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.

DODOcase leather back for iPhone 6.

In my seemingly endless quest to find minimal case experiences for my iOS devices, I continue to plod through the internet in search of the Goldilocks fit for my phone. I recalled being a big fan of the DODOcase Bookback for a while, during the 4/4S years. It was a nice way to add a tiny bit of texture to your device without adding any bulk.

So it was with some enthusiasm that I ordered the equivalent product the company offers for the iPhone 6. I suppose the tl;dr here is that I don’t like it as much as my previous purchases.

Part of it is the color. This nude, peachy leather is the only option you have for this thing. Why not a nice rich brown as well, or better yet black, like the BOOKback of yore? I know, it says over time that it’ll become a “deep carmel color” which is interesting, because that’s a place, and not a color. I’ve never been to that part of California, but I’m curious to know how it looks compared to this.

More importantly though, is a problem that isn’t anyone’s fault. The iPhone 6/6+ has these rounded edges, which makes anything you apply to it that doesn’t hug it perfectly feel awfully out of place. When you stick this cover to the back, your fingers find the edges instantly, and although the site claims that’s a feature, it feels like a bug. Like I said, no one’s fault; everyone’s working with the same dimensions of the phone, but it’s a bummer. Who knows, perhaps some people do like feeling the edges of it all the time, but it broke the lines of the phone in a way that some of the other ultra-thin cases I’ve tried were able to preserve.

I’m being a little bit of a baby, I know. I could easily get over the color of it since it’s on the back and I’d probably never look at it anyway. Over time, it would probably get dirtier and evolve into a nice brown. But those older BOOKbacks were so good because they melted into the edges of the phone so perfectly. This one sits behind it like a small skin pedestal.

Into the drawer of failed hopes with ye.

Text messages and my shortcomings as a social human.

I hung out with a longtime friend on Saturday night. Well, afternoon and evening, really. Being old, by 10pm, we were done, and back at my house. Exhausted, we said goodbye and he took off. I showered and got into bed. Then we had a 45-minute text message conversation, mostly about his iPhone, which I was helping troubleshoot. But as I fell asleep, I couldn’t help but wonder: what is it about text messaging that is so unavoidably appealing to so many people? I love it myself, and prefer it in many social scenarios. I tried to distill it down to a few key elements to understand it better. This is what I landed on:

  1. Time investment
  2. Social grace
  3. Psychological/cognitive load

There are factors spread across these three areas that I think resonate with people on different levels, depending on who you are and how you interact with the people with whom you communicate. Picture it as a pie chart, rearranging percentages based on situation or personality. I’m going to examine these from my own perspective, but I’d be curious to know if I’m right about these for other people, and if so, how the percentages fall at any given time.

Time investment, or ‘why would I want to sit on the phone with you?’

I recall being a 7th grader when my parents decided it was time for me to have a telephone in my room. I got to pick out the one I wanted (even then, I was pragmatic; nothing fancy–a nice keypad with rubbery keys and a slim design) and they got me my own line. This was probably because we used our house line for my dad’s business as well as our family stuff. Either way, it was a big deal. I spent a lot of time on that phone that year. I remember calling friends and just laying there watching TV or doing nothing at all, in almost complete silence, for hours. Teenagers are weird.

Now, time spent on the phone is purely a tactical measure. If I have to be on the phone, you’d better well believe it’s to accomplish a task or set of objectives that I literally can not complete in any other way. The notion of sitting on the phone talking to someone for hours is simply exhausting no matter how I picture it. In fact, I’m getting a neck ache just thinking about it. For a variety of reasons, my time is so much more precious now than when I had my burgeoning 7th grade agenda meticulously organized in my Trapper Keeper. I don’t think I’m alone here, either. Anyone with small children would probably agree that free time just isn’t what it used to be. And even if you consider something like a phone connected to a Bluetooth headset, you’re still expending mental energy to maintain that phone call as you do other things. It just isn’t tenable anymore for many of us.

Texting is easier, quicker, and accepted in almost all situations. I say almost all because there are still an obvious number of things that absolutely require phone calls–family emergencies, relationship issues of any kind, etc.

