This Ain’t Walden Pond, Mate

Generic blog post about turning shit off.

A ways back, Venkatesh Rao coined the term waldenponding.

The crude caricature is “smash your smart phone and go live in a log cabin to reclaim your attention and your life from being hacked by evil social media platforms.” It is less of a caricature than you might think.

The above is drawn from the long and contrarian essay he wrote about it, AGAINST WALDENPONDING. How contrarian?

as an attitudinal foundation for relating to society and technology, Waldenponding is, I am convinced, a terrible philosophy at both a personal and collective level. It’s a world-and-life negation. A kind of selfish free-riding/tragedy of the commons: not learning to handle your share of the increased attention-management load required to keep the Global Social Computer in the Cloud (GSCITC) running effectively.

Oh yeah. I have recently noted that Venkatesh has muttered darkly about becoming a “post-Twitter being” and has locked his account, so I’m guessing he’s trying out the other side of his hellish joke. You should read the whole thing – it’s unfettered vantablack comedy.

Everybody’s made excellent points, now well-trodden, about offlining as privilege and privilege-signal. And, at the end of the day, I’m a freelance writer, and I can’t go completely offline forever.

What I can do is recognise step-changes in my career and adjust accordingly.

I always encourage everyone to tune the tools at hand until they work for the individual’s specific situation. This is something that’s gotten harder and weirder in the contemporary moment, because monolithic enterprises have grown from the financialised mechanic of making you miserable. To the point where, now, everyone does it. Here’s a whole bit from a newsletter I sent the other week:

I was going to just stick a bunch of photos of my shelves in here, but that felt like cheating, and repeating the point that streaming media doesn’t serve everybody and social media is boring. I went out of town during the week, didn’t check social media once and only listened to downloaded podcasts or music I own separately from services like Apple and Amazon. When I got home, I threw up my Tweetdeck lists on the big screen in the office as usual, and it did not appear that anything had changed in the intervening 24 hours. Except that maybe it becomes clearer that serious testing has informed all media companies that making you angry, sad or confused rrrrrreally brings the clicks home.

“Melbourne dog attack leaves boy with serious facial injuries.” Is this world news suitable for placing into your global Twitter feed, The Guardian? No.  World-class news story there – dog bites somebody.  But it will make people sad and angry, right?  “Megan Rapinoe: Can a pink-haired lesbian be an American hero?” That’s from BBC World News.  And someone has actually thought about that, because it invites Ian Betteridge’s “law” – any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.  So, angry and confused and sad.  All the clicks.  You would kind of hope The Guardian and the BBC would do better – the BBC isn’t even “a business” as is commonly framed, it’s a public-funded national entity, the oldest and largest broadcaster on the planet, and it does not need to show its arse for clicks.

(I wrote all this last night while v tired, and was going to delete it this morning, and then BBC News South East lead out with “two puppies die in fire” so fuck it)

And that’s just the social media-facing corporations. That doesn’t even take individual actors into account. The Global Social Computer in the Cloud — which, as ever, is mostly just people hired to sit in badly lit rooms and slave themselves out for data entry – is just noise. Murky, immiserating noise that demands sorting-braincycles that I can put to better use elsewhere.

I process a lot of stuff, and keep up with a lot of things, and a shift is required to allow for the career step-change. You can’t be dogmatic about anything. Situations tend to be fluid and dynamic, and you need to be able to flow and adjust in response.

I’ve been filling my office with DVDs and Blu-Rays and CDs for reasons.

I’ve killed all social media notifications, moved IG to a folder at the back of my phone where I will quickly forget about it, deleted some of its more egregious news apps (bye, New York Times) and generally turned stuff off. I’m not doing that thing of “making a dumbphone” or greying out the screen. Perhaps counter-intuitively, I am likely to have to appear more present on some services in the immediate future, but I’ll be doing that in as mediated, buffered and time-shifted a way as possible. This is a whole new stage of gone for me, and we’ll see how it goes.

And this whole post has really just been a way to lay it all out in front of me so I can see it properly.