The Shocking Truth of Gadget Usage

Their heads were bowed. Their eyes were lowered. For a moment, I thought Manhattanites were in mourning again. Only it wasn’t 2001. It was 2008. And everyone I saw on the street was looking at their smartphones.

I haven’t lived in the United States since 2003, but every time I visit my family there, I am amazed at the changes I see. The Digital Revolution hit the streets of New York well before it hit any part of Germany, or so it seemed at the time as I cruised through Times Square in my airport shuttle bus.

Just a few years later, our gadget usage has become so extreme that we multitask constantly.

At the end of November 2014, Discovery Communications reported that 82% of its viewers checked their smartphones while watching television. I see my kids doing it. Sometimes I am tempted to do it too.

Split-screen living is nothing new. Maggie Jackson lamented about the pull of our gadgets in her book Distracted in 2008. On a rainy spring day in New York City, I met with her after her book came out. She helped me formulate some of my thoughts on our digital gadget usage that later became part of The Power of Slow.

And now this: According to a recent Nielson study, Americans use electronic media more than 11 hours a day. If you sleep for eight hours, that is only 5 hours without electronic input.


If I am to believe my eyes (and not this study), people use their smartphones for more than 1.25 hours a day. We use them for everything — for entertainment, business, personal messaging and even for getting up in time in the morning. I am as guilty as the next, checking emails while waiting in line, updating my status on nature walks and life-caching when the mood strikes.

We are living in a Brave New World. Maggie Jackson was right. Our attention is eroding. Mindful living is at risk.


Infographic: Americans Use Electronic Media 11+ Hours A Day | Statista

You will find more statistics at Statista

If you think it is any different in Germany, well, it is not. More than half the population uses a smartphone now.

So what can we do?

  • Leave your phone the next time you head for the hills (or the woods).
  • Conduct a digital diet. Turn your phone off (all the way — airplane modus doesn’t count) for at least an hour each day.
  • Free yourself from Facebook. A few months ago I spent seven days Facebook-free and was amazed at how much leisure time I suddenly had.
  • Read. Don’t know a good book? If you like a good love story, pick up a copy of  Me Before You by Jojo Moyes or The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion.
  • Exercise (sex counts!).

Life is about more than ‘likes’ and texts. It is about personal connection and affection. Put down your phone and look your kid in the eye the next time he asks you a question.

Get offline and into life. Every day.

For the Love of Creation

Nature, that juicy piece of the world that teaches us so much.

A tree stands tall through storms and sunshine. A flower unfolds simply for the beauty of itself. A bird sings because it can.

Everything in Nature is precoded. A blade of grass doesn’t ask itself what it is doing here.

It seems only human beings, saddled with consciousness — or a lack thereof — spin in their orbits through it all without really knowing what they are doing at all.

We think we do. At least, some of the time. But how often do we get wrapped up in our own needs, expectations and yearnings without seeing the Big Picture? Time and again we forget what really governs our lives: natural law. We think we are masters of the Universe and yet it is the Universe that holds our existence in the palm of its hand.

Yielding to our own evolution can be scary because our minds are set on certain things. We have an image that is often in direct conflict with that broader universal vision. And we feel bereft, left to our own devices to carry on in the face of what’s really happening.

The woods are a place of solace and great wisdom. They remind us that our virtual world of digital devices is just that — virtual. What we call “the real world” isn’t that real at all.

Data transfer can’t replace real living, which can be most easily found in the thickness of the forest.

Welcome a piece of that creation into your life. It can be so very grounding. Hug a tree. Walk barefoot through the grass. Kiss the sky. And remember: we are all united no matter where we are in the world. The Internet has proven that.

Spending some of your precious time on this Earth outdoors can prove that too.



The Google-ization of Life

There is more to life than convenience and quick answers. Sometimes the slow route to knowledge is more interesting.

Yet Google would have us believe — with its heart-warming television commercials — that the world is just a click away. And every answer to every question too.