Social grace, or ‘did you really just say that?’

Our mouths work very differently when we speak in a conversational context with other people as opposed to when we are thinking alone and can form words within the walls of our minds. Everyone has muttered something that probably didn’t really need to come out, and regardless of whether it’s embarrassing, destructive, unpleasant, or merely a misstatement, we recognize it and feel it. The more magnanimous individuals among us brush this off to make others feel better, but there’s something to be said for having some semblance of forethought and tact prior to speaking.

I feel like the slight delay sending a text message affords us allows me to reflect, even for a moment, on what I think I want to say. I can pause, process, and respond in a way that speaking in real-time doesn’t always afford me. I like to think I’m pretty quick on my feet anyway, and can feel fairly comfortable speaking extemporaneously about a lot of things to all kinds of different folks, but even still, I know I’m not conversationally infallible. A joke may land flat, I may inadvertantly insult someone who I’ve only just met, or I might just be an asshole thinking I’m being delightful. I try to be cognizant of these moments, but they still come up from time to time. Text messages give me that added advantage of stopping myself for a heartbeat to do a quick assessment.

There’s a flip side to this, of course. Context, sarcasm, tone, and a great many other things can be lost, mistranslated, or otherwise morph in the worst of ways in the course of a text message conversation. It’s very easy to make the same mistakes you would in a spoken conversation with typed words. And emoji only goes so far.

Psychological/cognitive load, or ‘sweet mother of mercy, just shut up for a minute’

I am someone who has a finite amount of patience for speaking of any kind. If I’m embroiled in a conversation that I can’t find a way out of, or I’m tired of, or whatever, I try to be kind (operative word: try) and see my way clear to another part of the room. The bathroom and I are intimately acquainted with this little dance. Talking can be exhausting! Being around people is tiring! I am totally outing myself as a hermit-in-waiting, but I don’t care. I used to think it was funny to just wander away quietly, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that I’m not a Wes Anderson character, and that this kind of behavior just makes me a dick.

Text messages allow me to be the very best dick I can be. I have a little kid. Anything can happen. I have a pregnant wife who watches that kid most of the day and needs respite when I get home. I’m a busy guy at work and have many obligations. I occasionally operate a motor vehicle and I make a great effort to do so safely. There is no end to the amount of reasons I can’t respond to you right this minute, or had to wander away from our text conversation. And if you’re going to get bent out of shape about that because I was nice enough to turn read receipts on, I’ve got some pro tips on not caring. Just ask. This freedom is intoxicating. This actually builds on the previous two elements: there’s an asynchronous time factor working in my favor, as well as the delicate social balance of not being obnoxious to someone in person. This is my pool, and I am Michael Fucking Phelps when it comes to this shit.

I’ve been texting for years now. I never get tired of it. I think my love for it grows every day. And when I love something, I guess I find it enjoyable to examine why. It helps me understand myself a little more, and I’d say it’s a valuable exercise. Even if it’s through an asinine blog post, it’s worth something to stop and think about our motivations around certain activities. Self-reflection by way of emoji poop. Sounds about right.


Part 2 of 2

As I said in my previous post, I stopped using Todoist after a week, and it has nothing to do with the tool. I still think it’s totally amazing, and may absolutely go back to it. Which is the point of what’s to follow.

Since transitioning from client work with Nickelfish to product work with Derby, the demands on my time are radically different. I no longer have dozens of meetings and calls a week, and my time is not double- and triple-booked. I can manage things in a very different way, and honestly, it’s been a very nice change. As a result, I’ve started to pay less attention to things in certain capacities. Since my calendar isn’t packed, I barely look at it. Which made me forget that my wife added a doctor’s appointment that I agreed to be present for earlier in the week (baby stuff, you know). Not a problem, as I remembered the day before and didn’t miss the appointment, but it brought an issue to light: I missed something.

I’m not someone who likes to miss something.

