Recently in my social feed, I was exposed to a piece of technology that was so overtly low-tech that it speaks volumes about the time we live in.
It was a product called Freewrite, a digital ”distraction free” typewriter. A machine that pretty much only had a keyboard and an old-school black and white screen. The ONLY thing you could do on it was to write. No email or internet, no Slack or Snapchat, no Facebook or funny Youtube videos. It was the laptop equivalent to the Punkt cell phones — you know, the one that only does calls and SMS that arrived a few years ago
I fell in love immediately.
For the last few months I’ve been on a quest to limit my screen time on any device, be it the phone, the laptop or my TV. I’ve made a habit of writing a few sentences in a daily journal (a hardcover Moleskine) and try to start any meeting, writing session, or creative workshop with a pen and paper (usually a cheap softcover notebook from IKEA). I try to create environments that are, as the tagline of the aforementioned writing product so desirably put it, ”distraction free”.
It’s easier said than done.
That our life is rife with dopamine-induced distractions is not news to anyone following the evolution of everyday technologies. There are bookshelves with literature on how social media, with its notifications, reminders, and time-stealing video loops are destroying our ability to focus, be present, and be happy. Two recommendations: Swedish author Anders Hansen’s ”Insta brain” and the Netflix documentary ”The Social Dilemma”.
But the history of distraction predates social media. In a recent article in Wired, author Cal Newport describes how the introduction of the PC, email, and spreadsheet programmes like Excel actually has made executives in America less productive. Since we’ve conflicted the term easy (sending email instead of fax) with effective (actually producing solid, purposeful output), more work now needs to be done by fewer people.
”Spreadsheet programmes like Excel actually has made executives in America less productive”
”Today we send and receive an estimated 126 messages, checking our inboxes once every 6 minutes on average”, he reports, only to ask rhetorically: ”There must be ways to collaborate that don’t require sending and receiving 126 messages a day.”
Well, here is where another tsunami of self-help books and productivity tools make their introduction — from Cal Newports’ own ”Deep work” to apps like Trello and Monday. At Scandinavian MIND, we recently implemented Asana as our way of keeping track of our content machinery. We use Slack for internal communication. And we abide by the Getting Things Done-methodology by David Allen, the godfather of productivity, as implemented by our creative director and self-proclaimed productivity general, Erik Olofsson.
I really enjoy the overview and control that our newfound structure gives us. But I can’t help but feel a longing for something simpler, easier, and… yes, distraction-free. And suddenly I have lost an hour researching overpriced low-tech products aimed at stressed-out wannabe writers with a passion for new gear. If I only had a machine that could ONLY do writing, then everything would be solved…
Luckily, I have Erik to straighten my thinking. There is no need to have the best tools and methods, he points out, unless you actually do the work of implementing them. Daily, habitually, without interruption.