Where the action is.

I’ve been steadily moving toward an iOS-only computing shift in my personal life, aided by certain bits here and there. This past weekend, after just extolling the virtues of my Air 2 and its new keyboard companion, I buckled, took the plunge, indulged my inner child, and bought myself a 12.9″ iPad Pro and Smart Keyboard. I know I’m a few months late to this party, but just allow me to say… wow.

iOS 9 is a terrific update, especially on the iPad. Paired with a keyboard, it’s as close to the hybrid device I’ve always wanted as we’ve gotten yet (although the Surface could win on a technicality, but that’s another discussion). Sure, there are things that you still can’t do (or do well) but that gap is smaller than it’s ever been. And it’s closing. And for most normal, non-edge-case stuff people do with computers, it’s tiny.

I still do some stuff on my Mac: podcasting, heavy audio recording/production tasks, certain massive file management/admin tasks. But the fact of the matter is that I don’t even open my MacBook Air most days… most weeks. Right now, it’s got a local copy of my iCloud Photo Library content, and I occasionally open up Transmit there to move giant amounts of files between destinations. But even before I got this behemoth, I was doing way more on the iPad than I ever had. Having a little more room to do it (ok, a lot more room) has been transformative.

I use a Mac every day at work. I know it inside and out. I’ve been using Macs every day since the early 90s. But that’s not where my interest is anymore. iOS is far more interesting than OS X, and that trajectory has never been clearer. The past me would have bemoaned the lack of file system access, but the me of today is grateful that security is handled by design. The lack of interoperability has been addressed, and while there’s tons of room for improvement, moving data between apps on iOS is good, and getting better. Conveniences like Touch ID and Apple Pay, solid battery life/performance, extreme portability, and fast wireless radios afford these devices a place in our lives that laptops can never take. We’ve reached a point where the thought of even carrying a second camera for most people is nonsense. Your iPhone takes incredible pictures, and things like Live Photos capture moments in ways we didn’t even realize we wanted. (Admittedly, I totally thought they were a gimmick when they were announced, and all I do now is shoot my kids for a few seconds at a time and grin like an idiot; they are absolutely one of my favorite parts of iOS.)

I have immense respect for the history of computing. I’ve grown up through what I would consider the breadth of its most important developments and most rapid advancements to date. But the thing about technology is that it never stands still, it’s always moving, evolving.

There will always be trucks, and some of us (myself included) will want and need them for certain things. But what we really all want is new bicycles. iOS and the devices that run it capture our imaginations and interest more every day. Sometimes I get anxious at the very thought of keeping up with just how quickly things are changing. But I can’t help but marvel at the incomprehensibly thin slabs of glass I carry around and smile, because we are truly living in an incredible time.

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.

Any port in a storm.

I’ve started traveling with an Amazon Fire TV Stick, because it’s tiny and has access to most of the kid stuff my older daughter likes. It works pretty well, except when your internet connection is terrible, which it most certainly is when you find yourself staying somewhere with a DSL modem.

We tried watching some kid stuff on Prime yesterday and it stopped and started, displaying warnings about the network speed and occasionally just locking up entirely. Later on, my wife and I gave HBO Go a spin, and it was a complete disaster, with the video pausing every 10 seconds or so.

Netflix, however, compensates about as well as any service I’ve seen that delivers video content. Yes, the resolution degrades pretty severely if you’re watching on a low-bandwidth connection, but the video keeps playing. I wouldn’t watch an effects-driven blockbuster like this, but for some episodes of Thomas and Daniel Tiger so my kid’s happy? It’s more than adequate.

Traveling with little ones is hard. I’ll take a win anywhere I can. Netflix is my hero this weekend.

Broken bones.

I’ve been dealing with some stress lately. Work is busy (duh), but we’re also beginning a construction project to renovate our home. Which means dealing with banks, insurance companies, and work crews, while keeping two small children housed and occupied. And we’re moving out, which means packing, total chaotic messes, and uncomfortable transitions (for all of us) from our established and well-worn routines. It’ll be several months like this, and I’ve been managing everything as best I can, but some days are better than others, as is to be expected.