Similarly, my task list is different. I used to have multiple deliverables for many projects tied to me at any given time and I needed to manage my time in a super granular way. That’s not currently an issue for me, so I have lists of tasks I’d like to accomplish for my new projects that aren’t pressing, and hence aren’t always getting done. Which is not to say I’m not getting things done, I’m quite good at getting plenty done, but even with weekly reviews and my insistence on checking those lists, I’m usually focused on a “Today” view, which I’ve come to rely on. Fine in most cases, but I’m feeling like I could be doing more, because once “Today” is wrapped up, I’m celebrating and not necessarily looking for more to do.

Prior to this week, I put everything I had into one system (OmniFocus, then Todoist). This included all personal and work responsibilities, recurring reminders, one-off items, anything. One place for everything. Nice. Except that since there was always something (i.e., some trivial recurring task) I felt like I wasn’t “accomplishing” because I could never clear those lists. While this may seem dumb to any person in their right mind, as we always have something we can be doing, it started to grate on me. Just a little, like a single grain of sand you feel after getting back from the beach and can’t quite find.

So I’m burning it down. Zeroing out the dials. I’m going back to plain text. One file, all tasks, neatly written, and always in my face. Here are the specifics.

  • A single .txt file (Todo.txt), in my dock, synced through Dropbox (duh), edited with TextEdit. It’s opened when I start my workday, updatable at any point, presenting all my tasks across my projects. Instead of a weekly review, I’m always reviewing, deciding what I can really do in the next few minutes, moving list items up and down, adding, deleting. No times, no dates, no contexts, just a few grouped lists. These are items that have no particular time component in terms of “due”, just stuff that needs to be done, by me, at some point.

  • Anything that requires a time component gets a reminder in Reminders.app. All recurring items are here now, so they don’t clutter up my tasks. I have four lists right now: Bills, Repeating, Reminders (things due this week), and Future (things due after this week). I may add more, I may consolidate. Point is, they exist somewhere, but I don’t see them all the time, allowing me to focus on what I need to do. Since they exist alongside calendar items, I can now view these secondary items all together in Fantastical, so they’re visible but not prominent. An item in Todo.txt may have a partner reminder, but the point is it’s a reminder, the item still exists as a top-level task item in front of my eyes.

[Yes, I realize I could have done this with OmniFocus perspectives and Todoist filters. I may eventually go back to it, which is the point of the post. This isn’t about switching tools again, this is about understanding how and why I think about my data and how that changes based on where I am and what I’m doing.]

Naturally, with Launch Center Pro, Drafts, and any of the other dozens of apps I like to use, I can interact with this plain text file, appending, prepending (which I do as my “inbox” approximation, just throw things on top, and then move into appropriate lists), etc. It’s very fast, can be done in the background, and is accessible from anywhere, as is the case with my notes now.

So: why the hell am I still doing this to myself?

I thought about this last night and earlier this morning. As I said previously this isn’t about your typical productivity masturbation, or ‘this tool is better than that tool and here’s why’. This is about my brain, understanding how it works, and more importantly, coming to grips with the fact that my brain will work differently depending on a variety of ever-shifting factors in my life. I’ve written before about giving up and settling on a trusted system, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that my trusted system is me, and I need to allow myself the flexibility to use the right tool at the right time.

I am not the kind of person who enjoys jumping from tool to tool instead of working and getting things done. But I’m no longer going to feel guilty about these explorations because I simply can’t fight it anymore. It’s evident to me now that it’s in my nature to change, as much as I’d like to think I’m stoic and able to calcify around something. I can’t think of anything less productive on a personal level than sticking with a system that isn’t working for you–for any reason. So for now, it’s this. Next week it might be something else. I won’t bore everyone with the details every time it changes, but I think I’m done apologizing to myself for feeling the way I have about it. And that makes me feel good.


Part 1 of 2

This past month has been a pretty interesting period of reevaluation for me. I uprooted my entire note taking system, finally broke down and bought a Pebble to see what this next phase of computing will look like, and after reading this great post dumped my tasks out of OmniFocus and into Todoist last week, which is super cool.

