Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Talking to Dead People

I haven't been writing much on here recently and I thought I would talk a little about what led to that. I decided to try to as much as practical cut off contact with dead people, and people I don't know.

That may seem an odd way to live, but it is how most of people through most of history have lived. The real difference between the modern world, and the stone age is that at some point we learned to transmit information over vast distances in space and time first through painting and writing, then later through radio, tape cassettes, video games, the internet, television and dozens of other forms. Without this transmission of information we never could have created the world we live in today.

So, why cut off from all of this information if it has created so much? Well, perhaps the biggest reason is to see what happens. To the best of my knowledge no group in modern society has actually gone out of the way to live like this. I for example managed to live without a computer or television in my apartment for several months right when I started graduate school. What did I do with that time? Primarily I read books. One person I don't know telling me what to think was replaced with another! There has been no point in my life where I have cut myself off from all of this useful information, propaganda, and entertainment.

Another reason has been the realization that I know too much and do too little. Outside of a tiny number of technical subjects my life would not improve with more information. There was a time in my life where this was probably not true. Not because I did a lot then, but because the only expectation on me was to learn. Was I to cut myself off of information at that point in time the results on my life would most certainly be destructive. That no longer appears to be true, I could forget for decades and still know enough to function in society. It makes more sense to focus on actually doing something.

Watching myself and other people whenever they are not doing something interesting or productive they seem to be taking in information from, or being entertained by people they don't know. They watch TV, surf the internet, read cheap romance novels, read the newspaper, play video games, and so on. Even much of the apparently unproductive time people spend when they are not taking in information from strangers is actually fairly productive. The best example I have is drinking. You might expect that regularly going to the bar would have a general negative effect on your life. In some ways it may well, but if you compare the incomes of people who drink socially with those who do not you find that up to around an astonishing 35 drinks a week people who drink socially make more money than those who either do not drink, or drink alone. It is not the alcoholic who spends his time at parties or in the bar who ruins his life, its the alcoholic who gets drunk and watches television. Cutting the television from his life may be the more prudent move.

I have decided upon a complex set of rules for this experiment. Any activity that is primarily used to contact people I know is fair game. Email, Instant Messages, Phones, and so on. I decided to keep the blog because lets face it, no one I don't know will ever read it. Posting to reddit, or arguing on its comments section is clearly out as it is primarily me communicating with people I do not know. With works of art such as paintings and music I have decided to keep originals, even if the painter is dead, but as much as reasonable limit duplicates and recordings. Going to a concert, or museum sounds close enough to productive for me to keep it as an option. With books and articles, I try to cut it off if it is not directly related to my courses or research. I used that fudge word at the start of this blog, practical, it is not practical for me to enter a new field without a great deal of reading on the subject. The goal is not to be anti-technology, or in some sense even anti-information it is to be pro doing something interesting with my time. I have also instituted a rule to not be an asshole about it. If you are at someone's house and they want to watch a movie, it is rude to apply pressure to do otherwise. Not going to a party, or requesting someone turn off the music at a party are both not options that will improve life.

Starting was particularly difficult. My alarm was initially a radio station, I changed it to that annoying beeping. Car radio got turned off. The first day I drove in silence it was really really hard to not turn the thing on and flip through stations. Within a week I stopped noticing it. I took to turning off my computer to increase the amount of effort I need to get onto it. While you are motivated turning the monitor so it is facing away from you is also particularly effective as a way to break you down when you are less motivated. I stopped carrying headphones with me so listening to Audiobooks stops being an easy option.

In some ways I have done really well, in other ways not as much. I haven't been to reddit in two weeks, which opened up a lot of time in my life. I never started listening to audiobooks or the radio again. I haven't played video games in the time period either. I was doing fairly well with newspapers, forums, and television until I got sick. In the last few days I have not done very well at that.

The thing I would consider this the most like is breaking up with a girlfriend. You end up with all this time, and no obvious thing to do with it. Think of all that time you spend staring at a screen and consider for a second what you would be doing if you were not at that screen. I spent a great deal of time staring at my aquarium trying to figure out what to do. I now seem to go to bed about two hours earlier than before. Before I would get so interested in what I was doing that I would stay up late. Now I face an empty apartment and sleep all of a sudden sounds like a good plan. However when you are faced with no interesting options to do with your time you eventually go to your list of things you really know you are supposed to be doing and do it. While I still haven't been as productive as I need to be, this certainly helped a lot.

Will I try to go along with this crazy plan for long? I honestly have no idea. Anyone who has known me long knows I am capable of taking crazy ideas to limits that most people would consider insane. Breaking so many habits at once is really difficult to do though and if I end up unemployed in January it may prove really hard to hold up.

No comments: