How do you define wasting life? There’s no description in the Oxford English Dictionary, however, we all know when we’re doing something that’s a waste of time. It’s no different from eating. We know when we’re eating something that’s unhealthy and when we’re eating something that’s not.
Eating some occasional junk food is fine and the same can be said for wasting time. But when meaningless activities take up a large part of our life, this can be defined as wasting life. Too much bad food will waste our bodies and too much wasted time will waste our minds.
Tobacco farmers in t-shirts
“The tycoons of social media have to admit they’re just tobacco farmers in t-shirts, selling an addictive product to children”. This is a quote from Bill Maher.
It’s not just children that are hooked and wasting their lives on smartphones though. I’m going to bet that most of us spend too much time in front of a screen. It’s only the minority that doesn’t overuse with research showing the youngest most affected. One study showed that UK adults spend half of every day in front of a screen.
“Phillip Morris just wanted your lungs; the App Store wants your soul”Bill Maher
It’s been commentated on before that when we use Facebook, Instagram, Reddit or any product supported by advertising, it’s our attention (us) that’s the product and the advertisers who are the customers.
The business model of subsidising (or making free) a product by creating a large audience and selling the audience’s attention isn’t new. It was uncovered in the 19th century by the penny press newspapers. Google and Facebook, have just taken it to another level.
So if you’re wondering why you waste so much of your life in front of a screen it’s because the tobacco farmers of today want you to.
Screens make you less smart
The Internet diminishes the brain’s capacity for concentration and contemplation. This was one of the main arguments in Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows. So unless we’re doing something meaningful like writing code or a book, then I find it hard to argue that tech overuse isn’t eroding our intelligence.
IQ tests are the standard way of measuring intelligence, however, as the psychologist Howard Gardner points out below, this only measures two bits of intelligence: linguistic and logical/mathematical intelligence.
Gardner goes on to say that he’s confident there are at least eight intelligence (and probably more): writing, mathematics, music, spatial, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist intelligence.
The point being, before omnipresent screens we spent more time on intelligence building activities (which didn’t only mean reading a book); playing football, learning an instrument, writing, growing food, hunting, drawing, DIY … you name it and it’s probably a form of intelligence.
Many of us suffer from a bias that makes us think we are smarter than previous generations but there’s no supporting evidence. In fact, there are compelling arguments that support the opposite.
People of the past needed to be multifaceted; whereas today, remove someone’s smartphone and it’s like kryptonite to superman: how do I get food? how do I order an Uber? how do I communicate?
It’s not overdramatic to state: entire generations are wasting their lives. Millions of minds could be doing so much more but are instead wasting away in a meaningless abyss of pointlessness.
How to stop wasting life
My inspiration for writing this came from reading Digital Minimalism a book Cal Newport. The book is about reducing screen time and spending time more wisely. Newport puts forward various strategies to help with this.
Of the various strategies put forward, the one that struck me and gets to the root of the issue is that many people have no plan on how to spend their time.
Put simply, if you don’t have a plan or a general idea of what you want to be doing then aimless smartphone usage will fill the void. Newport writes about having objectives and habits that form a Weekly Leisure Plan. Instead of passive screen time, he also emphasises the importance of strenuous leisure (active leisure pursuits).
[Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport]
Objective: Learn on the guitar every song from the A-side of Meet the Beatles! Strategies: Restring and retune my guitar, find the chord charts for the songs, print them, and put them in nice plastic protector sheets. Return to my old habit of regularly practicing my guitar. As incentive, schedule Beatles party in November. Perform songs.
Habit: During the week, restrict low-quality leisure to only sixty minutes a night. Habit: Read something in bed every night.
Habit: Attend one cultural event per week.
The boundary between habits and objectives is porous. In our above examples, our hypothetical planner might have added “practice guitar twice a week” to her habit list instead of including it in her Beatles-themed objective. Similarly, she might have transformed her “read every night” habit into an objective about reading a specific group of books during the season, an objective that would end up requiring daily reading to accomplish.
The Weekly Leisure Plan At the beginning of each week, put aside time to review your current seasonal leisure plan. After processing this information, come up with a plan for how your leisure activities will fit into your schedule for the upcoming week. For each of the objectives in the seasonal plan, figure out what actions you can do during the week to make progress on these objectives, and then, crucially, schedule exactly when you’ll do these things.
Not deciding how to spend time gets to the crux of the matter. As Benjamin Franklin said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”.
Before the smartphone, we all had more hobbies as the alternative was to sit indoors staring at a blank wall.
“Your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life”Steve Jobs
The above Steve Jobs quote could be considered a little ironic seeing as the iPhone wastes billions of hours of millions of peoples’ lives. But needless to say, time is limited. And as useful as smartphones can be, we’re not living our own lives when transfixed to a screen.
Just as cigarettes used to be the hot topic in how they destroy life, today it’s how Big Tech and Zuckerberg waste life.
It’s safe to say, no one wants to be on their death bed having spent most of their life on a smartphone or in the Metaverse (the latest nonsense being pushed by Zuckerberg).
Making, creating, building, baking, solving problems, playing instead of watching, being active — you name it. As Cal Newport puts it “strenuous leisure”. All of this adds up to a life not wasted.