Tag Archives: technology

Bored and Brilliant challenge 6: Observe something else

Previous posts on the challenge:

Bored and Brilliant challenge 6 is to go somewhere public and stay for a while: a park, a mall, a gas station, a cafe, the hallway at work.

Once you get there, hang out. Watch people, or anything that strikes you. No need to sit on a park bench for an hour. It can be as short as you like. If you really feel uncomfortable lingering in a spot to observe, you can do this exercise while walking. But it should have a different quality than challenge two (to keep your device out of sight while in motion). Here I’m asking you to pause and imagine what a single person is thinking, or zoom in on an un-inventable detail. Just make one small observation you might have missed if your nose were glued to a screen. I’m asking you to notice—because noticing is the first step in creating.

I’ve done this a couple of times. Just sat somewhere for no particular reason, but I always forgot what I was supposed to be doing there for the challenge.

Yesterday I tried it again, and again forgot the bit about imagining what a person was thinking, but I did try and look for things I might otherwise have missed.

For reasons unnecessary to explain, I found myself in New Town for an hour last night. It was dark, it was cold and I am trying to get over a cold. Not an ideal time to wander around so I decided to do this challenge once and for all. I mean, it’s been a month since I did the last one. I need to get this finished!

I went to the local shopping centre (mall—check) and sat outside Kmart for half an hour (stay somewhere public for a while—check). I’d like to tell you I didn’t look at my phone the whole time but that would be slightly untrue. But I didn’t sit there and scroll instagram or facebook at all. I mostly didn’t look at my phone. Apart from a couple of messages I just sat and looked around.

It actually felt less weird than I thought it would have. Random person rugged up in arctic wear (did I mention it was cold?) sitting on a bench outside Kmart not looking at their phone. What are they doing then? I think I was pretty much invisible. Good.

It was also less boring than I thought it would be. When I found out I’d need to do this, I couldn’t imagine anything I would less rather be doing on a freezing Tuesday night than hanging around in New Town for an hour. But the time went surprisingly quickly and I found I rather enjoyed just sitting in a fairly quiet space that was warm and had just enough going on to maintain my interest. Put it this way, it was more enjoyable than waiting at the bus stop for 10 minutes afterwards.

The shopping centre at 6.30 is fairly quiet, compared to in the daytime, with a slow but steady stream of people making their way into and out of Kmart. I’m not sure I would have liked it quite as much if I’d been sitting there in the middle of the day with all the noise and the much greater numbers of people. I think that would have overstimulated me and I would have felt very uncomfortable.

I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to notice.

What sort of people go to Kmart at 6.30? All sorts really. Parents with young kids, couples, singles, older people, teens with a parent, schoolgirls, people who had just finished work . . . And what do they buy? Clothes, kitchen appliances, blankets, cushions, mirrors, coat stands, lollies . . .

What did I notice?

Well, there were fewer people in ugg boots than I had expected to see. I had been wearing ugg boots all day until I went out and I imagined I’d see a lot of them at Kmart. Wrong. I saw two people in ugg boots. There were more people in thongs than there were in ugg boots. (Take note, aspiring film makers, if you ever want to shoot a scene in Kmart. People wear thongs not ugg boots. And flats, and runners (lots of Nikes and lots of non-Nikes) and workboots and walking shoes. Not ugg boots.)

I had no idea that DVD rental vending machines were even a thing. (I clearly don’t visit shopping centres very often.) Today was $2 Tuesday (or in old school language, Tightarse Tuesday) at the vending machine and I saw two people get DVDs from the machine. I also saw one person play the prize grab teddy machine (and fail).

I looked at the floor tiles and realised if I did weird things with my eyes I could make the floor move and wondered if I could make myself go into a trance if I blinked my eyes fast enough for long enough by looking at it. (I couldn’t, but it was fun trying.)

And there was a section of floor where the tile pattern was broken and I couldn’t stop looking at it because it was WRONG!

20190514 Floor at New Town Plaza 3 edit


I am not sure if I was supposed to have come away with anything profound from this exercise. I didn’t, other than a nagging feeling I had missed something from a statement on my website and that I wanted to change the font. Hardly profound. But I liked the experience. I didn’t get bored and I didn’t feel the need to scroll through social media because there was nothing else to do. It was nice to be able to sit, watch what was going on around me without judgement* and just let my mind take in whatever it wanted to.

