartphone; how much of my conscious life is spent browsing Facebook, or doing even less meaningful activities like binge watching cat videos. Smart phones are to attention what black holes are to matter. Even as I type this criticism (on my phone), I can’t help but dismiss the irony and enjoy the allure of this technology.
But at what cost? The past seven years has been an interesting experiment. I love learning, smartphones and the internet have made that process so incredibly easy. I wonder though, as I watch my daughters falling in line with most adults and all of their peers, if we aren’t all trading a more longterm richness of conscious experience for short term convenience.
In the past seven years I have no meaningful memories or stories to tell of “that one time on Facebook”. I can’t imagine I’ll ever sit with my grandchildren and tell them about that crazy time I spent on Instagram, or googling random shit. And yet the average adult will spend 3 hrs and 15 mins a day using mobile apps. I know this because I googled it. On my smartphone. I suppose between social media and audible, I’m somewhere in the vicinity of that number. It’s very nauseating for me to imagine all of the productive, meaningful things I could have accomplished if that time was given back to me. And it’s not that I haven’t done meaningful things, (I do enjoy audible) or that a person can’t do both, it’s just that I’m coming to terms with the truth: This is a habit that will inevitably detract from the potential richness of my life, and my experience.
I don’t want to someday arrive at my 98th birthday, and try to summon the memories of 75 thousand hours of staring at a phone, or a television (68 years x 3hrs/day). Currently, if I’ve spend 3 hrs a day using an iPhone for the past 6 years, It’s the equivalent to googling nonstop for 273 days. The average American watches 35 hours of television! I like to think my smart phone numbers are lower than those, and certainly my television numbers are a fraction of the average, but regardless I am certain that I’ve wasted an obscene amount of time.
In order to correct this misuse of my time, I will first attempt to find better ways to spend my time than on social media. Hopefully his blog is the first step in phasing out social media time altogether. And with any luck, it might even become a better outlet for those who care to keep in touch to do so. Maybe through this blog we can create more intimate, meaningful ways to share ideas, and stories. My hope is that 75 thousand hours from now, this will feel like time well spent.