Cogito ergonomics sum


I think therefore I am – ‘the cogito’ – is Descartes most famous contribution to philosophy. I might doubt everything else; that I am thinking is a certainty.

But thinking – and doing something about it – requires a comparative absence of distraction and ideally a modicum of comfort. And that’s where design comes in.

One of the reasons I’ve written less in the last few weeks is my new shiny iPhone 5. In many ways a splendid device. But more is sometimes less. And I find I can’t write on it.

It’s too big. I can’t reach the top corner ‘action’ buttons. It feels like it’s constantly going to tip over backwards – and tumble and smash into small, beautifully machined Apple pieces.

So I’m back tapping on the iPhone 4 (which I couldn’t give up despite a generous financial offer from a good friend). Fast, fluid, typing is a doddle again.

Ergonomics matter. Hard to think when you’re uncomfortable, hard to write when your hand hurts.

Technology isn’t always getting better. The iPhone 4 is my perfect writing device. Like Hemingway’s Moleskine or Remington’s typewriter, when it comes to writing iPhone 4 is the classic.



Is there a better thing than writing? While I’m not with the 20th century British philosophers who said language is all there is, I am with Aquinas. He’d say that, along with body and soul, language is a defining part of the human experience.

20th century norms made writing a minority sport – one for the professional. The rise of social media in the 21st century means we can all have a go.

I find if I don’t get the chance to write something, the day feels unfulfilled. And if (rarely) I’ve a moment with nothing I have to do, writing – or reading someone else’s writing – is the first thing I want to do.

For twenty years – from university to my 42nd year – I didn’t write anything for my own pleasure at all. Thank goodness for the invention of iPhone as my carry along notebook. I couldn’t be happier than when tapping out a bit of text with my right thumb.


20120114-181217.jpgI’ve been up for a bit of meditation for a while. But I didn’t fancy too much mumbo jumbo so I’ve dithered. I mentioned it to someone who’s origins are in the East and he smiled sagely and commended it. “Everyone should learn to control their mind.” he said. I said I’d try it when I have time. He smiled knowingly and offered “make the time”.

A friend put me onto ‘mindfulness’ before Christmas and suggested a CD. But that left me thinking where can I play a CD in peace in our house? Pondering this – as so often in modern life – I found a solution waiting for me in the Apple App Store: Buddhify.

Buddhify is a nicely designed no-nonsense ‘snack-sized’ introduction to ‘urban meditation’ which certainly works for me. On a train, yesterday, I did a short module designed for travel on ‘clarity’.

The idea, gently and melodiously articulated, was to step back from noises and lights and people and rattles and clunks and view them as a mental ‘firework display’. And one, which with training, you can observe with a certain amount of abstraction.

As the voice-over says, it’s interesting how our consciousness is ‘tugged’ from one thing to another: staccato sunlight shining low through trees, the heater blasting out under my feet, an itch behind my knee, my breathing, a person tapping on a table, the clatter of wheels on rails.

There are lot of mental fireworks going off all the time when you stop to’observe’ them – even when you’re not consciously thinking or doing anything. Little wonder it’s sometimes hard to relax.

But, in a matter of minutes, whether by breathing, watching the fireworks or noting that I live in a body, and noticing which bits of me are tense and which relaxed (I noticed bizarrely that my front teeth were my most relaxed bit once) these little Buddhify routines clear the head and calm the body and mind.

The tricky bit is finding a place and a time where it’s ok to close my eyes! Announcing you’re ‘off to meditate’ sounds a bit yogic. But slipping some iPhone earphones in is neutral enough. Well done Buddhify – a miniature, minor, modern marvel built on centuries old wisdom. Well worth a mindful if you have a smartphone.

Forbidden Fruit

Six months waiting
With bated breath
New iPhones are out
But nowhere has them ‘in’
My mail order racehorse
Lost out to the missus’s high street nag
She got her’s first
Increasing my thirst
One Monday night
The doorbell rings
A son sprinting
Courier grinning
Special delivery
For Dad
iPhone 4
S for special
Apple products
Perfectly wrapped
And me
At last
Perfectly rapt.

Steve Jobs RIP