In Search of Lost Time
I have a serious tabbing issue. Not dabbing, tabbing*.
My issue is not easily tracked. It might be to do with focus but it has its roots in a more positive thing: data, information, excitement, etc. When they’re easily accessible I become so intrigued to investigate, to dive, explore, I end up with the tabbing travesty you see above.
I want to open up my avenues of interest rapidly and, not unlike a magpie, collect all the shiny things but never end up doing anything much with them.
That’s right: I’d rather open more tabs before looking at the content contained within the tabs already open.
I should note that I’m not saying we should close the internet. Far from it: I think I should be developing more complex systems in being able to engage with material in a good way rather than in a stressful way. When I think about the sheer multitude of things we have at our fingertips, though, it really astonishes me.
We live in a sort of Diamond Age of Content, with around 500 original scripted shows predicted this year, an increase from last year’s 455, for example, there’s a perspiration-worthy amount of material of interest. And that’s just TV. Think about the ways in which we can potentially amuse ourselves.
Our issue nowadays isn’t that we don’t have good enough content but rather that there’s so much more good stuff than time available to consume it all in. From books, TV, film, video games, podcasts, social media, and more, we can glut ourselves beyond the typical limits of satisfaction.
This is particularly startling when you consider that we only have a certain number of time per day, one hundred blocks, to be precise, and a limited overall number of blocks in our lifetime. That means how you spend them counts. Not so easy when everything is fighting for your attention. How many times in a week can you count someone saying “oh you have to watch/read/listen to this?” or seen an advert of something of interest? I’ll wait.
It bothers me a lot, which is part of a wider way of thought that’s led to the tabbing. But this is only at my laptop and while I spend a lot of time there, it’s not the only place I consume content.
Note: this is just an exercise in spending time in leisure effectively which means I’m omitting other things like eating or travelling.
The way I think I (unevenly) carve types of time—ways to spend time on a given activity. For example, reading. You could read a book—which can be read physically, digitally, or in audio—or an article, which could be a magazine, newspaper, on Wikipedia, etc.
Part of effective time use for reading time is picking one activity and doing it with some degree of depth. So I’ll read that NYT piece over bits of Infinite Jest or vice versa. I want to read both but if I flit between the two mercilessly then I get a great deal less reading done while also wasting time. One solution to deal with this inaction is to open the tab of the article(s), save it for later. Only, this has the potential to continue ad infinitum, especially when scrolling my newsfeed.
Infinite Jest or the New York Times?
Listening time: Now consider other content, such as podcasts. There are so many podcasts of interest that I want to listen to. At the same time, however, several songs are buzzing in my head and are begging to be listened to and I can’t focus on the spoken words. If I don’t indulge then I’ll think about the music and not listen to the podcast. Of course I can’t do both and whatever I’ll pick will consume a significant portion of time. That’s in a good scenario. Often, I’ll just be so intrigued by the choice of music or podcasts on show that I won’t even listen to anything. I’ll just open the tabs on YouTube or click subscribe on my podcatcher.
The Daily or Arctic Monkeys?
Watching time: All the TV, films released all the time, YouTube vids.
Brooklyn or Brooklyn Nine Nine?
TV is so fucking good and there’s so much of it. When someone recommends me a show and it has an excess of five seasons I sigh because there’s just so much of it ahead. That might fill someone’s heart with joy, especially if you love the show. But I also think of it in terms of lost time. I’m a very picky watcher and I want to invest my time wisely. What if it isn’t for me and is instead detracted time from a show that does?
There are other things such as, I dunno, hobbies: games, playing an instrument, drawing, writing books (or these essays). Out of those I have to pick one, then do that thing for a set time.
Let’s not even talk about social media and what you can do with it. No wonder people call it the attention economy, things jumping for your attention and eating into your time.
That was fairly exhaustive because I like to make you work as a reader. In all seriousness though, what I hope to get at is to devise a (limited) system of pickiness as an entry point to cut through the fat.
What I Want From Content
You can’t save time like money, store it up and take it all at once snuggled under a pillow fort on a dreary day. At best you can economise by being selective. With it being limited, you want to invest it well with at least equal returns.
For such a selection process I might need to be a little more stringent than in the past and make harder choices, create a good way of judging if it’s worth the time. The things of interest should be least one of the following:
a.) educational: enhances existing or generates new knowledge.
b.) fun/pleasurable: sustains or increases pleasure.
