I’m doing it! I’m doing it right this moment! Stop it, Christina! Focus!
Let’s rewind. I sat down at my computer this morning to write this blogpost, but first I had to gather the links that I’d like to reference for the blogpost. One of the links was from Austin Kleon, which I had to find in the archives of his newsletter. First of all, to get there, I had to go to his Twitter page, and scroll a bit and click on a few links. Then I went to his newsletter. I found the link I was looking for pretty easily. “Bliss Station” was #1 on the top of a list of weekly 10 (which are in themselves not 10 links but 10 topics, many of which contain multiple links), but could I close the tab immediately? No. I’ve trained myself to quickly skim the rest of the list. What if there’s something interesting or related? Of course there’s something interesting (of course nothing’s relevant for this blogpost). Before I know it, there are 8 more tabs open on my computer, and the potential start of that many more internet rabbitholes. Besides articles, there is a particularly dangerous link to Instagram beckoning. Plus, the Twitter tab’s still open and would start giving me (51) notifications if I weren’t blissfully (but rarely) logged out.
But let’s rewind. I didn’t have to start with the links; I could start with the writing. I could have started writing this blogpost in WordPress and filled in the links when I needed them. Or I might have written a whole first draft without opening a single link.
I mean, I woke up this morning and cleaned up this old laptop for this specific purpose. This white MacBook is from 2009, hums like an old refrigerator, and will not operate unless plugged in. If I have too many tabs open, it protests audibly and slows down enormously. I realized this morning that it’d be perfect for writing in the mornings…if I could keep it tab-free and logged-out and single-use-only.
Let’s rewind. This week, I’ve felt anxious and tired and not productive. My intuition says it has to do with too much screen time, too many rabbitholes, too much Twitter and YouTube and Instagram, and not enough focused writing time, not enough blank space for doing my work. I resonated with Austin Kleon’s post about creating and protecting a personal Bliss Station, which is simply a sacred where or a when in which you can incubate ideas and create creations outside of the demands of other people or of the Internet. This made me want to actively ignore my phone and my inbox for the first half of the day, even if that makes me a bad friend and girlfriend. After all, my favorite days are the days when I wake up writing, when I reach for pen and paper while still in bed, when the ideas can’t bother with distraction.
Let’s rewind. Last week, I was considering a low-information diet but hadn’t figured out how to reconcile my multiple uses of Twitter as news source, connection channel, entertainment engine, and procrastination station all rolled up in one. I had watched a video by Derek Muller about the “Distraction Economy,” and he mentions going on a low-information diet so that he could focus more on his work and more on the information of his local circle gleaned from real-life conversations.
This feels especially valuable in the crazy coverage of our United States presidential election season, amidst an era where news has turned into 24-hour sensationalism. There was another article on Slate that I had bookmarked wherein Mary Elizabeth Williams talks about how limiting her exposure to the news (even as a working journalist) was an active step in self-care. Both Mary and Derek acknowledge the argument which requires us to be plugged in and attuned to the world’s information in order to be engaged citizens, but both push back on that.
Let’s rewind. I was at a cabin with friends in Northern California a few weeks ago, and Katie mentioned that she had seen an article on Facebook about how we aren’t built to take in and understand and know what’s going on in the whole entire world, which made her feel better about wanting to sometimes disengage from the news cycles, from Facebook. The cabin is in the mountains north of Chico, next to a babbling creek of snowmelt, surrounded by trees and birdsong. I’ve gone up, during summertime, 4 or 5 different years, a few days or a week at a time if I’m lucky. After the conversation, I didn’t look up the article; I never looked it up afterward, but I agree with its general premise.
Let’s rewind. The cabin got internet access two years ago. I still try to unplug every time I’m up there.
I have TMobile, which has spotty service outside of major cities. Sometimes I half-heartedly complain about it. But secretly, I love it. When I go on a roadtrip, the minute I’m out of the Bay Area, I voluntarily switch my phone to airplane mode to “conserve battery power.” If I’m on vacation in another city, I tend to ignore my inbox and sometimes even my social media feeds.
It’s like releasing a breath I haven’t known I’ve been holding.
I always hate coming back into range. I’ll check all my things, but usually there is nothing of import. Usually I haven’t missed anything. Usually I still yearn for the quiet of the mountains.
Which is really just a quiet of the mind.
Let’s rewind. I didn’t have to start my day on this old laptop, or any computer for that matter. I could have drafted this blogpost on paper, with pen. I could have drafted this blogpost in my mind, during a bikeride or a climb. I could have drafted this blogpost out loud, on an audio recorder. I could have drafted this blogpost as a conversation, with my neighbor in the garden.
Kim Boekbinder writes on her blog about the “Single-Use Object” and how she’s a different writer on her laptop, in a notebook, and on her typewriter.
She wants to be all she can be, every Kim there is.
I decided not to put any of the links into the blogpost itself. I normally pride myself on the profusion of links in my newsletters and blogposts, but I am starting to reconsider it. In submitting my interview for Drop Leaf Press, I included a lot of links as I normally would, but the editor decided to leave most of them out because she said that she finds too many links distracting when reading a piece.
Upon greater reflection, my tendency to create links that are both topical (e.g. the article name includes a link to that article) and unexpectedly tangential (e.g. the word “memory” might be linked to an old photo) inadvertently embeds a “Dark Pattern” random reward system into my writing. If you are anything like me, you click along the way while you are reading, opening up new tabs, ever on the hunt for elusive new rabbitholes, never caught up in your reading, never done.
I don’t know how to make this more intentional on the part of the reader…both when I am the reader and also when I am the writer writing for a reader. I do believe some rabbitholes are fruitful. I am a designer trained in a synthesis process which allows me to connect disparate data points and to make sense of a mass of information. As an artist, I have a(n untested) belief that some of my best ideas come from allowing seemingly unrelated topics to coalesce into something unexpected and insightful. But there are very, very blurry lines between internet research, artistic wandering for inspiration, procrastination, and addictive patterns of media consumption which are built into the media we consume.
So this is just one experiment in terms of links. I will put them below; if you want to read more about that particular rabbithole, feel free to dive in, intentionally, of your own volition. (Maybe a better experiment would be to not include any of these links. If you actually want to know, you can Google it, and maybe that active act of looking something up is enough activation energy to ensure that you really are being intentional about something instead of following dark patterns. But I’m too weak for that right now; my ego is tied up in providing you with these sources, in pointing you in the direction of some awesome creators…maybe that’s part of the problem…)
- If you are interested in creating your own Bliss Station, read Austin Kleon’s experience here. (Suggestion: Don’t subscribe to his newsletter.)
- If you are considering a low-information diet, hear and watch Veritasium’s thoughts about the topic here. (Suggestion: Turn off YouTube’s autoplay.)
- If you feel guilty about disengaging for the news cycle but suspect it might be good for your sanity, read Mary Elizabeth Warren’s take for Slate. (Suggestion: Resist clicking anything else on the same page.)
- If you are considering incorporating more single-use objects into your daily routines, read Kim Boekbinder’s experiences here. (Suggestion: Stop here.)