When we’re waiting in line, sitting at home with a half-hour to kill, or stuck eating a meal by ourselves, it’s likely that we turn to the more mindless entertainment in our phones, rather than engage the life around us. Our phones are cluttered with Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc., and that clutter tends to debilitate us instead of stimulate us. We so often fill the free moments of our lives with apps that numb our minds or even worse, separate us from the engaging world around us. Instead of downloading the new flappy bird or mindlessly scrolling through your Facebook page, I encourage you to stimulate your mind through these alternative apps and activities.
1) Delete the apps that encourage you to waste your time. When I deleted Facebook off my phone, I was struck with a sudden realization that I had an infinite amount of time at my fingertips. I won’t lie; initially, I was struck with a sudden pang of fear when I couldn’t see each “like” as it happened and couldn’t see which Disney character my aunt was the most like or where my roommate was eating lunch. As you may have guessed, the fear went away and quickly turned into freedom.
2) Look through the free magazines available on “Newstand” and find what appeals to you. Did you know that when you download the New York Times to your “Newstand,” you get ten free articles a month? I’ve read about Oscar predictions, how to fall in love with anyone, and international adoption, and get immediate updates on my phone with breaking news. This reading material not only stimulates me, but it gives me something to talk about with my friends and family. There are only so many times I can ask “How are you?” and get a different answer, but when I came home to my roommate and asked, “Do you think it’s possible to fall in love by just asking and answering these 36 questions?” we stayed up talking for hours. There are plenty of options besides the New York Times, of course. You can also look through The Economist, your go-to for international news and business, Snap, an innovative magazine about what’s driving our creative culture, WebMD, a publication centered around how to improve your health, and many, many more.
3) Learn a new language with Duolingo. I wouldn’t suggest this app to use while you walk down the street, unless you’re comfortable saying “Je suis un garcon” five times as you walk by yourself, but this app really Duolingo is a free language app that offers lessons in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Irish, Danish, and Swedish. I feel smarter just typing all of those options. The app starts you with beginning lessons and carries you through a series of vocabulary categories, such as food, family, etc. It doesn’t stop there, however. It carries you through more advanced conversational and writing skills—and it really is all free! I’ve been studying French with Duolingo for almost a year now. I used it extensively before I left for a trip to Paris, and it’s the only reason why I got any of my food delivered to me with a smile.
4) Read a free iBook or a free Kindle book. As a Literature major, I make it my goal to always have a physical book with me wherever I go. If I’m being honest with you, it’s much more likely that I remember to bring my phone with me, and that’s why iBook is so great. iBook and Kindle offer so many free classical and contemporary books. In my current iBook shelf, I have Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, James Barrie’s classic Peter Pan, and even Sigmund Freud’s Dream Psychology—all for free! It’s amazing what the limits of “free” will force you to engage and fall in love with—the first three pages of Peter Pan made me cry. Kindle offers wonderful reads as well, such as Charles Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities, Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Maybe you only get through a few pages a day, but I can bet that those few pages challenged you more than the hundred Twitter posts that you can’t remember the content of.
5) Journal. I don’t care if it’s in your phone’s “Notes” or an empty notebook that you never used in high school, write down your thoughts. Before I left for Europe, I wrote one looming note in my iPhone that asked, “What do you want from life?” Throughout my trip, I wrote different answers to it that helped me consider what I wanted to apply for when I got home. Now, in my physical journal, I explore the same question every day by writing down short poems, quotes from friends or strangers, and questions that I don’t think I’m ready to answer. Who am I? What do I want to become? What am I passionate about? What do I want to see change in my world? Some days the answers might be as simple as “I am a daughter,” or “I want to be happy.” Other days, they might be the answer that brings newfound meaning to your life. Never doubt the power of your thoughts; engage them by writing them down.
6) Look up. My sixth and final way that you can engage the life around you is to simply look up and see it. How many times have you sat through a catch-up dinner with your closest friends and realized that you were talking to the crown of their heads? More importantly, how many times have you been the crown head that your friends are talking to? As a waitress with a bird’s eye view, I see this often. Once, I approached a couple who was sitting on the same side of a booth together, one with his eyes engaged in Twitter and the other with her hands frivolously pinning hair-cut styles. Without looking up at me or each other, they said, “Large nachos. Two cokes.” This instance wouldn’t be nearly as sad if I didn’t realize that the outings with my friends tend to look the same. The same questions that you start asking yourself in your journal are the exact questions that you should also be asking your closest friends and family. Who are you? What do you want to become? What are you passionate about? What do you want to see change in our world? The answers may surprise you, stimulate you, and fuel a stronger connection than you thought was possible.
I do not encourage you to disconnect your phones and live in the woods to regain meaning in your life. Instead, I urge you to find the meaning in your life that may already be there: to look up what’s happening in your world, to discover your capacity to learn a new language, to read ancient words that are still relevant today, to engage your mind through your own writing, and to engage those around you. These are six simple steps that I have no doubt will change how you see the world, yourself, and each other.