A long time ago I realized that the more tools you have – especially digital tools – the less productive you become. Around 2-3 years ago I stopped using sophisticated word processors. From MS Word I moved on to using Google Docs and then from Google Docs I moved on to various text editors until I settled with Q10 that completely covers your screen.
Last year I read two books on how the digital technology keeps us in a constant state of distraction. The first was “The Shallows”; it was followed why “Distracted” and this year I’m reading “Hamlet’s BlackBerry”. Distraction, according to all these books, doesn’t just manifest in the form of switching from task to task and an inability to stick to a single task. When you’re using your mobile phones and even your computer screens, distractions are always there in the form of various buttons, screen elements, images, and even hyperlinks. You don’t realize it, but your mind is constantly analyzing them and processing them. This keeps your mind perpetually busy and eventually you feel tired even when you think you have done nothing.
In the days of Socrates, writing was still in a state of development (I know people in India will find it silly because the Vedas are known to have been written more than 3-5000 years ago). You can say it was like the mobile phones of the early 1990s. He thought of it as a distraction. Before people knew how to write, every wisdom, every bit of knowledge was in the memory and it was transferred from disciple to disciple. Socrates believed that storing knowledge in writing doesn’t mean that you have that knowledge. In the same manner, an ability to Google something doesn’t mean that you know that thing. Remember the days when we used to know so many phone numbers, including our home phone number, our friends’ phone numbers and even our relatives’ phone numbers. How many phone numbers do you remember these days? If you say what is the use of remembering something if you can always store it, that is not the point. People who study behavioral science know that we are losing our ability to remember information because we are always storing it somewhere. What are its implications? Only time will tell.
So gradually, over the years, I’ve been trying to move towards minimalism at least when it comes to technology and gadgets. Of course there are crests and troughs but what matters is I’m constantly conscious of the fact that lots of digital tools make Jack a dull boy. My mantra these days is: being busy doesn’t mean being productive.