Edit: I’ve set up a new website/blog to cover this topic: Blackspotting.com.
I’m sat in my Mum’s kitchen, looking out over the Cotswolds. I grew up around here. It’s beautiful, and reminds me of why I love getting out running, biking and walking in the countryside. Something I do criminally rarely these days.
I’m also wondering why I’m on my laptop when I could be out there.
I read Charlie Brooker’s excellent piece the other day about Google Instant, and how it’s probably indicative of our dwindling attention spans as we suffer our daily digital onslaughts. These distractions, combined with procrastination, are a guarantee that nothing gets done, he writes:
“I entered the room at 10.30am. Because I was interested in the phone-hacking story, I’d set up an automatic Twitter search for the term “Coulson” (eavesdropping, essentially: he’d hate it). Whenever someone mentioned his name, a window would pop up in the corner of my screen to alert me. Often their messages included a link to a webpage, which I’d end up skim-reading. This was on top of the other usual web distractions: emails, messageboards, self-deluding “research” on Wikipedia, and so on.
By 1pm I’d written precisely three lines of script. Yet my fingers had scarcely left the keyboard. My brain felt like a loose, whirring wheel that span with an audible buzz yet never quite touched the ground.”
This all sounded incredibly familiar. I’ve spoken publically about my inate procrastination, and the deadly combination of social media and lack of self-discipline. And I know I’m not the only one. Google Instant seems to be the next step. But one that’s completely un-needed. When Google Instant was launched I tweeted that I felt it was breeding impatience. But Brooker (as usual) communicated our shared inability to deal with the onslaught far more eloquently and intelligently than I ever could.
“My attention span was never great, but modern technology has halved it, and halved it again, and again and again, down to an atomic level, and now there’s nothing discernible left. Back in that room, bombarded by alerts and emails, repeatedly tapping search terms into Google Instant for no good reason, playing mindless pinball with words and images, tumbling down countless little attention-vortexes, plunging into one split-second coma after another, I began to feel I was neither in control nor 100% physically present. I wasn’t using the computer. The computer was using me – to keep its keys warm. (Apart from “enter”, obviously. I didn’t even have to press that.)
By 5.30pm I’d written half a paragraph. I went home in disgust.”
Oh, Charlie. You’re in my head.
I walked around a village fete earlier with my Mum and girlfriend. Despite it being a sunny day, and being with loved ones climbing on a fire engine and laughing at morris dancers, I couldn’t resist a cheeky peek at Twitter on my phone, and to log in to see how many t-shirts Dizzyjam had sold today. None of this solved anything, made me feel better, or indeed more enlightened. I discovered that John was driving over to drop a boxset back to Jonny. But, y’know, so what? (sorry gents!).
Also, I’m increasingly conscious that these forms of social media play merry havoc with your ego. It’s all too easy to get drawn into the trap of caring how many followers you have, or actually planning the best time to post a blog or tweet to get maximum coverage. I know it’s crossed my mind before, and I hate that. I don’t think it’s healthy, and I want to engage in the positive parts of the internet and social media, but without deluding myself that anyone out there (apart from a few friends and family) is actually that fussed about what I think. Blogging for me has always been about getting my thoughts down, rather than blogging with a particular purpose or, worse, to gain a wider audience.
So, something needs to change.
I need to enforce a digital blackout for 72 hours or more. I need to cease all social media communication, all email contact and, maybe, all telephone contact. A complete shutdown. A means of “resetting” my need for constant informational update. Maybe if I can go without for a period of time, when I return to it I’ll have a little more “control”. It’ll also be an interesting experiment, I think.
Here’s where you come in. I need suggestions. I want to be away from social media and the like for between 3 and 7 days. I want to be without phone or laptop. I want to have a few books, a pen and some paper. But equally I want to do something. The weather’s getting worse, and the nights are drawing in, but the idea of cycling up to North Wales, or hiking out to Pembrokeshire appeals to me.
But, I’m completely open to suggestions. Maybe you know of some cave that I can go and hide out in, or a monastery that might have me for a few days….