Big Bubbles (no troubles)

What sucks, who sucks and you suck

Away From It All

In case you were wondering - which you almost certainly weren’t, but I’m going to satisfy your non-existent curiosity anyway - I’m currently off the grid. Not off the net, to be sure; that would make work rather difficult. But I’m avoiding all news and social media during the current fortnight, due to the inclement militarised sponsorship event currently taking place.

It’s not just the corruption, the hideous expense, the dubious trademarking and brand protection, it’s just that I feel the world would be a better place if everyone who enjoyed participating in or watching sport was rounded up and shipped off to a different one. Except the England fans, who should simply be bolt-gunned like cattle. That’s remarkably tolerant of me, by the way, given what I’ve put up with for the past thirty years.

Anyway, I figured the best way not to think about this, particularly given that even casual sports fans like to go ON AND ON AND ON, was simply to avoid hearing or reading as much as possible about it. So last Friday, after one final bilious tweet about the opening ceremony (which had become regrettably unavoidable in a hotel I was staying at), I went cold turkey. Logged out of my twitter clients, collapsed my News folder in Google Reader and stopped checking FB and G+ on my phone. Instead, I resolved to focus the innumerable hours thus unlocked on various personal projects that needed some considered thought: various people helpfully implied that work might profitably (for them) be one for a change; I had a number of photography projects to catch up on and thought of a new one to start; a lot of reading; and possibly some blog posts.

One week into the experiment, I think it’s fair to say that I haven’t quite cracked the P vs NP problem, obtained a major commission from Getty or added significantly to this archive. On the other hand, I finished a few books, found quite a few more interesting new ones to tackle, and perused several longer online pieces, all of which were useful grist to the mill. I have taken some photos, with a few more in the pipeline for this weekend. And I’ve even thought about finishing painting the rear gates, although the weather looks a bit iffy this weekend so maybe not, pity (I’ll D.I.E. before I D.I.Y.). Actually, my greatest victory so far is that I haven’t weakened and gone back to looking at all the stuff I was trying to avoid. (Although it’s not too much of a temptation when you know it will mainly consist of speculation about tight sportswear.)

It turns out that, outside of work (cough), I mainly use Twitter and the like to fill in those odd five or ten minutes throughout the day when I’m stuck in one place waiting for something, like one of my Junior Research Assistants to finish in the bathroom. You can’t really tackle a novel in that time, let alone read one. I miss those random moments of amusement throughout the day, and have been forced to develop a meditative blank stare at the nearest wall in lieu of them. You should see the size of my karma. The problem occurs when you have a clear thirty minutes or more and you still choose to fritter it away catching up on feeds. Thirty minutes! You could write chick-lit and be a slightly dim Tory MP in that time. To ease the withdrawal, I’d already decided to allow Flickr as my one ongoing social feed (via the excellent FlickFolio app), with the idealistic hope of engaging deeper with its content. And Flickr is so overwhelmingly stuffed with both stunning and many, many incredibly unstunning images, all of them tailed by comments of the “Hey, nice capture - you are invited to add this image to the Tasteless HDR Vomit group” nature that you’ll quickly chuck it in and go back to the wall.

On the other hand, I get a lot of useful links and references outside the mainstream media from my feeds, so there’s been a dearth of long-form writing to occupy my elongated attention span. I’ve compromised slightly to allow The Browser app and The Atlantic (via Currents) through the filter. It doesn’t help that this self-imposed exile has coincided with the arrival of my Nexus 7; turns out that without a constantly updating online life, a tablet is an e-reader and little more. (But it is a great e-reader.)

One of the ebooks I finished included a reference to this polemic urging mankind to Avoid News. I don’t quite buy the overall premise - that we’re all just better off period without reading the news. Apparently, it doesn’t matter because “friends and colleagues will tell you about relevant events” - so presumably someone amongst humanity still has to read it. I think you need to maintain some level of awareness about the state of the world to continue inhabiting it as an engaged adult, otherwise you become one who “sees nothing, hears nothing and [thinks] nothing”. However, I can observe a certain ease and quietude of mind now that it is clear of continual, exhausting alarums about the economy, the inept machinations of our present day political pygmies and the clastic detritus of various celebrity brainfarts. It’s a bit like having my idyllic student days back (three years of blissful immersion in living on the mid Wales coast, cut off from events), minus the heavy drinking. This is definitely worth cultivating; the only issue remains how to maintain the required degree of lofty comprehension without sinking back into checking the Guardian feed every hour. Dobelli’s suggestion to “glance through the summary page of the Economist once a week” may be on the right track.

On the downside, I haven’t yet been able to turn my newly-acquired superpowers of Deep Thought toward tackling various long term personal and professional concerns that have thus far seemed intractable. It’s only been a week, I guess. Perhaps the best one can say is that I do not currently feel so ground down by them. I have despatched a number of routine, fairly workaday tasks in the office, but I haven’t achieved any much-sought breakthrough with all this renewed concentration. I have not, Austin Powers-style, regained my mojo. Hard problem is hard. Tedious routine is still tedious and routine.

Here’s the rub: when you’re a middle-aged, mortgaged wage slave, large parts of your day are likely to be quite boring, inbetween idle moments of more boredom. Fiddling around on the internet, while never offering to resolve the boredom, at least alleviates it temporarily so you can face another dose. Denying yourself this indulgence may force you to address the underlying cause of your boredom - but you may conclude that it is not entirely within your control. Few of us can suddenly throw aside the trappings of our daily life and run off to join the circus, should we even be so inclined. (Bear with me, working this out as I go along.) So you might well fall back on the distraction anyway - but perhaps only after an extended period of quieter reflection to properly survey the options, taken at regular intervals. If nothing else, you may confirm that this truly is your situation, that it is not readily amenable to change at this time and that the ongoing malaise may be rendered at least tolerable.

Another week to go. Who knows, seven days from now I may have cured cancer (or at least got some of these halfsensical devops tools working, if miracles really do occur). Try not to dwell on my absence; at least you have live televised synchronised swimming to tide you over. I’m off to boil the kettle and stare furiously into the middle distance with one hand pressed against the deep furrows of my brow. Pretentious, moi. }:-/