Designers talk of judiciously using whitespace to improve the clarity with which a design conveys information. Similarly a sommelier will recommend wine has time after opening — but prior to drinking — to allow the flavours to develop. This is the pause; the space in-between. It allows all manner of things to flourish.
We experience pauses every day. Two minutes on the platform waiting for a train. Five minutes in a bar awaiting a friend to arrive. The ten minutes it takes to walk to the shops. This is our space in-between.
With a connected device always close at hand for more and more of us (often in the form of a mobile phone), we are increasingly finding ways to fill this time. Google’s report The New Multi-screen World from August 2012 introduces the concept of found time:
Multiple screens make us feel more efficient because we can act spontaneously and get a sense of accomplishment — this results in a feeling of ‘found time’
Two minutes allows us push a thought to Facebook or Twitter, and respond to the commentary of others. Five minutes is enough time to catch up on the news headlines or to read a blog post. Ten minutes gives us the chance to resume listening to an episode of a favourite podcast.
Productivity and the associated feeling of achievement is on the rise as a result of this found time! This is positive, isn’t it?
Internet-induced information overload is well documented. Spending a few minutes catching up with our mental to-do list now not only allows us to get more done, it eases the cognitive burden of trying to remember to do so many things later.
… and yet …
When there is nothing else to do, our space in-between enforces a period of reflection — be it as trivial as taking a moment to decide what to have for dinner, or taking the opportunity to make grander plans. Found time is all about sating a voracious appetite for information. In this haste to consume more, our use of found time is edging out the time spent chewing over the things we’ve heard and read and said; the time spent reasoning and forming opinions; the time spent making connections. In-between time is where ideas are born. It is where ideas develop and flourish.
Found time is disrupting our relationship with information, and this disruption will only accelerate. Embrace it. Seek balance. Do we need to use found time to keep up? Yes. Should we consciously take time to disconnect and reflect regularly? Absolutely. It is necessary to avoid falling into the trap of robotically broadcasting others’ opinions.
The next time you reach for your phone — pause. It might lead somewhere exciting.