I recently purchased a piece of writing software for my iPhone and my Mac called Writeroom. In fact, I am writing on it right now. What it does is turn your very sophisticated computer into a 1960s-era dumb terminal, leaving you with just a black screen and your text in green.
It is supposed to promote “full screen distraction-free writing”. The premise is that your computer now contains so many distracting applications and windows that it distracts you, the writer, from writing.
I know it sounds really odd, but once you try it, it is very liberating.
At any one time, the following things scream for your attention: email, instant messaging, Twitter, Facebook and the latest YouTube video of a guy singing a Chinese New Year version of the Lady Gaga song Pokerface.
So you can appreciate the Zen-like feeling when Writeroom takes over. It does not even give you any traditional word processing formatting tools and menus onscreen. The thing does not even have scroll bars.
To complete the experience, I often listen to Korean and Japanese music in my headphones when I write. I don't understand a WORD of what is being sung (they could be singing about a head of cabbage, for all I know), so the language-processing part of my brain does not need to pay attention to it. I used to listen to spoken word podcasts but found I could not concentrate on the words on the screen and the words being said in my headphones at the same time.
I wish I could do the same thing with the rest of my life. I think I will get more things done. For instance, half my office mates are carrying iPhones. With Push Notifications on, every few seconds, you hear someone's iPhone go off, either with an sms, Twitter or Facebook notification, mine included. It wouldn't be as bad if the iPhone allowed us to have more sms alert sound choices but no, we all have the same silly tone.
That is the reason I like sitting in the coffee shop to read my newspapers (note to young people: newspapers are these things made of tree pulp that contain yesterday's news in printed form). I know that sounds very Uncle but it is the least distracting place for me to read. In the home, I would never be left alone to complete my reading.
At the kopitiam, no one bugs you except the occasional query from the very attentive kopi girl from China, asking me if I want another cup of teh-orh ping kosong.
Xiao Mei is so good at her job that she knows what drink I order at which part of the day, and takes it to the table she knows I always sit at, without me even needing to place an order. I prefer her over locals who can't even get my order right, who look like their dog died every day.
And that's how the coffee shop became my Readroom. Now if I can do that without getting the smell of food on my clothes, life would be complete.
Speaking of food and distractions, when the wife and I had our early romantic Valentine's dinner recently, half the time was spent on our phones. I know that sounds unromantic but it was actually a lot of fun and even useful.
I was receiving tweets from followers about the best drinks to try at the place we were at. "Try the Frozen Mango Daiquiri" one tweet said. I found out later that person was in the UK.
My wife, meanwhile, was on WhatsApp, an instant messaging tool, with her girlfriend. She sent us a photo of her dog, my wife sent back a photo of me sucking on a cocktail straw in a stupid pose. It made the two of us laugh.
We spent the evening chatting about the kids, about our day, and entertaining tweets and instant messages from our friends and laughing over the messages. It is an unusual state to be in — it was just the two of us having dinner and drinks, and yet we were sharing our time with the rest of the world. Some were friends, some were strangers at the other end of the world. And it felt totally fine.
After that dinner, I woke up at 5am in the morning to see my 6-year-old son getting ready for school. Since he started Primary One, I no longer saw him before I left for work because his school bus comes at 5.50am in the morning for the one hour ride to school. So I try to see him in the wee hours of the morning because I come home from work way past midnight.
Sitting at the void deck with him at 5.30am is the ultimate distraction-free time a father can have with his son. The sun is not up yet, the air is cool, and you only have the company of crickets. It lets a father and son talk about the things that matter, like what happened at school yesterday, how to deal with the bully who mugged him of ten cents on the first week of school, and whether Ben 10 is more powerful than Optimus Prime.
mrbrown aka Mr Kin Mun LEE is the accidental author of the popular Singapore website, mrbrown.com, and has been documenting the dysfunctional side of Singapore life since 1997.
Affectionately known as the Blogfather of Singapore, his readers follow his writings closely, which these days range from current affairs, his family, and even his trips abroad.
Currently, mrbrown also hosts the mrbrown show (mrbrownshow.com), probably Singapore's best known comedy and satire podcast.
mrbrown is married to Ginny, his long-suffering wife for 12 years, and is father to three lovely kids, Faith, Isaac and Joy.