Leo Babauta on unplugging

I really do intend to write a post about my current reading sources, once circumstances cooperate. One is Leo Babauta, who just wrote a helpful post called Opt Out: A Simplicity Manifesto. In it you’ll find a list of excellent suggestions for lowering the volume of low-value information that is vying for your attention.

As he concludes the post:

So what’s left after we’ve opted out of social media and online addictions, shopping and advertising, and the ways that most people live?

We become weirdos! In the best way.

But seriously, once we opt out of the norm … our lives are wide open. Our possibilities are staggering. […]

The point isn’t to opt out of life. It’s to see that life is much more than we dare to believe it can be.

I can vouch for this. First my life was overcrowded. Then I started clearing out portions of my life in order to make room for other things I wanted to include. But once I started clearing simply to make room, I began to see possibilities I hadn’t imagined and might never have seen otherwise.

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The Shut-In Economy

This is a pretty good article about how far things have developed in the new online service economy, how much further they may go, and how it breaks down according to class (as the tagline says, “In the new world of on-demand everything, you’re either pampered, isolated royalty — or you’re a 21st century servant”).

As with so many other developments with modern affluence, I’m fascinated that the promised benefits are so clearly just the opposite of what is actually delivered—and yet no one seems to notice.

So here’s the big question. What does she, or you, or any of us do with all this time we’re buying? Binge on Netflix shows? Go for a run? Van Ekert’s answer: “It’s more to dedicate more time to working.”

The very pursuit of what’s promised not only distances you ever further from the goal, but increases your hunger to reach the goal. Doesn’t this sound like the punishments meted out in Dante’s Inferno?

Alfred, maybe, is the inevitable end point of this system. It’s an on-demand assistant that coordinates all the other on-demand apps for you, and it’s aimed at two groups: people who want the benefits of various apps but don’t want to bother setting them all up, and the “air traffic controllers,” who already have so many services coming to relieve their burden that coordinating them has become a new burden all of its own.

With Alfred, you no longer have to open the door for the Instacart delivery: A worker comes into your apartment and stocks food in your fridge. You don’t hand off your dirty undies to a Washio messenger; Alfred puts the laundered undies in the drawer. This all happens by paying your Alfred $99 a month, plus the goods and services at reduced cost through Alfred’s hookups. Alfred won first place in the TechCrunch Disrupt SF conference last year.

One heavy consumer of these services observes:

“I have a strong work ethic and worked 24–7 in college and went to school at night, so I know how to get things done. You have to outsource things that someone else can do for cheaper. To save an hour a day, I would spend $25.” In one hour of chore time saved, Mallon estimates she can make $1,000 for her company.

I’m sure Mallon’s company appreciates the gesture. But in giving up that hour of doing chores herself, does she end up forfeiting more in value than her company returns to her? If they’re rewarding her with money, well, at the logical end point of this the only place she’ll know to spend money is on buying more hours … but to what purpose?

Continuing to unlpug

Last year it occurred to me that the inner turmoil I would sometimes experience while reading certain sources on the internet was hardly worth the occasional worthwhile bit that they brought my way. I had already given up nearly all interaction there for just the same reason, so I began to purge my reading lists. Any source that inspired contentiousness in me got the axe, first in my RSS reader and then via unfollows on Facebook and Twitter.

Reader, there wasn’t much left on Facebook and Twitter! In fact, I’ve finally gone ahead and deleted my Facebook account, and in a couple of days I’ll delete my Twitter account, once I’ve downloaded my tweet history (which is almost entirely a set of quotable quotes I wanted to save off somewhere).

Strangely enough, I probably spend just as much time as before reading RSS feeds, but that is because deleting the contentious stuff opened up enough space to add a few prolific but actually valuable sources. I’ve also subscribed to a couple of email newsletters that have a knack for finding valuable new items on the internet. So it’s not that I want to withdraw from cyberspace, merely narrow my exposure so that I can go deeper with sources I find edifying.

Although I can’t quantify it, I think doing this has greatly increased my peace of mind. Just as engagement in the News of the Day can suck you into a spiral of ever-increasing anxiety, disengaging can help you see what’s left more clearly, which leads not only to an improved perspective but allows and even encourages further disengagement. I used to have hope that the new possibilities for connecting via the internet would make life better, and as I withdrew I went through stretches of disappointment and uncertainty because of that—only to reach a point where I’m content with being out of the fray, and looking for ways to detach further in order to make even more space in my life for the things that count.

Ideology makes wisdom inaccessible

Remember the Y2K mania? Plenty of folks would like to forget it, since they embarrassed themselves mightily by loudly (and profitably) proclaiming doom and gloom in the years and months leading up to January 1, 2000. Me, I always wanted to celebrate it after the fact, since it woke me up to the unnecessarily complex and fragile nature of modern society. So what if the potential disaster never became actual? Just because we dodged a bullet didn’t mean they weren’t shooting at us.

The other thing I learned from Y2K is that ideology makes wisdom inaccessible. There was (and still is) an awful lot of good stuff that could be learned by taking a close, skeptical look at the nature of modern living. But once an ideology was attached, it went from being a matter of thinking deeply to one of choosing sides, with people on each side now motivated to automatically despise whatever the other side had to say, wise or not, simply because they were on the other side. In the Y2K debacle the preppers overreached and then lost the argument—spectacularly so—rendering themselves an object of easy ridicule. Anyone re-raising any of their qualms about modern living is now easily dismissed, simply because the preppers were exposed as fools one January morning.

I followed the Y2K discussions closely, and learned a lot. I didn’t buy into it to the point of making preparations, but we did spend New Year’s Eve in 1999 at our remote vacation home in Colorado, and I was, uh, open-minded about what I would find when I tried logging onto the internet the next morning. Perhaps because I wasn’t invested to the point of embarrassment I wasn’t deterred from looking deeply into modern life, and since then I’ve concluded that the preppers are basically right about the deep flaws of modern society, regardless of how accurate they’ve been in making practical predictions. And I think it’s a shame that their joy in making dire predictions has obscured the wisdom they’ve managed to uncover/recover.

Which is why I was really pleased to come across this article about Lisa Bedford, the Survival Mom. I haven’t studied Bedford’s site yet, but I will. The article makes it clear that she has found a niche by cleverly opening up the world of prepperdom to average people with average concerns, rescuing wisdom about preparedness from those who tend to bundle it up in ever-more-extreme ideology. Here’s a bit of common sense at its finest from Bedford:

When did being completely unprepated for everything become a virtue?

Bedford’s approach is inspired, and (to me) inspiring—I’m already thinking of ways I might adapt it to grant access to some of the wisdom I’ve found tightly embedded in different ideologies I’ve studied.