Intentional Internet

I’m not a fan of the New Year’s Resolution. It’s the crash diet of crash-diets. What I’ve observed is that we often choose resolutions whose outcomes cannot be sustainably achieved without addressing the problem from a systems perspective. Most hard change cannot be achieved via moderate and inconsistent brute force (or friendly shaming). It needs an appropriate level of sophistication and one has to be in it for the long game.

For the last several years I have kept this list of things I want to achieve, or get back to. Every year I’ve failed, not because I lacked the passion, or a plan, or because I am incapable of sufficient willpower. It was more because I thought I could isolate hobbies, activities, and practice to blocks on my calendar, or physical locations, or attach rewards to milestones. I let other meetings or people creep into scheduled blocks of time. Something would catch on fire at work or at home and I would step in to put it out. Or someone was wrong on the internet.

There’s nothing wrong with putting other people and bigger things above personal goals. In fact, I think it’s a good thing (as a child of Mexican immigrants I am contractually obligated to state this). Unfortunately, by Q2 I would end up with little progress, disappointment, and some resentment, about my plans. Emotional labor, or the art of “keeping track of things and helping out where you can,” is rarely recognized.

So this year I took a systems design approach to the problem. Why wasn’t I doing the things I wanted to do? At first glance, it looked like a simple matter of spending too much time online.

I was, but a lot of my goals, like re-building my website or blogging again, were dependent on the Internet. So instead, I started observing the situations I would find myself in when I self-sabotaged at home and at work, and they all had too much content. Quality content by most people’s standards, but trivial, nonetheless. They were all click-holes. From there I looked at the interaction models and behaviors encouraged by those sites or platforms, and decided to experiment with removing all triggers, digitial or otherwise. The idea was that by “controlling” for these variables, perhaps I would see some sort of change at the end that would give me the space to do the things I really wanted to do and get shit done.

And so The Year of Intentional Internet began.

What I’ve been doing

Here are some examples of things I’ve been messing with this year. Alone, most of these make unimpressive New Year’s Resolutions:

Unsubscribing to every spam message and lists of links that made it into my inbox, to optimize email and cut down on click holes originating there. Very good results. I went from seeing 30-ish messages in the morning to 5-10, and keeping zero messages in my inbox.

Eliminating all personal social media use. I haven’t had a Facebook or Snapchat account for a few years now, so this was really just getting rid of Instagram. Like the former, I’ve started with simply deleting the app adding it to my hostsfile before deleting the account. Results were great! Until I caved–I had to post this. Then I figured I should update people on you know, my second child’s birth (hadn’t told them I was pregnant either), and my cat’s death. Before I knew it, I was back to my previous usage, but I was able to notice how little it mattered, yet how much mental and emotional resources it used. The app is back in the trash and off my phone. It’ll take a lot to top that portrait.

Deleting all shopping apps from my phone. I’ve saved time and money and have brought less crap into the house. Awesome results!

Deleting all work or creative social media apps from my phone. Having to load, say, Twitter or Pinterest in the browser lets me re-think my desire to go on them, and the performance lag helps me get tired of it faster. Nagging me to download the app helps too.

Only engaging posts from people I follow on Twitter. I want to get to know people I know better. Decent results, this behavior is tough to crack.

Yes, basically, anything with infinite scrolling and recommended content has been cut out. So, most of the modern internet, I know.

Hello bookmarks my old friend

Remember blogrolls? I’ve kept a bookmarked list of blogs and sites I always want to stay up to date with. They’re way more than enough. To this I’ve added a list of individual social media accounts that I can visit in the browser individually.

It’s been a trip to go back to old blogs I used to visit, and see how they’re doing, or how they’ve become the precursor to something bigger that changed the web forever. Like reading the post where a blogger reflects on the evolution of a hobby to a demanding job, and the subsequent loss of authenticity. Street style blogs aren’t a thing anymore! The role they played in the current influencer era is downright creepy!

If someone shares an article I want to read that is not on my list, I navigate to that blog or website independently, and decide there. Results have been great. I used to have a folder of 50+ bookmarks to read later, and now it’s more like 10.

As a bonus, I get to enjoy the layout and reading experience of that site. One of the very things that got me into this whole design job mess to begin with 😀.

Not so great and on the fence

I experimented with removing Slack from my phone and laptop, but I re-installed them. Being on maternity leave has been moderately isolating for me, particularly since I know very few people like me (Mexican-American) or in my situation (mother of young children), in the industry. Being able to chat again with the Slack communities I’m a part of has been very helpful in keeping my entire sense of self intact. Work Slack is most definitely off.

At first, I also toyed with the idea of using my old 12″ PowerBook as my primary internet device, and using an open-source RSS feeder. Perhaps I wanted to re-create a web that is no longer here, or focus too much on reading and writing for personal improvement and eliminating any possible distraction. The web has just moved too fast, and very little retains the spirit and essence of the current web when experienced on a 15-year old machine. Oh, and also it runs like shit.

Reading list apps or post-RSS platforms didn’t help me keep up with the things I cared about. I closed my Feedly account, which I had signed up for to replace Google Reader. Too much information overload. I also got rid of my Instapaper account, which takes away the layout and presentation of the website. Sometimes that’s the point.

Signing up for newsletters I care about has been a toss-up. I usually don’t read any linked articles, unless the person themselves wrote them. I do appreciate the idea of newsletters as a hybrid successor to social media and RSS feeds.

None of the writing apps or systems I’ve tried to get back into blogging and writing have been effective. This is because the root of why I stopped blogging goes beyond habit formation. It was a personal and painful experience, and I’m just not ready to be like that on the web again. Maybe I never will. But hey, maybe this post is the start of something new. There are many posts and things I’ve started but didn’t publish, or put away, and I’m optimistic that I will revisit them.

Am I getting around to my hobbies and activities? Yeah, much more. Not consistently. I always knew there were too many things I wanted to do and too little time. But it’s huge to have an hour or two a day where I sit and decide what I want to do, instead of whipping out my phone. My relationships with people I care about have not suffered, and I don’t think I’ve sacrificed some nebulous idea of career development. I don’t miss that way of using the internet.

Instead, I have re-discovered a way of being online that I was hoping I would find all along, that I’ve sorely missed for many years. One where catching up with your friends felt like going over to their place, instead of creeping through their window, or gossiping about them through someone else. It’s tempting to call this the old-school internet, because I don’t like to cling to the past, especially since I am fortunate enough to get to work on a teensy bit of its future.

The best part about this is that I’m running into other people on the web who are doing similar things. There might be dozens of us. It makes me feel like we’re in the last years of an internet winter, and much fruit is around the corner.

It’ll be great to make friends over the internet again.