Aris Silzars Display Technology Consulting



No Time to Think…

A few days ago, I was out for a run on a scenic tree-lined trail that meanders along the shore of Lake Sammamish.  It’s a wonderful place to enjoy nature’s solitude with views of the lake, native vegetation, and Mt. Rainier off in the distance – and, yes, intermixed there are also houses and driveways.  However, for a densely populated suburban area this is about as good as it can get.   As one might expect, others also take advantage of this idyllic setting.

On this particular day, the first person I encountered was a young woman with a very small baby in a sling that was across her chest and around the back of her neck.  The baby appeared to be quite comfortable in this tiny customized hammock.  In addition to the baby, in one hand she was holding a leash attached to a dog – a friendly and energetic golden retriever.  The baby and the dog seemed like about all one should try to handle while out for a walk.  But no – in her other hand she was holding a cell phone to her ear while busily carrying on a conversation.  To me this seemed like multi-tasking taken to the extreme – walking for exercise, while tending a baby, while also walking the dog, while talking on the phone.  Could anything else have been added?   So much for “stopping to smell the flowers”. 

Let’s consider another setting.  I’m sitting on an airplane at the end of a full day of business activity followed by the flight back to Seattle.  As the airplane touches down and exits the runway, there is an instant reaction from many of my fellow passengers.  Without even a moment’s hesitation they have already activated their communication devices and are frantically reviewing the latest text and voice messages.  Clearly, the world will not survive for many more minutes if these messages don’t receive an immediate reply.  And once the airplane is parked at the gate, it matters not that the objective should be to -- as efficiently as possible -- retrieve bags and go home.  But apparently, this must be done while holding a cell phone with one shoulder to an ear, struggling to retrieve an oversized suitcase from the overhead bin, and continuing an evidently un-interruptible conversation. 

In September 1997, I wrote a column about tiny projection displays that were being designed into eyewear.  The expectation at that time was that perhaps we would all be wearing these eyeglass-like head-mounted displays as a way to interact with electronically accessed information.  The title of my column was “Bump… Oh, Excuse Me, Thump… Whoops… Crash!…”  I’m sure you can understand from this title the concept I was trying to convey.  When walking down a busy street or crossing at an intersection, it may not be the wisest choice to become immersed reading a text message or searching the web.   Well, the eyeglass mini-projectors did not come about quite as expected, but the iPhone and other handheld communication devices did.  Recently, I had to grab a colleague by his sleeve as he was about to wander into fast-moving traffic on a busy downtown street.  He was, of course, trying to send a text message while we were walking back to his office from lunch.

Finally, I will mention a recent study done with high-school students that concluded that there is an addictive behavior created by the need for instant and continuous communications.  There is an expectation among this generation that a delayed response of even a few hours to a text message is a sign of lack of interest and is even likely to be considered rude.  So the pressure is perpetuated for a never-ending stream of electronic messages.  Real human interaction has been replaced with multiple electronic versions.

Have we unleashed behaviors over which we have lost control and that may not be all that good for us?  What about having some time to just think and contemplate?  Is it possible to be creative with all this electronic noise around us?  How many people do you see out for a walk or in any other setting without some kind of electronic device not connected to their ears or between their thumbs?  Are we no longer able to let our minds just contemplate our place in this world where we happen to find ourselves? 

Next time you are heading out for a walk, a run, or a bike ride, try leaving the electronics at home and see what happens.  At first, it may be a bit scary but who knows what great new ideas you may come up with.  At the very least you will have some time to appreciate nature’s blessings.

Should you wish to discuss the great new display technology you conceived on your recent electronics-free walk, you may reach me directly from this site, by e-mail at, or by telephone at 425-898-9117.