Following on from this weekend’s activities. I’ve been thinking about what a great bunch of things Jason set me to do. All could be done with little investment, they were all quite fun, and thankfully all legal.
Asi seemed to suggest that I was lucky – and I think he was right. If he’d been in charge I’d have been:
deer-hunting, try nude modeling, kidnap a kitten, learn ballet, minor shop lifting, etc…
A totally different, and much harder, set of challenges.
Anyway, here’s the first few things that popped into my head:
Go into a pub you’ve never been into before and order a drink you’ve never tried before.
Paint one wall of your house a totally new colour.
Go to a record store and buy a CD you’ve always thought you should have heard but haven’t. Then go home and listen to it. Properly.
Buy an ingredient from a ‘specialty supermarket’ and make something with it.
Gamble £5 at a local arcade.
Go to a class in something you’ve never done before at a local leisure facility (this may be more scary for some of us than for others).
Like I said before I’d love people to add to this list in the comments so we can compile a bunch of interesting things to do when the computers are off.
It also got me thinking that this is quite similar to a show that’s been on the BBC (radio and TV) called I’ve Never Seen Star Wars. Where they take famous people and get them to do stuff they’ve never done before.
Comedian Tim Brooke-Taylor buys his first pornographic magazine, tries some unusual seafood and listens to his first hip hop record.
Magician Paul Daniels reads feminist literature for the first time, learns how to swim, and experiences the film The Great Escape.
Stand-up comedian Arthur Smith watches Top Gear for the first time, eats his first Pop tart and watches Les Misérables.
All good inspiration for the start of this list of things.
I had a fun weekend this weekend. Thanks to a number of things.
1. Weekends are good anyway.
2. The weather was pretty nice.
3. I did normal stuff with Sophie like have nice lunches. Laze around. Drink a bit of wine. Get some chores done. Etc.
But in addition this weekend was a bit more exciting because of something that happened on Twitter on Friday night.
I was trying to decide whether to spend the weekend catching up on emails and that kind of thing. Or whether to go the other way and sod it all, so I posted:
To which Jason replied:
And Andy provoked me with:
Which is pretty much the same as a double-dare, and being the child I am I thought. I’ll show them guys. I’ll go offline and I’ll do them things. Then Andy will have to respect me, and not just for a bit. For the rest of eternity!
And you’ll never guess what. It was fun to do a bunch of freaky things. And it wasn’t just the act of doing the things. It’s was the other stuff around doing them that was interesting. Like having to go and acquire knitting needles and wool. Or spending time in the heavy dairy section of the supermarket.
So here’s what happened…
I started out with a shopping list.
Task One – Learn to Knit.
Acquire wool and needles first. I went to the Open Market in Brighton which is quite a place. I think it deserves it’s own post so watch out for that.
Here’s the wool stall.
And as you might have noticed on my shopping list I also needed knitting instruction. Which I got like this.
Absolutely brilliant! I’d have never had a knitting lesson off a geezer if it hadn’t been for Jason’s challenge. Although, to be honest, I did have to cheat a bit later on and look up a couple of how-to videos on the internet. The bloke’s instructions were too fast for me.
And here’s me with my sorry-raggedy-ass knitting.
It’s too tight. There’s dropped stitches and all sorts. But fact is I’d learned how to cast-on and to knit (a bit). So in my book that’s task one passed.
Needles and wool cost about £2.50 and it was quite fun after I’d got past the initial frustration. I reckon I should have got bigger needles and bigger / sturdier wool to make it easier. Would I do it again? Maybe.
Task 2 – Make Your Own Butter
Then I went shopping for some cream so I could make butter. And here’s what happened when I got home and tried to make it.
But you know what, after that minor fuss it tastes pretty good. And it didn’t work out to be stupidly expensive either. I made loads of butter out of 2 medium cartons of double cream. I might even do that again one day. I’m guessing you could do flavours and all sorts :-)
The home made butter turns up again during the Cheese Eating Task.
Task 3 – Make a Weapon
Simple. A throwing device made out of various sized screws and foil.
It may not look much. But during this photo:
It rolled off my hand and onto my bare foot. It hurt. Therefore it works as a weapon. Task 3 – complete.
