How did “rabbit hole,” which started its figurative life as a conduit to a fantastical land, evolve into a metaphor for extreme distraction? One obvious culprit is the Internet, which has altered to an indescribable degree the ways that we distract ourselves. Twenty years ago, you could browse for hours in a library or museum, spend Saturday night at the movies and Sunday at the mall, kill an afternoon at the local video arcade or an evening at its X-rated analogue—but you couldn’t do those things every day, let alone all day and night. Moreover, content-wise, you couldn’t leapfrog very far or very fast from wherever you started, and there was a limit to the depth and nichiness of what you were likely to find; back then, we had not yet paved the road between, say, Dorothy Hamill and a comprehensive list of Beaux-Arts structures in Manhattan, nor archived for the convenience of humankind ten thousand photographs of fingernail art. Then came the Internet, which operates twenty-four hours a day, boasts a trillion-plus pages, and breeds rabbit holes the way rabbits breed rabbits.
The Apple Watch is the first Apple product that has not enticed any kind of curiosity in me. I think it mostly has to do with the fact that I’ve not worn a watch in decades and don’t feel the need for one. Though I suspect at some point the functionality of the watch will lead me to get one, probably two versions down the road, when it is fine-tuned further.
However, I am very curious about the conversation happening around the watch. A conversation about digital luxury and digital intimacy. Those two subjects now join the conversation around digital privacy and what it means to have technology so closely know what you are doing.
I have a productivity trick that I didn’t know I had until I heard about it on a radio program. NPR did this interview with experts about boredom. iPhones and other forms of digital media were disrupting boredom, because people can occupy themselves all the time. You don’t have any more downtime—you go on your iPhone, look at email, or you’re playing video games. The fact of the matter is, that eats up really good creative time. I realize that when I’m sitting in a taxicab in traffic, or on my way to the airport, or waiting to get on a plane, or trapped in some other boring situation, that’s when I get the best ideas, because I’ve got nothing else interfering with it. I didn’t realized until I listened to that broadcast how important boredom is to me. I have to stop reading emails or being anywhere near the internet to be able to create.
Above all, it seems to me, we face two entwined questions every time we reach towards a screen. What does the computer want us to do—and what do we ourselves want? If we’re not careful, we will only ever answer the first. Ours is a world in which we are nudged, cajoled, bribed, and enticed ceaselessly; in which we are locked in an embrace with tirelessly fascinating tools. More than ever, we must be prepared to admit how messily personal this relationship is; how toxic habit and excessive ease can be; and that, as in all relationships, the easiest and the best option are rarely the same thing.
As the Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman once put it, “when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.” If we’re not careful, our days will become a sequence of answers to questions that aren’t worth asking: what do you like, dislike, think in 140 characters; how can a friend most efficiently be acknowledged or dismissed; what distraction might help you forget the life you forgot to lead?