DRMacIver's Notebook

Leaving shiny things behind

Leaving shiny things behind

Something I've been thinking about recently is how useful it is to have names to describe crucial aspects of your problems. Not that this is a new thought, but it's been on my mind.

As a result of this thought process, I realised I needed a name for a particular phenomenon: The way it is very hard for me to focus in the presence of my phone, which tends to grab my attention and lead to me checking Twitter without really meaning to.

I propose the following name: The phone is a shiny thing. Shiny things catch your eye with their glint, in a way that makes it hard to avoid looking at them. As long as they are in your field of awareness somehow, you have to put in active effort to not pay attention to them, because they have a natural gravity to them that distracts and captures your attention.

Shiny things aren't necessarily interesting or desirable. Another example of a shiny thing is when the TV is on in a room, even with the sound off - even if you literally couldn't care less about what's on the TV, the fact that it is there with its attractive moving pictures tends to naturally draw your attention. Observe how much less engaged a conversation happening in a room with the TV on in the background is, even when you could in theory easily ignore it.

Shiny things aren't intrinsically bad - I like my phone, I like Twitter, I like watching TV - but they are bad to have around when your purpose is not to engage with the shiny thing, because they entice and draw your attention. Even if you successfully avoid them, you expend energy on doing so that could be more productively used.

It's possible that a sufficiently advanced set of mental skills could allow one to be immune to shiny things. It's not unlike The first hard choice, where you would like to be able to listen to the sirens' song without being drawn onto the rocks.

But unlike the sirens, there is no virtue to being in the presence of a shiny thing that you don't currently want to use. It's just a pure cost. They can be there when you actively choose to use them, but they should be put away when you do not.

Lately I've been going on my stupid little walks for my stupid mental and physical health without my phone, and it has greatly improved the experience. Sometimes I bring a book, sometimes I bring a dictaphone, but neither of these are shiny in the way that my phone is, and so they do not distract me from doing whatever it is I choose to do in the moment.