50p on my electricity meter, and some reflections on aesthetics, politics, and suchlike

Saturday 22:56

“The importance of having beautiful things in our lives.”

“An omnidevice might give the appearance of minimalism, but is in fact thoroughly baroque in its essence and consequences.”

Some more writing prompts from the thoughtful people at Punkt., in connection with their digital detox challenge. A challenge that I was failing at rather badly today. But I did get down to the garden for the first time this year, so I count that as a small and important success!

Given that I had electricity, WIFI, and all the comforts of home, it’s not surprising that I took the usual daily dip into the mælström of mindless computer use that has, unfortunately, come to overtake many of my free hours — and, that truth be told, has dominated many hours when I should have been working. I was a bit more mindful and moderate about it, but even so…

Nevertheless, I think I’ve gotten the little gears turning. I checked, and there’s less than 50p left on the pre-paid electricity meter, so it will almost certainly be used up when I wake up tomorrow morning. If not, there’s a master switch that I can use to turn it off at the mains. That sounds like the makings of a good sabbath.

(Maybe tomorrow I’ll spend some time with the typewriter.)

By the way, Punkt. is not the only company to notice that there’s a problem with computer over-use. ReMarkable has thrown their hat into the ring, with a new device (currently only available for pre-order) and blog posts like “Are Digital Distractions The Worlds Latest Pandemic?

That might be overstating the case, but even so I think we could at this point start to take so-called “First World problems” at least a little bit seriously: Climate change. The rise and fall of democracies. Variations on the theme of Kitty Genovese. (Zoë Quinn got me thinking about this yesterday, but there are plenty of variations on the theme; for a long-form discussion see Anne Amnesia’s remarkable essay Unnecessariat.)

Basically I see myself having two “natures”: a higher or better nature, which is the one that is inclined towards a functional aesthetic, minimalist in the sense that form-follows-function. But I have other less-refined inclinations as well. These are the messy, deleterious, and possibly-toxic ones, that nevertheless possess their own aesthetic of “conscious anti-beauty” in the words of John Cale: so, everything from proto-punk to YouTube poop.

On Ubuntu I use the Ratpoison window manager (and live in Emacs).

For me these right-hand and left-hand paths, as it were, have a concrete instantiation in my dual booted computer. Mac OS is for everything fast, cheap, and out of control. Ubuntu is where I go to work, in those moments when I can. Could my problems with computer overuse really be solved by getting rid of the Mac partition, or moving to a completely free/open software system? It seems possible, but I suspect I will need a more holistic approach. The recent book “Rest” explains the idea of deliberate rest, an often-neglected fraternal twin of deliberate practice.

I’m mildly enchanted by the idea from another recent book that “Wasting time on the Internet” isn’t actually wasting time. I also suspect that the author may be trolling, but I’d be willing to consider the proposition:

Unlike old media, the internet demands active engagement — and it’s actually making us more social, more creative, even more productive.

It’s interesting to consider that the “omnidevice” might not be an easily grasped piece of machinery, like a laptop or smartphone, but rather the internet itself. This perspective would make it more clear, I think, that it’s how we use the tools we have at our disposal that matters. For me, Mac and Ubuntu are really two different “worlds,” even though they are available on the same physical device.

But there are different lifestyles available away from the computer as well! Diversifying devices and interfaces could help: for example, I’m thinking maybe I should start reading the Financial Times rather than online news. No doubt I’d find it boring, and it’s a bit pricy, but it could be worth it as a buffer against the waves of things I have no real need to know about.

Today’s day and age with its frenetic pace (I refer here to the News of Trump) presumably requires more than just always-on engagement: it actually requires sustainable and strategic engagement.

In any case, the pieces of this picture seem to be falling into place. Posting this now so that I can get some sleep — and before the WIFI goes away.