Cory Doctorow says it when he’s talking about e-books: It’s hard to read anything long form on a computer screen, not necessarily because it bugs our eyes, but because computers demand that you use them as computers and not as books. They’re there for reading, yes, but also for e-mail, games, Web browsing, writing, chatting, video watching, sound editing, music making, music listening, and on
It’s hard to do any single thing on a computer, because all the while the device is dangling the opportunity to do something else in front of your eyes.
This is why, when I need to buckle down and get moving on a stalled piece, I print out the materials that I need, walk to the other side of the building, and hole up in an empty office. Within a half an hour of being unplugged I’ve gotten my act together.
…there’s an inherent problem with always being online: you’re too connected. You wind up in the role of passive observer. Things come to you. You react instead of act. You can easily spend too much time “marking things as read,” reading RSS feeds, watching YouTube clips, or whatever else.
When you go offline, that equation changes. You have to be active. Since you can’t input, you output. If you don’t do something, nothing happens.
Worst of all, this onslaught is keeping us from doing the one thing that makes most of us the happiest… being in flow. Flow requires a depth of thinking and a focus of attention that all that context-switching prevents. Flow requires a challenging use of our knowledge and skills, and that’s quite different from mindless tasks we can multitask (eating and watching tv, etc.) Flow means we need a certain amount of time to load our knowledge and skills into our brain RAM. And the more big or small interruptions we have, the less likely we are to ever get there.
And not only are we stopping ourselves from ever getting in flow, we’re stopping ourselves from ever getting really good at something. From becoming experts. The brain scientists now tell us that becoming an expert is not a matter of being a prodigy, it’s a matter of being able to focus.
Being offline. Focusing. Simplifying. And you know, today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent: the season in which we adopt spiritual disciplines that help us focus as we prepare for Easter.
It’s a small step toward cutting through all of the noise in my life, but I think I’m going to begin Lent by deleting all of my RSS feeds and starting from scratch.