Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Shallows

As far back as 2013 I noted how my reading was being impacted by the fact that I was doing most of it via the Kindle app on an iPad.
"[T]he difference between reading on the iPad and reading a regular book is that on the Apple product, the distraction machine is built right in. Reading a history book and encounter something that tickles your hindbrain? Wikipedia is a button press and screen touch away! And while you're in there, better check your Facebook and Twitter, and see if anybody's posted in that forum thread you replied to, and your email account just chimed, and... where were we? Oh, yeah... page three. Still."
In and of itself, ebook technology is a marvel; your whole library in your pocket!

But avoiding the distraction machine is hard. Worse, the distraction machine itself alters the way you think.

When your job requires extended focus, especially on a creative task, for hours at a stretch, tearing your mind away every fifteen minutes to chime in on a Twitter conversation or answer an email can really put a stick in the spokes. Marko threw his hands up and punched out of social media pretty much altogether. I don't blame him at all.

Unlike Marko, FB is still my primary means of communication with rather a few far-flung friends. (Twitter was never a problem for me, because I use it as a repository of throwaway one-liners and don't keep a feed open all day.)

I tend not to have really strong reactions to people being dumb on the internet; if they're annoying enough I just block them. But I definitely noticed the corrosive effect on my focus and concentration. How do I keep up with those friends and not see myself reduced to a rat obsessively checking Facebook for that latest food pellet reward?

A couple days ago I decided that there'd be no social media from 9-5, and when I hit the bed every night, it's just books and no Bookface. I've done pretty good so far. I was weak at lunch on Tuesday and spent five minutes looking at FB before shaming myself into closing it.

It's kinda like quitting smoking in some ways, in that there are a lot of linked behaviors. Sit on the toilet and out comes the smartphone; "My thumb was headed for the icon all by itself" is the digital "I had the lighter out and the cigarette halfway to my lips".

In that time I've written more, including more of the multi-paragraph blog posts of the sort I used to write. I've read an entire novel for fun in the last two days, something I hadn't done in eons. (Master and God by Lindsey Davis. Highly recommend.)

If this holds up, it should do wonders for productivity, which in turn should help with the endless funk in which I've found myself mired. I can still jump in for a quick FB discussion in the evenings or in the morning over coffee, and the people who need to get in touch with me during the day know how to do that.

I'll let y'all know how this experiment goes...