Setting Up Sonic Environment for Productive Writing

All you need is a headphone.

Stephen King once said that you should close your door and your mind and don’t let anyone in. This door can be imaginary. And many writers have suggested similar feats, advising that having a specialize corner, table set up, a consistent time of the day, or an opening routine can help set up the right mood and mindset. The whole point is to eliminate distractions and stay focus. But with internet n our hand, our world is pretty much open 24/7.

The space can be humble … and it really needs only one thing: A door you are willing to shut. The closed door is your way of telling the world that you mean business. Stephen King

Setting up your phone and/or laptop on Airplane Mode is, to me, the simplest and most impactful way to regain the control back from our devices.

But when your mind is running around like a 2 year old, put your headset on and turn on this calming water sound. At least for me, I’ve found this works. There are good varieties of natural aural sounds you can find on YouTube, from this calming forest sounds to truly hypnotic wind sounds. Some may prefer minimal bird songs, others prefer the crackles of fireplace over bubbly water sounds or haunting snow storm music. It may take a while to find the right one, but of course don’t let it paralyze your primary mission.

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How to Practice English from Podcasts

A thank you note to Krista Tippett’s On Being

I was one of the few lucky Indonesians who had the chance to study in the USA, to be immersed in English in and out of school and to have their life transformed by this powerful and unifying language.

All of us international students gleefully absorbed this language into our tongue and practiced it proudly in our daily life like a badge of honor. Slowly but surely English made its way deep into the minutes of our life that we even began to speak English to our fellow Indonesian friends, so spontaneously, fluently, and confidently. It’s a common case. Whether it’s a chat on Messenger, a meet up at the bar, or a social gathering at a coffee shop, more often than not, English would become the primary language. (And there should be a legit ethnographic research on what encourages this happening!)

So we walked our daily lives with English words sliding out from the tongue and then we went home only to find our own language is slightly…dull.

It’s a startling realization that you either deny to understand or you embrace it entirely by immersing yourself deeper in English language. But it’s not a rare scenario that many of us eventually get much better and more comfortable writing in English than in our own language.

There are many reasons for this happening; from the fact that its proper use is never enforced in public life, or that our national language isn’t deeply rooted in our history thus forgoing the cultural attachment to it, to the fact that as a nation we are not big literature readers. Or it could just be a pride thing.

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When your phone is stranded alone on an island…


“We design everything on the assumption that people are not heartless or stupid but marvellously capable, given the chance, each and every one.” – John Chris Jones

When your phone is stranded alone on an island, what would it do?

Imagine if your phone is a breathing being with minds, likes, and dislikes.

The deserted lonely island has no Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. It doesn’t have Google, so the phone can’t check its email, see the calendar, or quickly chat with someone.

It can, however, take pictures, record videos, record sounds, or sketch or write something if the apps are ready. But it won’t be able to share it with anyone.

At night, when the boredom starts to slip in, the phone will start to rewatch all the videos, reread the writing, …and perhaps taking more pictures. Good thing if it has editors and it’ll be able to edit videos or retouch photos.

But what’s next?

The phone gets bored, drained, and lifeless.

If I ask you, can you mention three things you do on your phone most often that’s unrelated to connecting with other people? Mine would be writing, reading, and listening to music (and recording sounds, sometimes).

These habits and relationship with my phone formed almost naturally to me. I used to read magazine a lot and now I’m reading blogs. I write often, so my Writers app is on the home screen. The last one is easy. But eventually, my phone becomes an extension of myself; a way for me to outstretch my arms to the world and further.

Even though our phones, the smartphone generation, are capable to connect us to our friends, strangers, and the world in millions exciting ways, none of these ‘meet-new-strangers’ or ‘get-latest-updates-from-friends’ are seductive enough for me. The social media is like a fully packed street where everyone is honking for attention. Having a smartphone, for awhile, is like purchasing a 1-year ticket to a museum, but never gone. I have all these access and abilities to get in touch with the world, but in the end, I love it best when it’s on airplane mode.

And having that boundaries and personalized relationship with my phone puts me more in control over it.

With our penchant for adventure, lust to be the one to know first, and thirst for knowledge, the phone is the only thing between us and the world. But phone remains simply and primarily a pacifier.

Few lines in the chatroom, instagram, hearts, hearts, hearts, Facebook, likes, comment, share.

Watch, see, digest, ingest; take, take, take.

Blurts of dry, silent laughs, while our mind is busy mingling with thousands other thoughts from one app to another.

Even then, the phone has curated the most well-suited experience for us. And whether or not we are enjoying its creation, we are addicted to it.

This reflects what John Chris Jones, the author of The Internet and Everyone, called the “people-dependant technology.”

instead of designing everything (and particularly computer software) on the assumption that ‘people are going to behave like machines’ — that is, without feeling, love, hatred, anticipation, intuition, imagination, etc. (the very qualities we think of when we ask what it is to be human) — we design everything on the assumption that people are not heartless or stupid but marvellously capable, given the chance, each and every one. I’d like to see machines, systems, environments of all kinds, made such that if they are to work well everyone who uses or inhabits them is challenged to act at her or his best and that there are no built-in obstacles to doing that.

Jones envisioned technology that challenged us. And from what I understand, technology at the moment is the technology of easy and comfort.

So what happens when your phone gets stranded in an island, without internet connection, would it be able to survive happily?

The Light Phone. Photo taken from The Light Phone’s Kickstarter page.

I wish for a phone that’s just as rich offline as online. I wish for a phone that is even more personal, understanding, and empathetic to our aspirations when it’s on airplane mode (and perhaps one day we can name airplane mode as ‘productive mode’ or ‘creative mode’). I wish for unlimited, unrestricted access to podcasts while offline. And apps that are enriching to our interests.

In the end, how we treat the phone reflects how we treat ourselves. How we use our phones reflect how we use our time. And as a customer, we are central in pushing and challenging the technology further in a more creative path.

In the meantime, I’m still waiting for modular phones. Or phones that are more ergonomic. Or writing apps that can read my mind. Or nice and sleek recording apps where I can immediately see the sound waves separately. Or check this out: The Light Phone, a credit card size ‘phone’.

Yeah. Don’t tell me they aren’t possible.

Learn more about Joe Hollier, creator of The Light Phone.