What any normal person would do in 2011: I pulled out my iPhone and began snapping pictures to share on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
I spent 10 minutes trying to compose the perfect shot, moving my phone from side to side, adjusting light settings and picking the perfect filter.
Then, I stopped. Here I was, watching this magnificent sunset, and all I could do is peer at it through a tiny four-inch screen.
“What’s wrong with me?” I thought. “I can’t seem to enjoy anything without trying to digitally capture it or spew it onto the Internet.”
Hence my New Year’s resolution: In 2012, I plan to spend at least 30 minutes a day without my iPhone. Without Internet, Twitter, Facebook and my iPad. Spending a half-hour a day without electronics might sound easy for most, but for me, 30 unconnected minutes produces the same anxious feelings of a child left accidentally at the mall.
I made this resolution out of a sense that I habitually reached for the iPhone even when I really didn’t need to, when I might have just enjoyed an experience, like the sunset, without any technology. And after talking to people who do research on subjects like this, I realized that there were some good reasons to give up a little tech.
For example, I was worried that if I did not capture that beautiful sunset and stuff it into my phone, I’d forget it.
“Even with something as beautiful as a sunset, forgetting is really important as a mental hygiene,” said Viktor Mayer-Schönberger, a professor of Internet governance at Oxford University and the author of the book “Delete: The Virtue of Forgetting in the Digital Age.”
“That things in our past become rosier over time is incredibly important,” he added. “As we forget, our memories abstract and our brain goes through a cleansing process.” Mr. Mayer-Schönberger said that keeping a perpetual visual diary of everything could slow down our brains’ purging process.
Constantly interacting with our mobile devices has other drawbacks too. There are more pictures in my iPhone of that 45-minute hike at Pacifica than most families would have taken on a two-week vacation before the advent of digital cameras.
As a result, I had no time to daydream on that hike, and daydreams, scientists say, are imperative in solving problems.
Jonah Lehrer, a neuroscientist and the author of the soon-to-be-released book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” said in a phone interview that our brains often needed to become inattentive to figure out complex issues. He said his book discussed an area of the brain scientists call “the default network” that was active only when the rest of the brain was inactive — in other words, when we were daydreaming.
Letting the mind wander activates the default network, he said, and allows our brains to solve problems that most likely can’t be solved during a game of Angry Birds.
“Like everyone else, I really can’t imagine life without that little computer in my pocket,” he added. “However, there is an importance to being able to put it aside and let those daydreams naturally perform the cognitive functions your brain needs.”
Jonathan Schooler, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara who has focused his research on daydreaming, put it this way: “Daydreaming and boredom seem to be a source for incubation and creative discovery in the brain and are part of the creative incubation process.”
I don’t intend to give up my technology entirely, but I want to find a better balance. For me, it’s that 30 minutes a day for daydreaming.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and tell my Twitter followers about my New Year’s resolution.