(Self) Denial of Service

(Self) Denial of Service

Last week, I got fed up with computers and declared an Internet Holiday for myself: no computers for entertainment, research, or communication! I thought that perhaps I would gain some insight into what it was that was depressing me lately; I’m in a rut, without a clear sense of direction.

Here’s what I learned.

The Internet Masks an Essential Isolation With the Internet, I never really felt disconnected from things. There’s blogs to read! People to Instant Message! Emails to send! When I take away the Internet…there’s nothing to distract me from being bored. I ended up falling back on older, pre-Internet habits: searching out delicious foods to be the “highlight of the day”, and watching television thanks to my other best friend, Tivo. In short, a rather empty existence. No phone calls. No emails. No visits. It’s been years since I hung out daily with real-life people, freelancing being what it is. This realization really bummed me out. To cheer myself up, I ate a whole box of fried chicken from the supemarket. Which, incidentally, is really good if you get it just when they’ve cooked up a batch for the dinner-on-the-go commuters around 530PM…tender, succulent, and not dried out from the heat lamps! I will have to test this hypothesis again under more controlled conditions. And while that doesn’t make binge eating right, it was at least darned tasty. I wish I could say the same for their (terrible) potato salad, but that’s a rant for another post.

Surfing The Net Contributes To Self-Inflicted Attention Deficit Disorder I found myself gravitating toward the computer automatically when I felt even the tiniest bit bored or curious about something. To measure this, I instituted a toll system: everytime I sat at the computer and then got up without doing anything, that was a nickel. If I did any task like look something up or check email, that was 25 cents. After the first day I had about five bucks of change in the jar. Recognizing that I had nothing better to do, I decided that I should get on with cleaning up the house. I organized the basement and hauled tons of junk to the landfill. I donated old books to the library. I was actually rather productive, which lifted me from my funk.

What The Frack Am I Doing With My Life? You know, I’ve been converging on some kind of big insight for years; at least, that’s what it feels like. What’s maddening is not knowing what that is, and this has been a popular and recurring theme with my internal monologue. This weekend’s session again covered Sense of Accomplishment and Lacking of Concrete Goals, which led to Lack of Motivation to Pursue Concrete Goals, Because They Aren’t The Right Ones, As Far As My Gut Says. This was closely followed by Well, What Goals Are The Right Ones Anyway? and Hey, What Am I Good At? running into So You’re Good At That, But You Don’t Really Enjoy It Anymore ending with Suck It Up, Damn It, And Just Pick Something Like Everyone Else. And then the entire cycle becgins again with Lack Of Motivation, Et Al.

But There Is A Broader Pattern, If I Can Just Step Back And See It After running around this circle for a bit, I decided to just watch some TV and read some books; new inputs often lead to new insights. I watched some old episodes of Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, a fantastic episode of Battlestar Galactica, read a thread on the Happiness Forum, read the introduction to Best of Software Writing I by Joel Spolsky, and was struck by the common thread in all these things: storytelling. This, I realized, is something that has been at the heart of almost everything worthwhile I’ve done since I was in the 5th grade.

As it turns out, I don’t think it’s storytelling itself that’s the unifying dictum of my existence. But it’s close. More on that tomorrow.