Two months ago I stopped doing what I’d been doing for the last three years. I was a coder, but have written almost no code. Daily IRC chats have become none. Twitter stayed unchecked. I’ve sent less than 10 real emails.
By not having external influences affect what I do or think about I’ve been able to reach a new stable state and introspect about it. With some surprising results. The me of two months ago is not the me of today.
Metrics and quantification
I can tell you how many tweets I’ve composed, how many Facebook or LinkedIn contacts I have, commits I’ve made on GitHub, views my slides on SlideShare or videos on YouTube have, views my web pages have. Indeed I could even tell you how many physical steps I’d taken or hours of sleep I’d had.
I can’t tell you anything about what those numbers mean though. They are almost completely pointless, numbers simply for the sake of numbers.
Before I would try to tweet funnier to get retweeted or followed. And I was wary of trying to put up a video on YouTube in case it didn’t get a huge number of views. The net effect was actually to prevent me doing things, a form of performance anxiety.
Sod that. This is my second piece of writing on Medium, the first has been up for weeks and had one single view, probably me on my mobile. But I’m not writing this for you, I’m writing it for me. So the view count does not matter. So I won’t pimp it on Twitter and won’t sweat the numbers.
Apologising for being different
I’m not like you. You’re not like me. We should probably both be grateful.
But the differences are deeper than whether we take sugar with our tea or not. I’m probably going to end up living my life in a way that is starkly in contrast to yours, or others that you know. This may make you uncomfortable, and hence make me uncomfortable. But now I’m not going to be apologetic about it.
I’ve tried normality and found it wanting. I’m going to try something else, and may find that wanting. I’m going to tell people about it. You can like it or not, I don’t really care. What you can’t do is make me feel bad about trying, so I’m not going to apologise.
You play the hand you’re dealt, be it good or bad. If it’s bad you fold, ante up and start again. If good you stay in. Poker is not life though as our hands are not competing. We can all have good hands if we ditch the bad ones. Don’t get cross with me if you’re afraid to fold.
Democracy and civic engagement
I worked for mySociety for three years, an awesome charity in the UK that does superb projects that genuinely improves people’s lives. Before that I created a public database of election candidates for the 2010 UK election. I’m really proud of both of these.
But I now don’t care about them. My thoughts have not once drifted over to projects I could do in this area. I’ve unsubscribed from mailing lists related to them and have not missed them. Before I was professionally interested, not personally — as a result I doubt I was giving it my all.
Upon reflection I’m actually a bit disillusioned with the whole thing. Democracy has been implemented in a way that is purely populist preventing a long term approach where it is needed most (environmental issues being the most obvious example). Sound bites trump science and research (see education and crime reduction policies). Petty bickering prevents progress (party allegiances hinder appropriate compromise). Votes are counted equally, but not cast equally.
Your system is broken — please fix it. I’m moving on.
Things I can’t influence or that don’t affect me
I’ve avoided all forms of news for a while and I plan to continue doing that. But there are other things that either I can’t influence or that don’t affect me.
I have no shares so don’t care about the stock market. Yet my phone was keen to shove the FTSE performance in my face when I got a swipe wrong. If it is up or down has nothing to do with me, and no effect on me, so I’ve switched it off. Gone is the cognitive load of worrying about a bright red 0.41% FTSE fall (whatever that means).
Now I don’t check the weather forecast unless it might influence my behaviour, and I don’t check more than a couple of days ahead as it is not accurate. I won’t work out the small details until the bigger decisions they’re contingent on are made. Less sweating the small stuff.
Scaling and large audiences
You have a video on your laptop and up on YouTube. How many views on YouTube would you equate to showing it to a single person on your laptop? A joke told in person to a friend is worth how many Twitter retweets of the same joke?
For me the human to human is much more important than the detached.
So I’m not going to care about the size of the audience. If someone stops me on the street for directions I’ll take the same care as an email to a huge mailing list. The size of the audience is not important, the impact is. And, selfishly, the payback. I’ll upload content to the ‘net, but I won’t care about how many people watch or view or read or share it. I’ll care about what sharing it does to me, and to the conversations the sharing creates (feel free to comment).
Closed communities and their echo chambers
Internet start-ups, programming languages, web frameworks, responsive design, HTML 5. Yawn.
Before this was my daily fare, now I really could not care less about any of it. Once you are out of the echo chamber you realise that most of the strongly felt discussion is just noise and has little effect on the rest of the world. In fact the rest of the world has no idea it is going on, or cares what it is all about.
In particular most of the world sees the Internet very differently to the tech community. No one out here cares about language, or continuous deployment, or even if you have tests. Sure they are all important, but they just don’t care. They care about the content and what the site lets them do.
My drafts folder here on Medium has several placeholders for tech things I wanted to write about earlier. Boring — delete, delete, delete.
And the world really does not expect every solution to be web-based. There are some things that have to be physical, and once you start to look for them you may realise that they are far more widespread and interesting than software. Watch this space…
This applies more widely than the tech community, all closed communities are prone to it. I’m going to try to stay somewhat aloof and maintain a wider view. Jack of all trades, master of some.
Well there we are. I guess no-one will actually read this but it’s done me a world of good to cement my thoughts.
You should all take a long break from being the you your daily lives dictate and find out who you actually are. You’ll be surprised.