I’d like to do this challenge more often.

*Okay I made one judgment. This girl in her 20s with a granny trolley and these massive headphones that she stopped outside to set up. She looked very cool and very happy.

Bored and Brilliant challenge 5: Doing the deep work

Previous posts on the challenge:

I went for a week without Instagram on my phone because of this challenge. The thing that doing this did most was to make me realise how many times I pick up my phone and mindlessly go to that app and start scrolling through it every day. I’ll admit to picking up the phone several times a day even when the app wasn’t there and scrolling to the screen where it was before fully realising I couldn’t look at it, and then feeling ever so slightly lost because I didn’t really know what to do then.

The most interesting part of this challenge was the emails I received from Instagram telling me to come back and see all the posts I’d missed while I’d been away. It was trying to entice me back!

I finally gave in to my desire to post some photos that I’d been working with and reinstalled it. Yes, Instagram won.

20190409 Empress Towers 5 edit 3-Edit

Empress Towers, Tuesday morning

However, I don’t want Instagram to be the default thing I turn to when I don’t have anything else to do. I want to be a lot more mindful about using it and if I find myself reverting to my old ways I might have to delete it again for a while!

Anyway, on with the rest of the experiment. Challenge 5 is called Take a Fakecation, which is “a vacation in the form of a break from the digital onslaught that exhausts, distracts and keeps us from thinking beyond the everyday.” (Bored and Brilliant, page 128.)

What you do is choose a time to unplug from everything—email, social media, texts, phone calls—and focus on something you really want to get done.

Some people use this strategy at work to get time to focus on a project without being disturbed or distracted by email notifications. The book suggests setting up auto messages on the channels where you are most likely to get disturbed (hello, work email) to let people know you’re offline focusing on a project but to let them know if they need to reach you urgently they can still do so by another means.

Some people do this regularly, as a “digital detox”, and not necessarily because they want to work on a particular project, just to unplug and focus on something else like their family, reading, hanging out with friends, watching sunrises, whatever they want. I know of people who disconnect every Sunday and I know people who occasionally take a month off all social media.

At work, I’m working on a very big job that requires all my concentration and needs to be done by Monday. I blocked out Thursday and Friday in my calendar to work on it and basically did nothing else for two days. I decided to try the auto-reply thing on my email for this challenge, which told people what I was doing and that I’d get back to them later, but if they needed to speak to me urgently, they were welcome to come and talk to me.

In an ideal world, I’d have moved into a quiet room to be free of all distractions in a noisy open-plan office, but the rooms I have access to aren’t set up for all-day use. I’d have to have been on my laptop all day, which isn’t good for my back or my neck and doesn’t give me the two screens I need to do most of my work. So, I was at my desk in the middle of the day to day chaos trying to focus.

I don’t think I did this challenge particularly well. For a start, my workplace doesn’t have a culture of expecting people will respond to emails immediately and people generally do come and find you if they want something urgently, so I didn’t really need the auto-reply. Secondly, I needed to clarify several things with other people while I was doing this work, so I needed to email them and to get their response to incorporate into my work, so turning off email wasn’t really an option. Finally, I kept my phone on and allowed myself to get distracted a couple of times by messages from my friends (which, with the intensity of work I was doing, were actually very welcome and made me take breaks I otherwise wouldn’t have taken).

I think I need to think this one through a bit better and figure out some ways for digital detoxing and doing focus work that will work for me.

19 for 2019: week 14 update

Week of 1 April

After my massive week of achievements in week 13, I wasn’t anywhere near as productive in week 14 with my 19 for 2019 list. In fact, I can count the things I progressed on one hand. One finger, even.

Status for week 14

  • Things completed this week: 0
  • Things completed: 8 (3, 5, 7, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15)
  • Things I progressed: 1 (6)
  • Things in progress I didn’t progress:  6 (1, 2, 11, 16, 18, 19)
  • Things not started: 4 (4, 10, 14, 17)

Not to worry, I have the whole year to finish the 11 unfinished things and I can’t expect to do everything at once.