Task 4 – Make a Fort
I quite enjoyed this. I think if I’d been making it with more of a purpose it would have ended up better. To be honest as a 30-something guy making a fort on your own is a bit of a sad and lonely thing so I just wanted to get it out of the way really.
Here it is.
The close up perhaps disguises the overall lameness of the fort:
But it’s a fort. And I made it. So Task 4 is technically complete.
Task 5 – Eat Cheese
Both simple and fun.
Here’s the cheese board.
Here’s cheese + chutneys + home made butter.
Here’s me eating some cheese.
Task 5. Smashed it!
Task 6 – Paint a self-portrait
Here’s the one task where I may have technically ‘failed’ but I think it would be a tough judge who failed me because of choice of media, especially under the circumstances.
Here’s my excuse. I didn’t want to get out loads of paints and make a mess because we were trying to tidy up the house at the same time. So I decided to do a self-portrait in charcoal.
If you think this is a cop out on my behalf you are very much wrong. Art was my lowest GCSE subject and I’ve never been good at drawing or painting so even trying to do any kind of self-portrait was a big ordeal.
And here it is:
Here it is next to me:
So, self-portrait done. The rules didn’t say it had to be good.
Task 7 – Write a Poem
Arse. When proof reading this post I realised that there was ‘write a poem’ snuck in the middle of the Tweet. Oh well here goes…
Writing poems is never easy,
Specially when I feel this cheesy,
I enjoyed my time making a fort,
A little more than perhaps I ought,
Making butter was a lot of fun,
But my weapon wasn’t quite a gun,
I suprised myself by learning to knit,
And home-made butter didn’t taste that bad,
I’m afraid my portrait weren’t in paint,
But it’s clear an artist, that I ain’t.
It might not scan quite right, but it’s late and it’s an emergency last-minute poem.
Anyway like I said it was fun. I learned a few things and it snapped me out of a few bad / lazy weekend habits. Like spending it doing pseudo-work on the internets.
So next time your not sure what you’re going to do at the weekend why not get some friends to give you a bunch of stupid things for you to do. You might enjoy it. And you might earn their eternal respect. Right Mr Whitlock ;-)
I was chatting with Andy about blog block on Friday. Neither of us could quite explain why we were feeling it. And I’m not sure I can explain it any better now. But this diagram has some of the components and some of the relationships between them. Anyone else got a blog block diagram they’d care to share?
Judging by the diagram I should just shut myself off for a bit and go and meditate in a cave or something. Alternatively I could just drink 3 cups of really strong coffee and mainline a bunch of wanky RSS-feeds until I get really angry about something then do a massive rant.
Or I could just go about my business until something vaguely interesting crops up. To be honest I think that’s probably the best thing to do…
If you’ve just arrived here from AdBusters you might also be interested in what I got up to this weekend – I did still use the Internet a little bit – but it’s primarily a bunch of offline stuff that I did started by an online thing… Might be useful if you’re thinking of turning off any time soon…
As some of you will know I took part in Adbusters’ Mental Detox Week last week. This meant I stopped doing screen and computer based stuff as much as possible. I was at work so there were obviously times when I had to check email and things. But I did manage to cut it right down to a bare minimum. Outside of work it was a total no computer, no TV, no iPod existence for me. Which is quite a big thing in my ordinary daily life.
A lot of people made comments about it being just like having a holiday. But I’m not sure it’s the same. On holiday your context is totally different and you’re not surrounded by other people who are doing interesting things with their bits of technology. Also I had to resist massive temptation in my pocket in the form of an iPhone.
I think I learned a few things. Most of them were obvious. A few of them were things that I could have guessed if I’d thought about it. But there were a few genuine surprises in there too. There’s even a few things that I might try and build into my behaviour going forward. Imagine that.
In no particular order with no prejudice towards the obvious or the interesting.
I’ve been scared of the telephone for a while. I feel more confident writing things down in emails. It gives me a chance to formulate my thoughts and arguments a little better. Phones always smack of having to think ‘in real time’ which gives me the fear.
But you know what. Phones are good. You can get things agreed in one conversation. Conversations on the phone can be finished in just minutes! The conversation goes back and forth really quickly and you can get to decisions much faster. Plus you don’t have to deal with any tyrannical cc’ing.
I’m going to keep using the phone for things and stop being scared of it.
Lots of people advocate only checking your email a few times a day. I’ve always thought it sounded like an OK principle. But I’ve become one of those people who hits ‘send and receive’ as often as is humanly possible. Just in case something amazing has arrived in the 38 seconds since I last had a peek. I’ve just realised if I did the same thing with real mail. I’d look like some kind of freakish obsessive-compulsive post lover.
Not much happens in your inbox in a few hours. A load of email might get dropped in there. But most of it’s nonsense and you don’t need to do anything with it anyway.
The other thing I realised is that by not sending lots of emails, you don’t get as many coming in. I realised that my email itch gets scratched by sending stuff as well as checking. I was trying to think of a handy analogy. The best I can come up with is that I’m trying to drink my way out of a sinking ship. But then having to wee on the deck.
Aaaaah. The iPod. My sweet sweet iPod. Insulating me against the noise and chaos of life.
On the train in the morning without an iPod all you can hear is the bloody overspill from other people’s iPods. if you don’t have headphones on you have to endure ‘Holding out for a hero’ blaring out of someone’s leaky headphones from 3 rows away. It’s like some kind of MP3 based arms race. Where defence and attack have become all muddled up.
I’ve always been considerate with my iPod volume. And now I’m doubly so. Also having some time not insulated from the sounds around you is good. Obviously.
I found that doing stuff with pens and paper was really different. It made me think about things in a different way. I’m sure lots of people have written lots of smart things about this. But there’s something really odd that I noticed.
Pen on paper felt like a step on a journey rather than the final ‘thing’. Which is really odd. The fact that something that’s made up of real stuff like ink and paper. Only really feels like a finished thought when it’s converted into bits and bytes and pixels on a screen. The electronic stuff is far less permanent, but somehow it feels more so.
What I learned: switch between computers and pens and papers to make your brain work differently on problems.
Without screens and their flickery content I went to bed and sleep when I was tired (which was about 10pm most nights). When you’re reading a book you notice when you get tired. You start re-reading lines and your eyes feel heavy.
With TV or computer screens I don’t get that so much. There’s something about the light and the flickering that keeps me awake. Or in the case of TV I can fall asleep in front of it in a different way. Sort of drifting in and out of sleep and being vaguely conscious that something is going on.
But perhaps the oddest thing was that I had very very vivid dreams for the first 3 nights. Really vivid and intense. I’m not certain there’s a scientific explanation. But I do remember reading something in a WhiteDot book about how TV can change your brain activity. And I wonder if the fact that my brain wasn’t processing hours of made-up junk but was instead still processing real-life things made me have bold dreams.
This was one of the most profound things for me. Hard to explain to other people though.
The web allows you to fractalise everything. I read a few different books. But instead of doing what I’d normally do and keep leaving the book to go and look something up. I made little notes and just kept on reading.
Normally I’d go and look something up and then find myself drawn into a world of related links and other stuff that looks interesting. Effectively leading me into some kind of infinite worm-hole of stuff. Most of which ends up being completely unrelated to where I started from.
Last week I finished books. Then I had a list of things to look-up. In a much more ordered fashion.
Computers do not help me focus. They help me find lots of other nice things. Or give me infinite distractions. Making sure I have the perfect soundtrack to the work I’m doing. Or changing the typeface in a document so it looks nicer while I’m typing it. Should I be viewing it at 125% or fit to page width. All stuff to fiddle with.
And there’s no end to any of it. Ever.
I thought that I might feel disconnected from people. But I didn’t.
I was still in contact with people. In fact oddly sometimes more connected by using the phone. And I think we’re all used to the fact that we can have gaps in speaking to people and when we go back to them they’ll still be OK with us.
But what happens when you leave ‘stuff’ for a while? Mostly it’ll still be there. But sometimes it won’t. I think mainly the fear was just that there would be too much stuff when I came back to it. I knew that I’d have to just ditch loads of unread RSS feeds. Which effectively meant that I’d missed out on all those things.
I just had to realise that it was OK to miss out on all that stuff. My life didn’t change in a bad way. Really. Or did it? Now I’m not sure. Maybe there was a blog post or a something that could have changed my life irreversibly.
The point is that there’s too much stuff and I have to learn to let it go. There’s stuff going on everywhere the whole time. Most of it I’ll never get to see. Even if it was all on the internet and all being fed into my brain I wouldn’t be able to cope.
I learned it’s OK to miss stuff.
I’m a victim of computers being at the centre of our lives.
Photos, music, writing, etc. It felt like almost all of the tools that I use to be creative had been taken away. I was going to go in the loft and play with vinyl records and stuff, then I realised that all of that stuff gets piped through my computer in order to record.
I learned that I should develop some analogue creative habits. Just in case the power goes out ;-)
I noticed that it’s easy to hide behind a computer. Shut down the laptop and you feel incredibly exposed in an open plan office. Aside from the people whose tools are entirely computer based (coders and designers) I noticed that a lot of the project managers, strategists, etc. seem to do the same as me. Computer on. Looks like you’re working. But if you actually look at peoples screens most of the time they’re doing things that look very much like other stuff.
Of course all the other stuff is important. But the computer is an amazing smoke-screen. As long as you’re typing away you look busy and like you’re doing something important.
Here’s my final thought:
Taking a week off seemed like a silly, reactionary thing to do. Like I was just proving a point. But I think the most important thing was to realise how easy it is to just reach for the laptop and get sucked into a different world. So setting some hard and fast rules was really useful. Rather than just saying, “oh I’ll use it a bit less” – which is almost impossible. The thing that’ll work for me is to set periods of time where it’s just not allowed.
So that’s it. I’m glad I did it. But I’m glad I’ve got all my toys back too.
Adbusters have changed their Turnoff TV week into Mental Detox Week, its tagline is Escape the Fantasy. It’s a pretty interesting challenge for someone like me.
It’s running from 21st-27th April. That’s next week. Eeek.
The idea is simple: take your TV, your DVD player, your video iPod, your XBOX 360, your laptop, your PSP, and say goodbye to them all for seven days. Simple, but not at all easy. Like millions of others before you, you’ll be shocked at just how difficult – yet also how life-changing – a week spent unplugged can really be.
When you read the details I like the fact that they’re not being silly about it. They realise that there’s a degree of ‘essential use’ in terms of work that uses computers.
Today you’re not going to listen to your iPod. You aren’t going to stare at a computer screen any more than you absolutely have to. Today you won’t worry about unanswered email, and you’re not going to login to Facebook. You’ll cut the time you spend on digital devices right down to the bone.
I feel like I’ve had a few weeks of extreme screen staring, so this has come at a perfect moment for me.
For a couple of days you might feel like an addict in withdrawal: peevish, agitated, and distracted. But then something will happen. Your over-stimulated brain will cleanse itself. You’ll relax. You’ll feel calmer, more grounded.
I just want to give it a go and see what happens to me. Maybe I’ll miss it all so bad I’ll crack. Or maybe I’ll learn to love life without all the screens and turn my back on the glassy monsters forever…
Here’s how I’m planning on doing it:
I need a mobile phone for work. But I’m going to downgrade from my iPhone to a very basic old model that I’ve got lying around the house. I won’t make any outgoing calls from the mobile unless absolutely essential. And I mean properly essential.
Computer use is limited to between 9am and 6.30pm weekdays only. But with a massive reduction in usage. I’ll check email a couple of times a day. And I’ll only use a computer when the job can’t be done some other way. I might stop just short of sending faxes again.
TV is off.
I’ll go back to listening to CDs, or Vinyl. Not sure if this is cheating or not. Or where the radio fits in? But I’m interpreting the rules my way, and I’m about cutting out looking at screens.
I was going to say ‘no blogging’, but I think I might ease up on that. However, I’m only going to blog hand-written notes about what’s going on in my mental detox, via email, during the 9-6.30 window – minimising screentime.
The thing I’m most interested in is whether I feel like I’m more or less productive, and also whether I feel like I have more or less brain time. It’s very different from going on holiday and leaving it all behind because all the expectations and contexts of everyday life are still hanging about…