There are certain things generally accepted as separating humankind from the animals: empathy, our ability to accessorize, and, in my opinion, our tendency to procrastinate! I don’t think there’s a person alive (or dead) who hasn’t battled that demon of “Do-It-Later”.
As we learn more and more about the brain, an answer to why procrastination happens, and how we can circumvent it, should naturally be closer than ever. But as Stuart Langfield and Marco Patricio relate in their video “How to Overcome Procrastinating: Why it Happens & How You Can Avoid It,” answers are proving difficult to find.
This is due to the fact that we know very little about how the brain actually functions. The crossover between regions and their strengths can be hard to trace. The experts quoted in Langfield and Patricio’s video agree: all we have are theories. Dr. Tim Pychyl’s leading theory on the action of procrastination goes something like this:
“There’s one part of your brain that’s purely instinctual called the Limbic System. It’s your emotions, your fight or flight. All it cares about it is keeping you alive.
Then, over here, there’s this other part that’s kind of wiser and more rational. It’s responsible for your goals, your dreams, your plans for the future. That’s your prefrontal cortex.
And the theory is that when you get that feeling of not wanting to do something your instinctual part springs into action right away. It doesn’t think about the future. It just tells you to avoid the task. And you listen.
The other side, the rational side, is slower to act. It thinks things through. So you procrastinate until that part can remind you that you’re not dying — you’re just trying to doing something that’s really hard.”
So it seems the duel between limbic system and prefrontal cortex that results in procrastination is over which kind of happiness wins out: short term or long term.
Thankfully, we don’t have to be trapped in this limbic/prefrontal cortex tug-of-war, as the brain is a changeable organ. The principle by which we can change our cognition is “neuroplasticity,” and research is pointing to mindfulness meditation as a way of effecting that change. Dr. Pychyl cites studies in which mindfulness meditation changed the procrastination balance by literally shrinking the amygdala (part of that pesky limbic system), and adding more grey matter to the prefrontal cortex!
Unfortunately, the takeaway is that there is no easy way to stop procrastinating. One can use meditation to ultimately make it easier, but that itself takes time and effort. But, as another great wordsmith (and, as a human, likely procrastinator!) once said, “Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.” And I for one am going to (try to) start doing right away!
Technology has become so integrated into our lives that it’s hard to realize all the gadgets and gee-gaws that surround us and help with every little thing. From your laptop snoozing away on your desk, to the smartphone in your pocket patiently waiting for your inquiry, bionic support is just one wake-up button away.
But what monetary – or environmental – price are we paying for keeping this technological web at the ready? In the past, most devices and appliances had two modes: on and off. With digital interventions becoming more common, many devices now stay in a gray area of readiness, sometimes drawing unexpectedly large amounts of power.
Tatiana Schlossberg at The New York Times decided to figure out how much power common devices use, especially in “out of sight, out of mind” sleep mode. The results were interesting:
“My cable box drew 28 watts when it was on and recording a show, and 26W when it was off and not recording anything. Even if I never watched TV, I would still consume about 227 kilowatt-hours annually. To put it in context, that’s more than the average person uses in an entire year in some developing countries, including Kenya and Cambodia, according to World Bank estimates.
Always leaving a laptop computer plugged in, even when it’s fully charged, can use a similar quantity — 4.5 kilowatt-hours of electricity in a week, or about 235 kilowatt-hours a year. (Your mileage may vary[.)]”
It’s staggering to witness the amount of power these household standbys burn through while, well, on standby. In addition to the personal cost of the hidden hydro being frittered away, there is the greater investment of how that power is even generated to begin with. Running a nuclear power plant is not cheap!
The Times article really made me think about redefining “off” as “unplugged.” It also recommends rigging particular offenders to a power bar – clicking the whole thing off, while potentially erasing settings or interrupting internet connections, will also kill its need for power. And really, once all these devices finally achieve sentience and try to revolt, that would be a good thing to keep in mind!
Keeping track of the eight hundred million passwords that we all seem to need for a normal life nowadays (that include at least one capital letter, one number, and one non-alphanumeric character: gee, this is a totally normal thing to remember with complete accuracy…) can be stressful. Add to this the increasing presence of wearable tech, and we’ve got trouble — without a keyboard to input your doozy of a password, basically anyone could pick up your, say, Seeing-AI-enabled sunglasses and access everything.
But what if there were a “password” that you wouldn’t have to remember, and would also be so integrated into the wearable experience it would be basically seamless? Researchers, who looked to the human head before with “brainprint” technology, are now investigating more physical options. A team from the University of Stuttgart, Saarland University, and the Max Planck Institute for Informatics (Germany) posits that individual human skulls make a unique sound when echoing back ultrasonic waves — and that that sound can be used as a password to grant only one wearer access to a given item of wearable tech.
The team dubs the innovation “SkullConduct:”
“A biometric system that uses bone conduction of sound through the users skull for secure user identification and authentication on eyewear computers. Bone conduction has been used before as a transmission concept in different computer devices, such as hands-free headsets, [… and] bone anchored hearing aids. […] Bone conduction has only recently become available on eyewear computers, such as Google Glass. […] SkullConduct uses the microphone readily available on many of these devices to analyse the frequency response of the sound after it travelled through the user’s skull. […] Individual differences in Skull anatomy result in highly person-specific frequency responses that can be used as a biometric.”
On top of increasing the security of these new devices, the SkullConduct innovation also acts as extraordinary evidence of the reach of technology in our lives. I’m thrilled at the idea that we may finally remove the last hurdle of effort — password entry — from our full integration with our devices and tech experience. And we’ll do it with something so uniquely human as the bone structure of our skulls.
When it comes to the Great Work-Life Balance Debate, we at DFC fall firmly into the Live-to-Work camp. I mean, with all the neat tech out there that makes connection easier, why not use it to your advantage, to create space for more and higher quality leisure?
But for those who are team Work-to-Live, that same cornucopia makes it easier to always be “on,” allowing you eat, sleep, and breathe your career. This state of affairs is getting an interesting response from the folks at WeWork, the shared-office-space firm. Much like their subscription-based system of shared working space, they are now experimenting with shared living space — where instead of $325 USD a month for a dedicated desk and access to their app, $1375 USD a month gets you a bed, a communal laundry room/arcade, a roof-top deck, and more. Their mandate heralds “A New Way of Living”:
“WeLive is a new way of living built upon community, flexibility, and a fundamental belief that we are only as good as the people we surround ourselves with. We know life is better when we are part of a community that believes in something larger than itself. From mailrooms and laundry rooms that double as bars and event spaces to communal kitchens, roof decks, and hot tubs, WeLive challenges traditional apartment living through physical spaces that foster meaningful relationships. Whether for a day, a week, a month, or a year, by joining WeLive – you’ll be psyched to be alive.”
Opinion is divided: over at Jezebel, they’re pointing out how suspiciously like a dorm the whole setup seems — with its connotations of Millennials entering the workforce and immediately refusing to grow up. Another concern is that, instead of addressing the reasons — many of them problematic — why traditional apartment rents in WeLive flagship cities New York and D.C. are “too damn high,” initiatives like WeLive could normalize the idea that over a thousand bucks in exchange for a bed physically located on Wall St is a reasonable prospect.
But in an increasingly isolated age, where those new technologies that make work easier also make it possible to see fewer actual human faces in your day-to-day, having socialization enforced by your living situation — and removing reasons to avoid it, like having an in-house cleaning team — is quite tempting. Only time will tell if WeLive will take off like WeWork has, and exactly how far we can extend the philosophical exercise that is 21st century life!