I’m not doing a “my year in reading” post — because I never do a “my year in reading” post — but in its stead here’s an account of my year in technology. I’ve made some significant changes and I’m really pleased with all of them.
Escaping Twitter. More than a year ago I described my problems with public Twitter, and things have gotten worse since then. I decided soon after writing that post that quitting Big Twitter cold-turkey would probably not work; I needed to reduce my involvement gradually. That proved to be more difficult than I had expected — it turned out that there were always conversations that tempted me back in — but my activity trended gradually downward until I finally ended it altogether. The key was unfollowing everyone, and I mean everyone; you can’t be tempted to join conversations you can’t see.
I still use my public account to post links to things I have written, but this is done wholly through IFTTT and the built-in sharing functions on OS X and iOS; I quite literally never see my public Twitter account. (So if you have replied to me there and didn’t get an answer, now you know why.)
I don’t know when I’ve been happier with a decision. Escaping the incessant Twitter tsunamis has been an unmitigated blessing, an enrichment-by-subtraction of my quality of life, and I wish I had done it a long time ago.
Owning My Turf. This too is something I endorsed long before living up to my endorsement. I have both slowed down and simplified my life by dropping Tumblr and Instagram, as well as Twitter; if I want to share any casual comments or reflections or links or images, I now share them here and only here. (By the way, here’s reminder number 10,000 that social media sites will do whatever the hell they want with your data.)
Writing By Hand. I have always kept a notebook around for jotting down the occasional idea, but in the past year I have learned to rely on paper for sketching and drafting almost all of my writing, and for managing my tasks. After years of oscillating among a wide range of task-management apps and systems on my computer, I now handle all planning and to-doing in my notebook, using a variation on the Bullet Journal method. This change is another one I wish I had made years ago: my thinking is clearer, my writing stronger and more precise.
Slower Listening. When I’m writing in my notebook, and thereby avoiding the distractions of the online world, I don’t really want to have to go online to get music — and we’re all being pushed to keep our music online. (Just try to get iTunes to download all your music to your own hard drive.) But the demise of Rdio should be a reminder of how fragile this new musical ecosystem is; it’s yet another reason to “own your turf,” your turf in this case being your music. So I have had multiple reasons for retreating to the ancient technology of … CDs. And it turns out that that has its own pleasures too: it may not be quite as artisanal as putting vinyl on the turntable, but there’s something really nice about selecting a record you want to listen to all the way through, putting it on, and taking the liner notes back to your chair to consult as needed. I’ve been spending much of my musical time the past month with Bach’s keyboard music, which is inexhaustible; and with Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, which I had never before listened to all the way through (it’s amazing).
Dumbing Down the Phone. Perhaps the biggest change of all: after seven years or so of having an iPhone, I have retreated to a dumb, dumb phone. It makes calls and texts. That is all it does. And it turns out that that’s wonderful. The only thing I have missed at all is the camera — but first, it turns out that I don’t really need to document every trivial curiosity of the day with a snapshot, and second, I have a decent, if by today’s standards somewhat elderly, camera that I’m now using far more than I had been, and enjoying enormously. I keep it in my backpack now.
But often when I go out I don’t bring my backpack. I head for the coffee shop with my dumb phone, my notebook, and a pen. I sip coffee and think and write. If my mind wanders and I wonder what’s in my RSS feed, I can’t check, so I have to go back to writing. Sometimes I bring a book too, and read it. If I get tired of it, I don’t have anything else to read, so I either keep going anyway or get the notebook back out. Or just sit there and drink my coffee and watch the unphotographed world go by.