Besides, I’ve been busy with the Bored and Brilliant challenge. Well, I’m not sure if that’s actually an excuse. After all, the point of that challenge is to get me off my phone to give me more time to come up with creative ideas and get things done. I’ve not been on my phone as much as I had been before I started the challenge, but I’m not sure I’ve done anything super productive with the time.

It did make me think maybe I could add some bonus things to my 19 for 2019 list for significant things I do over the year. That would give me a nice picture at the end of the year of some of the big things I did.

So what did I do instead of my list?

Well, I wrote three blog posts about Bored and Brilliant, I went for a whole day without taking any photos and I deleted Instagram (and Tweetbot) off my phone.

20190403 No more social combo

Now you see it . . . now you don’t

I visited the Plants of Tasmania Nursery with my sister.

20190406 Plants of Tasmania Nursery edit

Plants of Tasmania Nursery at Ridgeway

I went to a local living festival in our area.

20190407 Lunch from Honey Child 2

Smoky Creole goodness from Honey Child’s Creole Corner

I went to a union stop-work meeting

20190403 Stop Work

Public sector unions stop-work meeting at City Hall

and I got my poor old teddy bear repaired.

20190402 Pandy back from the Dolls Hospital

He got his leg stitched up and some extra stuffing but I left his nose because that’s his ageing personality

Plenty of things to do!

Bored and Brilliant challenge 4: app addled

Previous posts on the challenge:

An idea came to me for a work thing while I was out walking without my phone. It works!

Today was the day to delete the app. The tough day that was coming . . .

That app.

The one that you use too much. The one you use to escape—too often, at the expense of other things (including sleep). The one that makes you feel bad about yourself. Delete said time-wasting, bad habit app. Uninstall it. (Bored and Brilliant page 107)

Woah!! Makes me feel bad about myself? That’s pretty full-on! I don’t think I have an app that does that.

I already knew what it would be without doing any of the tracking exercises in this challenge. (Yeah, it was my homescreen . . .)

For many people, it’s a game like Candy Crush or whatever the latest iteration of that is (I don’t play games so I have no idea what’s big in the world of games) and for others, it’s a social media app. Facebook, I’m looking at you. I deleted Facebook from my phone a long time ago and have been pretty good with regulating my use of it on my computer. There was a time I cheated and logged in on the browser on my phone but I realised that doing this wasn’t really addressing the issue of mindless scrolling and liking and getting sucked into things that drained my energy away from things I wanted to be doing. So far, since the last time I logged out of it about a month ago, I’ve been disciplined enough not to do that again.

So in the absence of Facebook, I turned to Instagram. I have three accounts. Straightlinesgirl is for my attempts at learning photography, where I follow a lot of professional accounts and people who share the same photography interests as me. Then there’s my Hobart Street Corners project, where I don’t follow anyone and don’t spend a lot of time other than posting my photos. The other one is almost a Facebook substitute. Most of the people I follow there I know so I see a lot of their photos I missed by not going on Facebook as much. But this feed has a lot less stuff I don’t want to see or am not interested in than what comes up in Facebook.

I do spend a lot of time on the app. (Observe my screenshot from last week. A lot of time.)20190330 Monemt screenshot_

My first instinct when I pick up my phone is to scroll to my last screen of apps and into the last screen of the folder I hid it in to make it harder to get to (hint: that doesn’t work if you want to reduce your use of an app), and scroll. Often through the same photos and often through my entire feed over and over just to make sure I’ve caught up with everything and not missed anything, even if I don’t spend a lot of time actually looking at the photos. I feel like I’m not getting a lot of value out of the time I spend on Instagram and it’s just a convenient way to occupy my mind for a few minutes when I have nothing specific I want to do.

My experience echoes that of Sandra, who is quoted in the book as saying “I check that app far much more often than I actually need to and I’m not even sure why.”

I think Instagram is a two-edged sword. On the one hand it serves as a platform where I can keep up with my friends in the same way as I would on Facebook, which is great. But it also instils in me this need to keep checking it to see if anyone has posted anything cool, or has commented on one of my photos or one of my comments on theirs. That is not what I want to be doing with my time. It’s fine, as long as I’m not on there multiple times a day.

