Opinion Philosophy

There’s Time for an Experience

A Better Experience

The morning train - should we anxiously wait for it, or look for a better experience?
The Morning Train

Saving Time

How much time has technology saved you? It’s amazing that not long ago, you needed payphones, notebooks, clunky alarm clocks, leather phone-books, photo albums, and hardcover encyclopedias. You needed travel agencies, postmen, and operators. But has technology gotten in the way of a better experience?

You are spoiled by the amount of convenience brought about by technology, that you have forgotten what it is like to feel bored. You no longer have thoughts when waiting in line, you have a portal to the entire world in the palm of your hands. If you want, you don’t even have to leave your home to go shopping. In fact, you don’t even have to leave your home to work. People used to wait for someone to deliver the news and predict the weather, now they are just a push notification away.

Despite this incredible progress, you are becoming increasingly time-obsessed. You are outraged when your smartphone freezes for thirty seconds. In an insightful Ted Talk, Rory Sutherland touched on an important challenge facing modern society. He discussed the problem of waiting for trains. Mind you, waiting for trains was nowhere near the calamitous problem it is today before the advent of everything-in-an-instant technology. He suggested that instead of trying to make trains more efficient – an accomplishment that will do little to settle the anxiety of the modern individual – we should find ways of enhancing people’s experiences by installing a countdown timer.

“Waiting seven minutes for a train with a countdown clock is less frustrating and irritating than waiting four minutes, knuckle-biting, going ‘When’s this train going to arrive?” – Rory Sutherland

His idea was that what irritated people wasn’t the fact that the transportation system needed improving, it was that we just needed to tweak little things to greatly enhance our everyday experiences.

The Supermarket Experience

I once expressed to a friend how I was annoyed at the task of grocery shopping as it took an exceptional amount of time and effort that could be used for something more meaningful. I had been bitten by the time hacking bug. I enthusiastically described all the innovations that have made physical grocery shopping a thing of the past. I was, however, promptly and rightfully interrupted from my musings when he said, “Yeah, but what about the experience? You keep talking about how we’ll have so much more time to spend, but what are we going to spend it doing? Don’t you have moments throughout the day where you don’t really want to work or anything, or that you’re just too exhausted to really think? And wouldn’t it be refreshing to go out to the supermarket and just walk around, to have a personal relationship with the baker, the cashier, or the butcher?”

He explained his point further by explaining how seemingly mundane events can offer us the most memorable experiences. We tend to take them for granted as time-wasting activities but there’s a kind of unique experience that they offer that are not replaceable. Travelling in a bus, or train doesn’t have to be seen as a time wasting activity, but can be seen as the one of the essential experiences of life.

In the past… Ancient foragers were always alert and attentive. Wandering in the forest in search of mushrooms, they watched the ground for any telltale bulge. They listened to the slightest movement in the grass to learn whether a snake might be lurking there. When they found an edible mushroom, they ate it with the utmost attention to distinguish it from its poisonous cousins. Members of today’s affluent societies don’t need such keen awareness. We can wander between the supermarket aisles while texting messages, and we can buy any of a thousand dishes, all supervised by the health authorities. But whatever we choose, we might end up eating it in haste in front of a screen, checking emails or watching television, while hardly paying attention to the actual taste. – 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, Harari

Moments of Insight

I realized that the rare moments of insight occur to me when I’m just about to sleep, taking a shower, walking, exercising, or commuting. A long queue in front of you can put you in a horrible mood for the rest of the day. But instead of anxiously waiting for the number of people ahead of you to clear, it would be a far more rewarding and useful experience if you taught yourself to make the most of the experience. You don’t always have to listen to an audio-book or podcast for maximal time efficiency. Sometimes, it’s okay to do nothing.

"Silence is the best expression of scorn" - G.B. Shaw

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