I'm going to invite you into my shower for a few minutes. Sorry about that, but it's the only place I can really think these days.
Recently, I was at Ritual Cafe in San Francisco's Mission District downing quad lattes with my old friend Angus. At one point, he noticed an acquaintance who entered the cafe. Within three seconds of him standing up to greet her, I had pulled out my iPhone and was hitting refresh on my incoming tweets and email. I had nothing important to check. The entire encounter took fewer than two minutes. When the woman looked over to introduce herself, there I was with my sweaty hands gripped around my phone. I suddenly realised, I've become that guy.
Of course, I'm not the only one. Everyone alone at a table at Ritual was either typing on a laptop or thumbing a smartphone. When I see a guy alone at a cafe without a device open, I assume that he's either got the iPhone antenna problem or that he's a serial killer.
Sitting at a cafe, especially when you're solo, used to be one of those moments when you were alone with your thoughts.
I'm almost never alone with my thoughts anymore.
I bring my social network, ego searching, incoming news and various means of communication with me wherever I go. I pull out the phone at stop lights, when I'm waiting for groceries to be bagged, in between steps at the ATM, in bathrooms, on walks with my son, waiting in drive-thru lines, everywhere. And it's not just when I'm out. When is the last time you did something creative on your computer - written a blog post or a letter, worked in Photoshop or even read a long article - without allowing yourself to be interrupted by the real-time internet?
I don't really remember what I was I thinking about during all of those moments when I used to be alone with my thoughts. But I have a feeling that the quiet moments once reserved for daydreaming and random thoughts were important factors in one's creativity and general mental health. According to the New York Times, researchers have found that wandering thoughts can be critical.
But now that researchers have been analysing those stray thoughts, they've found daydreaming to be remarkably common — and often quite useful. A wandering mind can … keep you on course toward long-term goals. Sometimes daydreaming is counterproductive, but sometimes it fosters creativity and helps you solve problems.
So here I am, in my shower, the last bastion where my stray thoughts can flow freely. Don't get me wrong. I've gazed at my laptop from the shower on several occasions. But after a few minutes, the glass fogs up and I'm back to solving problems and fostering creativity. Ultimately, even these moments of alone time in the shower will come to an end. Somewhere, someone is working on a waterproof iPhone bumper.
Dave Pell is an internet addict, early adopter and insider. He blogs regularly at Tweetage Wasteland.
Image: Shutterstock/Valua Vitaly