Which is why it’s strange for me to be telling you that I’ve already stopped using Todoist. Not that there’s a single thing wrong with it in my experience–it’s amazing and flexible and actually fun to use. But as I go through this weirdly intense examination of my current tools, patterns and problems emerge and reintroduce themselves. I’ve been thinking a lot about why this happens for me at different points in my life and I don’t have a great answer.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but when I was a kid, and old enough to manage it on my own, I rearranged my bedroom furniture constantly. It was like, an almost weekly occurrence. It would often happen in the middle of the night. My parents would wake up and come into my room the following morning and find everything totally different but neatly organized (big surprise to everyone, I’m sure), like some anal-retentive college prank. I’d find something I liked eventually and stick with it for a while, but it was always in flux, always up for grabs at any point if my mind changed, because I thought it could always be better somehow.

It occurs to me now, 25 years later, that my room is my computer(s) and I’m still doing it. I mean, as opposed to my actual bedroom which would probably lead to divorce or something. I thought this was a problem I had, one that I needed to eliminate, but now I’m not so sure. I’ll get into specifics later.

This week’s shift began when I forgot about a calendar event that my wife added earlier in the week because I wasn’t paying attention to my calendar over the past few days. Which led me to think about why that was happening, and in turn to how I’m organizing different types of information. I pride myself on not letting things fall through the cracks, so when something does, it means something’s wrong somewhere. And I need to find out what it is.

I’m going to write a separate post shortly about the technical changes in my workflow that arose as a result of this situation. Consider this the preface to that breakdown.

The lead in is: I don’t think I’m as sick as I thought I was, and understanding this allows me to grow in other ways. Follow up forthcoming.


Part 1, Discovering Time Where There Was None

I guess it started around the time iOS 8 came out.

I knew I was going to get a new iPhone a few days later, so when I restored and updated my iPhone 5 (I didn’t buy the 5s, so this was to be a big upgrade) to the production version of iOS 8, I purposely decided to keep my app count light. I saw no reason to spend a ton of time reinstalling everything and logging back in to a bunch of accounts. I never restore from backups, always doing clean installs, and while I have my process down to near-science, it still does take at least a little while. Then there’s the week afterward in which you discover all the little tweaks and settings adjustments you forgot to do on day one. But I was skipping all that. Keeping it simple. On Friday, I’d have a new phone and I could go nuts then.

But Friday came and went, and I didn’t have my new phone. I didn’t get up in the middle of the night to upgrade because I usually manage to get one at our local Apple Store on launch day. Not the case this year. I wanted a 6 Plus, and they only receieved a handful, selling through them almost immediately. I’d have to wait, or order one at this point, and bear the interminable 3–4 weeks of shipping/tracking number-hounding misery that would follow. No, I’d take my chances with the store. I’ll grab one eventually, hopefully within a few days. I was certain. How long could it be?

As of this post (9/30), I’m still waiting. It’s cool. I’ve made my peace with it.

I continued to use my iPhone 5, trusty warrior that it is. I installed only the most necessary of apps to do my day-to-day work. No games, no fluff, nothing extraneous. My home screen was a mere handful of apps, mostly default iOS, and a few third party favorites. I stuck the rest (bank, credit card, other necessities) in a folder and I was done. Signing into everything took me less than a half hour, and I was fully functional. I wasn’t fiddling with a litany of URL schemes and settings, constantly checking the App Store to see if I had any updates (no, I don’t do automatic updates, I’m old-fashioned and like to see what I’m installing before I do), or doing any of the million other time-wasty things I would ordinarily do with my phone to kill a few minutes dozens of times throughout the day.

I discovered something unexpected: I was picking up and using my phone in short bursts to catch up on the stuff that seemed worth catching up on, and then putting my phone down. Or I was chipping away at the tons of good content I’d saved in Pocket and then doing something else. Namely, spending time looking around at other things: my kid, my wife, trees, other people, etc. Earlier in the summer I’d read this post on using a distraction-free phone and while I enjoyed it, I had a very “great story, but not for me” kind of reaction. Yet here I was, unknowingly backed into just such an experiment by the simple fact that it was new iPhone season and I was just stuck waiting for the specific model I wanted. I didn’t go as far as the author of the post did, but it was far-removed from the way I have always used my phone.