In my other world, Instagram also shows me photos from people whose work I love and am inspired by that I may not have otherwise seen. But the sheer volume of photos is overwhelming and the app is set up to be fast-paced, to scroll, look and like, without taking the time to fully appreciate the photos. I mean, you look at them on a tiny screen so you are never going to experience them as a work of art, which many of the photos I like to look at are. It doesn’t do the photos justice. But then again, a phone rarely will. But even so, it’s not set up to encourage you to linger and look at an image for very long. And good luck trying to find it if you want to look at it again and consider a comment you might want to make after you’ve thought about it for a couple of days. (The save feature is a bit handy here, just saying.)

So . . .  Wednesday morning I sat down to do my meditation practice after my walk and decided that would be the fateful time. I hesitated and thought I should check my feed first, but I breathed deeply and didn’t think any more and deleted it. For good measure, I deleted Tweetbot as well because I knew that, in the absence of Instagram, that would be my go-to app, in the same way that Instagram became that app after I stopped going on Facebook. I can do without it for a while too.

20190403 No more social combo

Now you see it . . .  now you don’t

I know I’m not going to stay off Instagram forever, but I hope that a few days without it will help me reassess my relationship with it and set some boundaries about how (and how often) I use it, and what I allow into my head.

Just out of interest, since last week, the Moment app has recorded the following amounts of screentime. It paints an interesting picture.

Thursday: 4 hours 22 minutes

Friday: 5 hours 10 minutes

Saturday: 5 hours 6 minutes

Sunday (first day of no phone in transit): 2 hours 47 minutes

Monday (no phone in transit): 2 hours 9 minutes

Tuesday (no phone in transit, no photos): 2 hours 7 minutes (no photos didn’t make that much difference)

Wednesday: (no phone in transit, no Instagram): 1 hour 9 minutes (hmmm . . . )

Thursday (no Instagram, taking some photos): 1 hour 56 minutes

Friday (no Instagram but taking photos of a special event): 2 hours 59 minutes


Bored and Brilliant challenge 3: making memories

Previous posts on the challenge:


I had another day without using my phone in transit. I didn’t feel any particular urge to use it or feel that I was missing anything. My biggest fear is that I will forget my Duolingo lessons and lose my 666 day streak!

I sat up the back of the bus today and didn’t think about anything much. Actually, I was mostly focusing on the challenge and what I’d write today and how I was going to get through the myriad of posts that are sitting on my computer from this challenge and my 19 for 2019 updates. What a dilemma to have!

That made me think of the word “myriad” and how in Australia we say “a myriad of [whatevers]” but in America they leave out the “of”. I wondered why this was. And then I wondered why we say “a dozen eggs” but “a pair of jeans”. “A thousand nights” but a “couple of days”.


Challenge 3: Photo-free day

This challenge considers how many photos are taken every day (10 billion a month in America, according to the book, 75 per cent of which are taken on a phone) and uploaded to social media (depending on your source it could be anywhere from 50 million to 100 million a day just to Instagram). It suggests we spend more time trying to capture the moment than we do living in it and experiencing it.

The challenge asks us to put the camera down for a day and see the world through our eyes, not through our screens.

The book reports that people who did this reported that they took pictures way more, and more mindlessly, than they had thought they did before they did the challenge.

I know this is something I do a lot. I try to download my day’s photos at the end of every day and often wonder what I’m ever going to do with a lot of them.

I noticed on Monday that I took very few photos by not using my phone in transit. This is because I take most of my photos in transit. I take photos of street corners as I’m walking past for my Hobart Street Corners project and I take photos of things that grab my attention for Straightlinesgirl, in particular, my exploration of Hobart’s architecture. I often wander to work by different routes to find new things or walk by my favourite places to photograph them in a different light or from a different angle.

Transit time is walking time is my creative time. So if I don’t use my phone in transit, there is very little I will take photos of. Keeping the phone in my bag meant that it wasn’t easy to access if I came across something I would normally take a photo of for later reference or to post to Instagram or my blog, or to share with a friend.

There’s really only a couple of things I would normally take photos of outside my transit time, so the real challenge was just to forget to do that today. And it wasn’t that hard.

The only thing I wouldn’t compromise on is that I take a snippet of video every day for my One Second Everyday project, which becomes a 365-second mashup of my year at the end of each year. But a video isn’t a photo is it . . . . ?

I think what I want to do as a result of this is to be more mindful of what I take photos of and why. For example, last year in the street corners project, I would take a photo of any old street corner and post it. This year, since setting up a separate account for it, I have started to become a bit more strategic in how often I post and what I post, to create a more cohesive collection of photos rather than posting whatever, wherever, whenever. I still have more work to do but I’ve made a start.

I survived the day without taking any photos. It wasn’t difficult at all but the book warns you that, if you thought this was easy, the tough day is coming . . .

Bored and brilliant challenge 2: out of sight

Previous posts on the challenge:

Challenge 2 of the Bored and Brilliant experiment is called ”Keep your devices out of reach while in motion”. This means exactly what it says. You’re supposed to keep your phone out of view, including not listening to anything on headphones, any time you’re in transit, which includes driving, on the bus or walking down the street.

According to the book, the idea is that your mind is not doing nothing; rather, the times you are travelling are great times to just let your mind wander. The book refers to a conversation with “boredom expert” Sandi Mann, who said she switched off during her morning commute and found she would often come up with new ideas during those times.

The book says that we may think of times when we’re in transit as “unproductive, inefficient or lost if we’re not checking our mail or doing other tasks” but that letting your mind wander instead can be “refreshing”.

It beefs up the challenge a bit by suggesting you take the time you save by not looking at your phone on your travels to notice five things you’ve never noticed before. So that seems to me like it’s bringing some mindfulness into your day to replace phone use. Sounds good to me.

Here’s what happened on day one (Sunday). I had agreed to meet my sister on the way to an event we were both going to so she could give me a lift the rest of the way. I’d calculated it would take me about an hour and a half to walk to the meeting point so I left home at 8am, which I thought would give myself a bit of extra time. Normally walking this route I’d have my phone out some of the time, I’d probably check instagram and twitter a couple of times, maybe listen to a podcast or two and take some photos. But I’d also do a lot of the walk without the phone.

I thought it was a bit ironic that it was a podcast that actually got me into reading this book, after I’d just go back into listening to podcasts when I was out walking after a 15-month break, and now I couldn’t listen to any more because of this challenge. Walking is generally the only time I listen to podcasts.

So, with my phone dutifully stuffed into my bag, I set off.

20181028 Long Beach bathing pavilion 1

I usually take photos on my walk. Here’s one I might have taken if I had been using my phone in transit. It’s actually from October 2018.

I didn’t think about much at all really. I spent a lot of time looking at the cars going past and noticing how many of them had only one occupant. It made me think what a terribly inefficient transport system the car is. It takes so many resources to build a car and then even more more to run it and maintain it, all of which does untold damage to the environment and the planet, all to move one person from one place to another. And most of the time, most cars just sit on the side of the road or in a garage or car park, completely useless. There has to be a better way to move people than destroying the planet in such a way.

After these deep thoughts, for the rest of the walk I was wondering how I was going to get to my sister on time. I realised I’d planned my walk time for a different route than the one I actually needed to take. I didn’t end up going the way I’d thought I would go and was on the road that ran parallel to the road I had to meet my sister on. As I was walking on the wrong road and the time got close to the meeting time I realised I was going to run out of time and I needed to get to the right road sooner because my sister had said she’d drive along there if I wasn’t at the meeting point on time to find me.

But, if I wasn’t on the right road she’d miss me and then she’d call me to find out where I was and I’d fail the challenge because I’d have to answer!

I knew some of the side roads joined the two roads but I didn’t know which ones were the most direct roads and which ones would take me longer. If I’d had my phone I could have found out very quickly on Google maps (phones in transit are not bad!) but I was determined to stick with the challenge so I resisted the urge and turned up a street I knew would get me there. It was very steep and it actually took me backwards onto the road I needed to be on so it wasn’t a good choice, but I preferred that to one that might have been even worse, or more convoluted, and taken even longer.

At least I was on the right road at this point so, if I didn’t make it to the meeting point, my sister would be able to find me without me having to pull out my phone and tell her where I was.

