Why are we planning to do nothing ?

Be careful!  Even if it’s for the right reason –read Le Futilo – it’s the 56th time you’ve checked your telephone today.  At least, that’s what you would learned, horrified, if you used Space, Moment, or one the dozens of other Apps, which over the last 2 or 3 years, are there to treat your FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and your addiction to social media.  The digital detox…downloadable on smartphone?  We’ve always thought it a bit bizarre, a little like the tobacco companies putting “smoking kills” on their cigarette packs.  Or if our IPhone sermonized “Your daily screen time was an average of 4hours and 36 seconds this week”. Oh wait, that’s right, they already do that…

You are addicted to your smartphone?  In the subway, in the supermarket line, on your pillow, you like, scroll or surf like a deep-sea diver? And then you feel nauseated and disgusted with yourself?  Try FLIPD, a severe purge that can deactivate Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and all other time-consuming apps.  A panacea? Knowing that in order to help you go cold turkey, all these apps send you notifications congratulations, and offer to share your progress on line with other penitents, really?  Wouldn’t it be better to bet on a good book to insure in one’s “rehab”?  UC Newport (“Digital Minimalism:  Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World”) and the journalist Cathy Price (How to Break up with your Phone) have both written bestsellers on the question.  And it earned them both the nickname “Marie Kondo of the Brain”, just saying.

In the U.S. the "digital wellness" aisle (recently having become a sub category in bookstores of “self-help”!) is flourishing.  Because they take the time to dissect the absurd, but visceral attachment that we have for our smartphones, these manuals are a little more efficient than the apps.  But not that much.  Without a doubt, because in the end the objective doesn’t really capture our imagination.  The idea is to scroll less, but to do what then? To be more productive?  Check off more boxes on our to-do list? Fit more things into our day?  Behind all these tools, the culture of #hustle, dear to start-ups (working and available non stop 24 hours a day) is always lurking in the wings…

Jenny Oddell agrees.  This young digital artist, activist and design prof from Stanford has just published “How to do Nothing”, an essay with a provocative title.  Her thesis?  If, continuously riveted to our screens, we end up with our brains cooked and a capacity for concentration of a kitty cat of three months; it’s not our fault (contrary to what the detox programs are unanimous in telling us).  The fault lies with our telephones themselves, they are CONCEIVED to be addictive.  As are the formidable algorithms of social media, created to maintain our frustration, our hysteria, and our compulsive buying.   It’s all conspiring to steal our most treasured possession:  our free time.  Once you realize that, you no longer feel so nauseated and disgusted with yourself…what you feel is anger! And that’s a much better motive for resisting.

Jenny Oddell doesn’t suggest either cutting the digital cord or changing your smart phone to a dumb phone with a flip top.  She doesn’t have a one size fits all solution.  Just her own strategy (you can discover it in this inspiring talk) to reclaim ones own brain.  It consists of re-learning how to do NOTHING.  Nothing that is, useful or productive.  Walk.  Take a nap.  Hang out where there’s nothing to buy, like in public parks or libraries.  Absorbed by an uninterrupted flow of ideas – as agreeable as it is unusual – cultivate your NOMO (necessity of missing out).  Pay attention to your natural environment.  Observe plants, and in her case, birds, a hobby that is in itself far reaching.  In the space of one year you can watch a species disappear.  And this is no longer an abstract statistic.  And it makes you want to do something. Contrary to the telephone addict, whose constant squawking keeps you from dealing with real problems (notably ecological), the amateur ornithologist often sees himself growing the wings of an activist.  Now that says something to us! Next week Le Futiloscope is planning to observe the seagulls.  We’ll be back soon with lots of good ideas for saving the planet.

Photo : Jenny Oddell practicing her favorite activity .