Television was originally seen as this great technology to allow people all over to keep informed of world events, and to find all kinds of free entertainment in the home, only to turn into the world’s great motivation-sucking-time-waster. Something similar, and more modern has evolved, a sort of interactive television. I’m talking about the internet.
On one hand, the internet is an incredibly powerful tool. The advent of near-ubiquitous internet connectivity has allowed all kinds of great efficiencies like paying bills or doing research or communicating with friends online. On the other hand, though, it’s a potentially detrimental distraction or time sink. It can be so much fun, you almost don’t realize, or maybe don’t care, how much time you’ve wasted.
I don’t care about the loss in business productivity from all the people browsing fantasy football leagues on espn.com, or gossip on thesuperficial.com about Paris Hilton’s latest pix, or any of the many blogs, forums, facebook profiles, youtubes, tumblrs or tweets. I mean, business owners should care (and any corporate IT manager can tell you most people’s work computers are used a lot more for screwing around than for work), but that’s not what interests me here.
I’m talking about people like myself sitting down to the computer for my own reasons, to work on a project that’s important to me. Let’s say I’m trying to work on some music or graphic design for my record label, Hypnos Recordings, or in my downstairs office trying to get some writing or editing done. Often I’ll think “I’ll just do this little bit of research about which street the UN building is on,” or maybe, “It’ll take two seconds to find out how many moons Neptune has,” or perhaps, “I think I’ll check out that little Russian record label and listen to some of their mp3 sample clips.”
The next thing I know ninety minutes have passed and I’m somewhere deep in web-land, nowhere near where I started out.
The internet has really made a million things easier, sometimes to benefit the user, and more often to benefit a business providing web content, deriving profit from the continued attention of your eyeballs. In other words, the web started out as a way of getting interesting information in front of people who wanted it, but it has evolved into mostly just a way of getting you to look at stuff with advertisements embedded in it. Some web sites, such as Amazon.com or Netflix.com or Youtube.com have spent a lot of time and money developing tools that let them say “We see you are interested in this thing you came here for… perhaps you may also be interested in these many other similar things you didn’t know about?”
How many times have you gone to Youtube to look at a clever video link someone sent you, only to end up watching a half-dozen or more other videos you arrived with no intention of watching? There you are an hour later, watching that dumb kid ride his BMX bike into a brick wall, or an old lady smash a folding chair and fall on her ass, or this.
Something I’ve tried recently is using an old laptop as my writing computer, an old IBM ThinkPad. I don’t particularly like the keyboard, and I hate the lower-resolution screen which makes it hard to fit a whole page on the screen at once. But this machine has no wireless, and it’s nowhere near an ethernet plug, so it’s effectively just a word processor. I’d rather write on a newer computer with a nicer monitor and a keyboard with better touch, and yet I get a lot more accomplished on this IBM because I have no distractions. I just sit down with this thing on my lap and I listen to the music playing from the other side of the room, and I write just like I used to write in the years before the internet came along.
At first I hated this old machine, but then I remembered its very limitations are why I chose it. I’m getting a lot more done, this past few months since I started using it. I’ve often thought of getting an old OS7-era Mac laptop for this purpose, but what I have is working well enough for my needs. I wouldn’t want this to be my only computer, or even my main computer, but again, in this case the limitations constitute the whole point.
Today I stumbled upon a blog entry by someone using an old Mac in a similar way.
My first response upon reading this blog entry, unavoidably despite my own success using an old, “crippled” machine, was to focus on all the things the machine couldn’t do. Gahhh, what about USB?! Again, that’s the point, taking away options and especially removing the temptation of the internet, in the name of a more direct approach to creativity.
I wouldn’t go so far as an old typewriter, as the word processor’s ability to save and edit without having to re-type revised drafts in their entirety is something I really couldn’t do without. I’m a fast typist but who wants to waste that much time?
Another option I stumbled upon, via the same fantastic tumblr/blog incidentally, Minimal Mac, is this simple application that allows a user to voluntarily lock themselves out of any internet connection for a pre-determined period of time.
To me, this seems like it could allow the best of all worlds. I could use my preferred machine, with the best possible monitor and keyboard, and whatever software I choose, without any temptation (during a set writing period or other creative “window”) to screw around online. I wonder if others have had the same amount of frustration at their own time-wasting, or if most people just don’t mind hours spent on wikipedia or amazon. Maybe everyone has a lot more discipline and self-control than I do, but having looked over a few shoulders in my day, I’d say not.