Home > balance, social computing > A Tiny Slice of Media-Free Time

A Tiny Slice of Media-Free Time

When I ride the exercise bike, I watch TV shows saved up on my TiVo.  You will not be surprised to learn that I typically ride for 45 minutes, the length of a one-hour drama while fast-forwarding through commercials. When I drive, I listen to satellite radio–unless I’m talking with other people in the car. When I wait on line at a store,  I look up stuff on my phone–stock news, the weather, my Twitter feed. Sometimes I’ll play with my phone while walking across campus, if I’m walking alone.   In my office, I use my computer all day–except when I talk with students. All day every day, I am engaged with either people or media. I am never alone with my thoughts.

Or I wasn’t, until I started swimming laps again last week. I used to swim regularly many years ago, but was inspired this summer to start again. And was immediately struck by the re-introduction of quiet time. Time with no media, and no other people. Time to let your mind wander.

Today while I was swimming, I planned what we’ll do when my Dad comes to visit from California this weekend. I thought a bit about what he likes and what he hates, and what would make his visit fun for everyone. No, I did not solve an open problem in computer science. Yes, I do think we’ll have a nicer time this weekend because I swam today.

The big slayer of quiet time is my iPhone. I’ve had it now for just about two years. Before that, I had crummy smart phones that I hardly used, except to check the time of my next meeting or actually make calls.  But the blasted iPhone actually works. And it’s always with me. One moment of quiet, and my hand slips to my pocket. I suppose I could choose not to do that. But the lady in front of me is–egads–writing a check! Why not see what funny thing someone posted on Facebook?

Is it romantic of me to think we need some slices of quiet time in our lives? Am I succumbing to Luddite tendencies? How does it change who we are as individuals and as a culture if quiet time becomes scarce? Could we design an experiment to show one way or the other? What outcome would we be looking for? Happiness? Clarity of thought? Stress? I’m not sure.  I’ll need to think about it. Maybe if I have a quiet moment….

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Categories: balance, social computing
  1. Kurt L.
    June 9, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    I agree with the sentiment, and I really value my quiet time. I don’t listen to music very often, and when I’m walking places, I try to do just that — walk. But I know other people like to do the opposite — fill in the blank spaces with something more stimulating.

    As always, we have to ask: is there anything really new here? Before smart phones, it was regular cell phones. Before that, MP3 players, Discman, Walkman. Before that, crossword puzzles? Lately I find myself carrying a novel around to read whenever there is a few minutes of down time — hardly a new invention. Maybe the difference is that mobile devices offer more novelty, or mediated social interaction, so they’re more compelling.

    • June 9, 2010 at 9:59 pm

      Kurt, I do think something is new (for me, at least). Small differences in usability make dramatic differences in user behavior. Like the GT salary web database. You always could get info on what every Georgia state employee makes by going to an office downtown during business hours. Making it available on the web means people browse it for amusement instead of only going to look stuff up when they had an issue of concern.

      The differences between how I used my crummy Palm Treo and how I use my iPhone are dramatic!

  2. Michelle H
    June 23, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    You don’t say what you listen to *on* satellite radio.

    I carry around a book with me at nearly all times. I read at stoplights (using a smartphone is prohibited by law, using a book is not), waiting in line, and any other free time. For the most part, those little chunks of time are not useful for thinking about anything meaningful. Plus even if I think about things, I usually can’t remember them – when I context switch into the house, my thoughts from the car are left behind.

    But this is part of why I run. I do wear an ipod and it plays music to help keep me moving, but it is wonderful time to just let my thoughts wander. I have come up with curriculum ideas, a definition for CS that I like, and decisions on what to have for dinner.

    Thus, a long-winded way of agreeing with Kurt. People who don’t want to listen to their thoughts will find ways to distract themselves and people who do might need to be reminded to make the time, but can do so, even in the face of modern technology.

    • June 23, 2010 at 10:28 pm

      On satellite radio? Mostly CNBC. (Is the fed meeting? Is it triple witching on Friday? What’s the durable goods report look like? I MUST KNOW!)

      And a bit of BBC Radio 1. NPR. And Kids’ Place Live if I ever turn on the radio when the kids are in the car. 🙂

  3. beki70
    January 10, 2013 at 11:12 am

    You’d like Genevieve Bell’s talks on the value of being bored. Same point different angle.

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