I try to keep these blog posts pertinent to engineering, so here’s a curve-ball that hopefully still relates to tech in some capacity…

A few disparate observations I’ve been replaying in my mind converged today and while at first sight they simply pissed me off or depressed me, I started asking myself why they were happening; the common answer for all of these things is addiction:

  • I’m in a toilet cubicle at work and hear a guy playing some dumb Facebook game in the adjacent cubicle while he’s supposedly answering a call of nature
  • I was stuck in a traffic jam with the roof down [much better rear visibility JFTR] a few weeks ago- three cars in a row behind me were openly using their phones (texting or otherwise staring at smart-phones for long periods of time)
  • I have a lot of friends in London and have become increasingly cognizant of the phenomenon of moped-based cellphone theft- it seems the most vulnerable place where this happens is on a zebra crossing where the victim is more often than not either listening to music or engrossed in something on the device

Like many addictions, it’s easy to draw an imaginary demarcation line between the idiots who fall prey to such stupid behaviour and ‘me’, who would never possibly get caught up in anything so dumb.

Except that for the most part we’re dealing with the whole of society here, not just a portion with intrinsically addictive personalities or IQs of less than, I dunno, 90. I’ve seen plenty of amusing and ugly manifestations of addiction at various startups I’ve worked at, many amongst Ivy-leaguers and almost all of which are NSFW. And stock brokers and golden-circle lawyers play Zynga games on the shitter and get their phones robbed at junctions too.

An actual behavioural addiction- e.g. needing to communicate with somebody who isn’t in the same physical room (or world!) as you still somewhat stands out. I’m not a clinical psychologist but I can look at all of these examples and say, “that’s fucked up”.

What people who work in tech, or indeed anybody who stares at a screen all day needs to be aware of is the omnipresence of much more subtle, insidious but equally unrewarding & addictive uses of our time: ridding your Outlook calendar of every single conflict, sinking hours on a code review where the proposer has no intention of listening to you anyway, fixing _everything _that is wrong with your deeply fucked up team (was the last one perfect anyway?). Wait until the end of a working day and try and articulate what you did in sequence from start to finish. It’s surprisingly hard, but you’ll probably come up with some much better examples of recurring wasteful behaviour too.

It’s not my place to exhaustively catalogue addictive sources here because they are never-ending and growing in number, probably exponentially by virtue of the internet. But if you can occasionally stand outside yourself and say, “hey, that’s a not so smart- I could cut that out with no productive loss” about something you’re doing, you’ll probably be a slightly happier, if not more productive person.