It got to a couple of minutes before our meeting time and the phone rang. (I know this because even though it was in my bag on silent, it’s attached to my Fitbit, which alerts me to when I get a call. There is no escape from the phone.) It was her. I was not within sight of the meeting point. What to do?

I knew I was close so I ignored it. The phone rang again. I ignored it and sped up. It rang again!!!

I was remembering how, in the By the Book episode on this challenge, Kristen had been going home to get ready for some friends coming over and someone kept calling her while she was on the subway, so she couldn’t look at the message or respond. There was a delightful frenzied exchange she went through with her husband, Dean, wondering if it was the people coming over trying to message her and if it was an emergency or if they had questions about the party.

This was me right then!

Dean, not in the slightest bit worried, responded with: “then let’s pretend it’s 1982. They’ll wait until we get to a phone . .  as soon as we stop we’ll be able to call them . .” Of course, there was no emergency, the friends turned up to the party and everything was fine.

And so too with me, everything was fine. My sister found me just a block from where I was supposed to meet her about two minutes later, we made it to the event on time and, although I had picked up the phone, I didn’t actually use it.

I totally understand how Kristen felt on the subway that day!

Challenge two: success.

Bored and brilliant challenge 1: digital overload

You can find the introduction to the Bored and Brilliant experiment here.

The first challenge in the Bored and Brilliant experiment is simply to observe your phone usage and to think about what you want to get out of the challenge.

The brains behind the experiment, Manoush Zomorodi, suggests downloading the Moment app, which tracks how much time you spend on your phone. It tells you how much time you spend out your phone and how many time you pick it up during the day.

I think somewhere is a stat that says the average screen time across users of the app is 3 hours 10 minutes per day and the average number of pickups is 41. I was inclined to bet that I use my phone for more than three hours and pick it up a lot more than 41 times.

The first couple of days I used the app, it set itself to pause during the day for some reason so I’m missing several hours data for those days. Despite that, what it tells me is this:

  • Monday: Pickups: 7, Screen time: 3 hours 4 minutes, with about an hour and a half missing.
  • Tuesday: Pickups: 14, Screen time: 3 hours, 13 minutes, with three hours missing.
  • Wednesday: Pickups:14, Screen time: 3 hours 10 minutes
  • Thursday: Pickups: 15, Screen time: 5 hours 1 minute.
  • Friday: Pickups: 8, Screen time: 5 hours 58 minutes (to be fair, I was using Google Docs for an hour to take notes at a meeting. . . )

I’m not convinced of the accuracy of any of this. For example, it tells me I was on my phone for 141 minutes from 3pm to 6.20 pm on Friday, which is completely untrue because for part of that time I was watching a movie in another room. And on Wednesday, apparently I used my phone for 10 minutes while it was at home and I was at a yoga class. So it’s tracking something that’s working in the background that is contributing to this.

I’m also sure the pickup numbers are way too low but I’m not sure how it identifies an individual pickup. And it refuses to accept that my battery screenshots are for 10 days, not 24 hours, which it asks for, and so it won’t tell me my app usage. So I’m a bit frustrated with the app.

(I did give it one more chance to track my app usage and it came up with this, which I still don’t think is right . . . see my note above about Google Docs . . . and what’s with all those 16 minutes apps? That seems a little odd to me.)

20190330 Monemt screenshot_

I think we have a clear winner for the app I use the most 

I’m finding the battery setting in my phone’s settings is actually more helpful in terms of telling me how much I use my phone and which apps I use the most—or, more accurately, which ones use the most battery. This becomes relevant a bit later on in the experiment. This tells me over the last 10 days I had an average of 4 hours 27 minutes screen time.

Whatever I look at, it tells me I’m on my phone A LOT and makes me ask whether there’s scope to reduce this and do something else instead, which takes us to what I want to get out of doing this challenge. I think for starters I want to reduce the times I pick up the phone and mindlessly scroll through an app (mainly Instagram), both when I’m not doing anything, as well as for no reason when I’m doing something else. (Picking up your phone at random while you’re doing another task is mentioned in the book but I can’t find it now.) In the case of the former, I could be using that time to think or read or do a small task that I have on my to-do list that I never get around to doing because I don’t have enough time (ahem). In the latter, it’s a case of losing concentration on the task I’m supposed to be doing, so I want to strengthen my “focus muscle”.

