A Trip To Outloggistan

Another month, another bunch of problems with my internet provider. Without any apparent reason – bills are paid on time, cables look fine – the service gets suspended. This seems to happen every couple of weeks, and as much as it gets on my nerves, I was wondering these days about whether there wasn’t some beauty, even a commercial potential to it.

Let’s just imagine if all providers out there would cut our internet access from time to time. In total irregularity, you are sent on a trip to this strange country called Outloggistan, far away from all your favorite websites and computer clouds: On Monday, you are fine, but then, Tuesday at 9am, the web is down. They take you by surprise, and you don’t know when it will return: Maybe within a few hours, but more likely only after a couple of days.

Suddenly, you are free. You are free to leave your house, your office – ideally you don’t own a laptop, so you leave your computer at your desk -, free to take a stroll and look around, with nothing but a paper notebook and a fountain pen on you, maybe a camera, if you own one and happen to be interested in photography.
You have the time to speak to your neighbors, because you’re not missing anything on Twitter, Facebook, your email inbox. (Or maybe you are, but you just don’t know, can’t know, won’t know.) If you’re lucky, cellphone companies will join the good example of your ISP, and there will be no signal for you. You aren’t able to call your boss, your friends, your colleagues, you cannot schedule anything, not even a meeting to put the free time to “good use”.

Relaxation (And Offline Productivity)

You see a burrito vendor, and mentally trade off the possibilities of catching salmonellae against enjoying a relaxed and hearty breakfast like you didn’t have one in months. You observe a beautiful girl in a yellow skirt, diving into the morning light that floods around the walls of the corner shop. You are free to sit down for coffee, instead of taking it with you as you rush through the city, and you are free to take a nap on the rotting wooden banks on that tiny plaza you only used to know from your breathless walks, crossing it on your way to “more important” events.

Without any stress at all, you are free to take out your notebook, your pencil, and start doing your work, start outlining a new post, start bringing new thoughts to life, creating a whole new world just by writing about it. You may also start to doodle, scribble, or you may use that camera and start taking pictures with all the time in the world. Nobody rushes you anymore as you start diving into your creative craftwork.

Starting. The magic of getting started. That’s what the internet is making so incredibly difficult. Because there’s always something else to read, something else to open, something else to download, to click on, to install and to look at, to sign up for, to wonder about, all the time. (There, a new email! What might it be? Oh, just another of these boring mailing list announcements. You wanted to get rid of that subscription months ago already. But wait, there’s this friend of yours on that list, and he needs to be contacted because of what John said, the other day. You should call him right away!…)

Nested Distractions (And How To Avoid Them)

The trouble with the internet is that one distraction leads to another. Within seconds, they become nested, interlaced, impossible to separate: The web invites our brains to hyperlink. We only wanted to check that word in the online dictionary, but then we see that ad and it triggers a memory, we rapidly open that website in a new tab, post the link on Twitter, and – boom. We’re lost.

To some extent, this hyperlink structure is exactly what we are looking for in our creative ventures: We want to access information from different parts of our brains, we want to connect these pieces, glue them together in order to create something bigger, getting our work done. Paradoxically, the same trait that helps us doing these things is also the one that makes it more and more difficult. It’s only a thin red line we have to cross to leave the sanctuary of inspired productivity and enter the war zone of overwhelming distractedness.

That’s why diconnecting from time to time is so powerful. The thin red line disappears, as does distractedness. There are tools available that will block your computer for some minutes each hour – and once you activate them, you are not able to turn them off anymore. They force you to take a small break each hour, or at least to dedicate these minutes to some activity away from your screen. The alternative? Imagine a telco offering a complete service package with at least five days of guaranteed downtime each month. For the same price of a normal 24/7/365 connection, you could get all the power of the web plus a couple of weeks in Outloggistan. Wouldn’t that be worth your money?


Illustration based on a photo (cc) BY Irene2005.

