4 Old-School Ways To Slow Down Your Fast, Modern Life
Artificial intelligence. Automated delivery. Smart toilets.
Do you ever wish the world would slow down? It’s embarrassing to confess, but sometimes I long for the days before the digital revolution. Before AOL and “you’ve got mail.” Before apps tried to track the entirety of human existence.
Our technology is built by people who have teams of brain scientists collaborating to make sure you stay on your apps as long as possible. Have you ever felt better after doomscrolling through Instagram for 4 hours?
It’s hard to feel calm in the chaos of modern life. Often, the only way I can manage it is by leaving the “modern” part behind. Here are a few classic tricks that can lift your mood and your purpose — with no followers needed.
1. Keep Your Work in One Room
After getting fired, I had to buy a new computer. I procrastinated on this purchase, so by the time I needed a new computer, I needed one that day.
The local computer repair shop had one: a desktop. A Dell desktop. All my cool hipster energy instantly trickled down my body and out through my toes. They would take away my scarf, glasses, and French press if word got out that I was trying to do creative work with a Dell.
Nevertheless, I scooped up the device and took it home. After a few adjustments, my ugly Dell was equipped for the modern world. The one thing it still couldn’t do was move from my office to the living room.
But as the weeks passed, I realized something beautiful — I couldn’t carry my work machine from the office to the living room. That meant I worked in the office, cooked in the kitchen, watched TV in the living room, and ate in the dining room.
What a concept.
Different areas of your home have different names for a reason. It’s probably much cooler to walk around your house without a Macbook glued to your hip. It sure is freeing without one, though.
2. Write With a Pen and Paper
Computers are writing novels these days. Do you know what they aren’t doing? Writing by hand. They aren’t doodling stray thoughts in the margins of a page because they don’t have stray thoughts. That luxury is reserved for you.
Consider this: When you write with a keyboard, the words can only come out one way— from left to right, and from top to bottom. Every letter is perfect. You will never punch in an “f” that looks sort of like an “s,” making the line “for God’s sake,” instead appear to say “for God’s fake,” which triggers hilarious imagery of a white-bearded man wearing a phony dollar-store mustache.
In other words: you can’t make mistakes. You can’t mess up. You can’t smudge ink. You trade humanity for productivity. At work, that’s a good thing. When you are searching for meaning, it is less helpful.
Tossing away the keyboard and grabbing that old ballpoint pen is a great way to shine a light on those important stray thoughts in the corner of your mind.
3. Print Off Your Photos
Last year, my job sent me to Paris, France for four months. That meant my wife and I spent around 100 days e̵a̵t̵i̵n̵g̵ ̵t̵o̵o̵ ̵m̵u̵c̵h̵ ̵b̵r̵e̵a̵d taking in the sites of the world’s most romantic city. Naturally, any photos we took disappeared into the zillions of other digital pictures stored on our phones.
What is invisible is often forgotten. The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” is very real. Over time, I began to forget we’d even lived anywhere else.
Luckily, my wife Kate found a solution. She dug up 12 of her favorite images from our trip, blew them up, and hung them in our home. Now, each time I pass them in the hall, I get to relive those moments. I feel the cobblestone streets under my feet. I smell the warm baguette at our local boulangerie. I touch the spray from the fountains in the Tuileries gardens.
Every time I walk up our stairs now, I am in Paris. Take that, quarantine.
When you print those pictures off, you get to relive the experience every time. This is opposed to living them once, and then going back to Instagram, an app designed to show you everyone else’s best life.
4. Swap Digital Contacts for Index Cards
Digital relationships are ephemeral. That’s a fancy way of saying “not real.” Sure, you have 12,756 LinkedIn connections, but how many people do you really know? How many people would answer the phone when you call?
Here’s a good way to answer that question: Put your phone away. Grab a stack of note cards. Then, start writing down everyone you know. Each note card gets a name. You’ll think “I don’t know anybody.” Wrong. It’s just that all your relationships are stored on some list somewhere.
Author Jon Acuff offers six questions for stacking your notecards as high as possible in his book Do Over. When you get stuck, ask these questions:
- Who do I know that is wise about career issues?
- Who have I worked with?
- Who do I know that is influential?
- Who do I know that owns a business?
- Who do I follow online that is in my desired career space?
- What casual friendships am I forgetting?
Before you know it, the cards will start stacking up. Odds are, you have more friends than you think. If you want bonus points, send a text message to each person you write down. Say “I was just thinking about you. Hope you’re well.”
Looking over all this, I’m reminded of a quote by Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau someone has been quoted by people of every race, religion, and political party. That tells me he’s figured some things out.
Here’s Thoreau in his book Walden:
“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify!”
The thing is, Thoreau died in 1862. He thought life was busy then. Now, with the chirps and pings and bloops of our often-destructive cell phones, the advice is more important than ever.
When the world seems difficult — simplify. It can be that easy.
My friend Michael Thompson and I talked recently and learned he and I were both trying to write a post on this topic. Instead of fighting about it, we decided to launch on the same day.
If you haven’t read it yet, or if you don’t know Michael, be sure to do so. His writing will add a smile to your face. Check out his post on this topic here.