At first I thought it was the same thing that happens every summer: that irresistible urge to go outside as often and for as long as possible.
Over the past month I’ve planted everything from tomatoes to ferns, cucumbers to columbines. I’ve pruned, dug up sod, moved bricks and rocks large and small around our yard. I’ve cycled daily on my sweet new-to-me cruiser to my vacationing parents’ house to water their garden. I’ve eaten piles of fresh-picked berries, peas, beans and lettuce – often al fresco. I’ve picnicked at summer concerts at the island farm. I’ve had coffee dates that turned into four-hour conversations over lunch. There have been s’mores around a fire.
I’ve been very much in my body, with people, in my city and in nature, enjoying an unplanned vacation away from my business and offline – simply because I couldn’t make myself go inside.
It’s been completely, deliciously real.
So real and so engaging I forgot things I never forget, like my regular mastermind call. So real and so satisfying that I didn’t much mind falling behind on the professional work I had planned for the quarter.
And yet. A part of my mind was still busy figuring out if and how to post that delicious reality to social media – what to include, what to say, how to photograph it.
And then I realized just how angry I was about that sense of obligation to share my activities in real time and the distraction and brain drain that went with it, how much I loathed the way even thinking about it was altering my very experience. As in: it’s a good thing I had weeds and heavy rocks to take that fury out on, otherwise I would have had to beat my mattress with a tennis racket.
Given that no one was actually forcing me to do anything, I had to ask myself where that peer-pressure was coming from, along with that huge upswell of resentment and resistance to it.
Fortunately, in trying understand it I was reminded of a recent missive written by the always thoughtful and observant Sarah Bray. It included a link to Uncommon, which referenced a brilliant essay by Jack Cheng on the Slow Web movement.
That was the lucky bit. The concept of Fast vs. Slow Web explained everything I was experiencing. And let me know I wasn’t alone in that experience.
Such is the power of the internet.
That’s its good side – the side that remains a wonder to me, the side I acknowledge with delight and gratitude for all the useful and beautiful experiences, knowledge and people it brings into my life.
But there is another side – the side that foments voyeurism, comparison, conformity, false expectations, narcissism, distraction, information overload and a house-of-mirrors unreality. The side that keeps us on a dopamine high of random rewards that never satisfy. The side that siphons our energy for its own purposes like the Matrix. The side that fuels our fears of missing out and the-grass-is-surely-greener-over-there. The side that creates distance while promising connection. The side that keeps us clicking clicking clicking instead of living.
The side that reminds me of that frenetic early scene in Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge when all the top-hatted patrons sing that Nirvana song: Here we are now, entertain us… The side that feeds my ego instead of my ideas. The side that has been insidiously turning me into a wanna-be celebrity instead of the educator, organizer and craftsperson I am called to be.
That’s what I was bucking against.
Once I understood that, I realized it wasn’t just summer. I wasn’t just avoiding work to be in the sunshine. I was also avoiding work because, while I love what I do, I no longer love the environment in which I do it.
Here in the delicious reality of summertime – while I’ve essentially been living Slow Food – the shortcomings of Fast Web feel painfully obvious. It’s time to change my location.
“Not long ago I Skyped with a friend who was driven out of the city by high rent and now has an artist’s residency in a small town in the south of France. She described herself as happy and relaxed for the first time in years. She still gets her work done, but it doesn’t consume her entire day and brain. She says it feels like college – she has a big circle of friends who all go out to the cafe together every night. She has a boyfriend again. What she had mistakenly assumed was her personality – driven, cranky, anxious and sad – turned out to be a deformative effect of her environment.” – Tim Kreider, “The ‘Busy’ Trap”, The New York Times
• • • • •
I reread Sarah’s letter because I remembered her saying people who are most successful on the internet these days are the ones who are helping people to have real world experiences and I wanted to get the quote right. Turns out she didn’t actually say that. It was somewhat implied, but really I had drawn the conclusion I wanted to hear.
