Clerestory

Dry November: Day 14

November 14, 2019

I spent some of today reading Stand out of our Light, a book about digital distractions which is available here for free here, which is for my book club next week. My Android phone had ground to a halt in recent weeks, so I wasted a bit of today wiping it. I then had to fiddle with it for a while, so in a way, today I too was dealing with digital distractions. But not really of the engineered-addiction type that Williams writes about.

When Williams asks me to reflect on what goals my technologies have, as opposed to my goals, I think of Linux, of vim, of git, of LaTeX, and I wonder what he means — surely their goals are to be good at what they intend to do, and they enable me to do what I’m trying to do. But that’s because they’re open source; there’s no profit motive. I know, of course, that what he’s really talking about is advertising.

It’s undoubtedly a minority position, but the concern about attention feels irrelevant to me. I personally have never felt more focused, nor have I felt less addicted to technology at any point in my life than I do now, even though I still sit at a computer for much of the day, and even though I’m posting here. My use of technology is deliberate and intentional, and though in some sense I fall ever more behind with reading as I discover how much more there is to be read, on so many more topics, I also spend more hours in “deep work” than I ever have before.

Most of this is probably to do with having a purpose, and my luck in being free from work, at least for now. When I worked in offices, I was extremely sensitive to messages, and my mental health suffered from it.

Now I have all notifications off, and leave my phone in “reading” (i.e., black and white) and airplane modes for most of the day. Around 7pm, after I’ve finished the hardest work, I’ll manually check messages and email, unless I’ve had something to coordinate earlier in the day. Some days I don’t get round to checking messages at all, and I seem to miss remarkably little. Sometimes I check Mastodon or certain lists on Twitter, but that only takes a minute to catch up on everything that’s going on, and it’s high quality conversation. Typically I go back to work until 1am or so.

In a way, modern tech is suited to modern work. I’m tempted to say more, but it’s late, I’ve been reading and writing for about twelve hours today, and I had better not.


I'm Bryan Kam. I'm thinking about complexity and selfhood. Please sign up to my newsletter or see more here.