Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Bind and Detox

This morning at one of my consulting assignments I turned my computer (and a dozen Dunkin Donuts) over to the (kind, benevolent and brilliant) people at Helpdesk to take care of (what I think was) a problem with the Wankel Rotary Engine.  This sacrificial act left me computer-less for most of the morning and part of the afternoon.  Sure, I could check email on my iPhone, but I couldn’t get any work work done, at least the work work on my official to-do list.

Imagine.  Stranded in a sea of analog devices—pen, Moleskin, a pile of paper.  I discovered I had books on the shelves near my desk.  I had windows in my office, the kind that open and shut, with sunshine coming in, and plants that needed to be watered.

It was suddenly just like 1980.  I panicked.  What if I needed to look up the capital of Slovakia or find out if Rod Blagojovech were found guilty or research the “Abilene paradox” on the off-chance that someone would mention it at lunch?

So, after a few minutes stumbling about, lost in a time warp, I sat down amidst the analog flotsam of my life, quieted my right thumb (from clicking an imaginary touchpad), and actually did some real work.  Thinking work.  Getting-up-and-visiting-next-door-and-down-the-hall-and-out-in-Software-to-discuss-something work.  Writing-with-a-pen-on-paper-work.

Looking-to-see-if-there-was-a-donut-remaining-at-Helpdesk work.  (There was not.)

Not tapping work.  Not clicking work.  Not skimming work.

It was a blast.  My brain felt 30 years younger.  I made some calls and, well, there was nothing to do but talk and listen.  Talk and listen.  Fascinating.

I had the sudden and overwhelming desire to play solitaire with a deck of cards
It all made me think of that old formula for insuring a strong marriage (whose barricades had been breached by children): One night together every week (the elusive “date night”), one weekend together every month, and one week together every year.  Sans children.

It’s a formula designed, I think, to bind and detox.

I wonder if it would work for those of us who (must) use technology for much of our work?  One day a week without technology.  (We’ll call that “Analog Day.”  Phones allowed, but dumb phones only.  Start with a morning and work your way up.)  One weekend per month completely unplugged (Friday at 5 till Monday at 8).  One week per year on a rafting trip, out of reach of all technology.  (Some scientists just did that to see what would happen to their brains; see Outdoors and Out of Reach.) 

I wonder, too, if the same formula might work to reverse the other scourge of our digital age: incessant skimming.  One evening per week reading Emerson or Thoreau for a couple of hours.  One weekend per month reading Finnegan’s Wake.  One week per year in an Oregon beach house doing nothing but reading and thinking.  (OK, it helps to be the richest person in the world, but you get the idea.)

It’s a magical formula.  It’s a book (The Secret to Life: One, One and One).   It’s a patent (don’t even try—the application is already filed).

What else would it work for?  “Time out” from a diet?   A hobby that never gets hobbied?  Getting the family pictures sorted?  Genealogy?


Ha.  Maybe not everything.  (And I do owe you a column on sex, which was supposed to be this one.  I’m late, but I will deliver.  Just keep hitting the Occasional CEO; my readership is up over 25% since that last column.  Old blogs can learn new tricks.)

In the meantime, I’m going to push on the analog world a little bit and see what else happens.  Beloit College just published its annual Mindset List for incoming freshman, and it turns out that most of them don’t know cursive writing.  It’s apparently a vestige of an analog world.  I don’t pine for it, believe me, and don’t think civilization is in decline because only monks (and my mother's friends) will write cursively a century from now.

But it does cause me to think, especially as I get older and my brain slows to the point where I can’t be smart so have to be sneaky: What did I learn in the analog world that might be a rare and valuable commodity in a digital world?

Today I stumbled upon the concept of thinking.  Imagine what else is out there.