Columns, Opinions

Okin ’19: Living our Google Calendars to the fullest

By
Staff Columnist
Thursday, January 26, 2017

Though you may not engage in it, speed walking down Thayer with fingers flexing across a lit rectangular screen has become a recognizable sport. We participants adopt our own rhythms: timed glances upward to make sure we avoid an embarrassing crash, swift transitions from one app to another, a quick smile to acknowledge a passing lab partner absorbed in the same activity. Personally, NitroCart is often the only thing important enough to interrupt my intense downward gape. But this column is not about how we spend too much time on our smartphones. There is just one specific behavior we could consider altering — obsessive planning made easy via our devices.

For me, this realization hit home last semester. While sitting on the Main Green one day, alternating between texting about lunch plans and surveying recent emails about an upcoming club meeting, I failed to notice that the friends sitting near me had started to disperse. I glanced up, noticed their absence and then promptly retreated back to my invitingly bright screen.

In this moment, I encountered a literal manifestation of one of my mother’s constant reminders: “Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.” This sudden awareness continued to bother me for days after.

Our all-consuming obsession with scheduling — facilitated by modern-day technology — creates a cycle. At the very lunch I was planning that day, I am sure I pulled out my phone to see who was at the Rock to join afterwards. At the club meeting later that night, there is no doubt that I mindlessly clicked off “Interested” to some events that emerged on my Facebook news feed. Given the ease of planning via our limb-like devices, our attention is constantly pulled from the present and into the future. If the present is always about planning for the future, at what point do we reap the benefits of all this organizing?

This question is more pressing than ever because technology has simplified and streamlined our ability to regiment our time. If you are like me, a visceral tendency to avidly plan coupled with the many virtual organization tools at hand will leave you all too susceptible to plotting every hour of the week. My own relationship with Google Calendar began in the early weeks of my time at Brown, per a trusty Meiklejohn’s recommendation. Turning a stickered laptop toward me in the Blue Room, she proudly presented a screen reminiscent of Tetris and gushed, “I don’t know where I’d be without this.” It wasn’t long until I felt the same attachment. Everything from “long shower” to “Blue Room muffin” seemed to accumulate the force of commandments when added to my virtual schedule. Whether or not they were arbitrarily created on Sunday night — when I had no way of foreseeing when I would be hungry or in need of hot water pressure during the week — became irrelevant.

In theory, this doesn’t sound that bad: Technology makes organizing our lives easier than ever, and there is a clear comfort in a reliable cycle of events. But this comes at the cost of spontaneity. More importantly, there are those moments lost in planning the moments ahead. While I’ve long accepted my own lack of impulsiveness, it took that realization for me to consider how my virtual plan-making might be shortchanging me of my ability to enjoy the current colored slot on my Google Calender.

I don’t think we should surrender virtual scheduling altogether. Likewise, I cringe at idyllic “shut-off-your-phone-entirely” preaching — this suggestion is as unthinkable to me as my parents’ recommendations to take a math class. But what I do consider an achievable and worthwhile goal this year is to quit arranging plans when we are in the middle of them. Don’t message your mom about Thanksgiving break as your club’s president is speaking, and suppress the urge to confirm an online dinner reservation while sitting across from someone else at the lunch table. Save all of the virtual planning — whether it be RSVPing to events on Facebook or texting a classmate about studying later — for moments of solitude.  Make this your 2017 resolution, and tackle your general smartphone addiction next year.

Rebecca Okin ’19 can be reached at rebecca_okin@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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