Choose Engagement Over Comfort

by Stephen Mills on January 15, 2011

There Is No App For This!

I was reading a book this morning and ignoring the TV that was being watched by a family member when something caught my unconscious attention and caused me to look up.  What caught my attention was “There is no app for this!”.

It was an advertisement for the Florida Keys showing sunsets, strolling beach scenes, and water sports.  For each scene, the commercial repeated the “there is no app for this” slogan.  It ended with the plea to unplug and go for real experiences  which are worth more.

There is No App for This

That 30 second commercial beautifully captures what is wrong with much of what we don’t do anymore.  We have our faces glued to some kind of screen instead of actually participating in joyful activities with other people.  Incredibly in the U.S. where TV watching is the highest in the world, the last decade of TV technology improvement has resulted in a further increase of 15% in average daily TV time.  In that same decade the amount of time spent staring at other, usually small screens, has exploded.  That time comes from somewhere and it doesn’t come from school or work.  It is being taken from time we could use to actually participate in something that would include being engaged with other people.

Participatory activity, like playing games or socializing with friends for example, takes an initial effort.  You have to take some action like organizing and going somewhere and meeting up with people or you start thinking about the effort you will expend in the pickup game.  Often times the default passivity of turning to a screen seems easier.  However, research is showing that we enjoy participatory activity much more if we will actually just do it.  The comfort of the screen is illusory.

Instead of spending endless passive hours staring at Dancing With the Stars, So You Think You Can Dance, Live to Dance, or whatever else there is, why not actually do some dancing yourself?  Instead of spending endless hours watching others play sports, why not play yourself?  There are programs for every age and skill level.  Instead of watching idiotic fake reality shows, why not engage with some real people in real ways?

When I was growing up we only had three TV channels and no Internet or any other gadgets that we find so irresistible these days.  During daylight we played outside, and as a family we spent many evenings playing games.  We had a billiards table and we could lay a ping pong table on top of it to play ping pong.  We played board games, card games, and domino games.  I’m quite certain that if I had had the Internet I would have been staring at a screen instead of slamming a ping pong ball ball past my brother or sister.  I doubt I would remember the experience the same way though.


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January 21, 2011 at 3:52 pm

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Nea | Self Improvement Saga January 15, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Hi there Stephen. You really touched on something great here. I’m the guiltiest of guilty when it comes to watching instead of doing. Even when I do vacation, I spend hours on my laptop.

I love watching people do risky, fun, exploratory activities that I would never do. Nonetheless, I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone this year. I may not go bungee jumping or deep sea diving, but I will push the laptop aside and have a blast (if only for a moment).
Nea | Self Improvement Saga´s last blog post ..20 Ego Defense Mechanisms That Can Screw Up Your Life


Stephen Mills January 16, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Hi Nea, thanks for commenting. I occasionally enjoy watching other people as well. They key is how much? It shouldn’t be at the expense of doing something less risky myself. I enjoy a sinful desert once in a while too, but when I eat too much (of anything) it is short term gain that leads to long-term pain. 🙂


Henway January 15, 2011 at 6:00 pm

I’m also definitely guilty of this. I spend 8 hours at work staring at a computer screen, come home to have dinner with family for a hr, then go right back to staring at a computer screen to chat with friends. When I’m having dinner I often spend 50% of it texting or checking my Blackberry. When I’m commuting, I stare at videos in my iPod… my life is a fake one ^_^
Henway´s last blog post ..Murad Wiki


Stephen Mills January 16, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Hello Henway. I’ve been weaning myself off of my addictions to technology over the last couple of years. It’s difficult to avoid that crackberry and I’m constantly feeling the need to take a hit. But those short-term hits are nothing compared to the experience of face-to-face interaction. They key is moderation. Thanks for your comments.


Lee January 16, 2011 at 7:33 am

Hi Stephen,
I found your column by ‘accident’ several months ago, have been following (and enjoying) it and this is my first responding email. You raise an extremely important point here and a tip of an iceberg we are all facing … so thanks for this piece. I have been toying with the word ‘virtual’ lately because for me it crosses this line you mention between the emerging computerized world and the physical world. Screens allow us to live vicariously, in our heads, and without exertion. I agree, it’s illusory … by the way, great word!! I can’t help believing, without consciousness, we are all crossing a very thin line living in an increasingly ‘virtual’ world and confusing it with what is wholistic, natural and authentic. The question becomes: when does living ‘virtually’ stop any of us from virtually living?


Stephen Mills January 16, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Hi Lee and that is a good question that we would do well to ponder. I’m not a Luddite and I think technology gives us the opportunity for a better life in many ways if we use it thoughtfully and in moderation. I like to be able to use a cell phone, text, IM, look stuff up on the Internet, etc. just like everyone else. It can make life incredibly efficient and much easier. I’m in favor of using technology to make real life better, not as a substitute for it. It’s a difficult path to navigate. Thanks for your comment.


John D. Buerger, CFP® January 16, 2011 at 10:38 am

Thanks Stephen … by far one of your best posts and a thought that needs to be part of the conversation. Weird using a YouTube video to promote not using YouTube videos so much.
John D. Buerger, CFP®´s last blog post ..Living An Inspiring Life


Stephen Mills January 16, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Hello John and in one respect maybe it is a little weird but in another way it’s not. If electronic communication is effective and the way to reach people, it’s a great way to communicate to people the danger of too much electronic communication at the expense other experiences.

I love what technology can do for us. For example think about how much easier and more efficient you can be at arranging an impromptu meet up with friends now that we all have cell phones. When I was young you had to be at home to get a call. Nobody could text me or call me or whatever.

Thoughtful use of all these gadgets can be a great way to live a better and authentic life. The danger is that they provide short-term easy comfort and we can’t let that destroy what is in our long-term best interests. We see the trend in consumer debt-spending money we don’t have over the delayed gratification of investment or the compulsive eating too much salty, fat, sugary, empty calories at the expense of our long-term health.


Charlotte January 18, 2011 at 12:01 am

Hi Stephen. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and just love your posts. This one struck a chord with me and made me think of a similar phenomenon that many people are guilty of. I notice many people getting out and having experiences, primarily so they can take photos and video and post on social networks to show they’ve actually been out doing things! It’s like people feel the need to ‘prove’ that they’ve been out living in the real world, to the online world. Sad to think that even when we’re out having meaningful life experiences, there is the thought that everyone else needs to know exactly what you’ve been doing to somehow justify your absence from ‘being connected’. Come to think of it, I’m probably guilty of this myself! How sad.


Offbooze January 24, 2011 at 10:47 pm

Of course small screens provide a quick and easy attraction, one that, in our short term pleasure seeking minds, over-rides all the other stuff that we might even profess to like in the longer term; we just need to have some short term pain (not getting what we want when we seek the easy screen), for longer term satisfaction and gain. In NYC people walk down the street staring at screens, ostensibly to be with other people. Familiarity, even superficial, beats everything else.


Marty January 26, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Loads of wisdom here. I’d like to add the concept that (in the western world) we have too much choice. That means we look at something and know there is an alternative so look at that too, and another, and another, and fail to follow through thereby not getting the full value of any one experience. I confess that I am guilty of this too frequently.
Having less choice helps to focus on what we do have and to focus on a goal with less distraction. It is rare these days that I watch a full TV program. That is because I wonder what is on the numerous other channels that may be better (and almost always never is!)
Marty´s last blog post ..How observant are you


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