2020-01-11

Kick The Box

I’m starting to hate staring at screens and being connected to the internet all the time. Some amount of it is necessary for work that is essentially social media networking, remote collaboration, research, and writing and editing for internet, but perhaps not as much as we think. I just spent almost all day fully unplugged, and got a great deal of satisfying housework and thinking done. I am writing this with no internet. Can we kick the box?

Screens are bad news. It’s an inhumane way to interact with the world. Something spoken, tactile, and ambient would be more human. Kinking your neck and visually focusing on a bright colorful rectangle a dozen inches from your face all day is abusing and destroying your posture and sight. But the screen isn’t even the worst of it.

The worst of it is about whether the bulk of the signals in your experience coming from inside or outside the house, so to speak.

If you spend your day responding to interrupts and browsing a hyperpalatable but questionably nutritous social media diet, deep thought and work is impossible. Your attention leaves your immediate empire, and gets caught up in things you have no control of. The tidal forces of the Internet tear you apart.

On the other hand, if the only thing you have available to interact with is your own immediate sphere of experience and influence, chiefly your own thoughts, you spend you time optimizing and building that immediate base of power. You build upon what you did yesterday. You coalesce into an independent agent. Or at least you can.

So much is about simply attention patterns. What problems are you actually paying attention to, moment to moment? And the Internet is an attention economy, with a hundred million different things contending for your attention, all trying to convince you that they are important. Which ones actually are?

We know what goes wrong if you’re simply plugged in all the time, never focusing on your actual work. No work gets done, and your spirit dissolves into mush. But what if you unplugged fully, and could not send or recieve any notifications? What would actually go wrong?

Probably something. Presumably there are some messages you need to send to coworkers and prospects, inspirations and serendipities that materially improve your plans, things you really do need to look up, and finished work you need to broadcast.

But what is the minimum level of connectedness needed to handle those necessities? You probably haven’t been paying explicit moment-to-moment attention to what those necessities are. You’ve probably just let the box, your colorful internet-connected rectangle, run wild because it claims to be necessary.

Do you really need to be mindlessly cycling through instagram, facebook, and twitter every five minutes? Do you really need the instant notification that someone interacted with your content? Do you really need to tab out of your text editor to check your feed every time you hit a snag? Do you really need to take your phone with you to bed, checking it in the middle of the night in case there is an emergency? Admit it: we really do these things, some more than others.

Sometimes you do. Sometimes you have a defensive crisis or offensive raid that does indeed need to be monitored and managed in real time. But that’s not anywhere near all the time.

The box thrives on being able to convince you that your attention is needed right now. You thrive by being able to direct your attention to what is really most important for you, and not pay attention to things that don’t matter.

So what is that minimum level? What can be cut without consequence? Who can you safely unfollow? What platforms can you completely drop? What hours of the day can you block off and completely unplug? What of your work can be done fully offline, or even off-grid? What specific procedural activities on the box are useful, and why?

It is valuable to be extremely conscious about this, and take a box-skeptical approach, because of the effect on your centeredness. If you have your inner state fully under control, engage with the outside world in controlled ways, then those engagements will be beneficial to you and your plans. But if you just wander into the box unprepared, and let it break down your center, it’s like staying in the room while the scam salesman breaks you down and exploits you. You want to get very prepared, and then go in on a mission to gain value.

The strongest empires and systems always are very particular about information flows in and out, because integrity and control are essential. Chaos and serendipity can only be taken advantage of from a base of integrity and control.

The theme here is cutting the ties that pull you into distraction and unbalance, to recenter and focus on work in your immediate physical sphere of influence. What ties can you afford to cut?