- Virtual reality -

7th April '17

After another week to think about it, nothing has dampened my desire to go through at least a week technology-free, starting next Monday.

In fact, if anything my desire to separate from all of my devices has got stronger because... well life's become very different since I got a PS4.

In time that was once used for exercise, I now play video games. In time that was once used studying Thai, I now play video games. Apart from those two, I can't actually really remember how it was that I spent my free time, but I think that since buying my PS4, I'm yet to go a single day without it.

The lion's share of that time has been spent playing Battlefield 1, on which my online gameplay totals seventy-three hours.

That's before I consider the time playing offline, or the signifantly fewer hours that I've spent playing GTA 5.

I only got this console a month ago. I'm probably averaging 2-3 hours per day on it since then. And like I said in a previous blog, that is, in part, awesome. It's only because it's so good that I'm borderline addicted to playing it. But then on the other hand it's... well imagine if I'd used all that time for something more productive.

Dedicating this much time to video games, it's had to come from somewhere. Much of it is that I have such an easy schedule this term, with fewer working hours and almost nothing to plan from scratch, but on top of that, I haven't been exercising even close to as much as I was pre-PS4. I'm not finding the time to meditate much, and studying Thai is just so far from my mind that I probably know about as much as I did at this time last year... right when I was starting.

But when you become this immersed in something, then it's easy to do so with tunnel-vision, forgetting to ask yourself if it's actually fun or beneficial.

Well taking a week or more off, not just from this, but from all of my technology it's... it's kind of become very necessary.

On the one hand, the first thing that I did this morning after making a smoothie was play a couple of games of Battlefield. But on the other, I'm kind of looking forward to not having that option.

And I think part of the addiction is that... well if you look at that above screenshot, you'll see that in this game of war, I've amassed just 1,283 kills, while dying 3,022 times.

It's a far more complicated game than just kills and deaths, but it's still a pretty good indicator that... well I'm not very good at it.

That's ok. I wouldn't expect to be. It's a decade or more since I last had a video games console, and they've advanced a lot in that time. I can't expect to just pick up a controller after ten years and be on par with people who've been playing this whole time.

I'm also several years older than I was back then, so my ability to learn things is surely in decline.

That might sound a negative thing to say, but as someone who teaches a foreign language to adults, I see everyday how the older a person is, the harder it is for them to learn new things. You just lose receptiveness with age. Why do you think that old people can't get to grips with smartphones, but a three-year old can pick one up and understand what's going on.

That was a blob that couldn't even stand up three years ago, and now it can use a smartphone.

I'm not at the age of youthful naivety to the world anymore. By age 31, I guess that your brain assumes that it's amassed most of the knowledge that it'll need to get through life, so isn't so receptive to receiving more. And so I'm not able to just pick-up a controller and learn a new game like I used to.

Video games are basically a test of reactions; can you react quickly enough to press the button combinations to kill the person standing across from you, before they kill you?

Well in my case, 3,022 times the answer has been no.

It's why I don't view playing games as all bad, despite coming at the sacrifice of things like exercise. It's almost like I'm training my brain to learn new things again. It's forcing me to use my reflexes in ways that I didn't really have to prior to this, and you never know, that might actually aid me in allowing me to learn new things in the future. It might slow-down or offset the decline in my ability to learn new things, by making my brain realise that... hey, you don't know everything yet.

Plus, despite the fact that I'm likely playing against Japanese kids sitting in their parents' basement, or Koreans whose lives revolve around video games (I play on Asian servers), there's still an element of pride, almost a drive to become good at something, when I know that I'm not.

In that sense it's got my competitive juices flowing.

If I'd picked-up this game and been good from the start, I don't think that I'd even be playing it still. But the fact that I'm not, it gives me something to aim for. Something to achieve. And I'm a damn-sight better now than I was when I'd played even 50 hours.

So I certainly don't view all of this time playing games wholly negatively. At the very least, I'm using my brain in ways that it just wasn't being used before. I'm having to use hand-eye coordination in a far more complex manner than was previously the case.

Now I see something on the screen, and have just a split-second to react and press the two analogue sticks in the right directions and the right amounts, and press the right combination of the other fifteen buttons at my disposal.

That's a lot of coordination going into a miniscule amount of time. The closest that I had to that previously was pressing the correct button to change the TV channel. It's not exactly the same.

So I am of the belief that this has some cognitive benefit. Unless that's just wishful thinking, and me justifying playing video games to myself, just because I like them.

At the same time though, this has all come at the sacrifice of time that I would be exercising, or studying Thai, or meditating, or whatever the Hell that it was that I used to do in the pre-PS4 era; I can't even remember now.

And which is better? Is it better now? Was it better before?

Well the answer inevitably lies somewhere in the middle, but it's very hard for me to see exactly where, when I've got tunnel-vision not only to play video games, but for all of my various technologies.

It's why I'm determined to just turn them all off, and see what I really miss. And I'm oddly looking forward to doing that.

I honestly don't know what I'd do in my apartment without TV, Internet, PS4, iPhone but... well we're about to find out.

And much like the PS4, don't make the mistake of thinking that I view all of these technologies negatively. All of them have a deliberate purpose.

