In five minutes I can write a warm note to a friend letting them know that I am thinking of them. In five minutes, I can check if my bank and I have the same balance for my account. In five minutes I can recite a chapter or two of Psalms or unload the dishwasher or do any number of other grand or trivial actions. Or in five minutes I can play an inane game on my cell phone. Guess which activity has been most common lately?
My obsession started innocently enough. On one of our business trips, by the time our flight landed I was tired and benumbed. My job was to wait with the luggage while my husband set off to claim our rental car. It seemed a good time to become more familiar with my newly acquired BlackBerry (see BlackBerry Bamboozlement) and quickly enough I stumbled upon the ‘games’ icon. That probably wasn’t exactly what my husband had in mind when he wanted me to explore my new phone, but the next fifteen minutes allowed me to get the hang of one game and begin to master the first three levels. That left 31 levels to conquer.
Having a healthy dose of competitive spirit – even if I’m competing with myself – I continued to enjoy a close relationship with my phone when faced with odd moments of empty time. My husband needed to run into the post office to pick up a parcel? No problem. My computer didn’t shut down properly and needed to run a check before restarting? Hooray!
However, as my proficiency increased and I notched more levels on my belt, playing the game took longer and longer. That was the point where I found myself rationalizing that I needed some down time during my work day or that I would run an errand just as soon as I had a successful few game rounds. While clearly minor as far as vices go, it still became clear to me that devoting swathes of time to increasing thumb dexterity was not admirable. A crack-down with definite parameters was clearly in order. Was I becoming an addict?
There is something both spoiled and embarrassing about patting myself on the back for limiting a pure time-wasting diversion. Yet the lure of an activity which demands complete attention (thereby blocking out all “I should,” “I need to,” and “Do I think…” thoughts) with no consequence for failure is quite real.
I don’t think I am alone in finding that technology has made it ever so much easier to waste time. Unlike my game which is easy to classify as frivolous, many online links can truthfully be classified as educational and informative. The sheer number of them, however, is overwhelming. One could easily spend hours a day watching worthwhile video clips, reading valuable articles and communicating with people important in one’s life. No matter how fascinating and awe-inspiring it is to watch newly hatched eagle chicks via a web cam placed in their nest or to see the birth of a baby giraffe, the bottom line is that these are diversions from what one should be doing.
In response to so much instantly-available material, some of my friends have self-imposed web-surfing blackouts or allow themselves to check personal email only once a day. For many of us, time-guzzling activities are the latest frontier needing a “just say no” policy.