Google is indeed a great service. Thanks to the search engine, I was able to consolidate my vacation time by spending it exactly as I wanted to. With a quick search, we were able to find restaurants, parks and even a massage place in just a few minutes. With the help of our iPhone navigation system we quickly found what we were looking. It saved us time and gas trying to find these places.

But technology is not infallible. Even our GPS wasn’t aware of changes in the road system. Sometimes we had to take a right instead of following the insistent voice of our device that we should turn left.

Nobody’s perfect. Not even Siri.

Google has set a new pace to modern life. We now expect to know virtually everything. We can Google-sleuth to find information based on even tiny bits of information — online reviews tell us whether that movie or doctor’s office is worth a visit. And we tend to believe total strangers’ opinions rather than trying things out for ourselves. Google has shaped our world in ways we have yet to realize.

The service itself continues to change at a quick clip too. Take Google Maps, for instance. Just a few weeks ago, it still had that grey-green satellite view of the world. Today, it’s sexier, pointing to exact streetcar routes and even the intervals within which they depart and arrive.

Last year Google purchased an app that used to cost $250 to use. Now it costs $30,000.

I don’t call that progress. I call that extortion.

Love it or hate it: Google has us by the gaggle. It is up to us as to whether we choose to live life according to its algorithm or our own biorhythm.

Maybe if we relinquish the need for omniscience, we will actually open our eyes to what is before us instead of following the commands of our gadgets that often lead us astray. Taking the slow road sometimes is a task worth considering, if only for a moment.

Slow Childhood


Translation: Language and Computer Courses for Children as of 3 years old

Translation: Language and Computer Courses for Children as of 3 years old

The blue hue of the screen lent my kids’ faces an eery glow. Eyes widened, mouths slightly ajar, they looked as if they were frozen in time.

Digital devices can do that. They not only freeze time, they eat it up, skewing our perception of how long we actually spend time with them.

An example:

Son shouts from his desk.

“I’ve only been on my laptop for a few minutes!” The rings under his eyes tell me something different.

“How much more time do you want to spend on it?” I ask.

“I don’t know.”

“Okay. ‘I don’t know’ tells me you want to turn it off now. So that’s what we’re going to do.”

You’d think I cut off his oxygen supply from the Space Shuttle as he floats weightlessly through cyberspace. But a few minutes of stretching and walking around the apartment bring him back to life. Real life. The one without a mouse, sound card or clickable links.

Living in Freiburg where the sun shines virtually every day, it is hard to argue with my kid to go outside “on a day like this.”

“Mom, every day is like this,” he mumbles, flicking off another video game soldier from the battlefield that is his screen. He says it with a mix of pride and practiced boredom. He is twelve, after all.

Or my teenage daughter, who visited last weekend. She wanted to chill out. So she grabbed her laptop and watched YouTube video games for the final two hours of her visit.

“You don’t want to bond, play Scrabble and talk about boys?” I asked with a furrowed brow.

“Mom? Can you just — leave?”

At one point I gave in and watched my own livestreamed show on my laptop in my room.

Where are our lives going with all this disconnection?

Like most people,  I love the Internet. It actually saved my life by connecting me with people and events that made my world a better place. But too much of a good thing is, well, too much. And I worry that our children will never learn how to maintain eye contact, speak a full sentence or hold a pencil with one hand.

Do I sound dramatic? Well, maybe I do. Some days it feels like an uphill battle, working against an unstoppable stream of information that competes with my children’s attention. All day. Every day. And sometimes into the night.

It’s a brave new world. One in which three-year-olds are encouraged to hone their computer skills. Call me old-fashioned, but I thought learning how to ride a bike would come first.

Slow Childhood ~are you a thing of the past?


DIY ~ No Wonder We’re So Tired

Our modern world has become obsessed with do-it-yourself everything. From getting gasoline to checking yourself out at the grocery store to booking your own flights to wherever – you are put in the driver’s seat.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like the freedom of choice just as anyone else. But our current ability to do virtually everything ourselves has replaced those days when service providers actually, well, provided service. Now it’s all automated and if you struggle with following directions (as I do), you’re up the river without a paddle.

