System Idle Process
Just sit still, close your eyes and stop thinking.
It's hard isn't it? Your brain wants to think and you don't really get a say in the matter...
I always find it interesting to compare computer system to real world systems so that’s what this post is about.
In the world of computing the CPU is often referred to as the 'brain' of the computer. These CPUs are actually quite similar to the human brain in that they need to be doing something. When the machine is powered on there is a constant electrical current flowing through the CPU. It can't just sit there and stop 'thinking', unless the power stops flowing.
If you're a curious computer user and have ever gone digging around under the hood of your operating system you've probably found yourself in the task manager. This is an application that allows the user to view all of the currently open applications (pictured at the top of this post - the Windows Vista task manager).
So if you had Spotify, Google Chrome and MS Word open they would all likely appear at the top of the list.
If, however, you had no applications running you may have seen something called the 'System Idle' process using up most of your CPU.
This process didn't do anything meaningful, it just kept the CPU busy while it waited to do something meaningful. Like maybe play a video of a cat or bombard you with online advertisements.
The important point is that neither the human brain or a CPU can just stop running. If they did then the things they control would also stop running. The technical term for when that happens is 'death'.
The Idle Mind
So the computer has its system idle process, but what does the brain do when it's not actively engaged in some activity?
It thinks. It dwells on the past, speculates about the future and sometimes says crazy things that you would never dream of saying out loud, even in private.
When we're alone most of us will try to distract it. We actively avoid confronting our idle mind. Why not eat something instead? Perhaps watch some TV or flick through Instagram. Read a book or maybe have a full blown conversation with your cat (you do that too right?).
I was thinking about this recently and came to the conclusion that the human version of the system idle process is modern media; in all of its forms. Television, Youtube, reddit and social media. The things that we point our eyes at as we let time just pass us by.
Most of the content we consume doesn't register with us in any meaningful way. Advertisements, pictures, gifs and videos that we forget moments after we find something different to point our eyes at.
In a way this is valuable. It gives our minds some much needed respite. However it's entirely too easy to overindulge. To spend hours consuming meaningless content to no end.
Imagine if the system idle process took over your computer? If you actually needed to get some work done but the computer decided it was going to stay idle for a bit longer. Meanwhile you sit and wait for it to decide it’s ready to be productive again.
This would be an unacceptable trait in a computer, but we do it to ourselves all the time. When the computer needs to be productive the system idle process is kicked to the side and gets back to work.
We can train ourselves to do the same. The brain needs downtime, so don’t be stingy, but do be mindful. As you're watching TV appreciate the fact that you are giving your brain a break. Likewise for social media. Then when it’s time to work put down the phone, turn off the TV, get to work.
Don't get sucked it.
You're the one that calls the shots.
You're the one that's in control.