‘In the Industrial Age, Thomas Edison famously said, “I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent.” In the Internet Age, more and more companies live by the mantra “create an obsession, then exploit it.”‘
– Bill Davidow, The Atlantic.
Hi! Thanks for reading this massively unscheduled interruption in your day.
I bet it’s not the only one.
Take that pointless argument you got into on Facebook.
That e-mail thread you were copied into that never, ever, ever seemed to end, I mean do these people have a life?
That video of clips from all the battles in ‘Game Of Thrones’ because OMG it’s back on Sunday oh, right, this has to be done by 3pm, I’d better focus.
Let’s face it: strangers like me on the internet are getting really, really good at deciding how and where you spend your time.
Take this blog post: did you really choose to come here?
What is this pseudo-philosophical crap, your brain screams, of course I chose. But if you sat down this morning and decided, really decided, what to do with every part of your day, would you really be here, reading this? Or was it just another intriguing interruption you couldn’t resist, in a day pretty much defined by them? (“The interruptnet”.)
Anyway, you are here. And I’m part of the problem you’re having.
Thanks, and also Sorry.
If I may, I’d like to remain part of the problem for a few minutes, so I can explain what the problem is doing to us, and how we can make different choices.
First, here are three things you can already feel:
- Multitasking is utterly destroying your ability to choose. (That’s a link. Sorry. More distraction. At least it’ll open in another window, so you can keep reading this right now if you choose to.)
- Your attention span makes the average goldfish look like Noam Chomsky. Oh Jesus. Just Google him. Speaking of which…
- Google isn’t ruining your memory – but it’s certainly rewiring it, and nobody knows how.
Whatever. Science and numbers, TL;DR.
Are you feeling tired of articles like these, filled with Science Facts that hammer home how much you suck at being useful and effective? That’s productivity advice overwhelm, a common complaint of the modern internet user. It’s part of what traps us in this state of brain-stunned relinquished responsibility.
Our self-worth is being held in a head-lock by the super-smart advice of others.
(It’s not their fault, but it’s often the result.)
So we do this:
There’s too much to do/learn/achieve. Fuck it. I’ll just go for the easiest thing available.
Maybe, like me, you like video games. Maybe, like most young men, you find videogames far more appealing than ‘levelling up’ your own life. That’s understandable. Videogames are easy, they’re logical, and they give a sense of steady progression through life that’s really hard to beat.
(A fact not lost on the writer of this brilliant article.)
The Scottish writer Iain Banks was addicted to Civilization II. He found it was making far too many choices on his behalf about what he should be doing with his time. It was stopping him writing books.
So between book drafts, he deleted it from his hard-drive.
Iain Banks is no longer writing books. He died of cancer in 2013. Sometimes you can’t do much about the choices that are made for you. Sometimes “choice” seems like the wrong word entirely.
Oh please, said Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl:
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Yeah, okay, but how? How can we choose anything, when every day is such an impenetrable fog of potential actions and distractions, where we’re completely free to do anything so we end up doing nothing?
(And by “nothing” I mean Clash of Clans.)
To be able to choose properly, maybe we need to listen to ourselves harder – better known as “actually thinking for a change.“
When was the last time you had the opportunity to think?
It doesn’t happen naturally to us these days. We need to make the time to do it. I’m big on travel and outdoorsy things, so I’d say something like, try going for a long walk (especially a meander), or sleeping outside without a tent, or just turning your phone off for a while, like we should all be able to do without losing our goddamn minds.
Anything that wakes the body up but gives nothing for the brain to do, sparking lots of introspection and deep thinking.
(Still too jittery or foggy-headed? Maybe it’s the crap you’re shoving into your stomach. Worth considering. Also, coffee shops are great places for coming up with new ideas – or maybe you need to be completely on your own for a while.)
So perhaps you don’t have to be constantly interrupted all the time like this. Maybe if you really knew what your thoughts were, nothing could ever disturb them.
Maybe you just need to hear them.
You know – the little thoughts on things too small to matter to anyone else (“actually, I really hate this shirt. Wow,”) and the big ones that have been far too big to think about when you’re constantly being interrupted, the ones that change everything.
Wouldn’t it be nice to hear them all?
OK. How about tomorrow morning?
Set your alarm so you can get up an hour early. Go for a walk, find something comfortable and vaguely clean to sit on – and sit, and think…
…until well damn, there you are. Hi. Where have you been?
Oh, you know, around. What shall we talk about today?
How about that?
Your choice, obviously.
Images: Pixabay, Mike Sowden