[c.) cohere with certain values I possess]
Note: I’ve put c.) in brackets because I think that this selection criteria might not be within other people’s selection process. c.) is interesting, though, mostly because it can be overruled by either a or b (or both) so it’s really a third possibility. For example, if I don’t agree with the message of something, it will serve as educational. I’ll explain a bit more but watch as someone proves me wrong.
What values am I talking about? The biggest one is: well-developed characters from many walks of life—or typically what we mean when we say “diverse fiction”. That’s well-developed characters including ones we see less of: women, “POC”** characters, characters who are non-heterosexual, etc. All of these needs also to not defined by such things.
So: a character (see: likes, dislikes, merits and flaws) who is gay; not the gay character who is inserted to serve some illusory sense of inclusion and representation. And there’s a correct execution for this as well.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine has a great example of being aware of social issues but weaves them intricately into the tapestry of the show’s reality. Read on ahead and see some of the reasons why I enjoy it a lot. Again, though, it need not have these things to be entertaining but it’s nice to consider. I’d take one well-written black character than 25 shoddy stereotypes.
Anyway. It seems that the values of TV and film tend to reflect bankable trends opposed to any other values. This is usually because risk is not particularly financially viable. This isn’t the entire picture, true, but it is a strong guiding principle.
The common perception is that films in particular are made with the intention of making a well-selling piece before a well-told piece. Which is not to say that something that sells well isn’t well told, but films are a business and I suppose protecting those interests come first. There is a nexus between them, a sweet spot of good enough for both investors and audiences. It’s why franchises are huge right about now***.
An issue you might run into here is that a degree of variety is lost. Now, we have to stop here for a sec because this seems to contradict my central point of narrowing down how to spend to time. But I think it’s a worthwhile pursuit in having a variety of things to hold one’s interests.
For example, I was a little disappointed by Doctor Strange, which on one hand introduced newer elements to the exhaustive list of films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). This, however, was packaged in a fairly formulaic way. Not saying that formula is necessarily a problem, especially if the story is told well, but when it echoes a previous film in the same universe too sharply (Iron Man), in essence you could at best only derive an equal amount of pleasure from it.
But I kind of get it: it’s doing something different and if it’s too left-field then their wider ambitions will fall to the wayside. Film-making is more complicated than just a couple of people with a vision. There are lots of other factors (studios, investors, etc) which in some way dictate the shape of the finished product. But let’s move on.
So to summarise, I want my stuff to be varied on top of either being educational or pleasurable. This isn’t an extra letter in my list because it doesn’t target a specific medium as opposed to collectives. I want the types of books to be varied as opposed to one piece of thing with twenty different genres contained within, for example.
Now that that’s cleared up, I have to address the plenitude. The selection criteria must already apply in some capacity to the stuff that I’m foaming at the mouth over. Put simply: I have to say no to the new stuff. This sounds simple but is still somewhat tricky.
Time Regained: Saying No
Okay, so the tabbing issue can be summarised as such: I’ve seen something interesting and might not have the time to look at it, so I open a new tab with the intention of revisiting it at a later point.
Part of the problem is that newer interesting things appear and I open them up in a new tab as well. Eventually: tab-lock. The intention is to revisit but with every passing day the chances to revisit in a timely manner begin to dwindle. Often, the things I leave open aren’t half as interesting as I might have thought they’d be so it seems like a waste of time overall.
This is a good place to put in a notion of resistance. Maybe a time-limit: if I don’t revisit it in under say three days then it’s getting axed. I’m only going to stress myself out in spending several days clearing tabs. Eliminating sooner will help me guide my thinking towards actually beneficial content. I shit you not that to clear the tabs I would need about 3-5 complete days. Essays, articles, video features, walkthroughs … a lot of stuff that I don’t ever revisit for months at a time. It’s exhausting and it’s slowing my browser down.
It’s not all been bad though. I’ve been using The Great Suspender**** recently and it’s been an interesting extension for me. (It’s out now for Firefox as well as an add-on so if you want to give it a go, I say proceed.) I thought it would have been an enabler to my awful tabbing but it’s been a boon … to an extent. It’s made me carefully consider what I find interesting to be really interesting.
When I do my tab cleanse every 3-6 months, I often leave the experience drained and not having gained much. But when they’re all suspended, a glance at the title, reloading the page reveals I’m not as interested in it at present as when I first viewed it. It’s helped in dropping the tabbage by maybe a few percent which is small but significant. This is an option but not the solution. I’ll definitely need to develop more defences against my problem but that’s do with my wiring–something to grow out of. At the very least, I could bookmark some of them for the future.
