May 16, 2019
Last week, I packed up my (virtual) things and waved goodbye to my last bit of consulting work before the summer begins. It's been a very long time since I had a good, long block of time with no real plans. I'm excited at the possibilities for personal enrichment and renewal.
In exploring what it will mean to take a true summer vacation, I've been thinking about how my digital devices often take center-stage in my mind's eye, and how I'd like to spend the summer exploring the tactile and the sensory, out here in the real world.
With that, I've been re-evaluating how I use technology and whether there are ways I can more often cross the digital-analog divide.
As well, I've been re-evaluating my relationship with giant tech companies and seeing whether there are some David alternatives to my current Goliath service providers.
My hope is to re-ignite the magic of computing and creativity I remember from the mid-2000's. There was a certain spirit about that time—one of decentralization, of do-it-yourself hacker activism—that I think has been lost in the age of big tech.
Gave away my Apple Watch
I bought an Apple watch a few months ago because it looked neat and I thought it'd be cool to track my activity. But I found that it only ever served to further distract me from the present moment. I'd receive text messages directly to my wrist, which would distract me from whatever I was doing and provoke me to dig into my bag for my phone to reply. I'd be in my workout class and get a text, only to ruminate over it for the duration of the class and know I soon had to respond.
When my parents came to Portland to visit me last week, I thought I'd send my Dad home with my Apple Watch, since he enjoys the Apple ecosystem more than I do. So far, I've really not noticed that it's gone.
Generally, I've carried my phone everywhere I go, and you probably do too. The expectation that we're always reachable has become part of our social fabric. When did we ever agree that it's not optional to carry a device that enables anyone to reach us at any time?
I've been experimenting with leaving my phone at home most of the time. It has required a bit of extra planning with my family and friends, but so far the results have been generally positive. I feel more present and attentive to the details of the outside world. I have to ask others for directions or the time because I don't have a device in my pocket with all the answers.
When I do bring my phone out into the world, I try to keep cellular data off and make sure it's always in my backpack, so I'm not constantly tempted to check it. I also keep my text message notifications off so I treat texting more like email and don't get distracted. Phone calls still get through, in case someone needs to reach me due to an emergency.
Pen & paper notetaking and todos
Does anyone remember the Hipster PDA? My friend Alex Weber introduced me to the concept during college way back in 2004. The idea is simple: Carry a stack of index cards held together with a binder clip and use that to take notes and log todos.
I've been a die-hard OmniFocus user for years, but it bothers me that I rely upon proprietary software for a basic life function. So far, I'm enjoying the simplicity of carrying note cards, and the versaility of always knowing I have some paper with me for notetaking.
No more paid streaming services
The pursuit of art is half its charm. I have fond memories of feeling victorious when I'd bought a CD I'd been looking for or trading music and movies with friends. Scarcity, while inconvenient, also encourages collaboration and community. By being forced to go out into the world to find new media, I interact with more creative people and get to support them directly.
As well, there's something magical about owning your own media. The fact I cancelled my Spotify account this month and now have nothing to show for it speaks volumes to how these services seek rents from users for limited access. When you buy DRM-free files directly from the artist, you both support the artist directly and get access to their work forever.
I'm excited to continue to question the way I use technology and hope my journey inspires you to do the same!