My laptop died last week. It started with discomforting hard drive clicks and whirs. Soon the screen no longer worked. There was nothing left to do but send it back to Apple. Fortunately, I had 18 days left on Applecare.
Also fortunate is my access to another MacBook Pro. It’s an extra we keep around the office. I’ve had it for a few days now. Like a new lover, there’s familiarity but also a strangeness to it. It just feels different. And, of course, go to moves like certain predefined keystrokes don’t quite work. Many of the applications I use in my day to day life aren’t on it either.
I could take some time and make them there. Could install the tools that made my broken Mac so easy and familiar. But I don’t. Not yet, at least. Instead, I continue playing in this strange yet familiar environment. It seems perverse to want it to behave and respond like my previous Mac. As said, it’s kind of like having a new lover.
More than that though, the way I set up my previous machine affected my behavior and interactions with the digital world and not always in a good way.
The applications on it geared toward perpetual connectivity and interaction with the Social Web. It made me more like vacuum sucking up digital errata than a thinking individual with an actual productive life.
How much easier to fire up Tweetdeck and peruse 140 character missives than develop wholely formed thoughts of my own? Or NetNewsWire/Google Reader to see which of the thousand plus articles piled up since I last checked in I should read? Or bookmarking said articles to Delicious and Instapaper for later reading and archiving? Or taking notes via Evernote, or checking in on Facebook, or reloading Google News to see if there’s one last bit of information I should glean before moving on to that which I really should be doing, namely, creating something new?
All too easy and all to disruptive. A study even calls it an addiction.
Yes, there’s always some new widget, plugin or module to know about. Always some startup to take note of. Always some innovation to be able to talk about. And always some news story to ponder, or political hypocrisy to grind ones teeth over.
And while some pride themselves on the volumes they read and digest, my digital vacuum sucks throughout the day until the day is good and through. Then I look at the time and with anxiety ponder the work I actually need to do.
My dead laptop is and was a perfectly tuned vacuum. Now that I’m on a new machine, I resist the urge to tune it similarly. I purposefully leave roadblocks in place to make it just a bit harder, just a bit more difficult to immerse myself, to lose myself, in the digital ether.
Shock of shocks, I resist connecting to the Internet itself when I boot up, instead logging on at discrete moments during the day to check in and respond to email.
The result: removed from the noise machine of my networks, unecumbered by who I’m following and who may be following me back, peripheral to the minute by minute news drip of my RSS readers, my mind reconstitutes and slowly, and hopefully surely, begins to think full thoughts of its own.
There’s some logic to this. I exist in a media world and in this media world we’re told we must feed the beast, pump it full of content, break some news and break it first. Oh, and make sure it’s tweeted and otherwise posted and promoted on the Social Web. And then make sure there’s an uptick in the follower and friend count and Christ, did you give it a good Buzz.
All that is well and good but sometimes the noise is deafening. There comes a time when you’ve sponged up all you’re going to sponge and it’s time to rinse. There’s also a time to not necessarily repeat. If the goal is to produce great things, one needs to learn how to stop consuming things. Easier said than done. We humans are gluttonous creatures.
As Kirk Citron told us in a TED talk this winter, “We are drowning in news. Reuters alone puts out 3.5 million news stories a year. That’s just one source.”
Add 600 posts to Twitter per second, 20 hours of video uploaded to YouTube per minute, 1.4 million photos uploaded to Facebook per hour and you start to immerse yourself in overload.
And so it goes.
With a new laptop comes decisions on how to use it, how to tune it, how it will extend beyond me and reach out into the world.
Right now, I’m keeping it on a pretty strict leash, taking a mental break and watching how my thinking improves.