Half articulated thoughts on Waldenponding, literal content and UX verticality, the demands of the attention economy and why return to the Isles of blogging.
Innocence lost: what did you do before the internet?
Rethinking How I Use Internet: 5
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The Internet Isn’t All One Thing
Thanks the conversations this week: Alex Andrews of Common Knowledge and Ahmet Sabanci – who’s newsletter ‘Weird and deadly interesting‘ you should all subscribe to.
Also a nod to Venkat Rao for his ongoing thoughts on Waldenponding.
A crude caricature of which is “Smash your smart phone and go live in a log cabin to reclaim your attention and your life from being hacked by evil social media platforms.” Or digital detoxing.
There was an article in the Guardian this week called ‘Innocence lost: what did you do before the internet? By Leah McLaren.
The article is a mixed musing on what might life was like before the age of the internet, the attention economy, the Appropriate Design Code from the UK’s information commission. That is due to go before parliament this autumn. It’s an interesting but very Guardiany.
One of the people she interviews is Michael Harris author of ‘The End of Absence’. He talks about doing activities like Spending an afternoon writing in longhand, Or Read 150 pages in one sitting are simple in theory, but terrifying in practice.
Harris also says the following Quote:
“The experience of empty space allows for the growth of imagination and independent thought, the ability to form ideas without being swayed by mass opinion or bot armies,” Moreover, (he says) virtual connection impedes our ability to connect and empathise. “When you are inundated with mediated social connectivity it’s increasingly difficult to devote your attention to the people you are actually with.”
He worries that in future only the privileged few will be able to afford to take regular “digital detoxes” from the exhausting demands of the attention economy.
I’ve spoke a few times already on how I’ve been trying to re-think my relationship with the internet. Venkat in his essay ‘Against Waldenponding‘ in the breaking smart newsletter introduces a few ideas on the assumptions around digital detoxes that are worth poking at:
‘The feeds’ or the attention economy he calls the quote unquote “Giant Social Computer in the Cloud”. And that blaming/shaming platform UX designers for your desire to exit is giving them way too much credit.
If I’m reading him correctly, he seems to say that wanting exit from social media is actually driven by FOBO. Or Fear of Being Ordinary.
A fear of having “nothing to show” for playing a part in the Social Computer. Rather than a fear of having your mind, and productive potential, destroyed by “hacked attention.”
He closes with:
We are all now part of a powerful global social computer in the cloud that is possibly the only mechanism we have available to tackle the big problems of the world that industrial age mechanisms are failing to cope with. We might as well get good at it. Do your part. Stay as plugged in as you can.”
I think that we actually need to interrogate where we are plugged in.
Ahmet wrote in a blog recently that also referenced waldenponding that he has “decided to go with lurking and automation for a while. Meaning, I’ll be mostly in read-only mode (exception will be the private channels) and most of the posting will happen through automated stuff. But this also means more blog posts, regular newsletters and Patreon posts, because those are, in a sense, private channels too.”
So generating content like blogs etc and only posting automated links to them out to the feeds. What he’s doing is moving back towards what Warren Ellis calls the isles of blogging. Folks that are slowly leaving social media to engage in (and generate) richer and deeper conversation elsewhere – I would include myself in this category.
Venkat does this too. Whilst he is a prolific tweeter, unlike many folks on twitter that post long threads. He transmutes them into a newsletter that’s reference-able.
Where he and I diverge, is that I do think there is a problem with the feeds. Many platforms have made leaving the platform feel like a big deal. Following a link on Twitter makes you feel like you are darting out in the rain to read it. Then you dash back again to safety. This leave and return means you actually are caught in a literal UX and content vertical.
But the Internet isn’t all one thing.
What about a slow meander around Wikipedia? or going deep into a well linked blog post? We used to call this web surfing. You can go deep in a way that is attentive, focus orientated and enriching.
With hypertext you move horizontally across the web. It’s a journey.
You can seek out topics on the Internet and add to them from your own little island. Contributing longer more thoughtful content. Away from the torrent that you throw your links into to show that you are more than ordinary in the feed.
Digital detoxes are for the privileged. What’s better instead is to manage the way that you travel the Internet. Do not let it come to you.
Because You, personally, get to decide where you put your attention and what you put effort into.
The script above is the original script I wrote for the episode. It may differ from what ended up in audio due to time constraints.
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