As a child of the Oregon Trail generation, I thoroughly enjoyed all of the pop culture and nerd references throughout the novel and could certainly relate to the main character Wade Watts, an overweight awkward teenager who loves 80’s pop culture and escapes a crappy existence by spending most of his time in virtual worlds.
It had me thinking deeply about how technology is creeping into every aspect of our lives, in both good ways and bad.
We can’t not check our email every 3 seconds. We can’t stop watching Netflix. We can’t stop scrolling through photos on Instagram. We can’t sit through a conversation with a person in front of us without habitually checking our phone every time it buzzes.
And then we all wonder why we are too busy, distracted, unhealthy, unhappy, and can’t get our shit together.
These days, it’s becoming more and more commonplace to use technology for convenience and quick bouts of entertainment and happiness to shield us from the reality that there are parts of our lives or our health we’re unhappy with.
In Ready Player One, we get a very plausible look into a dystopian future where those societal trends have continued: technology gets better and more convenient, and people spend more and more time escaping into more exciting virtual lives online.
And society has nearly collapsed as a result.
Although this book is partly a cautionary tale about where we’re heading if we don’t change our behavior, it’s also a charming Hero’s Journey, deep fried in neon-tinted nostalgia, that I couldn’t put down.
Today I want to quickly discuss the pitfalls of technology and then share my 10 favorite ways to use technology to get ourselves to actually do the stuff that matters every day.
Why Ready Player One Matters?
Don’t get me wrong, I love technology.
Technology has allowed me to create Nerd Fitness and deliver this article to you. It’s changed my life decidedly for the better and made literally everything easier.
The problem comes when technology gets TOO damn good. Video games are getting TOO well designed and addicting. TV shows and the delivery of those shows is so well done that you can lose an entire Saturday to 10 episodes in a row of Stranger Things before you realize it. Social media can be TOO pervasive, causing us to cast aside real life friendships and deep conversation in instead spend our time virtually – and superficially – connecting with people.
We trade likes and thumbs up in this unwritten but very real economy of fluffing each other’s egos.
If you’ve read any of the recent studies on this stuff, you know that social media is actually making us unhappier and more anxious, and yet we can’t get ourselves to stop seeking “just another hit.”
It’s getting easier and easier to say “one more level” or “I’ll just check Instagram quickly” and 10-15 minutes of your life is lost in a black hole of junk-food style entertainment.
And this causes us to forgo what is ACTUALLY important in our lives: Eating healthy. Exercising regularly. Practicing self-care. Getting enough sleep. Connecting with people in real life.
Which brings me back to Ready Player One.
If you haven’t read the book or don’t plan on seeing the movie, allow me to quickly explain the premise:
The year is 2045, and technology has advanced dramatically while the rest of society has devolved. Our main character Wade Watts is an overweight, awkward high school senior with little money to his name.
Every day, Wade puts on a virtual reality headset to plug into The OASIS, a MMOSG (massively multiplayer online simulation game) – think Second Life or World of Warcraft on steroids. OASIS has become so successful that its something pretty much everybody on the planet now uses.
In the OASIS, Wade attends school, hangs out with friends, and gets to create this alternate life for himself. Depending on how much in-game currency you have, you can visit various worlds, level up your character by completing quests, and make a life for yourself.
For most people, life in the OASIS kicks the crap out of their miserable real life, which means they use this second life as an escape from the harsh reality. And the more time they spend in game, the more they neglect their real-life health happiness, which further perpetuates a negative downward spiral.
10 Ways to Make Technology Work For You
I don’t believe technology is inherently good or bad.
It’s a tool that can be used to improve or harm our lives. Oftentimes, a little bit is good, a lot is detrimental.
Inspired by Ready Player One, I wanted to go through some ways I’ve implemented technological hurdles in my life to actually make my life LESS convenient. I’m using it to keep me from devolving too far down rabbit holes of gaming, Netflix, and instead just do the damn things I need to do every day to make my life better.
Here are my favorite examples:
1) I WANT TO EXERCISE MORE AND WATCH LESS NETFLIX:
Although we can’t do EXACTLY what Wade did in Ready Player One, we can emulate it pretty closely. For example, give your spouse/friend/roommate/coworker your login credentials to Netflix/Hulu/whatever. Have them change the password and not tell you.
Only after you do the thing you’ve agreed to do that day (send them a photo of you at the gym) will they give you the password.
2) I CAN’T GET MYSELF TO GO TO THE GYM ENOUGH:
Do temptation bundling. Download your favorite audiobook or your favorite shows on Netflix. ONLY allow yourself to watch/listen to these while you’re walking on a treadmill at the gym or exercising.
How to do this? Download the shows to your iPad. Next time you to go to gym, ask the general manager to set the password on your iPad so that he’s the only one that can unlock it. If you want to watch the show, they’ll have to let you in!
3) I WANT TO SPEND LESS TIME ON SOCIAL MEDIA:
I know there’s a big movement to #deleteFacebook right now, but we use Facebook to connect with members of the community and our products and services. But I know everytime I go to Facebook for work reasons, I end up scrolling through my newsfeed for 10-15 min and I get VERY little out of it.
