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Last night, curled up in bed with my ipad (more on that later), I read an interesting article (“Let the Robot Drive”) on Wired.com about Google’s self-driving vehicle project. You’ve probably read about it by now; Google has a fleet of Prius’s navigating the Bay area that are teaching themselves how to drive.

 

So do most major automotive manufacturers. We already have self-parking technologies, lane-drift alerts, proximity sensors, sleepy driver warnings, and a myriad of other technologies in production vehicles (albeit usually higher-end cars at this point) that will help bridge the gap between humans driving and simply going along for the ride.  In the article, one analyst predicts self-driving vehicles in production by 2020.

 

A major question posed in the article really stuck out to me. What are Google’s intentions? Is it signaling a potential entrance into the fickle business of automotive manufacturing? Perhaps. More obvious to me, though, was what digital media companies like Google have been plunking away tirelessly over the last decade; stealing just a bit more of our time away from one thing, and redirecting it at (advertising and transaction rich) screen time.

 

If you no longer drove your car, but just rode inside of it, the “computer” part of cars that has long been prevalent in unseen places wouldsurely migrate in a major way to the cabin.

 

Since people would no longer have to split their driving time between actually driving, recklessly texting, and trying to pay attention to a conference call, they could afford to work a bit more digital interaction into their commuting experience; reading the news online, shopping, clicking on some valuable ad impressions, and even more likely, being advertised to based on geolocation within their commute, business the car knows it frequents, etc. All, in of course, a very tasteful and seemingly unobtrusive way, right?

 

Advertising has grown so smart that if you simply look at a product once online, you will likely find your next few months of surfing populated with cleverly placed ads for something you looked at once. For me,it’s the Xetum watch.  I’ll be damned if I didn’t get a little bonus money in my pocket one day and decide that maybe I DID need a respectable watch, one with at least an automatic movement. The Xetum had a nice design, what I’m told is a nice movement, and comes in at a fraction of some comparably built watches. I was intrigued, but at the end ofthe day, not intrigued enough to part with the $1,000 asking price, which I decided was money better spent on something other than telling time.

 

Point being: Xetum follows me everywhere now. When I check my personal email online, shop for anything, check my email, log in to Facebook. . . there’s a Xetum ad. And I don’t even want the watch (too much, at least).  I spent $980 dollars less and got something that will much more adequately represent who I am in the boardroom, should I ever get invited to serve tea and crumpets to the members one day.

 

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So that’s a really long intro to a pretty simple thought I wanted to share today. It’s about the value of unplugging in an increasingly plugged-in world.

 

I realized not long ago that the last thing I did before going to sleep was read on my ipad, and the first thing I did when I woke up was read on my ipad. News. Books. Facebook feeds. I was bookending the most restful and relaxing parts of my day with screen time.  It’s actually been a struggle to ween myself from this – our brains are already being reshaped by the constant access toinformation, and too much time without it seems like idle, wasted, time – when in fact, it’s quite often the other way around.

 

If we move to self-driving cars, or self-shaving faces, or self-tossing salads, we’ll only have more time to do something else. But we’re at a critical point where we can train our brains on how to allocate that time, rather than let marketeers with billions on the line frame it for us.

 

At the top of my list to “calm” my digital lifestyle are a few simple tips:

 

  1. Be in the moment. When you are on your smart phone all day, you’re not in the moment.You’re not in the room with your family if everyone is glued to a device at dinner, texting and typing and tapping. As best I can, I set my devices aside from the moment I enter my home – and make a conscious effort to divert the nagging cries inside me to check email, facebook, etc. to playing with my kids,or my dog, or just stepping outside and looking around and observing my surroundings. Touch a leaf, crunch it in your hands, and make an active effort to remain a tactile person that does not see the world from a retina display.
  2. Recognize when you are being “gamified.” I’ve written in the past about the principles of gamification – reinforcements and incentives that can frame the way you behave.  Point systems, coupons for “checking in” places, unlocked levels, etc. Be conscious of the fact that there is an actual science devoted to making you behave in a certain way –spend more time on a screen. Farmville is quite a bit less fun when you are conscious of the fact that there is more than one person on the payroll at Zygna making 6 figures for tricking you into spending a few more minutes on the screen. For me, this is liberating.
  3. Not all digital replacements are equal to their analog counterparts. I used to write a journal, a personal diary of sorts, that was written for me – nobody else. Blogging adds an audience, no matter how small, into the equation – and often reframes your intentions. What may have started as a place for you to document the small, beautiful things in each day turns into something where you are more focused on the number of subscribers, comments, reposts, likes, and advertising dollars you are getting. I’ve returned to my personal journal, where I write simple observations (like how my 3-year-old daughter says “I just made a tiny bless you” when she sneezes).  Blogs create a sense of obligation for me – that I am letting someone other than myself down by my inactivity. Others may not have this problem, but look for areas where you have substituted a digital product or process that may have complicated, rather than simplified, your life (alarm clocks, schedules, etc).
  4. Still have fun. Give yourself permission to use and enjoy technology.  It’s why I got into a career in technology in the first place. It’s amazing, the things we can do and will be able to do through technology.
  5. Churn butter on your front stoop. Okay, so not really, unless you have A.) a butter churn and B.) a stoop (and an insatiable taste for butter) to begin with. But this last tip ties in very closely to #1, about being in the moment. In fact, it’s just another reinforcement of the importance of stopping for more than just a few minutes each day, and looking up and around. Doing simple things. Having hobbies other than Hulu and Facetime and Pinterest.   Think about this video from the Washington Post, where they placed one of our nation’s greatest violinists in a transit station and observed as people walked right past him without paying attention to the beauty and magnificence of the piece he was playing.There are plenty of moments of beauty in your life to capture inside of you not just on your smartphone camera. Yes, Instagram is cool. But not as cool as just being there to begin with.