I don’t necessarily want to reduce my phone use when I’m using it as a tool—I use it for my meal planning and shopping lists, for writing my journal, for editing photos and things that actually contribute to me doing things I want to do. I don’t want to cut back on that. But I often find when I’m doing those things I can often flick over to the apps that tend to be more time-sucking. I want to become more aware of that and cut down on that too.

So there we go, challenge 1 complete. Bring on challenge 2!

Bored and brilliant

Coming to the end of my 30-day no alcohol challenge, I am itching to do another challenge.

I heard about the Bored and Brilliant challenge a long time ago on the podcast Note to Self by Manoush Zomorodi. It started out as an experiment to see what happened when people got off their phones. (I don’t think I’m selling this very well. It was several years ago and all I can remember is starting out with the challenge and dropping out halfway through.)

Okay, I found it:

In 2015, I led thousands of my listeners through a week of experiments designed to help them reassess their technology habits, unplug for part of each week and jump-start their creativity.

The week-long challenge turned into a book, Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self, which “explains the connection between boredom and original thinking, and explores how we can harness boredom’s hidden benefits to become our most productive selves”. It does this by inviting readers to put their phones downs, to let themselves be bored and see what happens.20190328 Bored & Brilliant edit

Manoush explains:

Throughout the book are a series of challenges that will help readers rethink their relationship to their devices without completely leaving the digital world.

The book also explores why putting greater emphasis on “doing nothing” is vital in an age of constant notifications and digital distractions. We speak with neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists about “mind wandering”—what our brains do when we’re doing nothing at all, and the link between boredom and creativity.

Bored and Brilliant is about living smarter and better within a digital world. Technology isn’t going anywhere, and who would want it to? It teaches us how to align our gadget use with what we hold dear and true, and find equilibrium in this new digital ecosystem.

The reason this came back to me now is that I’ve started listening to podcasts again, which I used to do regularly but stopped and have missed about 15 months of the ones I used to listen to. On Saturday morning I was catching up with one of my favourites, By The Book by Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer. (The premise is that Jolenta and Kristen read a self-help book, then they live by the book for two weeks and report back on whether it had any effects on them or made any difference to their lives, often with very entertaining outcomes. They present their experiences in a light-hearted way and they make me laugh. If you have a love-hate relationship with self-help books, you might enjoy it too.) Anyway, the very first one I listened to on Saturday was the episode about Bored and Brilliant and I remembered I’d tried this challenge once before.

Kristen and Jolenta did the series of seven challenges over two weeks and it intrigued me so much I borrowed the book from the library, read it in a couple of days and decided to do the challenges myself.

Manoush describes the challenges as being designed to “build your capacity for boredom”.

They lead you step by step through an understanding of your relationship to your technology and where our brains and technology can conflict. We’ll experiment with different methods to help you create more mental space and engage in deeper and more productive thinking and, finally, help you jump-start your creativity and push you to think on a deeper level.

Seven challenges in seven days: all this in a week! It’s a big call. You can keep the challenges going for longer if you want to and my plan is to stretch them over about two weeks so I don’t feel too pressured to complete a challenge every day.

I could have cheated and copied the challenges from the podcast without reading the book (or I could have done the version on the podcast website but I want to have a better understanding of what it’s all about and the reasons for doing these particular challenges, so I did read the book. Deep reading, it turns out, is a skill we are in danger of losing. In chapter 2, Manoush writes about how the way we read on our devices is significantly eroding our capacity to read books and to read for deep understanding.

She says that the human brain is adapting so well to internet reading that we are losing our ability to slow-read because we aren’t doing it any more. Maryanne Wolf, director of the Centre for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University says in the book, “I worry we will not use our most preciously acquired deep-reading processes because we’re given too much stimulation.”

So I read the book. It was very thought-provoking. It’s by no means anti-device and anti-technology but more about our relationship with technology and our devices and how the constant stimulation may be preventing us from living more fully.

So, I am preparing to loosen my grip on my phone for the next few days and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.