A large part of my daily habit is dedicated to an intense and ongoing regimen of procrastination through whatever means I can find. It’s gotten so bad that if I wasn’t reading something (kinda) for class, I was on a website absorbing prodigious amounts of useless trivia. I’d be on twitter until I caught up, then tumblr, instagram, reddit, facebook, and then my RSS subscriptions. By the time I hit the end of my internet, I could loop back around to the beginning and bam; fresh internet! Cycle starts all over.
The upswing is I felt connected! Everything going on all at once and I had a front-row seat to the world unfolding! Explosion on the other side of the world? I saw the video immediately! Harper gags people attending his rallies? I was irate first!
This immediacy is unlike anything our ancestors and grandparents had to contend with. Sure, they had newspapers and the radio, but everything happened before the broadcast could be put together, or the paper assembled and printed, or before the news could tease apart a story from an event. A digital pulse we can all put our fingers on is like constantly waiting for the next thing to happen, and then the follow-up, and the aftermath, ad the fallout.
This is problematic: being addicted to the moment is exhausting and doesn’t really allow for time to process what’s going on, or to think about how to change what you object to. Moreover, the internet is structured in a way to make it extremely easy to fall into these attention traps. Click a button, instant content. Click another, an entire feed to read. Content for days! This is what eviscerates my time and attention; the ease with which trivial information can be poured into my brain on demand. Pavlov made dogs salivate, and the mention of the internet at all gives me an itch to check what’s going on.
So who cares? I do. I decided to pare down everything on the internet to the most basic elements.
I started with Twitter. Following 150 people on one monster list, some of the people just retweeting endless links to other articles or sites, down to 40. Not content with cutting out the spammy people, I cut out everything that wasn’t a person I knew and who posted their own content. Tumblr, the infinite void of who-the-fuck-knows-what, down from 155 to 35. Same rules as before: real people, not spammy accounts, mostly original content. Facebook was basically just a purge and wipe. Instagram started small and got smaller. Everytime I finished up on one site, I felt lighter. More free. I deleted every last RSS feed I subscribed to. All of it, gone.
A big reason for doing this was to reclaim myself from my distractions. I was enslaved to the Parade of Things to Know in a bad way and, the cost, was not really knowing what I liked anymore. I’d been reading some of this stuff for years! Webcomics I’ve been a fan of for ten years or more, deleted from my bookmarks list. News sites just vanished from my sight.
The liberating feeling, the scary, beautiful truth I found?
I can’t remember what most of the things I’d been reading were. I know I’m not being fed news from something, but I don’t see it, miss it, or even remember what it is I should be missing. I don’t feel this anxiety to keep current anymore. I find myself checking my phone a lot, hitting a button that used to bring up the noise, but there’s nothing there. I have my phone out and I’m looking at nothing at all, and I’m surprisingly glad. I don’t miss it, whatever it was.