Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher

Off is the New Killer App

When was the last time you spent fifteen minutes alone with your thoughts?

Smartphones and tablets are amazing devices. In under a decade we’ve gone from the novelty of checking email on a Blackberry to a world where they hardly leave sight. Pew Research noted in 2010 that 65% of adults slept with their phone on their bed. We check our social streams before we pour coffee in the morning. We’re tweeting from the bathroom, texting while driving, checking-in at restaurants and browsing the web from church. The era of always -on connectivity has helped us learn more, entertain more, and grow our careers. Still, I often wonder if Shakespeare was on to something, all those years ago: Too much of a good thing, you know.

modern venice

To think, or not to think?

One of the challenges of the always-on era is understanding its impact on our ability to think. Consider the following: When was the last time you sat alone, with just your own thoughts. No television, iPod or smartphone feeding content into your brain. Do you remember what it was like? It might be hard simply to remember the last time it happened. Going “off the grid” has become the modern equivalent of seeing a unicorn.

I can only speak for myself, when I say that it’s increasingly hard to carve time out to think on my own. The temptation to “google everything” during dinner conversations, the fidgety-feeling that I need to be doing something, saying something, showing off, when I’m sitting in a coffee shop, seems to grow every day. Even when I’m pointedly taking a break – a vacation, a day with my camera, or writing in my journal – I feel the tempting pull of my media device.

Thank goodness there’s a new killer app

It’s called Off. You’ve probably heard of it. It’s been around for a while. Remarkably, it’s already built into everything.  Off has been included, free of charge, on most of the devices vying for your mind-time. You don’t need to watch a video tutorial to take advantage of Off. But you do need to practice.

You might find it disconcerting

The first time you use Off can be a little difficult. Going from all that input to mostly silence can be jarring. I didn’t realize how much of my time was spent listening to other people’s thoughts, rather than thinking on my own, until I decided to practice using Off every day.

Here’s a challenge: Try using Off for fifteen minutes a day. You might scoff, but I bet you can’t do it the first time, for the full fifteen minutes.

I try to use Off first thing in the morning. That’s when my brain has the greatest chance of retaining its own voice, just after some sleep. I’ve found that the more I do it, the better my thoughts have become lately. I’m friends again with someone very special: that voice that used to be the only one in my head.

Remarkably, Off works wonders for your productivity, too. Recently, I was struggling to write an opening parable for a speech. After outlining it, I found myself at the keyboard, multiple browser tabs open, searching stories, jokes, quotes and phrases from everyone else’s thoughts. But I needed a solution that was mine. I don’t want my work to just be a copy of someone else’s original effort. Meanwhile, someone I didn’t know on Twitter was demanding my response, and Facebook told me someone’s pet needed my attention, too. For some reason, after two days at it, I still handn’t written my opening story.

Suddenly, I remembered Off, and clicked it.

This time, I sustained Off for twenty-seven minutes. A record, really, considering I have a video screen in every room of my house. But what I discovered was….

(sorry…. I’m back. my smartphone just screamed at me that I have an appointment in fifteen minutes…)

… what I discovered was that whenever I practice thinking by myself, I get stuff done. Me, myself, and a cup of coffee, just letting my mind do its job. Creating ideas, solving problems, seeing connections, and discovering opportunities. Considering my brain was designed to do this more than forty thousand years ago, it’s probably the oldest app I really own. I think I should use it more.

You should try Off from time to time, too. You’ll be amazed at what you can still do: Review the events of the past day, imagine what you’ll do with your time today, and generate ideas for reaching your goals. Even just reliving a wonderful moment from your past. Think of all the times you’ve had a great idea pop in to your head when you’re in the shower. Now, do it on purpose, by activating Off on a regular basis.

Every week I’m asked by people all around the world: What’s the next great technology, marketplace or tool, to help them reach their goals? Where will this market/society/industry go? What can we do to innovate/lead/capture the future? Big questions, seeking big answers. Funny how we’ve come to expect some 99-cent application to give us the answers. Especially since we have the most powerful application of all time right there in our heads.

So use technology to do the research, find data, and have discussions with people who matter. But when it comes to generating the answers you need to reach your goals, try the most killer app of all time:


So you can turn on your mind.


  • So true Matthew. What a great reminder that sometimes when we disconnect from other sources of inspiration, we can reconnect with our own self. I’m hoping to do that more this year, especially on the golf course. There is a special pocket in my golf bag for my mobile phone but I’m think it might be even better if I just leave it in my car before I tee off.

  • Hi Sean! Let me tell you what I do when I go out with my camera. I leave my smart phone in the car. It’s not far if I really need it, but it’s turned off and in the glove box. This leaves me free to look around and see opportunities, and when I get out of the car there’s no temptation to be distracted for that period. I think you should try the same thing when you go golf. You deserve it.

  • Nicole Beauchamp

    This is a great reminder. More and more I find myself intentionally leaving the phone behind for a walk,or just turning off the cellular connection (so I can still carry my soundtrack). I used to have an app (or two) that I used when writing to shut off the distractions,now the app is rarely used. The vast majority of “notifications” are off, my phone only makes a sound when it rings,no pavolvian reactions to these sounds. Silence,solutide for a little bit of time,everyday. At least that’s my aim most days….

  • Matthew, I just left a message for an agent and got her VM saying, “Hi, I am going to be in and out of the office today and on appointments, so I will only be able to return calls between 1-1:30,” or something like that. Looks like she knows about the app OFF

  • Read your article this morning with my cell phone OFF. Very difficult to do! As a result, I had time to reflect on yesterday’s seminar your brought to the Central Coast of California at The Cliffs. I now have an outline for my office meeting tomorrow. I will be sharing your segment on using videos, UTube, Social Media showing a lifestyle that is entertaining and not boring. Be creative and give the consumer a reason to pick up the phone and call us. Thank you!

  • Twila:

    That’s great! I am so glad you took this message to heart and tried it. Yes, it’s hard!! This morning I went for a walk with my camera, and just let the morning “sink in” before hitting my email and writing for clients. I think your plan for tomorrow’s meeting is great. Go for it. If it helps, these blogs could be something you print (or videos you show) for that meeting:

    Good luck!
    – Matthew

  • Brett Duffy

    I’m going to take your advice right now…as soon as I share this on fb…lol