Tangible interface

May 27, 2022

I recently bought a voice recorder and unexpectedly discovered that I do dream fairly often.

I was going to test the image streaming technique which supposedly improves your visualisation skills through describing internal imagery. (h/t @DRMacIver for pointing me to it in the newsletter.) Every writeup I've read claimed that it is not sufficient to just speak out loud - you have to be speaking to someone, or, if nobody is available, to a voice recorder. So I bought one.

I woke up in the middle of the night, groggy and still halfway in the dream. I remembered that I left the voice recorder by the bedside, so I grabbed it and recorded what I remembered of my dream. Then promptly I fell asleep again. Eventually, the number of recordings made me realise that I was wrong when I thought I never dreamed.

So why did a voice recorder make a difference?

Typical advice for dream recording says that you should write them down, but I was never able to keep it up as a habit. I had to turn on the light, which was too bright and hurt my eyes; by the time my vision adjusted, I would be fully awake - no going back to sleep - and I would most likely have forgotten most of the dream. I can actually write without looking at the page, so I can write in the dark, but it still requires being reasonably awake.

I spent a long time hesitating about buying a voice recorder because I told myself that I could always the voice recorder app on the phone - and since I didn't use the phone, there was no point spending money on another gadget. Well, it turns out that I could, but I didn't use it, because the ergonomics sucked, and a separate voice recorder worked like a charm.

You see, it's impossible to find a voice recorder on the phone without looking at it. There's the problem of bright light again, but also of context switching.

Have you ever entered a room and wondered, "what was I doing, again?" Well, opening the phone has the same effect for me. It's not the notifications—I have all the worst offenders turned off. Still, having to find the right icon in a sea of other icons requires too much focus at a time when I barely have enough motor coordination.

So in the end, the big advantages of a dedicated voice recorder consist of two big "power" and "record" buttons that I can easily distinguish by touch in darkness, and the fact that it only does one thing, so there's no way for me to get distracted.

Practical conclusions

  • if you're struggling with making habits stick, identify and remove unpleasant bits from the habit loops
  • trying to find something on your phone is like walking into a badly organised room, a cognitive load and a focus killer
  • tangible interface that stays in the same place trumps virtual interface that moves around all the time for mental accessibility and habit forming
  • buy a voice recorder
Tags: productivity grok