Monday, 31 January 2011

Do Nothing for 2 Minutes

In our fast-paced, multi-tasking digital world, 2 minutes can seem like an eternity. The clock slowly ticks by, one second at a time and counting out one potato, two potatoes, three potatoes turns into an onerous task which tests the outer limits of our patience. Have we forgotten what it's like to kick back, relax and quite simply do nothing at all?

A new web site - should I say novelty web site? - has recently gone on-line and apparently gone viral in the process. "Do Nothing For 2 Minutes" presents you with a picture of the sea with a sunset and the sound of waves; all a peaceful relaxing scene. The one catch is that you are supposed to touch nothing, not your keyboard, not your mouse for two full minutes. This is your supposed "Zen requirement" for getting a step closer to nirvana or whatever or at least to force yourself to break away from the madcap trajectory of your digital, multi-tasking day. If you flub it, you get your FAIL message and have to start over.

Just how viral did this go? I just checked Alexa, the web site ranking site and as of this moment, they are giving this new site a worldwide rating of 32,022 and a U.S. rating of 8,505. (N.B. 2013-08-10: Worldwide rating 131,000; U.S. rating = 71,000) To understand that ranking, note that Google is rated at number one. No surprise there, right? This web site went on-line just in mid-January and has already received such a ranking; that is quite amazing and a testimony of how "viral" it is.

True story
Years ago in my hippy-dippy days, I purchased a book on meditation. One of the first exercises was to sit quietly and think about nothing for 60 seconds. Think about nothing for 60 seconds. Sure, no big deal.

Well, it turned out to be a very big deal. Heck I couldn't do 5 seconds without my noggin running off in a million directions. I could not stop myself from thinking. Maybe I could do two, maybe three seconds then the next thing I knew, my old brain was wandering off like a hyper-active little boy in search of some distraction. Somebody get the dart gun!

Hence, when we talk about stopping for 2 minutes to look at the sunset, listen to the waves and watch the timer countdown from 120 seconds, we are talking about the personal challenge of staying focused on something other than the million little things tugging at our sleeves. "Look at me! Look at me!"

Software
Believe or not, there is software on the market which has been designed with the idea of helping us tune out the world, not necessarily for looking at sunsets but for removing all the extraneous from our lives so we can concentrate on the essential.

Stayfocused is a free add-in to the browser Google Chrome and assists you in setting a self-imposed exile from the world. It amusingly describes the following scenario:

You sit down at the computer, and you swear you'll be productive. Next thing you know, it's twelve hours later. You've checked your email, updated your Facebook status, browsed the trending topics on Twitter, read your RSS feeds, looked up your favorite band on Wikipedia, vanity googled yourself, cyber-stalked your ex, looked at all your high-school crushes' Facebook photos, watered your plants on Farmville, and lost a week's pay playing online poker.

What you haven't done is WORK.

Now is that the perfect description of any one of us in the digital age? There may be more things going on but are we actually achieving more?

What's amusing is that we are using a piece of software - using technology - to impose self-discipline on ourselves. You have to admit, that is a comical idea.

Intermittent reinforcement
Taking into account our mail, Facebook pokes, automatic Twitter feeds and gawd knows what else, I would say the lot of us of turning into a bunch of stimulus junkies. Like a gambler pulling the lever on a one-armed bandit, we're getting some sort of high from the expectation of the next email to pop into our Inbox. Dopamine! Yeah!

In my blog Would Skinner have owned a Blackberry?, I discuss the comparison between somebody constantly checking for new mail and Skinner's experiments with pigeons. We do something over and over again because of the expectation of something new happening. We check our Inbox then recheck it even if we don't get anything because we know that sooner or later we will get something. This is pretty much the behaviour of a gambler and very much like those pigeons Skinner used. Yes, we're not much smarter than pigeons. Ha! Go figure.

Final Word
Can we walk away from it all? Can we take 2 measly minutes? Or are you the type who's responding to mail in a toilet stall? I have to admit, shutting my eyes and listening to the sounds of the surf is very soothing and very inviting. At the end of the day, if I answer a hundred emails, do 50 pokes and tweet 2 dozen times, there will just be more tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. I can see my grave now: Here's lies a man who Replied To All, poked, tweeted and friended fifty-three million, two hundred and seventy-five thousand, four hundred thirty-six times... and never managed to complete his 2 minutes.


References
The original idea of Do Nothing for 2 Minutes comes from one Alex Tew who had another extremely original idea.

Wikipedia: The Million Dollar Home Page
The Million Dollar Homepage is a website conceived in 2005 by Alex Tew, a student from Wiltshire, England, to raise money for his university education. The home page consists of a million pixels arranged in a 1000 × 1000 pixel grid; the image-based links on it were sold for $1 per pixel in 10 × 10 blocks. The purchasers of these pixel blocks provided tiny images to be displayed on them, a URL to which the images were linked, and a slogan to be displayed when hovering a cursor over the link. The aim of the website was to sell all of the pixels in the image, thus generating a million dollars of income for the creator. The Wall Street Journal has commented that the site inspired other websites that sell pixels.

PCMag - Jan 25/2011
Website Challenges Visitors to Do Nothing for 2 Minutes

2011-01-31

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1 comment:

perilsofdivorcedpauline.com said...

I would love to meditate, but I'm too busy checking my e-mail, site stats, whether or not OS has given me an EP, and reading your blog!!