My weight/body-fat monitor for example. In this world where we continually hear that this generation will be the first to out-live their children, much of this ill-health and premature death is either related to, or at least indicated to by obesity.

Not being fat doesn't guarantee that you're in good health, but being fat more or less guarantees that you're not. And the fact that I've weighed myself for years, and that I know exactly what my weight/fat percentage should be if I'm living a healthy lifestyle, just gives me early warning if I'm going in the wrong direction.

Numbers don't lie, and it's far easier to make some minor tweaks to my lifestyle if I'm 2kg over what I consider optimum, than getting 50kg overweight and then having to overhaul my entire life.

And that's really what this is about; that's why I weigh myself every night.

I know that I should weigh in the 66.5kg to 67kg range, so anytime that I step on the scales and weigh 69kgs, it sets off alarms in my head and I make changes to make sure that I get no higher.

I haven't allowed myself to breach 70kg for years now, and I don't think that'd be the case if I didn't get the cold, hard numbers every night. If I was judging myself by just looking in the mirror, it'd be far easier to trick myself into believing that I wasn't really gaining weight when I was. But no, these scales have a very clear purpose in my life, and play probably a bigger role than I give them credit for, in keeping me healthy.

My sleep analysis app is similar.

I'll be honest that I partly only still use this because they still haven't noticed that for almost a year now, I've been getting the premium version of this app for free. That's more than £50 worth of free sleep analysing. But apart from that, I view sleep above all else in importance to being a healthy person, so it's good for me to see how well I'm sleeping and, similar to weighing myself, make changes when I need to.

I also think being sedentary for prolonged periods is dangerous, and my Apple Watch takes care of that by bleeping at me and telling me to get up if I don't move enough for the first fifty minutes of an hour.

This and more is just for health. My to-do lists don't allow me to forget all sorts of important things from paying my rent, to marking the writings that I have for work, to reminding me of the notifications that I have to make to Thai immigration, to the foods that I've run-out of...

I literally don't forget anything, ever, and it's mostly because a simple note in my 2Do app won't allow me to.

For all of this and a whole lot more, almost every technology that I use has a real purpose. Very little of the time that I spend on my phone is wasted on things like social media. I see my iPhone as a productivity tool, not a social one. And I love that I was lucky enough to be born in this era because... well as I've said in the past, we don't know when civilisation will collapse, but nothing lasts forever. Humans cannot continue to multiply and develop indefinitely, so this might truly be the height of technology.

We can say with a degree of certainty that no humans or other species has ever achieved these technological heights in the past, and no one can see into the future, so this could be the peak of technology, and I love that I was born in this era, of the species and with the means to experience it.

I genuinely think that it's great, but at the same time... fuck all of this technology adds a lot of stress.

People take vacations to escape their reality.

I actually love my reality, so have spent my last couple of vacations wishing that I was in Bangkok, hence why during our weeks off, I tend to stay here far more than many of my peers, who seem to think it sad that I don't travel more.

I think it's sad that they're all so desperate to leave. If you look forward to escaping reality so much, then what does that say about your reality?

But that is the purpose of vacations; to escape reality. But what is the point of that, if you take your reality on vacation with you?

What I'm starting to appreciate, is that in the modern world, reality revolves around technology. People live through their phones. And so if you take a vacation, but you take your phone with you, then you're still going to endure many of the same stresses that you would at home.

You haven't escaped reality at all, you've just gone to a different place, and taken reality with you in your pocket.

I'm realising that for me to change my reality, it doesn't really matter where I am, I've just got to turn everything off. That's what'll make it a vacation, it doesn't matter if I'm sat in my apartment. So I'm actually looking forward to this.

I know that I said in the last blog that I don't know how long I'll last; perhaps only a number of hours. Well I've changed my tune now. I'm determined that I'm going to keep everything powered-off for at least a week.

The first three days, I'll instead use my time to slowly roam Bangkok. The next three I'll be imprisoned in my apartment thanks to Songkran, with no phone, no TV, no video games...

I imagine that time will be spent doing a combination of cooking, meditating, and perhaps reading if I've actually bought any paper books.

And then one more day out of principle, just to complete a full week.

That's going to be my break from reality. I don't need to travel to another country to get it, and I'm probably more excited to do this, than I have been to go on any vacation that I've taken recently.

And despite how much I love my technology, I'm kind of excited to have some time away from it. I guess that's what it's like to have kids.

And then by the time I write the next blog, which obviously won't be next week, I hope to have a renewed perspective on how exactly I should be using all these tools that are available to me.

How much should I be playing my PS4? Should I put any restrictions on it? No more than two hours per day? Or three PS4-free days per week? Something like that.

Do I need my Apple Watch telling me how much I've moved each day? Do I need to time my runs when I take them, or would it be more enjoyable to just go out running technology-free, and be left to guess how far and how fast I've gone?

Do I need to analyse my sleep, or should I just rely on getting to bed as close to sundown as I can to regulate my sleep?

I honestly think that it's impossible to answer questions like this, whilst I use these things everyday. So I'm hoping to gain some perspective from all of this, and maybe I'll come back not wanting to change a thing, who knows?

For now though, I need to get ready for my vacation. In my apartment. Doing nothing.