Because that’s what I want to do. I want to help people – me and you both – to have better real world experiences, to be fully present and engaged in our lives and work.
Of course, in a digital age “real” gets pretty tricky to define pretty quickly – and will vary from person to person. That said, if you’re still with me, if you’re nodding your head as you read this, if you think this commercial is funny – I’m confident you know what I mean by real.
• • • • •
To have better real-world experiences, to stay on the good side of the internet, I am embracing the qualities of the Slow Web movement: timely not real-time, rhythm not random, moderation not excess, knowledge not information – and deepening my commitment to my own guiding principles.
“When people say, ‘You really, really must’ do something, it means you don’t really have to. No one ever says, ‘You really, really must deliver the baby during labor.’ When it’s true, it doesn’t need to be said.” – Tina Fey, Bossypants
Starting with breaking the rules by taking a indefinite hiatus from social media. I don’t care how fun and essential “everyone” says it is, no amount curation or systems-crafting has kept Facebook and Twitter from being tedious and draining spaces that fail to bring out my best. [Especially Facebook. If Fast Web is like Fast Food, I consider Facebook to be the Monsanto of the internet. If you are among those who thrive there, feel free to disagree and carry on.] This is one of those times when the best system is no system.
Next: It’s one thing to criticize Facebook as a space designed to keep you addicted to the dopamine high of random rewards and clicking clicking clicking to fuel its own purposes – it’s another to realize you’ve done the very same thing on your own website. So I’ve removed things like the eight or more self-serving links you had the option to click on at the end of every blog post. I’ve pared down my sidebars and deleted entire paragraphs and pages of information you don’t need to know to understand what I do.
Because, again, what I most want you to do after reading something like this is to incorporate the useful bits into your life, not end up down the rabbit hole of the internet only to come up for air hours later feeling unsatisfied and less-than and wondering WTF you’ve been doing all day. [And yet I acknowledge this post contains many links. I see the contradiction and can only say: I'm still figuring this out.]
Effective time management is good energy management, so I also don’t want to burn through your limited and therefore precious cognitive resources. Our abilities to process information, solve problems and exercise self-discipline all come from the same well – and even though we’re total braniacs, that well is far from deep. Every decision we make degrades our ability to make subsequent decisions. If I’m going to ask you to make choices, they’d damn-well better be worthwhile. Asking you to click to tweet is not a good use of your cognitive resources. Nor is pointing you to the latest video that made me LOL or cry. Those things are just french fries. And a digital storefront with an overwhelm of information and options does nothing to nourish you or bring out your real-world best.
• • • • •
“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
That simplification is also finding it’s way into my upcoming programs. From content to structure, pacing, platform and pricing, I’m asking myself: what is the most straightforward way I can help you to change the things you want to change and do the things you want to do? How much tangible reality can I bring into a virtual business? Is it possible to create online co-working spaces that embody the same energy as your favorite local café? (Stay tuned for developments and announcements about that.)
• • • • •
Lastly, though I am giving up social media, I don’t want to lose my connection with you. And though email can be just as pernicious, it still has that lovely quality of person-to-person correspondence. So, I’m shifting the Aerogramme from being an e-newsletter to something closer to an old-fashioned letter (remember those?) – occasional updates about what’s happening with me to which you’re enthusiastically invited to reply in your own time with what’s happening with you. Because I really, truly want to know. I just can’t figure out how to have such conversations on Facebook…
• • • • •
So that’s what’s been happening with me lately. Now go forth and apply any useful and beautiful ideas you found here to your real life. Form hypotheses and test them (e.g., what happens when you drop out of something popular?). And then if you’re so inclined, write back and tell me…
- in the comments below, by email [ hello at thirdhandworks dot com ] or postal service [ address at the bottom of the page ]
- What have you been up to this summer?
- What kinds of real-world experiences do you want more of?
- And what do you think about this Slow Web thing?
peace and love,