The Good I Don't Do

Does anyone else occasionally finding themselves staring at the home screen on their phone with some vague sense that there's an app there, somewhere, that might provide the next useful distraction? It makes me feel like a zombie when I find myself doing it. It's a mindless, thoughtless action (or inaction). It's that lie that our phones offer more value than what's around us. I guess that could very occasionally be true, but rarely. But it's the easy thing to do. Check emails or Instagram rather than greet a neighbor or interact with our family.

I love the capabilities of my phone. It’s ability as a camera and photo editor. As a book or full library. As a global map and podcast player. But boy can it be distracting.

I'm also coming around to thinking that click bait is one of the most damaging online phenomenons around. You start with something vaguely useful, maybe a YouTube tutorial or worthwhile Facebook post (if there is such a thing). Then you’re immediately bombarded with useless nonsense. Promises of some great insight or ‘not to be missed’ entertainment or how amazed you’ll be if you only watched this next thing. It's so easy and tempting to fall for it, which also then encourages the creators to do more of the same rather than make something useful or genuinely entertaining. Most of the major news stations do it too, the sensationalist or cryptic headline without much real story behind it.

I don’t use Facebook much but still get caught in the occasional video rabbit hole. I’ve told YouTube to ignore a whole bunch of channels. I’ve switched off the main news feed on my phone. But there’s still the temptation to seek it out.

In the first century A.D., the apostle Paul talked about something like this in a letter to the church in Rome: "I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway." (Romans 7:18‭-‬19, NLT)

I guess Paul wasn’t talking about cat videos but I don’t think he was just talking about doing horrendously evil stuff either. If there’s something good and positive we know we could be doing, any other choice is probably the wrong one. We have this inclination, a tendency to do avoid doing the right things, the best things, the things that matter most. And we do the easy things, the comfortable things, the safe things.

It’s partly ‘the resistance’, as Steven Pressfield calls it in The War Of Art. And it usually applies to the stuff that’s of real benefit to us. For a musician, the initial resistance might be in whether to pick up her instrument each day. The struggle for enthusiasm to practice again and again. Then there’s the resistance to doing worthwhile practice, the temptation to stay with what’s comfortable, what we can already do well. A musician playing their favorite songs. A photographer using their usual techniques that they know can get results rather than trying something new.

Sure, sometimes we need to just relax a little. But sometimes it’s remarkably easy to break the resistance too with a little effort. For me that might be as simple as picking up a camera (and leaving it out of it's bag, ready to go, helps this significantly). Maybe I’ll go out, maybe I won’t, but at least I’ll be learning, trying, looking for what's visually interesting to me, exercising those creative muscles, and just maybe making something worthwhile.


Headshot, portrait, street and documentary photographer in NYC and Jersey City

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