The screen in front of me is a plain black slate with bright green letters popping into existence as i run my fingers along the keyboard. My mouse sits aimlessly besides my computer and the gigantic touch pad of the Macbook pro sobs gently as it has been deprived of strokes and taps for too long. My digital experience takes me through an ocean of utter simplicity as toolbars, pop ups, right clicks, tabs and what have you just do not exist in this realm. This epihany of simplicity that lets me focus on converting my thoughts to the web.. is called the command line. Instead of burning through processer cycles or bandwith blocks using higly advanced web 2.0 tools.. I’m just using a simple text editor. It is quite ironic, that in a time where our communications grid is lighting up like a virtual Christmas tree, where multitasking, social-web interaction, Virtual machines, Multiple desktops and tabbed browsing rule.. I grasp back to the total and utter simplicity of computing.. Using tools compatible with a 386 computer.
The one awesome power this approach has is that it gives me solitude. It gives me the peace to focus, to sit down and to type out my thoughts without interruptions. I’ve been finding it harder and harder in these hectic days to find my own "mare Tranquilatis" (sea of tranquility) where i can slow down and let my creative urges take over. The reason for that is not only the hectic lifestyle I (and many among us) live, but also the overflow of well … "overflow". What I mean by that is that, being part of a digital community, one CONSTANTLY gets bombarded with new information. RSS feeds, Chatrooms, email, pop-ups, tweets, Facebook messages ..
Connecting myself up to the net and "plugging in" to my digital grid is great (that is, for the most part, where I live online) yet upon doing so it seems that my attention span AND productivity are shredded into a million little pieces. With a busy daytime job and some "projects" for friends ( read : please mr Knightwise, Fix my computer) its hard enough to find the time to sit down behind the sceen and do some "creative stuff". Whenever I "plug in" the flow of information and interaction just overwhelms me. I see a massive shift in the way I compute when I compare it to a few years ago. It used to be about gathering as much information as possible, communicating as effeciently as possible. being as "digital as you could be" . But that has changed.
Because there is just too much out there. You’ve all been there, squandering an entire evening behind your computer away without having the feigntest idea of "what you did". Having your attention (and your time) divided up into a million little pieces (website here, chatwindow there, rss feed over there etc) It results in spending hours online, your attention divided between 20 different conversations and following up links in Tweets. There are plenty of distractions to keep you entertained.
How about the digital attention shredder nr1 : Twitter. Links, conversations, replies, a slew of unfocused information that nags and gnaws at your curiousity and sends you of clicking and surfing away in 50 different directions. Where twitter can sometimes be a nice source of information, it mostly is a slew of nonsence and half-conversations as you can only see replies of people you follow. Facebook is kinda the same deal. Never mind the stupid games, how about those pesky pictures of your friends that send you snooping through their lives ? Without noticing you spend a few minutes flipping through the digital photobook of some user.. and then the next "update" of one of your friends comes in .. and it starts all over again.
And then i’m not even counting the IM clients that ping and pong. The conversation in the chatroom you are trying to follow, your RSS reader stating that you have 193898 unread headers to get through.. Whoever gets even the slightest sliver of blogging or writing done in THIS mayhem must also be capable to build a house of cards during an earthquake.
And i’m only talking about the constant "attention distortion effect" that some of these services result in. The other annoying (and more destructive factor) of things like Twitter and Facebook is what i call "content deflation". Say you have something to say, or you have a rant, or a good link. Usually i would jump behind my word processor and write up a nice post. Why bother.. you can just post a "micro blogging" post on twitter, or blab about it on Facebook. The "good idea" you have for an article is instantly killed of because "tweeting" about is just too darn easy and quick. Your "incentive" to blog gets deflated and buried under the 4000 layers of information that come next. Blogging in this day and age can be compared to writing a book in a busy train station. A train station where everybody passing by is talking to you, bringing you idea"s and asking you "whats up ? ".. Good luck with chapter one JK ROwling !
So i’m trying to work out a schedule where I give mysellf the time (and the tools) to "go dark" and focus on what I want to say. Not only for the blogging part, but also for my other digital activities. Using the command line ( logging into my Linux server over SSH) has been a lot of help. Having one application open per "screen" instead of several windows at the same time, helps me focus on what i’m doing. The clutter free interface is great for sitting down and writing an email without being distracted by "whatever is on the next tab".
I know what you are going to say: "Focus is about dicipline." And that is true. But this "fragmentation" of both attention and inspiration is something that is a result of the ever growing flow of information. And we have to find a way to deal with this. When I look at my "analog" social life (or meatspace) I see that I have sufficiently "firewalled" my interaction-flows to give me some hind of a private life. (turning off my cellphone etc etc). So it is obvious I should do the same for the (ever growing) digital part of my life.
The time has come where we need to find the ZEN in our digital life where we "go dark" and focus on whatever WE want to do. Write a post ,create a podcast, read an article .. Its all about teaching yoursellf to focus on the task at hand AND letting technology help you to achieve this. Is going back to the command line a step back ? Is typing up a blogpost in a text editor that is based on a 20 year old program a form of regression ? I don’t know. But .. you’re reading this post .. So it means it worked :