So I use tech to my advantage. In addition to deleting social media off my phone, I turned off my newsfeed. If you use Google Chrome, install newsfeed eradicator. Now my time spent on Facebook is minimal, the distraction is gone, and I can still connect with people when it fits my life. This is what I see when I sign into Facebook:
BORING. I might as well get back to work!
My friend Sol has given his facebook password to his girlfriend and makes sure he isn’t logged in on any of his computers. So he only uses it when it fits into his schedule. There’s no compulsive checking during the day.
4) I CAN’T GET MYSELF TO PLAY FEWER VIDEO GAMES:
Be your own parent! I have installed parental controls on my Nintendo Switch and PS4. It locks the system during certain hours, or I can limit myself to playing only during a certain number of hours. When you’re in the right mindset, install these controls and have somebody else set your passwords so you can’t just turn it off.
Stop relying on willpower – these games are too damn good. I’m currently hooked on Assassin’s Creed: Origins and the struggle is real. I imagine if I even took one hit of Fortnite I’d be mainlining battle royales all the way to rehab by next Tuesday.
5) I WANT TO WAKE UP EARLIER:
Hat tip to my friend Thomas Frank on this one. Schedule a really embarrassing tweet/photo to publish 5 min after you need to wake up, and put your phone across the room. You have to wake up, walk across the room, and stop the scheduled tweet from sending. WAYYYY more effective than an alarm clock you can just snooze!
6) I WANT TO STOP EATING FAST FOOD:
Leave your ATM debit card at home, and only bring a credit card with you to work, preferably one that you share with your spouse. Have them receive an email notification for every time the card is used. And if it is used at a fast food restaurant, they’ll donate $50 you gave them to a cause you hate.
7) I CAN’T GET MY KIDS TO DO THEIR CHORES:
Be like this awesome mom:
8) I WANT TO MOVE MORE EVERY DAY:
Get yourself a cheap fitbit (I have a Flex 2 and LOVE it for sleep tracking purposes, but also interesting to see my step count). Take somebody you trust, and friend them on Fitbit’s platform. Then, agree to an amount of steps you need to take every day before you can watch TV, play video games, etc. If you don’t reach said steps before you slack off for the day, they will post a super embarrassing photo that you’ve sent them on social media.
9) I WANT TO COOK HEALTHIER MEALS:
Throw all of the junk food out of your house. Instead of using Amazon Prime to just deliver you useless crap you don’t need, have it set to auto-deliver you fresh groceries or meal kits regularly. Use technology and convenience to your advantage and make the most convenient option the healthiest one. Once you eliminate fast food, junk food, and crap you don’t need to buy, you can increase your food budget to compensate for the increased of convenience here.
You can also set up a mission with friends where you have to batch cook your meals on Sunday (how to batch cook here). If you don’t cook your meals on Sunday, no Netflix that week (your friend would have the password), and vice versa. Diabolical. Effective.
10) I LOOK AT MY DAMN PHONE TOO MUCH:
Change your phone to greyscale. Suddenly everything is way less vibrant and fun and the phone starts to lose its appeal. Turn on parental controls on your phone, have somebody else set your parental lock password, and delete all unnecessary apps from your phone – email, social media, YouTube, etc. Tough to get distracted by a device that doesn’t have anything fun to do on it, right?
Use Technology to Change Your Default Behavior
We’re creatures of habit, and products of our environment. If we’re not intentional with our time, our default behavior becomes:
- Netflix and ice cream after work instead of hitting the gym.
- Gaming late into the night instead of getting quality sleep.
- Fast food instead of taking the time to batch-cook our meals for the week.
When we don’t take control, we give that control subconsciously to what’s most convenient. And technology will gladly take that control from you, because every company’s stock price and profit margin depend on it.
These are companies with tens of thousands of employees, scientists, psychologists, and billions of dollars of research at their disposal and their only goal is to get more of your attention/time/focus/money.
Sure, you can lament the fact that you don’t have enough willpower or motivation or whatever to avoid all of these temptations to do the boring, challenging activity that will dramatically improve your life in the long term.
You can EITHER:
- Beat yourself up for what you THINK you should be doing but can’t.
- Accept that this is reality, and that you need to stop relying on yourself and instead start relying on systems.
I mean this in a good way, but I gave up on myself a long time ago, and it was the best decision I ever made. Because games and social media and TV are too enjoyable! So I don’t even give myself the option to get tempted by this stuff by using technology to my benefit.
So have some fun with this! There’s no reason you can’t combine good natured but effective ‘consequences’ to help you build the habit of getting healthy until that virtuous cycle of “holy crap I love how this makes me feel, I’m hooked on feeling good” kicks in.
Be more like Wade Watts and build systems in your life and use the Matrix to your advantage.
Which tech hack is your favorite for getting you to make healthier decisions daily?
Do you have a strategy that you’ve put in place to level up your own life?
Share them in the comments below and help your fellow nerds out!
And then go read/see Ready Player One
SPECIAL THANKS TO NERD FITNESS AND STEVE KAMB FOR SHARING THEIR INSIGHTS WITH US!
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