I started to reflect on how I’m feeling as this unfolds around me, and an interesting thought occurred to me. I was a very sensitive child, internalizing far more than I probably should have. As such, I packed a lot of anxiety and stress inside and it had negative effects on me and my worldview. I’m far better at dealing with it now, but I’m acutely aware of certain situations that trigger shapeless feelings of dread and unhelpful patterns of thinking. Thankfully, I’ve developed better awareness of when this is happening and can identify it, working through it in a more healthy way than I could as a kid. A predilection toward organization of my personal responsibilities bordering on religion is part of that.

But there was a time in my life that I didn’t feel this way: college. I embraced an almost anarchic existentialism in my activities that in hindsight was really nothing more than pushing the boundaries of the senseless freedom of youth, but afterward I slowly returned to my “normal” state. I thought about this and how that experience shaped and changed me but ultimately allowed me to re-form in a similar but slightly different (I like to think better) way.

It’s like breaking a bone: it’ll set, it’ll heal, and you’ll go back to the way things were, but it won’t ever be exactly the same. Once you break it, in the aggregate it’s still the basic shape and size and serves the same purpose, but there are small variations and flaws that weren’t there before. Sometimes they’re innocuous, sometimes these variations yield long-term negative results, and sometimes they change things in ways we couldn’t have anticipated, making us stronger for the experience.

At times like this, I try to remember that all those bones I’ve broken have made me the person I am today, and I’m (mostly) pretty satisfied with how I’ve “set”. I’m sure to break many more bones along the way. But the shape of me won’t fundamentally change. I hope those healing periods to come bring positive changes.

Bravely default.

For years, I’ve eschewed using the default iOS apps in favor of third-party offerings, because maaaan, I always knew better. Apple’s apps are for regular people, and I’m a PowerUser™, maaaan. I’d configure all kinds of workarounds and extra steps because I wanted to wring every last bit of functionality out of my devices, and the basic starter apps just weren’t ever enough.

Something’s changed though–well, two things–in the past few years. I’ve lost my taste for fiddling a little bit, and the default apps Apple ships with its devices have gotten, well, better. Better than other things I could use? Not in all cases. But better… enough. I’ve been increasingly focused on reducing friction in my life, and having a simpler computing experience that works together with its component parts–as much as any multi-device connected computing experience can work without hair-pulling these days.

There are still plenty of strange UI choices and functional misses for me in some of Apple’s default apps. I could probably write a series of posts on this topic alone. But what I’m discovering is that the more I give in to accepting that some of these apps provide the core functionality I need in a certain app, the less I find my mind wandering toward exploring an endless array of options and falling into a rabbit hole of tweaking workflows and deluding myself into thinking it’s helping in some way. Faux-ductivity. I’m totally coining that. Try to stop me.

Certainly I have specific pieces of my workflows that must remain more complex; OmniFocus is a great example. The complexity-to-ability balance is tilted way in favor of the amazing productivity gains it offers when life throws a lot of stuff at me. But that new Notes app looks hot. Dark Sky is cool, but I just end up opening Weather way more often. I’m rediscovering that using Reminders for very simple nudges can be highly effective outside of OmniFocus. Most shockingly for some nerds, I’m just using the built-in Podcasts app. Why? Because my use case is having a podcast show up, and me listening to it. At regular speed. And having them actually appear on all devices consistently (yes, it’s true) is kind of nice. Now put your eyes back in your sockets. I’m sorry to have done that to you.

The added bonus for someone like me, who often restores devices for a variety of reasons, is that the process of setting up a new phone is increasingly easy, since there are fewer things to install, log into, sync, and adjust. While I don’t restore my phone every week, knowing that if I need to (or want to) that it’s not a multi-hour activity anymore is really nice. I can be 80-90% back up and running in under an hour. Time being a dwindling resource for me these days, that makes a real difference.

I’m always talking about examining my habits to solve for new variables and increase my feelings of success across the things I do. The best way to ensure that you’re focusing on the right things is to stop focusing on everything else. I know I’m incurably broken when it comes to getting excited about trying new stuff. But I’m beginning to consider that understanding what works–getting comfortable with certain trade-offs that would have been deal breakers for me in the past–is a positive step forward that I wouldn’t have expected.