Toilet Texting

Today’s blog entry is reprinted from an article appearing in today’s The Straits Times (please remember, in Singapore, things are spelled the British way).  The article is by a woman named Brigid Schulte, and it’s entitled Texting on the Toilet.  It is a reprint from the Washington Post.  It pretty much sums up everything I feel about this topic, so I thought I’d let Brigid speak for me:

“I confess, I’ve tweeted from the toilet.  I’ve flitted through Facebook.  And I’ve churned through the never-ending tide of e-mail that washes into my inbox.

Why? I suppose the question is really, why not?  But, truthfully, I’ve never really given it much thought before.  And, like my friend and New America colleague Katherine Mangu-Ward noted earlier in her defence of texting on the toilet, it’s not like I’m the only one.  A 2012 survey, IT in the Toilet, found that three-fourths of the 1,000 men and women polled admitted to using their smart-phones in the commode.  An earlier United States survey reported that 38 million Americans use their phones to shop on the pot.

Enough!

Americans already work among the longest and most extreme hours of any advanced economy.  And although Americans like to think that makes us productive and efficient – and important – it doesn’t.  Other countries, with shorter work hours, higher wages, generous paid sick and family leave, and as much as a month of paid vacation a year, are actually as productive per hour (France), or more (Norway), than the US, according to annual charts from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And at a time when we need to be more creative and innovative – I think the word du jour is disruptive – as the very technology we take into the toilet remakes our economies and societies, working everywhere, all the time, at all hours, at the desk, in the car, distractedly walking down the street or sneaking off to the restroom, is exactly the wrong thing to do.

Why?  Because neuroscience is discovering that our brains are wired for new ideas, breakthrough thinking and inspiration to arise in a break from the constant grind of work.  In the pauses, at the least expected times, often when we’re doodling, daydreaming or even mindlessly perusing the goofy toilet trivia, the back of a shampoo bottle, or the colorful graffiti scribbled all over the bathroom walls, the a-ha moment alights.

We’re calm and relaxed.  Our brains are idle.  And something lights up called the Default Mode Network which connects different parts of our brain that typically don’t communicate.  That’s when a stray thought, a random memory, an image, can coalesce into a strange, wonderful and wholly original stew.  Author J. K. Rowling stared out of a train window for four hours and the entire plot of the Harry Potter series “fell into” her head, she’s said.

Toilet habits have changed as societies have changed.  In the ancient world, toilets were often a place for socializing, as high-stakes men sank their tushes into communal marble toilets with as many as 36 seats.  European kings conducted business on the throne while doing their business, a sign more of their power than their drive to be productive, writes Linux coder Bob Cromwell, a self-proclaimed Toilet Guru.

But never before, he said, have we seen work creep so far into every nook and cranny of our lives, even the privy, as a result of technology.  ‘I’m always struck, the minute you get out of an airplane, everybody heads to the bathroom and starts making calls and checking their phones.  I mean, how urgent are these calls, really?  It’s a quality of life thing to me,’ he says. ‘Sometimes when I hear a disembodied voice talking… I’m happy to say in a really loud voice, “He’s talking to you sitting on the toilet!” I figure I can get away with it.  It’s not like they’re going to get up and run after me.'”

Roman communal toilets at the ruins in Dougga, Tunisia

Roman communal toilets at the ruins in Dougga, Tunisia

I hope you enjoyed Brigid’s article.  It speaks for me, because I have been known to play with my smart-phone while on the toilet, but I wasn’t aware that our minds are more fecund when we are actually in “autopilot” mode, and not really paying attention to anything specific.  Next time I’m in the toilet, I will stare at the wall, or read the shampoo bottle (as she says) and let my mind go…..

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