Comments 11

  1. Nate July 27, 2010

    There’s sort of this yin and yang to technology. There are so many wonderful things about it. We can connect with others. We can gain access to groups of people that may have once been impossible to connect with. Information is literally at our fingertips whenever we want it. On the other hand, there are some not so good things. We can become easily distracted by it. There are the effects of information overload. We too often believe everything we read without questioning it. Well, I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

    I like disconnecting and I think it can be extremely beneficial. When we disconnect from the internet we have the opportunity to re-connect to ourselves w/o any of the noise or influence of what’s out there on the web. I agree that the internet can definitely be a distraction and prevent us from doing things. It’s almost comparable to TV or couch surfing accept with the internet it’s a little bit more active so might trick ourselves in believing it’s somehow different. Just like TV, we need to be more mindful of what we’re reading and filling our minds with. Is it beneficial? Are we reading it just to read it? How is it helping our hurting us?

    • Fabian July 28, 2010

      Nate, Yin and Yang is what it is! I also think you’re right about the comparison between internet and TV: So often, it comes down to the same old passive cunsumption… There’s another client for my new ISP, then? ;)
      Thanks for dropping by and leaving a comment, buddy!

  2. Greg July 28, 2010

    Labels on hyperlinks are so optimized to attract your attention that you end up clicking to read the next interesting article or post. Then, it happens again, and again, and again. It’s so easy to keep going because you feel that you’re reading interesting and useful content. By then, you end up in a cycle of trying to process all this input into some coherent picture that you neglect your own output. Thanks for your dispatch for outloggistan.

    • Fabian July 28, 2010

      You’re welcome Greg, and thanks for taking the time to comment!
      There is so much information out there, and much of it is worth reading; but at some point, we just have to make a conscious break and step back. That’s when Outloggistan is a great place to go! :)

    • Wilson Usman July 29, 2010

      That’s so so so true I do it all the time . Greg is right on this point. One post leads us to another 3 or sometimes more…

  3. Joel | Blog Of Impossible Things July 28, 2010

    Fabian-
    Just moved to a house that doesn’t have wifi for the first time in almost 8 years. AHH. I don’t know what to do. haha. I’ve found it actually helps though, because I’m so much more focused when I am online and don’t waste time on all the meaningless junk you can get caught up in.

    • Fabian July 28, 2010

      You’re right, Joel, that’s another advantage for sure of only having limited internet access: Everything gets done sooo much faster! :)
      Anyway, it looks like things around here will be back to normal pretty soon, so I’ll have to wait for my dog biting some cables… or for the next ISP outage… ;)

  4. Melanie July 28, 2010

    Fabian, this post completely hits home with me! I recently found myself imagining what life would be like if I could use a computer like a “normal person” (just email and web surfing) rather than as a web developer (running a zillion programs at once, glued to my computer screen for hours). That desire to be “unhooked” from everything has prompted me to redesign my business, so I’m trading fewer hours for dollars. Maybe someday I’ll be able to do all of my work on paper and upload it once or twice a week… For now, I’m going to see about adding some time in “Outloggistan” to my calendar.

    • Fabian July 28, 2010

      If it wasn’t for the transcription costs later on, I’d love to work more on paper, too. Sure, typing on a computer has its advantages and is a lot faster, but especially brainstorming, outlining and sorting out ideas is so much nicer on paper and with a healthy distance to any internet distractions…

  5. Wilson Usman July 29, 2010

    You make so many great points Fabian,

    By the way I am from Colombia just found your blog through “lifestyle ignition”.

    Anyway, I think about this sometimes too and how we depend so much on it so much these days. I still know people that have normal great lives without it, and I feel like getting rid of my smartphone, internet, but then I think…

    Do I want a “normal” life? No I think I’ll stick with this. I really enjoy technology, my advice is don’t abuse it…it’s like anything. To much of something is sometimes bad, or always I guess it depends.

    Hey I like the thought provoking post. Great to meet you, and hopefully see you someday down there…

    • Fabian July 29, 2010

      Wilson, it would be a pleasure!
      As you say, it’s about finding a balance in the use of technology. That may be, in my opinion, pretty “normal”, too, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad, does it?
      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

Comments are closed.