Cultivating Inputs


• Ridgewood, NY

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic I’ve been thinking about the inputs to our lives—in other words, how our environment shapes us. This has been on my mind a lot because most of my communication with others has moved online, and because I recently moved to an apartment of my own in New York City, where I have more control over my surroundings.

As humans, we respond to all sorts of stimuli. Some stimuli are good for our well-being and others aren’t. Everyday, we respond to these stimuli and incorporate them into our memories. Therefore, to become better people, we should be mindful of the stimuli in our lives, in order to challenge ourselves and grow.

Because of this, I’ve been trying to trim that fat, so to speak, of what inputs I allow into my life. Currently, most of these inputs happen to be mediated through technology. For example, I deleted my Facebook and Instagram accounts, and replaced my smartphone’s alarm clock functionality with an old iPod Touch that won’t distract me when I wake up. If I were still meeting people in person, I might also choose to spend more time with the people I respect and want to learn from, and less time with the people that would lead me to bad habits.

In thinking carefully about my environment, I’ve also realized that my living space is also important. Furthermore, I’ve realized that certain habits are easier to achieve if we just reduce the friction it takes to perform them. For example, I place a facemask on my front doorknob to remember to put on when I leave home. I also keep a full flask of water by my plants to encourage me to water them.

The thing is, multifunctional technology integrates poorly into this framework. I suspect this is especially true for people with conditions that potentially implicate executive function, like autism or ADHD. Smartphones don’t neatly fit into our physical environments because they do too many things, and tend to be distracting. In fact, many services like Facebook are explicitly designed to maximize the time spent on them.

All in all, I think it’s important to figure out how to cultivate good inputs in our lives. Part of this is reconsidering how to we use technology, because it has become a major component of day-to-day life.