Paul is the founder of Hemingwrite, a “distraction free writing tool with modern technology like a mechanical keyboard, e-paper screen and cloud backups.”
At first glance, the Hemingwrite could be mistaken for an old-school typewriter inlaid with a Kindle display. Despite its “modern technology,” it looks like a 1980s throwback from Radio Shack. Two gaudy dials sit on either side of chunky black plastic and a huge red button — which could easily be mistaken for an ignition switch — turns it on.
The company website calls this esthetic “retro.”
Despite its looks, the Hemingwrite has struck a nerve.
The company quickly surpassed its $250,000 crowdfunding goal on Kickstarter and sold hundreds of units of a machine that hasn’t even been manufactured yet.
At $399 a pop, the Hemingwrite costs much more but does much less than just about every personal technology on the market.
But that, according to the company, is exactly the point.
Less Technology More Productivity
By design, the Hemingwrite has no web browsing, no social media functionality, and no apps. The device promises to “set your thoughts free” by reducing distraction and is for people who have ever said to themselves “I get distracted too easily,” or find it difficult to focus amid all the pings, buzzes, and notifications that come with working on a PC.
Paul tells a tech reporter, “With the Hemingwrite, we burn that bridge. There is no way to get on Facebook, Reddit, or Twitter. You can only write.”
Then comes the snark…
The reporter quickly retorts, “Right, unless you pull your phone out of your pocket.” (Insert Homer Simpson-esque “D’oh!” here.)
Tech Versus Tech
Maybe the Hemingwrite isn’t for everyone. However, it is an example of a new breed of products designed to help us regain control over digital distractions.
To some, the idea of using a dumbed-down distraction free word processor is silly. Why buy an expensive box that does less than a PC?
The answer for many bleary-eyed workers is: because I need to get stuff done.
Jonathan Franzen, the man Time Magazine calls the “Great American Novelist,” uses a distraction free tool to write his masterful works — though his is homemade.
According to a 2010 cover story, “He uses a heavy, obsolete Dell laptop from which he has scoured any trace of hearts and solitaire, down to the level of the operating system. Because Franzen believes you can’t write serious fiction on a computer that’s connected to the Internet, he not only removed the Dell’s wireless card but also permanently blocked its Ethernet port. ‘What you have to do,’ he explains, ‘is you plug in an Ethernet cable with superglue and then you saw off the little head of it.’”
Technology should serve us – we should not serve it. Let’s keep our tech in check by learning how to stop checking our phone at the wrong time:
Latest Tech Trends Designed To End Distractions
Franzen’s methods may seem extreme but desperate times call for desperate measures.
In the battle for attention, the only solution may be periodic forced amputation from the Net.
Franzen is not alone in devising ways to kill distraction.
A software developer named Ned Batchelder published code for an app he created to restrict his use of the very site he posted to. Stack Overflow, a site known to nearly every programmer on the Web, has comment strings related, “How can I keep from getting addicted to Stack Overflow?” The site even has built-in breakers to prevent overuse. According to Stack Overflow co-founder, Jeff Atwood, “The current system is designed to reward continued participation, but not to the point that it creates obsession. Programmers should be out there in the world creating things too.”
Willpower and Avoiding Distractions
The struggle to not do what we ought not to do is nothing new.
Thousands of years before Facebook and YouTube, the ancient Greeks used the word “akrasia” to describe the act of doing one thing when you know you should do another. The term appears several times in the New Testament.
However, what is new about our struggle with distraction today is that we have yet to develop what famed investor Paul Graham calls the “social antibodies” needed to inoculate ourselves from the negative aspects of addictive apps, technologies, and products.
Although personal technology is an indispensable and largely beneficial part of our everyday lives, we haven’t yet worked out the kinks and faults associated with too much of a good thing.
Having written a book on what makes technology habit-forming, I believe products will become harder to resist as companies leverage new ways to keep users coming back.
However, just because I understand how products hook us doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with distraction myself.
In fact, in the words of Richard Bach, “You teach best what you most need to learn.”
Given the growing need, technologies that help people stay focused and improve their productivity so they can do the things they really want to do could be a boon for entrepreneurs and investors.
These technologies could be the social antibodies we’ve been waiting for.
They promise to keep us focused so we can actually get work done instead of mindlessly checking and pecking at our screens.
I’m eagerly awaiting these new technologies that seek to fix the flaws of old technologies. However, like any nascent trend, I anticipate there will be many failures before we’ll see any big successes.
The biggest problem with these technologies is that they don’t exhibit many of the important traits found in products that change behavior for good.
For one, they’re not fun to use.
Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram, among other habit-forming technologies, changed users’ daily routines by being inherently enjoyable. I worry many of the products attempting to keep us focused are things people feel they have to use instead of want to use. Pasting-on cheesy game mechanics like points and badges won’t solve the problem, but my guess is that products that can make focused work easier and more enjoyable will succeed.
To be clear, my doubts aren’t fatal flaws, just challenges I’m sure smart innovators will overcome. Of course, predicting the market potential of this new breed of products is nearly impossible, but over the next few years I expect to see many more companies emerge to help us live and work better by helping us put technology in its place.
Want to learn how you can keep your tech in check? Download my presenation and learn why people check their technology at the wrong times and the simple trick to stop it:
What Do We Call It?
Here’s where I need your help …
- What tools or products do you use to stay focused? Let’s start a list of the best tools and techniques in the comments section below.
- There still isn’t a name for this industry – yet! Here are some of my ideas: concentration technology, attention tools, anti-distraction devices, focus tech. I’m sure you can do better. What do you think we should call it?
Leave an idea in the comments section below.