Really, It’s OK to Do Nothing Sometimes

The latest episode of Douglas Rushkoff’s Team Human podcast is pretty good. The guest, Tiffany Shlain, has written about about unplugging from screens one day a week in a practice that is sort of a modern day throwback to the notion of a weekly ‘sabbath’ or ‘Shabbat’. Some really interesting discussion ensues.

They talk about the notion that people don’t know how to just sit with themselves anymore – or that it’s become thought of as a bad thing to ‘sit idly’. I feel the generations my kids belong to will especially have no concept of this, or construe it mostly as ‘wasting time’ having been exposed/connected to tech their entire lives.

The reality is that in many cases time spent in self reflection, or simply being present in the moment with others without the distractions of tech, is time better spent but we’re not taught that anymore and indeed, most tech companies/platforms are trying to encourage the very opposite.

The Internet Is Rotting, Let’s Embrace It

Interesting article on the nature of memory and it’s relationship to digital media/storage.

The mind forgets what is no longer relevant to our present. Human memory is constantly reconstructed—it isn’t preserved in pristine condition, but becomes altered over time, helping people overcome cognitive dissonances.

Think about your photos, your tweets, your documents. Our digital systems keep them, and you have to take action to get rid of them. I rarely do. It’s too tempting, too easy to just save everything.

If someone is reminded of a person’s misdoing decades ago, they often can’t help but be shocked. They judge the misconduct in the context of the present.

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger

“Addiction is actually the point.”

It would seem more people are getting it. Via Cal Newport’s blog post, Senator Hawley on Social Media: “addiction is actually the point.”

“Social media only works as a business model if it consumes users’ time and attention day after day after day. It needs to replace the various activities we did perfectly well without social media, for the entire known history of the human race with itself. It needs to replace those activities with time spent on social media. So that addiction is actually the point.

-Josh Hawley, Missouri Senator (emphasis mine)

And another great one – I’m stealing these directly from Cal’s post, but they’re too good to pass up. Cal’s original post is short and well worth the click-through to read.

“This is what some of our brightest minds have been doing with their time for years now. Designing these platforms, designing apps that integrate with them. I mean, what else might they have been doing?

-Josh Hawley, (emphasis again, mine)

It’s refreshing to hear a politician – any politician – talking in such a frank manner. Video of full speech available on the Senator’s website, and is totally worth your time.

Scholarship By Metrics

Interesting article by Justin E.H. Smith on How Social Media Imperils Scholarship. It’s a long article, but well worth reading. A few highlights:

Eventually, those who do research simply out of love of knowledge might find it preferable to present their findings anonymously and gratuitously as Wikipedia editors rather than as members of the afflicted and moribund tribe of academics. Social media is hastening the arrival of that day.

The same click-swipe-and-rate economy has left everyone involved in cultural production dazed and stumbling. Journalism, art, literature, and entertainment have been engulfed by a tsunami of metrics. And dare we mention love, friendship, and political community? These, too, have been absorbed by the mania of metrics coupled with so-called gamification — a treacherous imitation of play. 

I have not yet heard of tenure committees taking into consideration information about a candidate’s followings on Academia.edu or the other sites, as they attempt to take the measure of his career success. But it will happen sooner or later. And sooner or later tenure candidates in Ohio will be PayPaling click factories in China to help them inflate their numbers artificially. And after that has gone on for some time, candidates will be required to submit, along with their dossiers, proof that the information has been run through some trusted anti-­click-factory certification software, and the metrics have been shown to be authentic. And eventually a way will be discovered to game the certification process, too, and so on, and at each stage academics will be drawn even further away from their ostensible object of study, Old Turkic inscriptions or Elizabethan verse, the thing they once imagined, in graduate school, was worthy of a lifetime of loving dedication.

The old world is crumbling. Pre-internet institutions are struggling to make their presence felt however they can. Even the pope has taken to tweeting, in what may be variously interpreted as a hip renovation of his dilapidated old temple, or as a desperate bid to stay relevant in a world that equates an absence of online metrics, of clicks and likes and follows, with nonexistence itself. It is no surprise that in this strange new world, academics are behaving no differently than the Pontifex, or exposure-craving politicians, or SoundCloud rappers, or aspiring team players projecting their can-do attitudes on LinkedIn.

The Dark Forests of the Internet

Photo by Rosie Fraser on Unsplash

Yancey Strickler, cofounder of Kickstarter, has written an interesting piece on Medium about how the Internet is becoming segmented into different channels primarily out of people’s desire to feel safer to express themselves honestly while being free from the barrage of advertising and tracking. I can relate to much of what he says there.

I went dark on the internet a few years ago. I took social apps off my phone, unfollowed everyone, the whole shebang. This was without a doubt a good decision. I’ve been happier and have had better control over my time since. Many others have done this and are doing this. A generation of modern wannabe monks.

I haven’t been off for years – a little over a year maybe – and it does start to feel monk-ish. It’s been an interesting experiment, especially when you run into people in real life who are still on various platforms and didn’t even realize you’ve checked out. There’s sometimes an awkward back and forth when you try and figure out what to talk about when they discover that you’re not up to date with everything they’ve been seeing daily in their feed.

But even as my personal wellness grows, I see a risk in this change.

You could argue that these decisions removed me from the arena. I detached from the mainstream of conversation. I stopped watching TV. I stopped looking at Facebook and Twitter. I silenced my voice on the platforms where the conversation was happening because of the strings, risks, and side effects they created in return.

This detachment wasn’t just in politics. It was also true of how I shared my personal life. Milestones for me and my family were left unshared beyond our internet dark forests, even though many more friends and members of our families would’ve been happy to hear about them.

While I too feel the sense of better overall ‘wellness’, I don’t know that I feel or see the same associated risks. One thing I do think could become – or possibly already is – a problem is that people become continually more ‘siloed’ in their respective ‘dark forests’ and channels, leading to increased polarization – if that’s even possible. In much the same way algorithms are currently gaming people to reinforce biases or think certain ways, if they get comfortable only with the viewpoints found within the familiarity of their own ‘dark forests’, could it become even harder to see and or consider other viewpoints?

It’s possible, I suppose, that a shift away from the mainstream internet and into the dark forests could permanently limit the mainstream’s influence. It could delegitimize it. In some ways that’s the story of the internet’s effect on broadcast television. But we forget how powerful television still is. And those of us building dark forests risk underestimating how powerful the mainstream channels will continue to be, and how minor our havens are compared to their immensity.

I think there’s a giant hole waiting to be filled by whomever can figure out how to optimize the social aspects of the internet for the good of humans instead of the corporations – pretty much everything Douglas Rushkoff has been talking about with his Team Human project. Like the impending crisis of climate change though, it will take wholesale changes on a massive scale by businesses – and possibly even government involvement – to change the direction and business models towards the interests of the users vs. treating them as product – a huge ethical leap to take.

I myself haven’t been hanging out in many ‘Internet Dark Forests’ – save maybe listening to more podcasts – something that Strickler mentions as an emerging channel for people to cloister themselves within online. Aside from my posts here and selective reading, I’ve been staying away from screens altogether and trying get out more into the literal ‘forests’ of both green and humanity to rediscover and experience what is there.

Strickler’s article and conclusions are thought-provoking though, and clearly highlight the direction things are going. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out, especially if the ‘side channels’ become prevalent enough that advertisers and corporations no longer feel they’re getting their bang-for-the-buck from the mainstream firehose of the Internet.