Slow down and just look.

Ever have that feeling that there’s too much awesome in the world and you’ll never read/listen/experience it all?  It’s a kind of skewed, counter-intuitive anxiety – “what if I miss out on something?  What if there’s a song out there, or an idea, or a writer who is absolutely perfect for me and I will never get to hear them because of all of the other stuff in the way, stuff I have to sift through?”

It feels like a kind of post-millennial angst – the web has given us so much to love but has also shown us the depth and breadth of our own particular rabbit-holes.  Whether you love cookery or stamp-collecting, there’s always something or someone else further down that hole.  And it’s that sheer scale which scares us.  

So what’s the solution, then?  It seems to me that the default setting for many is quite simply More.  More TBs of music downloaded from torrent sites, more time on the web, more scouring of blogs and your RSS reader for the next idea, the next insight, the next cat video.

But you still feel it, don’t you?  That you’ll never get to it all – that that “thing” is still out there and there’s a vast chance you’ll die without it. 

There is another way though, and it’s all about speed.  After reading John Freeman’s article “Manifesto on Slow Communication” and more recently Robin Sloan’s tap-essay “Fish” – both of which I suggest you go read RIGHT NOW, I’m realizing that – to borrow the terms Robin uses in his essay – maybe that “thing” you’re looking for isn’t in the 15 things you’ll “like” today.  Maybe it’s actually deep within all of the things you’ve “loved” over the past 10 years. 

The things you “love”, according to Robin, are the things you’ve returned to more than once; the things that are bulging with ideas that better represent you, things you have to return to in order to soak them up them up properly; things that exist in the outside world that seem to truly understand  the inside you; things that bring outward your inner forms.

Like the slow food movement, which focuses on understanding the details of the natural environment and the origin of what you’re putting in your mouth, this “slowing down” allows details to emerge that you’d never see at first, second or even third glance.

I find it when I memorize a poem, when I put an album on “repeat”, when I read and re-read articles online or send them to friends.  The meanings, the ideas, which were like bright glinting shells underwater that catch the eye on first glance, reveal themselves upon patient re-looking to be vast treasures troves of understanding.  All I have to do is sit patiently and just look.

This is, in reality, very difficult to do. Mainly because, as John mentions in his “Manifesto …”, progress in a corporate world is measured in speed, in size and in quantity. 

But as he also mentions, “real progress is measured in learning to decide what is working and what is not; and working at this pace …at this frantic rate, is pleasing very few of us.” 


Slow down and just look.

One thought on “Slow down and just look.

  1. This is a subject close to my heart.The internet can be a cruel mistress. On the one hand, I love how the digitization of some parts of my life has freed me of physical and mental clutter. On the other hand, trying to read the whole internet before breakfast sucks.I got rid of my CDs and felt great, until I noticed myself exhibiting even worse hoarding of digital music, like you say. For me a lot of it came down to remembering stuff… without stacks of things on my shelf to occasionally browse over, what if one day I just forget that ElectricLarryLand by Butthole Surfers even exists and never get to hear it again in my life? WHAT THEN?!?The only sane answer has to be to just forget about it and get on with life.I pretty much took three months off the internet, and it was one of the best things I could have done. I read books, I drew for the fun of it, and I looked around a lot. When I got back, I hadn’t really missed anything. I was thankfully less interested in unimportant stuff. I got sucked back in for sure, but I’m more cynical now. I had long desired to be like this, but going cold turkey was really the only effective way for me to achieve it.Some practical coping mechanisms that I have developed that help with this:* Move to streaming for all music. Downloading is hoarding. (I admit that I didn’t manage to do this, but instead backed up all my music to an external hard drive. I started fresh with about 25 albums for iPhone syncing. If the Spotify iPhone app ever launches in Ireland I’ll delete all MP3s from my computer.) It’s true, I may never listen to ElectricLarryLand again, but the benefits are worth it.* Only use RSS for triage: send everything that takes longer than 2 mins to read to Instapaper. 30 mins per day in Google Reader is plenty to get this done. This is my strictest rule.* In Instapaper, sort articles by oldest first. This has been amazingly useful for me. Something that seems like a must-read can turn out to be totally skippable just a few weeks later. Work through this list from the top down, and enjoy deleting stuff that isn’t worthwhile after all.* No live TV, only downloads = no mindless channel surfing. (Sports and news are my exceptions.)* Use lists on Twitter. I have a "VIP" list with a manageable amount of followees, and always catch up on that. My main timeline is there to be dipped into when I feel like it, but not to be caught up on.I have a few similar strategies that make it more likely that I’ll exercise, eat better, etc. For some reason I need these artificial constructs or else my behaviour goes crazy. "The Information Diet" by Clay Johnson makes the comparison of "empty mental calories" and much of what we do online as being intellectual binge eating. I’ve got a sweet tooth and (for want of a better phrase) a sweet brain that just loves to consume. Still in the process of managing both.One final recent realization: unless you’re some sort of critic or editor, consuming is not a productive act. It feels great — I’m totally addicted to it — but the more of it you do, the less likely you are to make the leap from admiring those who create what you consume, to being a creator yourself. Consumption is rewarding, but you’ll always be on the outside looking in.

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