One of the problems with our information age is that there’s always something incoming, demanding our attention. Podcasts and RSS feeds are great, but sometimes they can feel like a bit of a chore, another thing for the to-do list. I’m the kind of person who wants to live in a state of inbox zero - I have a minor freakout when I see the number of unread messages some people have.
When it was announced that Lovefilm was closing down, I felt a strange feeling of relief. We’d been customers for years, and had enjoyed a lot of good films and TV shows, including a lot of things that we never would have seen in a local video shop, or on streaming services - old classics, obscure documentaries.
But there was often a feeling of obligation to get our money’s worth. Like an all-you-can-eat buffet, you feel compelled to load up your list and keep going back for more.
Sometimes we’d add DVDs to our rental list, worthy things, perhaps with subtitles, that would sit there unwatched for a week or two, silently mocking and chiding us for our highbrow intentions.
There are so many things in the world that feel like to-do items, and most of them we’ve volunteered for. Why are we so keen on to-do lists? Is it a coincidence that the clichéd example developers create when learning a new programming language or framework is the to-do app? Technology seems to adding to our to-do list, whether it’s your Fitbit bossing you around to get up and walk around, unread messages, unlistened podcasts, or any of the blizzard of notifications that comes our way in the name of engagement.
Are our devices tools that we use, or are they our masters? It’s too easy to fall into bad habits of compulsively checking our devices, and if you’re not careful, it can be difficult to switch from reactive to proactive mode. If you’re always chasing your to-do list, and you get through it, you’re often not quite sure what to do with yourself.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. With the Lovefilm DVDs, we’d eventually face up to the reality that we wanted to be entertained. Sending them back was a small act of empowerment - a realisation that we have freedom to choose, and that we don’t always have to follow through with our choices. Similarly, it’s a marvellously liberating feeling to walk out of a film or a play halfway through, to stop reading a book. These are supposed to be enjoyable leisure activities - if they feel like a chore, it’s OK to give up on them.