For other content I should do one of two things: 1.) Say no and 2.) apply the one episode rule. I can’t possibly watch everything suggested so some things I will need to pass up on. That’s not an easy decision to make but it needs to happen for peace of mind. I don’t have to consume anything. “I have to watch this show.” Nay, I say. I reject it!
A softer approach to decide if I can stomach spending more blocks of time on something will be through the one episode rule.
I’ve been considering the active implementation of this for a while. I say one episode because that should be the requisite amount of time to see if this this thing has piqued my interest. More broadly, though, it’s a way of thinking that is not exclusive to episodic content.
So the rule: If it grabs me within the first episode, I’ll keep watching. If not, drop it. It took me too long to get to this point. I stopped watching House of Cards about half a year ago during season 2. I realised too late that I hated the world and characters. The writing’s good but the aggressive amorality was wearing me down more than it was enthusing me: I had no-one to root for, essentially. So I stopped. Now I can watch other things in its place. Like *goes quiet* anime.
Same goes for books: I used to stick it out to the end even if it was mostly boring. But recently I’ve been using the library pretty heavily (my wallet is sickly). What it gives me is a better range of choice without the extra “but I paid money for this” which I guess keeps me reading something that I don’t like.
If it doesn’t work for you, don’t suffer through it. Especially if, like me, a fear of yours is wasted time. Move on to others; your to-read/watch list is waiting for you to make a dent in it. This isn’t to say stop after the first line. I know within 100 pages whether or not I’ll like a book. Often I stop well before then.
A good question to raise here is if the above stated criteria can overrule the one episode rule, to which I answer: I suppose so. If a book isn’t particularly pleasurable but is pretty educational then sticking with it is not such a wasted effort. At least then you walk away with something—you have something to show for your efforts. You need to approach this with some judgement; I can’t speak to your specific needs.
But if you walk away with nothing then what’s the point of engaging with it at all? You read for a reason that isn’t suffering, I assume? Just to make it crystal clear, here’s an example: if I don’t a certain philosophy (Ayn Rand’s, for example) when reading it but had never known about it before in-depth then that’s a worthwhile experience. I’ve learnt something new.
In saying all of this, there’s something that’s been neglected: before any of the above can happen, I’ll have to weigh the newer content with the existing stuff I want to get into/have already invested time into. For me, I would say that my pre-existing list takes precedence over newer content. I would say at a rate of at least two items on my existing list need to be engaged with before introducing new things into the fold. I think I can be pretty strict with this for myself. So finish several books before buying/renting new ones.
For time division, I’ve found that having specific times of day helps guide the content towards meaningful consumption instead of mass hording. I think the issue for me is the plenitude of it all isn’t ordered in a way that’s useful for me. It might be ordered by genre but we’re talking about music and podcasts fighting for your attention alongside books, TV, etc. I’ve found that giving them their own space helps.
So, I’ll try my best to start my day by reading at least 20 pages of a book at a time. Then after I might go through social media and see an article of interest and read that. The day at large I have to choose and shape it around what’s happening but the option to head outside for an extended period of time usually puts a podcast in the driver’s seat, as they work better listened-to at one time as opposed to in bits.
When my podcasts of choice have finished, then move to music. Inverse where desired. The push towards this is to create corners/boundaries where there aren’t any. I know what I like and, coupled with an elimination process means that there’s a high chance I will actually do it. For watching media, after the book, YouTube would be a good to watch, which leaves the evening free for either a film or a TV show. If I pick one on one day, the other must follow on the next. TV show one day, film the next. That way I can get through content sort of in tandem.
Morning: Read books (at least 20 pages); social media for articles specifically; YouTube (1 video)
Afternoon: Podcast > music
Evening: TV or film (pick one).
And I think … that’s a post. To summarise: To get over the tabbing issue, I’ll need to be strict and review whether or not opening up a new tab will be worth my while or an addition to the problem. For new content, consider the one-episode rule. That usually gives me enough of an impression to see if I want to continue. Finally, if I make the consumption slightly more structured then I think I can tackle it effectively. This is by no means a holistic approach, but it’s a nice start. After a trial run I might do a reflective post to assess its effectiveness and change or develop it as appropriate.