Paralyzed in the Face of Infinity

Because I travel a good bit, blocks of down-time in airports have become coveted chances to knock work out and clear my inbox. Sometimes, though, I choose to take a break from productivity and simply observe the world around me. That’s a fancy way of saying I enjoy walking around and looking at displays, marketing campaigns and, of course, people-watching.

Yesterday in the airport I observed several people, who were waiting to board flights, simply staring at their smartphones. I happened to be close to several of them in the context of boarding and could see their screens, on which were apps. These individuals were staring at apps on their phone. What a curious behavior. It’s even more strange when repeated—one gentleman stared at his phone for a bit, locked it, put it in his pocket, then pulled it back out again in a few minutes and performed the same staring ritual, this time swiping back and forth a few times between screens.

It’s possible that those individuals were waiting for messages to come through, but it seemed to me that they were facing some amount of analysis paralysis—what do I choose to do? I’ve definitely been guilty seeking some sort of distraction from my phone (or computer) but not knowing which one to choose, or being ‘digitally exhausted’ and not enticed by any of the options.

What facinates me about that sort of paralysis is that we are staring at pages of applications and the internet, which amount to infinite possibility, but we can’t act. We have everything at our fingertips but can’t decide what to pick up.

The default-to-distraction component of the equation is concerning as well. As soon as our minds have a minute to rest, we reach for our phones because the slowed pace feels strange. (That’s why I’ve removed all but the essential apps from my iPhone1.)

I don’t have a [pithy] conclusion to this post other than to say as I observe both myself and the world around me, I notice that our digital devices cause some interesting behavior, I’m not comfortable with all of it and I believe its further proof we would do well to think about stewarding technology.

1. You can see which apps I have on my iPhone and why in this article.

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