Happiness Is a Warm Screen

A couple of weeks ago, Brian Lam wrote an article called Happiness Takes (A Little) Magic, which discusses the role technology plays in our happiness and overall well-being. Brian’s piece was in response to Matt Ritchel’s New York Times article featuring a Stanford research report, which states girls aged eight to twelve who spent more time in front of screens are “less happy and less socially comfortable” than their peers.

Brian’s article is excellent, and you should read it. Technology and happiness are two areas of focus on QLE, so I wanted to offer my response.

Here’s Brian, referring to the Stanford study:

I am fascinated by this study because everything I have been doing in the last year professionally and personally has been to reduce the overage of technology and noise in my life and it has increased my happiness by many fold.

“Overage” and “noise”. Brian is quick to admit that he makes his living on the Web, and I will forcibly argue the value of technology and even certain social networks. The concern here is too much technology, to the point where it obstructs our ability to appreciate life outside it.

Brian uses junk food as a metaphor for the type of information we are lured into consuming, and the comparison is apt. The truth is, most of us are aware of how unhealthy processed food is, but its ubiquity also makes it almost impossible to avoid. Junk food is everywhere, often in disguise. Unless you are consistently mindful of what you’re putting in your mouth, it’s all too easy to fall into a complacent state of consumption.

So it is with technology.

As Brian mentions, television is inundated with celebrities and reality shows. Radio is laden with ads and overproduced, auto-tuned noise. The Internet is a barrage of headlines, linkbait, and meaningless Facebook statuses. This form of technology is so omnipresent that is has become the norm. Like eating at McDonald’s, you have to consciously choose to reject the garbage everyone else is mindlessly consuming. You have to be the weird one by not eating that stuff, or by not drinking or smoking, or by not having a Facebook account. The unfortunate truth is, you have to go out of your way to be healthy.

This is a matter of individual responsibility. You cannot control what appears on a menu, but you can control what you order or whether you eat there altogether. So too, you cannot control what other people put on the Internet, but you can control whether or not you choose to consume it.

There are two categories of people on the Web: people you don’t know, and people you do know. Brian handles both. First, the people you don’t know:

The first thing I did was to take back my time. I quit all the online content that was id-provoking and knee jerk. I stopped reading the stupid hyped up news stories that are press releases or rants about things that will get fixed in a week. I stopped reading the junk and about the junk that was new, but not good. I stopped reading blogs that write stories like “top 17 photos of awesome clouds by iphone” and “EXCLUSIVE ANGRY BIRDS COMING TO FACEBOOK ON VALENTINES DAY.” And corporate news that only affects the 1%. Most days, I feel like most internet writers and editors are engaging in the kind of vapid conversation you find at parties that is neither enlightening or entertaining, and where everyone is shouting and no one is saying anything. I don’t have time for this.


Do we really need to follow the 24-hour news cycle? To be informed at all times? Whether it’s politics, tech, or otherwise, I say no. Is there important stuff going on somewhere in the world at this very moment? Probably. But, how much of it is stuff I need to know about? Unless you define yourself by being the first to know the latest news, you don’t need to worry. If something is big enough for you to need to know about it, you’ll find out. Trust me. Imagine trying not to find out who won the Superbowl. Exactly. And that’s not even important.

The solution comes down to old-fashioned quality versus quantity. Take tech news, for example. I don’t need to follow TechCrunch and Engadget and Gizmodo because 75% of the things popping up in my news feed would be things that I do not care about. To be honest, I don’t care about the latest evil thing Google did, or the latest creepy thing Facebook did, or how big the latest Android phone is. I can’t be bothered.

Instead, I follow writers — individuals — whose values align with my own. In tech, if Gruber, or Shawn, or Ben, or Viticci are talking about it, then it’s probably something I’ll want to pay attention to. And even then, not always.

“Well, how can you just blindly go by whatever these guys are saying?”

Because I trust them and enjoy hearing their opinions. I may not always agree with them, but I feel its safer than consuming information from a news aggregate and blindly taking it as fact.

Now, about those people you do know. Brian:

I also stopped reading twitter and facebook regularly, because most of my online acquaintances are nice, but I like to think about these experiences as shallow and yes, also I don’t give a shit about 99% of people I interact with online. I’ve met some great friends online, but once I find them I would prefer to spend that time and energy with the few I would do anything for. Also, clicking the like button 1 billion times will never give you an orgasm or a hug or a high five.


That’s it, right there. What’s the quality of this relationship? What does this person contribute to my life on a daily basis? Love? Support? Laughs? Or shitty, melodramatic Facebook statuses?

Delete. Defriend. Unfollow.

You don’t need the noise. If “quality over quantity” is true for anything, it’s true for relationships, and not only digital ones. Let them go. You’ll have more time for those who matter.

This is not to say there are no benefits to technology. It allows us to learn and communicate in profound new ways, but we must be cautious. It should never take the place of life itself. Here’s Brian again:

Try using technology to work and read and watch faster. Then use that time to go explore the world or do whatever makes you happier. Is it hanging out online? If you think this, then you probably have not seen the things I have seen away from my computer.

Use technology. Enjoy technology. Read. Write. Learn. Connect. Discover. Grow. But be selective in those endeavors. Don’t allow yourself to fall into a state of complacency. Don’t allow yourself to become a mindless consumer. Be disciplined. You’re smart and good-looking. You can tell what is good and what is garbage. You can tell what is signal and what is noise. You can tell what’s worth it and what’s a waste. Choose mindfully, and then shut it down.

Don’t let your screen replace the sun.

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