Every day, each of us gets exactly 1,440 minutes to accomplish our goals. Many of those minutes are taken up by sleep, time at the office, or time with family – but sprinkled throughout the day, interspersed between our daily activities, there are free minutes of discretionary time. For instance, laying in bed in the morning before you get up, waiting for your roommate to get out of the bathroom, waiting on the subway platform, walking to lunch, waiting for a meeting to start, etc.
Like many people, I love this “found time” and I always try to maximize the amount of value I can get out of each of these spare moments. Whether it’s reading emails on my phone or listening to audiobooks, I’m always trying to pack more into my day.
A prime example of found time is my commute from Brooklyn to Manhattan on the subway. Typically when I get on the subway, I start working away on my phone – cramming as much value as I can out of my 30 minute commute. However, I’ve recently found it very interesting to study how others are using their commute time and see how popular commuting activities have shifted over the years.
When I originally moved to New York City in 2007, most people on my morning commute read books or listened to music. Today, people still listen to music, but I see less and less people reading books. Instead of reading, what I see most people doing is playing games on their mobile phones.
After first noticing this trend, my first reaction was, “Gosh, what a waste of time! These people are wasting valuable minutes playing pointless games.” However, after thinking about it more, I do recognize that the brain occasionally needs a mindless escape, something menial to focus on outside of work and personal life that produces feelings of challenge and reward.
Today, popular choices for this kind of escape are games like Solitaire, or Bejeweled, or that one where you navigate a tiny man who’s running through a temple. However, what if there was a game that produced the same “escape” as these other games, but at the same time it added some meaningful value to society.
Let me explain.
In my high school, all of the computers in our math and science department had downloaded a program that used spare computing power to analyze space noise. When the computers were not being used, the program kicked in and started looking for patterns in noise coming from other galaxies.
What if we took the same concept of using spare computing power and applied it to humans? Would it be possible to create a mobile app that let people lend their spare brainpower to something productive for humanity?
And, what if that app also provided the kind of mental escape that my fellow subway commuters crave? There is so much free capacity out there, if only we could find some way to capture it.
I guess the key question is: what can the average person do that helps humanity on their mobile phone in found time?