I am contemplating taking a media fast for October. What does that mean, and why do I want to do it?
First, the why. For a long time, I've been feeling very scattered. Partly it's having a lot of projects in progress professionally, a busy family, volunteering service in various ways, the responsibilities of owning a home—the usual busy-ness of contemporary life. Part of it may be the common decline in the ability to concentrate as I get older. But part of it is responding to and immersing myself in the flood of bite-sized media we have today, including the constant search for the next bit of new news, from the web, from Twitter, from email, from the TV….the list goes on.
Even reading a book is hard without feeling the temptation to check my phone, to divert myself with something else. I find this true even if I am interested in the book, and even when I theoretically have the time to spend of it without a real alternative demand on my tie. I'm not the first person to observe this (and I won't bore you with links to the many people who have, even though they have done so more eloquently and thoroughly than I am doing here). But I do want to do something about this.
I remember times when I could be completely immersed in a book, fiction or non-fiction. Or spend an afternoon researching an interesting topic without itching to be doing something else. Or work for hours on a piece of software. Those are worthwhile experiences, and I rarely have them now.
Obviously, I can't control all aspects of my obligations, what I need to do, and what I have committed to. But as a first step in regaining attention and focus, I can try to change my media diet. In October, that's what I intend to do, and here's the list of what I plan to try.
- No Twitter. I'm going to delete the app from my phone, which is the way I read it most of the time. (Caveat: I might occasionally send a tweet through the web site, which I don't do that often anyway, and I'll leave on Twitter's email notices about @-mentions so that I can find out about any actual conversation I might want to be in. It's @wintreese, if you're interested.)
- No Facebook, except for looking up something particular. I don't actually use it that much anyway, but I'm going to turn off the mail notifications I get.
- Unsubscribing from email notifications: of newsletters, blogs, advertising, etc. I want my email inbox to have messages from people I have relationships with, and I don't want to delete a bunch of messages just to see those. In other words, I want to communicate with actual people.
- Filtering mailing list messages to the side. I do participate in some mailing lists, and I value those communities. But I will put them to the side for occasional reading.
- Use the web only for research and answering questions. No surfing, no clicking on interesting links unless they are directly related to the goal of the web search. The pile of bookmarked URLs I have for reading later? They will remain unread. (Caveat: I do have some piles of bookmarks to unread pages related to specific projects. Those are OK.)
- TV - limited to a single program at a time, deliberately chosen in advance. No binge watching, no TV as background noise.
- No using a laptop or phone while watching TV or a movie. If it's not worth paying attention to, I don't want it on.
- Podcasts. This may be the hardest one for me actually; I listen to podcasts almost the time when I am doing something that permits it: driving, working in the yard, working out a the gym, etc. I want to be deliberate about the listening—in particular, not using it to fill relatively small gaps of time. Those I want to keep free for thinking or letting my mind wander. This one is more of a balance than the others.
- Leave the phone on my desk at home, except when I have a real reason to be using it.
- No checking the phone for anything during short waits, such as waiting in line somewhere. Occasional checks for email when I'm away from the house or office are OK, as long as they are occasional. Since I don't expect to get much email to deal with, there shouldn't be much to be done.
- Scrub the phone of apps I don't want or don't really use.
- No playing Two Dots.
- Instagram only to keep up with a small number of family and friends who like it.
Some media is OK:
- Books. I want to spend a lot of time reading seriously.
- Movies, with deliberate choice in advance, whether in the theater, from Netflix/Amazon, or on TV.
- Catching up on my long-form web reading saved to Pocket or Instapaper. I'm actually not entirely sure about this one, but I usually save things that I want to read with attention, so I think they fit the goal.
- Magazines, in moderation. That's mostly because I don't read them much now, and I would like to revisit that experience.
- Paper newspapers. I don't read them that much, and I don't particularly want to resume it, but it's allowed.
- Blogging is OK, although I do recognize there is some irony in that.
What do I want to get out of this?
- I want to focus deeply on some things that matter to me.
- I want to create space for the ideas that only come when nothing is crowding them out.
- I want to be more present when I am with another person.
- I want to feel like my mind is less turbulent and trying to get on to something else.
- I want to read more books.
At the end of October, I'll revisit the list and see how it went.