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Month: August 2017

An Experiment in Moderate Internet Reduction

I enjoy Cal Newport’s blog. You should check it out sometime.

In a recent post, he mentions that Aziz Ansari has accomplished something radical: he walked away from the internet. No social media, no e-mail, no web browser. He went cold turkey to deal with an addiction that is far more common than just about anyone realizes.

What does he do with all his free time? He reads. He gets bored. He examines his life.

I read that and asked myself, “What would it be like to drop the browser from my phone for a week?” And then I got rid of the browser. (I kept Facebook, because we use it for our work–it’s one of our main points of contact with our family and partners. And I kept e-mail, also on account of our professional obligations.)

But I went for a week without a browser on my phone, and I discovered the following:

  1. It’s really not bad at all.
  2. It feels really weird to look at your phone and realize it’s not going to entertain you. (For the record, I don’t play games on my phone.)
  3. You spend more time talking with your spouse and kids.
  4. You get caught up on your sleep. I found that my average bedtime moved forward by an hour over the course of the week. Rather than check the news one last time before bed, I’m grabbing my Kindle and reading a book. Some folks will tell you that an ereader will keep you up the same as a phone, but it’s not been true in my experience.
  5. You can look up what you need to look up later, if you even remember to do so (and you will remember it, if it really matters).
  6. Most of the news isn’t that urgent. (See note below)
  7. Most of the time that you’d surf the internet on your phone, you could just as easily read. Amazon’s Kindle app is great, and does a good job syncing with your Kindle e-reader. I read two books last week just in the time I’d normally surf the internet. They were great! (For reference, they were Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and Rising Sun.) I’m halfway through a third and enjoying it as well.
  8. On Android, you don’t need a browser to look up directions, store hours, definitions, etc. All of that is easily handled within Google’s search app. (This sounds like cheating, but I make the rules, so it’s not.)
  9. You will miss some things, like the convenience of shopping from the couch, or the ability to read all those articles people share on Facebook. But these are pretty minor complaints.
  10. I found Facebook less time-consuming as the week went on. Without the ability to read the articles people are sharing, I’m able to hop on, catch up on the important events in the lives of the people I love, and hob back off again.
  11. I’ve been able to knock out a few low-priority projects in all the downtime.
  12. Oh, and I wrote a pair of blog posts and I finished a short story with which I’m fairly happy.

In number 6, I said “most of the news isn’t that urgent.” It’s not. But sometimes it is. Yesterday, around 5pm, Barcelona suffered a tragic attack. Overnight, another incipient attack was prevented by police. We live a just a few hours south of these two attacks, and so the news felt like something worth following. I re-enabled the browser and read the news. Then, a few hours later, as I was writing this post, I realized, “I’m up-to-date. I don’t currently need the browser.” And so I disabled it again. You can do that.

In any case, this experiment has gone well. I’m going to stretch it out and see how long I can go without the need for a browser on my phone. If you try it out, let me know!

Grace & Peace,
Dan J.


Read Some of This Book: Fantastic Stories

Abram Tertz is a name with which I was unfamiliar until Anna brought one of his short story collections home from college. For years, it’s sat on our shelves, and I’ve occasionally thought, Hmm. That could be interesting. But I’ve left it unread until now.

If you’re following my reading list progress (and you’re probably not), I had planned to read Dostoevsky’s The Idiot next. I felt relatively burned out by the process of reading through Robinson’s Mars Trilogy, and so I decided to read a couple of short story collections instead. I planned on Tertz’ collection, and another of stories by Anton Chekhov.

I read Tertz and enjoyed the experience quite a lot. Some of the stories are, legitimately, fantastic. Others are so-so. But on the whole, it was a satisfying read. Chekhov, on the other hand, was miserable, and I did something I nearly never do with a book. I quit. I kept trying. I read maybe 20 stories or so. But then I was done. The last story I finished was little more than a menu–the speaker was a law clerk, and his detailed culinary description drove all the other characters out of the room. In the end, it drove me away as well. Some have called Chekhov the greatest short story writer in history. But then, some people eat snails. I respectfully reserve my right to think and do otherwise.

But back to Tertz (real name: Andrei Sinyavsky). He’s sharp. He manages to tackle human dignity, artistic integrity, and the difficult questions of life. At the end of the collection, you’re not radically transformed by the experience, but you can appreciate it. It’s a little odd–some of the tales deal with time travel (sort of) or alien life. A longer tale deals exclusively with the insane urge to be a writer (rather than to write). Pick it up, read a tale or two as they catch your interest.

Two quotes:

The classical writers—it’s them I hate the most! Before I was so much as born they stole the vacant places and I was faced with their competition without possessing one hundredth part of their inflated authority. “Read Chekhov, read Chekhov!” people kept on at me all my life, tactlessly suggesting that Chekhov wrote better than I.

But to be honest, did Tolstoy and Chekhov really write so very well? Well, that’s exactly my point! That Chekhov ought to be taken by his wretched tubercular beard and have his nose shoved in his consumptive hawkings that have unfortunately now dried up. “Stop writing, graphomaniac!” he ought to have been told. “Stop writing! Don’t spoil good paper!”

So, good. Someone else agrees.

Next up, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.

Until next time,
Dan J.