Besides, what is really behind all this DIY-ing is the need for speed while cutting costs. How many of us actually go into a bank today and retrieve cash from a bank teller? As I kid, I used to love getting those lollipops after a bank transaction. No ATM in the world can offer you that.

Somehow I feel all this automation has simply cheapened the experience of life.

Not that I am complaining too much about the freedom of choice  we get to enjoy today. I greatly appreciate our manifest destiny of selection in many areas, such as which airline to fly with or which health care provider best suits my needs. But sometimes DIY simply sucks. It’s exhausting and confusing and I’d really rather leave certain decisions up to the professionals.

Do I sound like a total slacker? Bear with me now.

Our DIY mania has really gone too far. I like to be served, not because I like to treat people as servants, but because I trust that they know more than I do about certain things. Call me crazy, but don’t medical professionals have a better understanding of, say, health matters than I do?

For the first time in my life, I was recently asked to measure my own blood pressure by following the instructions in the waiting room at my doctor’s office. Eyes peering over my shoulder as I struggled with the arm cuff, I knew the stress of it alone would give me inaccurate readings.

It did. I mean, who can really relax when a half-dozen other patients are watching you? It felt a little bit like those machines you find in almost every supermarket in Florida — the median age of whose population exceeds 40 — where you insert your arm into a ring that squeezes you tight while it spews off your diastolic and systolic stats.

I’m not sure why taking my own blood pressure bothered me so. It really wasn’t that hard. But another modicum of privacy and care flew out the window with the doctor’s office’s self-service demand.

The philosophy behind DIY is you get to choose. And if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you will know that my philosophy around The Power of Slow also centers upon the notion of choice.

We get to choose how we spend our time. For the most part.

But somehow I’ve begun to get the sense that there is little choice in the way things are set up today. I actually cancelled a car insurance policy this month because it was online and had no customer service. All in the name of “cheaper rates” (I found an even cheaper rate with a competitor who had a super-friendly customer service dude who won over my heart instantly).

Never underestimate the power of human connection.

I would have been willing to pay more just to have the ability to talk to someone when I needed help.

If I am forced to do all these tasks on my own, it is no wonder I am as tired as I am sometimes. Are you with me on this one?

What we need is more human touch in all things. So reach out and hug someone today. Hugging (and kissing) are two things that you certainly cannot do yourself!

Little Simplicities

The simple life means something different to everyone. For some it means living in small, minimalistic spaces. For others it means removing barriers that stand in their way. For others still it refers to their pace of life ~ sleepy, super Slow and silent.

For everyone it means living with less complication.

In our 24/7 world, that is indeed a worthy, yet perhaps lofty, goal.

We build our lives around dreams whose fulfillment we think will make us happy. Oftentimes we realize those dreams don’t actually yield the level of joy we desire.

Two very good girlfriends of mine admitted to me yesterday that their lives haven’t turned out the way they thought.

“Thank goodness!” I said. Imagine if we got everything we thought we wanted. I’d be a former prima ballerina with broken knees, married to a guy who’s now a plumber.

Life is actually simple that way. It unfolds on its course. We can influence certain things about as much as we can influence how our children will turn out. You can add a lot of sweetness to the pot, but in the end we never really know whether it will taste good or not until the very end.

Keeping things simple isn’t as easy as it sounds. Our egos chime in loudly when they feel knocked down, like a toddler throwing a tantrum when it doesn’t immediately get what it wants.

Simplicity can be threatening to the ego because it is programmed to strive for certain things ~ acknowledgement, attention, adoration. But when you opt for a simpler life, you often leave those accolades behind you for a truer path to your own happiness.

It is extremely centering to strip away the noise to get to the essence of things.

I know a marvelous woman in her mid-fifties who doesn’t have a driver’s license, never has owned a computer and thinks that smartphones are, well, dumb. And she’s happy. And well-adjusted. And well-integrated in life. Her own simple life. I admire her greatly for that.

Can there be happiness beyond our hyper-connected world? She certainly is proof that there can be.

Embrace a little simplicity today and see where it takes you.

