A little more than a week after buying the iPad, I returned it to Apple. The problem wasn’t the iPad exactly, though it has some flaws. The problem was me.
I like technology, but I’m not an early adopter. I waited for the second-generation iPod, the second-generation iPhone, and the second-generation MacBook Air.
But the iPad was different. So sleek. So cool. So transformational. And, I figured, since it’s so similar to the iPhone, most of the kinks would already be worked out.
So at 4 PM on the day the 3G iPad was released, for the first time in my life, I waited in line for two hours to make a purchase.
I set up my iPad in the store because I wanted to make sure I could start using it the very moment I bought it. And use it I did. I carried it with me everywhere; it’s so small and thin and light, why not bring it along?
I did my email on it, of course. But I also wrote articles using Pages. I watched episodes of Weeds on Netflix. I checked the news, the weather, and the traffic. And, of course, I proudly showed it to, well, anyone who indicated the least bit of interest. (That could be a whole post in itself. We proudly show off new purchases as though simply possessing them is some form of accomplishment. Why? I didn’t create the iPad. I just bought one.)
It didn’t take long for me to encounter the dark side of this revolutionary device: it’s too good.
It’s too easy. Too accessible. Both too fast and too long-lasting. Certainly there are some kinks, but nothing monumental. For the most part, it does everything I could want. Which, as it turns out, is a problem.
Sure I might want to watch an episode of Weeds before going to sleep. But should I? It really is hard to stop after just one episode. And two hours later, I’m entertained and tired, but am I really better off? Or would it have been better to get seven hours of sleep instead of five?
The brilliance of the iPad is that it’s the anytime-anywhere computer. On the subway. In the hall waiting for the elevator. In a car on the way to the airport. Any free moment becomes a potential iPad moment.
The iPhone can do roughly the same thing, but not exactly. Who wants to watch a movie in bed on an iPhone?
So why is this a problem? It sounds like I was super-productive. Every extra minute, I was either producing or consuming.
But something — more than just sleep, though that’s critical too — is lost in the busyness. Something too valuable to lose.
Being bored is a precious thing, a state of mind we should pursue. Once boredom sets in, our minds begin to wander, looking for something exciting, something interesting to land on. And that’s where creativity arises.
My best ideas come to me when I am unproductive. When I am running but not listening to my iPod. When I am sitting, doing nothing, waiting for someone. When I am lying in bed as my mind wanders before falling to sleep. These “wasted” moments, moments not filled with anything in particular, are vital.
They are the moments in which we, often unconsciously, organize our minds, make sense of our lives, and connect the dots. They’re the moments in which we talk to ourselves. And listen.
To lose those moments, to replace them with tasks and efficiency, is a mistake. What’s worse is that we don’t just lose them. We actively throw them away.
“That’s not a problem with the iPad,” my brother Anthony — who I feel compelled to mention is currently producing a movie called My Idiot Brother — pointed out. “It’s a problem with you. Just don’t use it as much.”
Guilty as charged. It is a problem with me. I can’t not use it if it’s there. And, unfortunately, it’s always there. So I returned it. Problem solved.
But it did teach me something about the value of boredom. And I’m far more conscious now of using those extra moments, the in-between time, the walking and riding and waiting time, to let my mind wander.
Around the same time I returned my iPad, I noticed that my eight-year-old daughter Isabelle was unbelievably busy from the moment she got home from school to the moment she went to bed. Bathing, reading, playing guitar, eating dinner, doing homework, she was non-stop until I rushed her off to bed. Once in bed she would try to talk to me but, worried about how little sleep she was getting, I would shush her, urging her to go to sleep.
We have a new ritual now, and it really has become my favorite part of the day. I put her to bed 15 minutes earlier than before. She crawls into bed and, instead of shushing her, I lie next to her and we just talk. She talks about things that happened that day, things she’s worried about, things she’s curious or thinking about. I listen and ask her questions. We laugh together. And our minds just wander.