I was really inspired by this notion of ‘techno-zen’ that I read in Steve Job’s biography by Walter Isaacson.
Pretty much the concept was this — Steve Jobs studied Zen Buddhism, and tried to apply his Zen-aesthetics and philosophies into Apple products.
Jobs did a pretty good job. He figured out how to simplify the iPhone to just one home button, in a world of crappy Microsoft Smartphones, which had a billion buttons.
For the MacBook laptops, he figured out how to slice away the superfluous. He got rid of the CD-rom drive, made laptops thinner (MacBook Air), and worked with Jony Ive to make the MacBook computers just a single uni-body aluminum design.
There will never be a perfect device
I know in my life, I am always dissatisfied with my technology. I am always looking for the perfect device, the perfect writing tool, the perfect camera, perfect car — whatever.
But in reality, there is no ‘perfection’ in any device. Because each device is in a state of ‘becoming.’ There will never be a perfect iPhone, because each new iteration is going to get a little bit better.
What has worked for me
I know for myself personally, I want to achieve some sort of satisfaction and zen with my technology.
As of now, being here in Hanoi in 2017 — I have achieved some zen with my technology. I want to outline some personal thoughts, tools, and tricks:
1. My apps
First of all, these are the best apps I’ve used, to help me find more zen in my technology:
Apps for the Mac:
I use a MacBook laptop, and here are the apps which have helped me achieve more Zen:
- Bartender: Allows me to hide distracting apps from my top tool bar. I’ve hidden everything except the wifi icon. I’ve hidden the time (so I don’t get distracted by it), as well as everything else.
- IA Writer: Full-screen, with the ‘focus’ mode, is how I get almost all my writing done. I don’t get distracted by anything else, and can really get in the zone when writing.
- Evernote: Keeps everything easily sync’d between my laptop, phone, and the cloud.
- Uninstalling one app a day: I do this on my laptop, try to uninstall one superfluous app from my laptop a day.
- JPEG Mini Pro: Easy to resize and optimize JPEG image quality, with no visible loss of image quality (to my eyes). Super simple interface. Use this all the time for my blog, before uploading images.
Apps for the Android smartphone
I currently use an Android phone, and the best apps are below:
- Nova Launcher: I’ve setup my Nova Launcher to hide all of my apps from my home screen, from my app and widget drawer, and also have hidden the top status notification bar. Therefore when I turn on my phone, I don’t see any apps I might get distracted by. I also don’t see the time, so I don’t get distracted by the time either.
- Uninstalling one app a day: This is a bit off-topic, but I have a daily practice of trying to uninstall one app a day. I inevitably end up re-installing other new apps, but this has helped me keep my apps to a minimum.
- Evernote: I use this religiously, to jot down blog post ideas, flight schedules and times, etc.
- IA Writer: If I’m in a situation where I can’t type on my laptop, I use the IA writer on Android (free) to write blog posts or ideas. I then copy and paste the information into Evernote, to keep it sync’d with my computer
- Using my phone as little as possible: The last hack: keeping my phone off as much as possible, except when I need to message someone, call someone, call an Uber, or find something on Google Maps. I got mostly inspired by Kanye West, who recently got rid of his phone so he could ‘Have more to create.’
My practical tip: keep your laptop as lean as possible; whether you use Mac, PC, Linux, whatever.
Uninstall all superfluous apps, and figure out what 10% of your Apps you use for 90% of your activity. Keep those apps, and remove everything else.
2. Blocking distracting websites
I used to be addicted to Reddit ever since I was 18 years old, until around 22 years old. I checked it for about 5 hours a day.
I knew I wanted to quit this bad habit, so I uninstalled a website blocker (Stay Focusd extension on Chrome). I haven’t checked Reddit from 2011-2017. I have so fewer distractions, and more room to breathe, write, and create.
I am still not fully-cured of distracting websites. I currently use the Safari browser on my laptop, and have the ‘WasteNoTime’ extension, which helps me block websites I generally tend to get distracted by. I regularly block Facebook, Instagram, Medium, TheVerge, Apple, Tesla, and Twitter (sites that often distract me from writing and doing work).
Here are some other Safari Extensions I have installed, to help me find more Zen and focus, and productivity:
- 1 Password
- Clean Links for Google
- Adblock Plus
- UTM Stripper
- Shut Up (disables comments on websites)
- Ghostery (privacy)
- Facebook demetricator (I don’t see numbers on Facebook anymore)
- Newsfeed Blocker (I don’t see newsfeed in Facebook to distract me anymore)
- Cleaner for Facebook: Strips away distracting ads from Facebook
- No Clutter for Twitter
- No Buffer (disables auto-play for YouTube videos)
I have taken the strategy of Ulysses, who knew that he couldn’t resist the tempting songs of the Sirens, so he tied himself to the mast of his ship, and filled his ears with beeswax.
In today’s world, I cannot resist the lure of the sirens of social media and technology. So to the best possible extent, I plug up my ears, and prevent myself beforehand — because I know I have no self-control, and I will be tempted.
What sites are preventing you from becoming the person you want to become? Be ruthless and block them.
3. Become the person you want to become
The biggest thing for me and technology was this: analyzing my own behavior. Figuring out what I did that I liked, and what I did that I didn’t like.
I hated getting distracted by email, social media, websites, and distracting blogs. So now, I check them as little as possible, because I have figured out the downward-spiral, or black-hole they lead into. And I know whenever I check my smartphone, I end up getting distracted for an hour or so.
So now, the only thing I really trust is my laptop. I strip away any advertisements, or distracting apps, or games from my laptop. I only trust text files now— because even Amazon Kindle always annoys me with ‘recommended books’ — and I also sometimes get creeped out how Amazon Kindle tracks my reading patterns.
So another hack: I download free open-source books as text files, copy and paste them into Evernote, and I read them that way. While I read my books, I bold certain text, add new paragraphs, and copy and paste certain passages that inspire me. This is a lot more effective than reading on a Kindle for me.
Everyone gets an itch from some sort of technology. I know mine, what are yours? Figure out what your distractions are, and be ruthless. Eliminate them completely, and you will have more room, mental energy, and focus to create.
Ultimately, I want to be a more productive person, who creates more, and consumes less. So I’m trying to set up personal road-blocks to prevent myself from doing my personal un-desired behavior.
But once again, you need to figure out what you want to do with your life. And setup your life to make that possible.
What do you want from your life? To write more, to read more, to blog more, to photograph more, to do more creative products?
Stop doing what is preventing you from achieving your dreams. Then use all your time, focus, and energy to creating the art you were destined to create.
To be human is to use tools.
We are already androids. The smartphone is an extension of our brain. The camera is an extension of our eye. The laptop is the new digital tongue for my mind.
There is no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ technology. Only tools that work for you, and don’t work for you.
Remove the technology which is de-empowering and distracting you. Keep the tools and technology which empower you, and encourage you to create, and become the best version of yourself.
More articles on technology and zen
The philosophy of technology: