Things I like this week, volume 18.

Belkin QODE Ultimate Pro Keyboard Case

I haven’t been very active on the internet the past few months, but that doesn’t mean I stopped liking things. In fact, giving myself that time back enabled me to like even more stuff. Which is nice.

One of the things I’ve managed to do in my personal life (work is still a different story) is almost completely eliminate the need for a Mac on a day-to-day basis. I still have and use a MacBook Air for some specific things, and I have a Mac mini on the network to serve media around the house, but my iPad Air 2 is my main personal computing device now. I toyed with the idea of the Pro, but I’m still just not sure that it’s the right device for me. I see tremendous value in having that extra screen space for iOS to really shine, but it still feels a little unwieldy in many of the places I currently use my iPad.

I’ve long favored separate keyboards for the iPad, most recently the Microsoft Universal Mobile Keyboard. It’s a great keyboard in a compact case, and one of the best portable keyboards I’ve ever used. But I realized that while I like the idea of a separate keyboard, in reality, if it’s not always there, I might be less inclined to actually get it and use it, which means I’m less inclined to capture ideas and write–which is a lot of the reason I like the iPad so much in the first place.

With that in mind, I’ve stuck to the Air 2, and augmented it with the Belkin QODE Ultimate Pro Keyboard Case. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but it’s easily the best iPad keyboard I’ve ever used.

The keys are nicely sized and spaced, and feel great to type on. (I’ve always been ok with the slightly smaller keyboard sizes of iPad keyboards though, so YMMV.) Soft, but not mushy, requiring just enough effort to trigger. I’d say they’re somewhere between the old MacBook Pro keys and the new MacBook keys. There are some iOS-specific function keys, which while nothing new, are welcome. You can also pair two Bluetooth devices and switch between them. Something else that I hadn’t considered is portrait mode; you can rotate the iPad into portrait orientation and write that way as well if you prefer. Not a thing I’d do often, but it’s pretty cool that you can do it, and I can see how it would definitely help in some areas.

The clincher for me is that you can fully detach the iPad and use it by itself very easily. I really can’t get down with folio-style cases that always have to be connected, because while the utility of having keys always there is nice, sometimes I absolutely don’t need them and want to be unencumbered. You have to put the iPad into a back piece, which basically makes the ordinarily svelte Air 2 into a bit of a clunker, but the upside is that it leaves the magnetic side open, so you can use a Smart Cover if you like, and despite the weight addition, the feel of the back case is quite nice.

So physically, it’s pretty great. There’s also a (sort of) weird software component. There’s an app to go along with the keyboard that (supposedly) allows you to update firmware and customize key automations. Sounds awesome, right? Well, it’s kind of a hot mess in that it hasn’t been updated in a while and basically is totally broken right now. But, if it gets an update, it could make this thing completely bananas.

Ultimately, I came to realize that I wanted the always-connected abilities of a keyboard similar to the iPad Pro, but without sacrificing the size and portability I find most comfortable (right now, at least). The Ultimate Pro, while adding a bit of bulk to an otherwise incomprehensibly lightweight device provides a trade-off I’m willing to make right now. I’m delighted with it, and using my iPad even more, which makes me very happy.

Belkin QODE Ultimate Pro Keyboard Case

Leaving the nest.

Sometime around Thanksgiving of last year, I was idly thumbing through my Twitter timeline, scrolling past a lot of stuff I realized I just didn’t care about, and I quietly closed the app and put my phone down. Then, this:

I’m not sure if I like this anymore.

It was an odd little revelation. I’d been using Twitter for seven years at that point—a lot. Every day, many times a day. For personal stuff, business stuff, being a jackass, everything. It’s the only social network in which I’d bothered to remain active. But I’d reached a point where the information coming in through that small window ceased to be as compelling as it once was, and with the other things happening around me, it also seemed like it was definitely taking me away from where I needed to be right then.

I’ve often felt a weird anxiety around Twitter and ‘staying connected’ or ‘up to date’. I’m not talking about some kind of crippling mental anguish, but a certain slight pressure that gets exerted on your mind once you create a habit of checking this kind of always-changing information. I’d identified it in the past, but it had begun to be a more prominent feeling around that time, likely due in no small part to the reduced amount of time I had to do well, anything.

So I figured I’d take a break, and stop reading Twitter. For like, a week. See how things go.

It’s been almost four months now.

I certainly didn’t expect this. It wasn’t meant to be (nor am I claiming it is) a permanent decision, and I’m not writing this as a call-to-arms for everyone to join hands on this love train. I just figured it was time to collect my thoughts, and a few people have asked about what’s going on, so it’s worth mentioning, I suppose.

I’m also not writing this to begin another “Twitter/internet/information is killing our brains” dialogue. I have no intention of promoting this post or circulating it around. It’s not supposed to get me page views. It’s mostly just a synopsis of some thinking I did, and continue to do.

In leaving Twitter for a while, I ended up disconnecting from a large part of my interaction with the internet as a whole, but then I ended up going further. I haven’t touched this site since around the same time. I’ve since gone back to having some semblance of understanding as to what the world is doing, but I’ve remained disconnected in some ways too. Simply put, I took the time I was spending on mindlessly scrolling through floods of information that was unrelated to most of what I wanted to know about and applied it elsewhere. I’ve been reading a ton, chewing through books. Life’s been pretty busy, and I’ve been working a lot. And getting back to things like making the time to play guitar even just for a few minutes a day to relax and stay sharp, which I’d really been neglecting.

What I did not expect was that by breaking the cycle of “have a thought/read something/immediately formulate a secondary thought/opinion/tweet” I allowed myself to ingest information and just… think about it. To actually mull something over and consider different angles before feeling like I had to analyze and make a decision as to how I felt about something, as it passed through my social networked-Terminator HUD. I noticed a marked reduction in the shapeless anxiety I felt about “staying up to date”. There was a quiet that crept in, allowing for other thoughts. I’ve always been a fast thinker, it’s just the way my brain works. But I didn’t realize that my daily interactions with information flows from the internet was also shaping those actions, and not always in good ways.

My attention was refocused on the things in my direct field of vision, instead of through a tiny viewport. On my kids. My wife. The rest of my family. The people I was eating lunch with. People in stores. Neighbors I passed on a walk. Literally anything else apart from “what was going on”. Things were going on all around me that I’d been peripherally aware of, but not focused on. Not all of it has value, but some of it definitely does.

I will admit, I’ve missed some good friends with whom I really only interact on Twitter. But that’s also on me for not seeking them out in other ways. I’m sure I’ve missed some genuine laughs. But I’ve also missed randos being dicks, snap judgments leading to miscommunication, boundless vitriol, the world’s misery shoved down my throat, you know, all that stuff.

My mind has been moving more methodically–and not in a bad way–affording me precious moments to think, calculate, and react in kind. For the past few years, I’ve been unconsciously using certain neural pathways that were beaten in like footpaths in a park, without my realizing it. The unintended result of which was that certain aspects of my personality were fundamentally changed, right out from under me. I’m not placing blame or pointing fingers, but seeing it clearly and taking note of it has really made me aware of it in a way that I just wasn’t before.

It’s a seriously weird feeling.

Obviously, I’m still using computers, and the internet. My livelihood depends on it. But I’ve been more deliberate about the information I allow in, and when I choose to allow it. It’s a more conscious action now, to engage my mind and take things in at certain points of the day. And to be clear, I’m not saying I’m never coming back. I mean, I change my mind like I change my underwear: frequently, regularly, and with purpose. But I will say that this break has taught me some incredibly valuable lessons about time and attention and what I’ve been doing with them. I still believe there’s value in Twitter as an information source, and as a tool. And I do feel like it might be time to check in with some folks I’ve been missing.

I’m just not sure if it’s where I want to spend the bulk of my time anymore.

And for now, I’m ok with that, to my continued surprise.