Inside The Box
2:37 pm
Thu July 31, 2014

The Buckle Of The ProcrastiNation Belt

If underwater crustaceans were superheroes, the mantis shrimp would most certainly be one. Mantis shrimp 

  live in shallow tropical and sub-tropical waters. They are only 6–12 inches in length, but pack a powerful punch. The two raptorial appendages on the front of the mantis shrimp’s body can accelerate with the speed of a bullet fired from a .22 caliber rifle. In less than three-thousandths of a second, the mantis shrimp can strike its prey with 1,500 Newtons of force—roughly the equivalent of getting hit by a 300-pound brick.

If you or I could accelerate our arms at even a tenth of what the mantis shrimp is capable of, we’d be able to throw a baseball into orbit. And if the mantis shrimp’s prey is not within striking distance, their punch is so forceful that it causes the sea around them to boil and collapse in a shockwave that kills its prey.

Yeah, the mantis shrimp is a total BAMF. 

Technology is a double-edged sword: we can either use it as an effective tool to cut through the jungle of daily tasks we need to complete or we can fall on its sword of procrastination.

Additionally, mantis shrimp have 16 different color-receptive cones to see with. Humans only have three. All the brilliant colors you see are derived from the green, blue, and red color-receptive cones in your eye. Mantis shrimp see a world of color more than five times brilliant and detailed than you and I. We are essentially color-blind weaklings compared to the mantis shrimp.

What does all of this have to do with technology? Absolutely nothing. It’s what I’ve ended up reading about for the past hour rather than writing this month’s column, which was about something really important that I don’t even recall now that I’ve learned about the amazing capabilities of the mantis shrimp.

I really should get back to writing that column, but hey, wait a sec, I just got a Facebook notification that someone commented on one of my earlier posts so I’m back on Facebook now where my shallow resolve to keep writing has been swept away and drowned in the deep stream of infoporn on my Facebook newsfeed.

My column is already late (again) and if it were not for the facts that my editor is the most patient and kindest editor in the world and that I’m a volunteer, I’d most certainly have been fired many years ago. She sends me gentle reminders that are sometimes accompanied by funny but pointed quotes like this one by the writer Douglas Adams that she sent to me last month: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing sound they make as they go by.”

Whoosh!

Why do we procrastinate and is all of this technology we have at our disposal now enabling us to procrastinate?

For answers to that, I direct my web browser away from Facebook and to Google, which is where I go to find answers to everything from “What’s the weather going to be like tomorrow?” to “Can I get syphilis from a public toilet seat?” (Turns out you can’t, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Phew!)

One of the leading researchers in the study of procrastination is Dr. Joseph Ferrari of DePaul University. Dr. Ferrari has no relation to the Italian luxury sports car manufacturer as far as I know. It would be kind of cool if he did, but I’m resisting the urge to dive into finding that out.

“Everyone procrastinates but not everyone is a procrastinator,” Dr. Ferrari said in a published interview with the American Psychological Association entitled “Psychology of Procrastination: Why People Put Off Important Tasks Until the Last Minute”.

The word “procrastination” comes from the Latin procrastinatus, which literally means “forward tomorrow”. When we put off until tomorrow what we could (and probably should) get done today, we’re engaging in procrastination.

In one of his many nationwide studies of procrastination, Dr. Ferrari found that about 20 percent of Americans are “chronic procrastinators,” that is, procrastination isn’t something they do every once in a while; rather, they delay pretty much everything they need to do until tomorrow then tomorrow and then tomorrow again.

“They delay at home, work, school and in relationships. These 20 percent make procrastination their way of life,” Dr. Ferrari said.

Dr. Ferrari has spent years studying procrastination across the nation. “We found chronic procrastination rates higher in the Northwest—northern California, Washington, Oregon—than in other areas of the country.”

That’s right my fellow citizens of the State of Jefferson: we live smack dab in the buckle of the ProcrastiNation Belt. But before we throw in the productivity towel and legalize marijuana like our neighbors to the north, and before we hotbox our dreams of getting stuff done up into vapid smoke, let’s hear what Dr. Ferrari has to say about the role of technology in procrastination.

“We hear that technology today makes it easier to procrastinate,” he said. “Today’s technology can help us not procrastinate if we use it wisely. We don’t have to surf the Web for hours on irrelevant tasks...Use technology as a tool, not as a means of delay.”

That’s simple and sound advice. Technology is a double-edged sword: we can
either use it as an effective tool to cut through the jungle of daily tasks we need to complete or we can fall on its sword of procrastination. The choice is ours. The fault is not in our technology or in our stars.

Maybe the time I wasted procrastinating and learning about the mantis shrimp wasn’t wasted at all now that I’ve come full circle here. My superhero Mantis Shrimp doesn’t procrastinate. He sees what he wants to achieve (in awesome LSD-laced Technicolor nonetheless) and immediately acts on that. Now I look at my task list like Mantis Shrimp looks upon his prey and strike it hard and fast with all the force I can muster, attempting to overcome the ever-present gravity of procrastination and hit a homerun out into orbit today.

Scott Dewing is a technologist, teacher, and writer. He lives and procrastinates with his family on a low-tech farm in the State of Jefferson. Archives of his columns and other postings can be found on his blog at: blog.insidethebox.org