My guess is it will lead you back to your glorious, beautiful self.

Your Life: Summed Up

The average American spends nine years of his life watching television and two million commercials. Only two weeks of his life is spent kissing another person. Imagine if those numbers were reversed (and probably are in some countries!).

The average Joe spends 4,050 hours at a standstill in traffic (that is the equivalent of 506 nights of sleep), 4,320 hours at traffic lights, 5,365 hours talking on the phone and 122,400 hours working. He will have walked 35,000 miles in a lifetime, which is equal to walking from Paris to Shanghai and back ~ twice. At the same time, he will drive 798,000 miles: That’s 3.5 times to the moon and back.

If you look at these staggering statistics, it makes you realize how much of our time is spent with machines, not Nature or even each other. It makes me want to hug a tree and remember that we are all connected to everything: Not just through Facebook, but through our ultimate purpose in life, which is to love each other with all our might.

How will you spend your day today?

Life Summed Up

In Step with Synchronicity

Swiss psychologist Carl Jung coined the phrase synchronicity, which means the experience of two or more events that are apparently causally unrelated or unlikely to occur together by chance, yet are experienced as occurring together in a meaningful manner.

So it was with my visit to the iPhone Doctor recently.

My iPhone was ill. After all that international travel, it could no longer pick up its indigenous phone signal, leaving it rather useless for someone who, well, needs a phone. I asked a local service provider if she knew something about iPhones. A few swipes on the screen told me she did not. With a solemn look, she gazed deeply into my eyes and said:

“This is a case for the iPhone Doctor.”

I could almost hear the creepy horror movie music play in the background as she spoke the words.

She carefully described how to get to his place. Take a left, then a right, then another right. I set off with great hope in my heart that the Doctor could help. But when I got to the address, that the local shop lady said several times and with the confidence of an insider, I couldn’t find a sign indicating anything about a doctor, much less an iPhone. That is, until a lady who appeared on the stoop next door gave me the same gaze the shop lady did and said:

“What are you searching for? Maybe I can help!”

I was about to tell her what I really wanted to know was the meaning of life, but stopped short as I realized perhaps asking for directions would be better.

“Ah yes, the iPhone Doctor. He’s there. Just push open the door and go upstairs. Last office on your left.”

Again, the creepy music played in my head and I swear her body language added: “He’s waiting for you.”

I climbed the stairs to be greeted by a smiling face that didn’t belong to the iPhone Doctor, but who had the same knowing look. “You’re going to see him, aren’t you?” the face seemed to say. I smiled weakly, then continued down the long corridor to the last office.

And then there he was: Jürgen, the iPhone Doctor, smiling like a Buddha as I walked into his space.

“I was on vacation, you see…” and he interrupted with a shudder. “Your phone got wet, didn’t it? Let me guess. Swimming pool? Jacuzzi?” He sized me up with a keen eye.

“None of the above! It’s simply cranky because I kept switching networks. You know. Swisscom, iWind, Orange France!”

He tooled around with it for a while, professionally swiping screen after screen, grunting quietly, then brushing away the detritus in the speaker with a toothbrush and buffing the screen with a woolly towel.

“Here you go! Good as new. But if all else fails, hit reset, okay?”

Which is what I ended up doing when I got home because my iPhone continued to act crazy. Jürgen’s backup advice worked. And that’s all I cared about.

The synchronicity of the moment made me realize there are guiding forces in our lives that show us the way when we can’t help ourselves. When we are present to them, life can be so much fun. When asked why he has no sign on his door, Jürgen revealed to me that his word-of-mouth strategy is ultimately more effective than advertising. It has more impact. He leverages the power of synchronicity because, as he says, “I want the people to come looking for me.”

What synchronicities can you find today? Look for them. They are there, waiting for you to see them so they can play too.

The Best of Summer 2012 ~Audio # 3 on Silence

Silence is a rarity in our 24/7 world. Enjoy The Soothing Sound of Silence audio post. To listen, click on the link, and you should automatically be able to hear it. If not, right click the link, then save to your desktop to listen on your own audio software.