Avoiding the Web

The other day I unsuscribed from Hacker News. It is simply too much information. I also switched back to using StumpWM. I decided to give Kindle for Android a try and read Get in the Van: On the Road With Black Flag. All of this has been to help fight the focus sucking power of the web. They say that email is worse than marijuana when it come to focus and honestly I can believe it.

The thing about the web that is so dangerous is that it requires so little dedication to use it. No one wants to go online and scroll down a page reading for comprehension. Instead it is more enticing to click around and search for random information. You can let your mind wonder down the never ending stream of hyperlinks until you forgot where you came from and where you hoped to end up.

Obviously, as a person who works daily on creating software for the web, no matter how much I’d like to break away from the web, it simply isn’t an option. That said, it doesn’t mean that I can’t take real steps to avoid the time suck it can be. The first step is admitting you have a problem.

There is value in reading long challenging work or going through some tutorial. It can also be valuable to spend time on IRC helping others or trying to further an open source project. Reading documentation online is paramount to any developer. Clearly, not all of the web is truly dangerous.

The biggest danger on the web is the short spurts of information. Hacker News is a great example of this because it provides a never ending stream of headlines awaiting a click. There happens to be some discussion at times that can seem interesting, but it is really a farce. Discussion on Hacker News means nothing in the grand scheme of things. It is simply a means to justify reading it constantly. After all, you’re not simply reading news, you’re engaging in a community. You’re there for the conversations and the people. I’m not buying it.

This is traditionally my problem with social media sites in general. They act as though they are creating a new means of communication and relationship. The idea you can take your offline life and place it in a social network that allows you scale up your social interactions in a way never thought possible. The problem is pipe is not getting bigger. You only have so much attention and focus to offer the world. In computers context switches slow things down and people are no different.

When I was in school a student and I were working on a project. In talking to him about his interests he shared that he really didn’t like programming as much as he enjoyed math. More specifically, he enjoyed “computer” math, meaning algorithms that computers do well. He described that there are many times the best way for a computer to actually compute things is to stick to repetitive, simple calculations. As people, we often want to optimize because it seems wasteful to slog through tons of work, but a computer excels at this type of work. I don’t think we are really that different. Instead of doing 10 things all the time, it is better to do one thing at a time.

The real goal in avoiding the web is to relearn how to focus. The result is twofold. First off, I should be able to get more done. The tough problem that seems to be never ending will most likely become solvable when given some time to focus on it. Secondly, with more focus it is possible to spend that focus on real relationships. Listening takes a great deal of focus and I’ve come to the conclusion that my introverted nature makes me an ideal listener. Yet, even with this natural affordance, my lack of focus steals my effectiveness. This is something I’d like to remedy and it feels as though avoiding the web is a great first step.