Slow Reading

Life feels like it’s flying past. Each day minutes crawl by minute by minute, like treacle flowing in mid-winter. Yet, months and years pass without my even noticing them go. Life on the internet moves at equivalent speed but with unimaginably immense volume.

I learned to swim, well enough, as a kid. You need enough coordination to keep your head above water long enough to take an occasional breath. I’m decently computer literate but I learned to swim in the tiny community pool of the early internet, while the modern ocean of digital communication snuck up behind me.

I didn’t realise I couldn’t keep up until my head couldn’t breech the surface any longer: notification badges, push messages, real-time updates, microblogs, social media and I digress. Every time I got ahold of one, my lizard brain would light up at the prospect of another “enhancing my productivity” and off the cycle would repeat itself again. It seemed like I couldn’t help myself.

I won’t go long on the morass of the Internet advertising industry, the addictive properties of our devices, or the weak will of modern “millennials”—hey there!—but there’s just too much coming down the pipe and all of it is designed to hit that limbic system sweet-spot. We all know this is not healthy behaviour, so how to balance information overload and generally wanting to be in the loop?

The easiest answer is just to say, “No.” I say the easiest, yet what I mean is its the easiest way to patronise your friends. Remember how well that advice worked for drugs, premarital-sex and Twitter flame wars? Yeah.

I’ve managed to get ahold of my information diet (for now, honestly) using two methods of my own devising and one forced on me by circumstance (note: your milage may vary). First, I cut twitter down, mentally, to a one-way valve. I have something to share, I share it and if anyone wishes to get in touch, then we have a brief chat; otherwise, I don't look at my timeline. This behaviour was made easier still by getting rid of any client applications on my devices, instead I have to load up their mobile website... which is fine.

Second, I turned back to an RSS reader, like the cool kids, that I host on a mostly unused server. Right now, I'm running TT-RSS for my backend, a plugin to make it emulate the late great Fever API and an RSS client on my iphone (it's Reeder if you must know). The fiddly-ness of this is an important ingredient in my scheme.

I could locally pull the feeds or use a different backend, like Feedbin or Feed Wrangler, but if I did that, then I would have a constant trickle of new things to read and the pull to load up evermore sites into my queue. I know myself. I know I can’t be trusted with real-time or convenience. So, TT-RSS is pulls articles every half hour and I have to add new feeds through the web interface, which makes “increasing my productivity” a huge pain; therefore, I never do it and my mind is squeaky clean of internet-born anxiety. (Leaving plenty of room for my meat-space-born anxieties and other human foibles.)

I mentioned another way I've kept sane, this one is very new, only in the last week has Fortune decided to curse me with such restraint: I haven’t had access to the Internet at home. Before you cast your slings and arrows, know that the two previous have been happily in the works for months. But, I do take your point. Living like Richard Stallman has allowed me to dig my head fully into the sand, and like Rich (???????????), I suspect its all fine.

Canadian internet access, whether cellular, cable or DSL, is an absolute scam. An oligopoly in ways I couldn’t fathom until back from Europe, where I paid ~£20 a month for (nearly) unlimited 4G data and here I pay, what, 6–7 times that for 4GB of data. Cable internet is not much better, with decently fast downloads (with 0.10x the upload speed) clocking in at nearly $100 per month.

Unlike the Merchant of Venice, the powers that be have extracted their pound of flesh (minus the fluids that now fill this husk of a human being). They have the money—all of it. I’m now just a sucker waiting on delivery :'( Thus, I hike to a local coffeeshop every day or so and order the finest, cheapest coffee they provide so I can git push fine content like this to the ether.

That massive rant behind me, I do feel better for being less connected. A small bell dings in the back of my mind from time to time, wondering on what I’ve missed. Generally, I am getting by just fine without drinking from the firehose. Though, who knows what will change when the next internet darling rises from the ashes of Facebook. I'm sure if my lizard brain grabs the reins I’ll be strapping an Amazon project directly into my frontal lobes and happily pay for the privilege.

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