Our world today is designed to be instant, connected, and fast.
Us software people say the apps we make help people do more, in less time. We are more productive than ever. We live, make, and work in a world where more is supposed to be better — but at a cost.
Some of the original makers at Facebook and Google now say “our minds are being hijacked.” The price to live in a beautifully connected world is putting up with the frenetic 24-hour news cycle, empty swipes for dates, and endless little red badges on our phones like stubborn pimples that won’t pop.
Our state of mind is visualized in the products we create. How can a designer in a mental state of chaos create something calming and joyful to use? It’s hard to conceive. Even worse, that chaotic software then goes out into the world perpetuating an already distracted society.
Less but better
I believe technology can be calming and joyful to use. It should improve the quality of our lives, including our mental state. But that must start from us, the makers of technology ourselves.
The faster my life moves, the less I get done. I make mistakes, forget important details, and take longer to generate good ideas. It is our responsibility as makers of tools and services to take care of our own minds and bodies to make thoughtful decisions about our products for our users.
Even in the Bauhaus School, Professor Johannes Itten dedicated the entire first year to teaching students to build an intimate familiarity with their own body, mind, and materials. He believed it was required for creative success. The Bauhaus movement went on to directly influence designers like Steve Jobs and Dieter Rams
“My first morning periods in class began with relaxation, breathing, and concentration exercises to establish the intellectual and physical readiness which make intensive work possible. The training of the body as an instrument of the mind is of great importance to a creative person. How can a hand express a characteristic feeling in a line when the hand and arm are cramped? As we breathe, so we think and conduct the rhythm of our daily routine. People who have achieved great success in their lives always breathe quietly, slowly, and deeply. Those who are short of breath are hasty and greedy in their thoughts and actions.” —Design & Form: The Basic Course at the Bauhaus by Johannes Itten
Every weekend, I do a hard reset. I take my mind and turn it off, then turn it on again. It files away the week behind and prepares me for the week ahead. It’s my happy hour.
Nina’s Happy Hour
Saturday mornings are a special time in San Francisco. The city rests under a quiet blanket of fog for a short relief from calendar invites, side projects, and last minute bookings to wherever.
All I see from bed is a soft infinite white sky thinly veiled behind my grey linen curtains. The cool wet air diffuses the colors in the what-would-be-sunrise. It mutes the morning tweets and jangling dog collars that are out walking my neighbors.
I look at my phone when I wake up. I would love to be someone who doesn’t.
Usually I have about an hour in bed to slowly read nice emails I snoozed until Saturday at 8:00 am. These are wandering reads without any focus on replying or achieving inbox zero. It is a distinctly different read than on a given Tuesday.
My Saturday mornings hinge around a 9am yoga class in the Castro with someone who started teaching before most startup founders were born. She knows me there. They know me there. We see each other and smile and never have to talk.
I roll out my matt on the hardwood floor. Everyone is on airplane mode.
Sometimes in downward dog, I wonder if this is why people go to church on Sundays. Not so much for actual scriptures or path to god. But for a reliable and predictable time to do not much more than doing nothing at all.
Sometimes while laying in corpse pose at the end of class, I fall asleep for what feels like an hour. I roll up my mat and sling it over my shoulder and bet myself how long I can go without checking my phone.
When I re-emerge on Castro street, the Muni bus screeches by and the sun has burned through the fog. I see waiters pouring boozy mimosas at Harvey Milk’s diner around the corner from the row of kinky sex shops.
But I never miss the stroll across the rainbow sidewalk to see my guys at the florist. At this point they know me too and know my routine. The air is cool and sweet in their small rainforest of fresh cut flowers.
I pick a $5 bouquet from the black painters bucket on the floor in the back corner. I buy one every Saturday. Sometimes tulips, sometimes lilies, and sometimes lavender spiky stems I’ve never seen before. They wilt away with the week because, hey, they’re from the $5 bin.
Nina’s Happy Hour goes all morning. After a shower, I give my space a quick tidy. I toss away last weeks flowers, clean the vase, refill the water, and start again fresh. Marie Kondo says a cluttered home is cluttered mind. I feel relief when my laundry is neatly put away.
It’s barely noon and I can still make it for brunch. I could have slept in. It’s easier to sleep in. But I get more out of my week by doing less on the weekend. Rhythm is essential for a city without seasons.
The weekend is my time to daydream, take care of my home, and check in with my neighborhood. It’s a time to strengthen my body and soften my mind so I can bring intellectual and physical readiness to intense and productive work. After all, how we live is how we make.