Well, I broke the "fast" yesterday. It turns out that I didn't really miss anything on Facebook or the Apple II google groups I follow. I could probably get away with checking in on them once every two or three weeks and not miss much. A huge number of tweets had scrolled by in Twitter, but when I checked some of my favorite accounts, again, I hadn't missed much. Just the usual outrage and snark.
I don't know if it was significant, but as I was browsing Facebook, I began to have a headache. It went away after Facebook did. Coincidence? Probably, but I thought it was interesting.
Looked up the items I had made notes to check on. John Tierney, co-author of the Willpower book, is the John Tierney who used to do Tierney Labs for for the NY Times. He's a libertarian, and so his ideological point of view is present and a distraction, especially when it's just wrong. Baumeister doesn't seem to be particularly ideological.
I made folders for other data I was gathering for a couple of projects I hope to work on, and exported the "reader" view from Safari to PDFs for the pages I was interested in keeping. So I have some material to work with without returning to the web.
Added a few blogs to Reeder, the MacOS RSS app I have running. I'm not sure if that's the "best" one, but it's one that I have right now. I didn't go overboard, because I'm not sure how that's going to fit in this conception of how to "consume" the web. I suspect it's going to play a significant role, but I don't want to simply replace one source of distraction with another.
With Twitter, I suspect the attraction is "feeling" as though one is participating in a large conversation. Truthfully, most of my tweets, like my blog, vanish into the ether with no trace of any larger effect. The feeling is just that, a feeling; the rest of it is an illusion. I could probably drop Twitter, and probably should. Most of the "nodes" that seem to get a lot of interaction also get a lot of trolls, so what's the upside? Attention, I guess. If you're in the attention market, I suppose Twitter is potentially worthwhile. Most of us aren't, and probably shouldn't be.
So, for now, I'm thinking I'll be regarding the web as a kind of public library that I'll visit once a week, with intention. Previously, I'd been regarding it, unconsciously perhaps, as a source of diversion, or entertainment, and it works far too well as that.The trap is that you have the impression you're staying informed about something, that you're not just "zoning out," but it's really just distraction.
I've got to finish packing and head to the airport. Just wanted to check in here and try to maintain this practice.
Well, I should be drawing some insights from this experience. I'm definitely feeling something. I don't know if it's "fear of missing out," or that I'm lacking my minimum daily adult requirement of snark and cynicism, but I'm definitely feeling out of sorts. I launched and immediately quit Safari a bunch of times yesterday. So far, I've maintained my resolve, but it's definitely affecting me.
I decided that reading the NY Times on the app didn't violate the fast, but it did make it harder. I saw that Harlan Ellison had died, and my first reaction was to tweet something about it. Same thing with a couple of other articles I read, I wanted to "share" them, with some pithy commentary. I suppose it says something that I can only recall the Ellison obit, not the articles I wanted to tweet.
I remembered I had an RSS app on my iPhone, so I found that and checked it. It had a bunch of news sites on it, like Ars Technica, Wired and so on. I decided that they would be too much like the rabbit hole, after looking at Ars. I had subscribed to a couple of blogs as well, The Online Photographer and Dr. Drang. I had read Dr. Drang's latest post because he had tweeted it before I started the fast; but I hadn't read The Online Photographer in some time, so I did catch up with his posts (while avoiding clicking the links).
Whether my experience may be typical, or if I'm a bit of an outlier because I'm retired and have much more time on my hands, and spend too much of it on the web, I can't say. I suspect it's at least partly the latter, but I also think that most people undertaking a similar "fast" would probably find it a somewhat uncomfortable experience.
It was hard to focus on other activities, and I didn't make any more progress on Willpower, but I did read a couple of essays in John Gray's Heresies. I think I've found my true "soul brother," (Well, besides Heraclitus.) if I may be forgiven for a minor act of cultural appropriation. I'm not familiar with his writing, but it's very resonant to me. He believes our notions of "progress" are little more than articles of faith, not grounded in anything provable. That we've sublimated the Christian notion of salvation through Christ to the salvific power of science and technology. Gray seems favorably disposed to the cyclic view of history, that events don't inexorably tend toward "progress." I suppose the jury is still out, if one takes the long view; but I don't think there is a "long view" left to this civilization.
I tried to watch a movie last night, but found myself oppressed by the tyranny of choice. I settled for an episode of Nova about last year's hurricane season. I believe it was The Coming of the Superstorms or something like that. It was nothing new to me, and I don't care for the delivery of Nova's narrator, it's a bit too "breathless" for me, but it was a well produced documentary and I recommend it to anyone who may be interested in what the future holds.
As uncomfortable as this experience has become, I think it has been very worthwhile. I have recovered significant amounts of time formerly "lost" chasing links. The discomfort I'm experiencing suggests strongly that there is something of an addictive quality to web, which is perhaps intensified by social media. I can't say that I've truly been deprived of anything by remaining off the web, so it seems clear that there is more to be gained than lost by rationing my time there. There were several moments when I reached for my phone to "look something up," but I checked the impulse and again, I can't say I was in any way really diminished by it.
I think, for now, I'm going to continue to restrict my use of the web. Tomorrow, I'll subscribe to a few blogs that I enjoy. There are a few specific topics I want to look into, and some people I'd like to catch up with on Twitter.
The remaining challenge will be to find enjoyable, productive things to do with the time I've recovered. That shouldn't be too difficult. The stack of books is still here. I'm writing more in this space. I have a number of Apple II projects in various stages of incompletion. What will be necessary, though, will be for this feeling of unease, or desire, or whatever it is, to be extinguished. I'm confident that it will, with time; but until then, it makes it difficult to focus.