It’s been almost two weeks at this point, and I don’t miss most of the apps I used to have on my phone at all. There are definitely a few that I’ll put on the new phone that aren’t on the current one, but I think I’ve turned a corner in how I think about this always-present, always-beckoning device. I can’t say it’ll last forever. Hell, this might all be over when I finally get that glorious giant glass beast that’s just out of my reach. But I think I’ll try to keep this up. I truly feel a change internally, on some tangible emotional level that was not only unexpected, but that I welcomed as it became revealed to me, which speaks volumes about how I felt before without realizing it. My phone remains my digital Swiss Army knife, but like the multitools that I love, I only take them out when I need them–I don’t play with them all day long, looking for reasons to use them.

Part 2, Changing Habits and Revealing New Things

I’ve always loved third-party apps on iOS. They can offer things that the stock apps simply can’t, for a variety of reasons, and the freedom of interface design and variety of different takes on the same problem always excited me. In some cases, I’ve even been resistant to use the default/first party offerings both on the phone and from various services because of some real or perceived weaknesses or flaws that I had identified. A great example of this phenomenon is how I think about Twitter.

I was a huge Tweetie fan from the start. That app was the perfect blend of simplicity and functionality, and pioneered some UI conventions that we now take for granted. Twitter is something I do every day, and I’ve enjoyed and used most of the apps on iOS over the years, settling on a few favorites, namely Twitteriffic and Tweetbot. I love them both for different reasons, just as you wouldn’t love one child over another. And that may seem like an asinine thing to say about Twitter clients, but I think a lot of you will just nod and move on anyway, so let’s leave it at that.

Twitter acquired Tweetie back in the spring of 2010. It proceeded to make some minor changes to the interface, along with a series of poor decisions, most notably this one. Overall, I lost any interest I had in the app itself, as what I wanted from the app and what Twitter wanted me to want seemed to be on divergent paths. Ads in my timeline? Heresy. Favorites made public? Balderdash. Twitter making choices for me that I should be making myself about what I see and how and when? Good DAY, sir! I exclusively used third party apps, even as they came under fire at various times from the company, as the business moved forward and choices were made to keep the experience focused on user acquisition and marketing. The nerd circles I travel in all agreed; the official app wasn’t worth even considering. Indie devs could always do a better job. I accepted this without contest, it was written, it was true.

Recently I noticed several of my friends both in real life and on the internet using the app, and this weekend I finally posed the question. It spawned a lively discussion that revealed to me quite a few things of which I wasn’t aware. I had a ton of great feedback from all kinds of users and decided to put the app on my phone again (it’s not installed by default, but if you sign into your account in Settings, it asks you to download it so it’s pretty close). What happened next surprised me.

Giving myself over to the new experience, I surrendered my preconceived notions about how Twitter was supposed to work. My timeline–which had gone from a place I loved to be to another number to clear–became a shallow pool of information that I chose to dip in and out of without consequence. My timelines stopped syncing, which meant I stopped caring about seeing every tweet coming in. Even the things I thought I would despise–the Discover tab, the promoted tweets–don’t bother me at all, and in some cases provide a new way of looking at a tool that I’ve been using every day for the past six years. My eyes are open differently to how I process and interact with this information, and that has, in turn, forced me to reexamine a lot of other things I’m doing.

Shifting perspective can be invigorating, it can be upsetting, and it can be net neutral. I pride myself on trying new things and gaining the lay of the land accurately, but in truth, I was actively avoiding keeping my mind open to the possibilities that there was something out there I hadn’t seen–or more importantly, that I would like something I was sure I wouldn’t. Along with revisiting a simpler phone setup and some of the simpler stock apps, this process is re-shaping the way I think about what I’m doing, and what other normal people (i.e. potential customers who may one day buy a product I release) do and want from their devices as well. I may not stick with the app long-term, but it’s been an extremely valuable exercise.

It’s worth reminding myself that no matter how perfectly architected the things in my life may feel, there’s something to be gained by breaking them down and starting over. I’ll be doing my best to keep this thought close to the front of my mind.