(Inspired by Ben Werdmuller & Nathan Schneider)

This is something I’ve been thinking about and tinkering with a lot these past few months, so thought I’d use similar posts by Ben & Nathan linked above as a jumping off point to try and put it all together.

I’m still searching for the language around it, but I would characterize myself at this point as a human-first digital objector/protester. None of those terms really fit or describe it easily, nor does “neo-Luddite” feel adequate. So let’s put it in more concrete terms:

I have been for maybe 6-8 weeks blocking most images and videos on the web. It’s revolutionized my experience. The ones I allow have narrowly defined purposes and I seek them out intentionally, rather than allowing them to be auto-played to me.

I block ads. I block paywalls. While it was still possible for it to function, I used Nitter, along with other alternative front-ends for major platforms, stripped of tracking, etc. My only social media account is on ye “Old Reddit,” and a defunct Medium page I only log into now and then to complain from. I use an RSS reader called Fraidycat (which I wish were easy to run locally or on my own server or something – I haven’t looked into that lately).

I have not had a cell phone in over 13 years, though got an old flip phone for the car when I had a kid. I basically never use it but it’s there just in case, and sometimes I can receive sign up codes on it for things that require a phone number online.

I browse and do most online activities in greyscale, which I toggle on and off as needed. I recently got an external e-ink monitor from Boox. It’s… okay so long as you temper your expectations and what you do with it. Took some getting used to and is a little pricey, but definitely easier on the eyes for just ordinary text-editing tasks. If I had to do it again, I’d probably go for the larger fixed table top one instead of the one I got, which bills itself as portable, but I find it bleeds the Macbook battery fast, which I don’t like, so I never use it without the Macbook being plugged in. Then I put that on my lap to type, folding the screen down unless I need to cross-reference something on it, and have the Boox up on the table as my primary viewscreen. I find this set-up to be excellent for blogging.

I stopped using my computer all together for ~48 hours on the weekend. It’s been about 4 weeks that I’ve done it, and I’m going to continue on for basically… ever? I think? Unless there’s some compelling need, but I’m just automatically re-arranging myself so that there is none. I’ve found the same thing happens with making room for meditation, which I do twice daily for 20 minutes. And that all these habits build on each other, and sort of synergize at some point to make dropping other random bad habits easier. Not saying I’m perfect, far from it, and it’s not about that. It’s about feeling better. About feeling less driven and controlled and constantly bombarded and invaded by digital signals of questionable origin driving human behavior toward unknown ends, and just reclaiming my life back. About severing that “always on” connection in the brain that makes every thought terminate in you having to pick up a device and use some tool to achieve x thing that is definitely something that can wait.

For that purpose, I’ve turned back to a small notebook as my alternative “device” to fill in the need to always be inputting/checking some little thing. I can just jot down my thoughts, needs, tasks, etc. there instead of opening up the computer, and getting mired in 10 billion other things, and agendas of others telling me what I should need or want or hate or feel mad about. Fuck all that. A book is a good enough screen most of the time. And once you re-orient yourself again to physical books (I read a shit ton on weekends now instead, or do little sketches on paper), you realize how the web is basically one giant jumble of really poorly organized and shittily edited books – or rather pages and paragraphs torn out of books, scrambled around and peed on. But I digress…

I got into wifi radio. Not “web radio” that you listen to on your browser or phone and are still chained to that object. But dedicated radio devices which turn wifi signals into streaming radio channels. I love it and it has made me quit using Spotify just about all together. I’m back to deeply listening, discovering, and loving all kinds of new music, and hearing sounds and voices from around the world, and hearing the music contextualized with real people not algorithms. It’s rekindled something I’d feared was lost, and is central to my re-orientation around reification of function, objects, embodiment. Technologies that Do One Thing. Technologies that can’t kick you off because you got them bad press. I allow myself to use my wifi radio on the weekend (I use it all the time) because I’m not able to and therefore not tempted to do other tasks or check in on anything while using it. Tangentially, I’m really curious about the possibilities of digital shortwave radio, because apparently you can transmit text and even video with it? DRM or Digital Radio Mondiale. Though I’m having trouble finding anyone selling receivers in North America. I’m a licensed amateur radio operator in Canada, but never use it because someone told me I’d need to put up a 16′ tower to get a signal out of the geographic bowl I live in. It has all got me wondering whether we couldn’t just have blogs that get transmitted onto digital shortwave?

I’m also working on in the background an adaptation of something called Mailbug, which is this amazing email-only appliance aimed at old people. My provisional project name for it would be “Chatbug” and instead of email only, it could plug into other services, like Slack, Signal, Beeper, etc. This thing called Beepy seems pretty close to what I’d be after, but I like the big old klunkiness of the actual Mailbug with a full-size keyboard for typing. I just don’t see why I should have to spend $15/mo to pay Mailbug for a dial-in number to check email…

Speaking of old and klunky and awesome, I have and love an old Alphasmart Neo2 stand-alone type-y dealy word processor. It’s so great, takes 2 AA batteries, and my kid is getting into it now too. If I could have that form factor exactly, even with the LCD screen, but have it have Chatbug “guts” that work on Wifi, I would be so happy. No web browser, maybe only super rudimentary, text-based, images handled how they work on Gemini (if at all). In short, I’d love to have a non-cell phone, non-tablet objectified device with a medium size keyboard to have “words with friends,” though even if I had that, I’d have to determine whether or not I allow that during my 48 hours off from computers per week.

Speaking of lately also stopped mostly watching streaming shows in the evening. This has freed up a ton of time, which I have occupied with doing paintings, making nearly a dozen in a few short weeks, and absolutely rekindling some deep stuff for me. So now I spend 2-3 hours a night most nights doing that instead of piddling around on the internet for no real reason. Between that and cutting out weekends, it has radically downsized my online time while simultaneously giving me great new/old things to occupy myself with again, leaving me much happier in the short and long term. Also, in conjunction with blocking most images and videos on the web (I still consume a fair amount of Youtube btw, usually at 3x speed), I have taken up the habit of looking at art books, and not really having any preconceived ideas of what I am looking for, I just go through them and look and look and look and let them impact me. I choose them as inputs for my brain (and my kid’s brain who is looking on) instead of the constant stream of useless trash being fired out from every end of the internet.

Speaking of kids, were it up to me alone he would never touch a cell phone til he’s 18, but it’s not, so at least his usage of it is severely limited. As a replacement, I found a pathway to get YouTube videos onto SD cards, that I put into a small DVD player/card reader and that is working out great. This way I know what he’s watching, no ads or tracking, and I can propose new things for him to check out (animals, ecosystems, earth sciences). Even that though, I cap his usage, and same for watching YT on the tv. I’d prefer personally that he watches his shows on the TV with us because its a communal activity in a shared space, instead of him immobilized over a tablet on a couch in isolation, which I think is a terrible recipe for development and happiness of anyone at basically any age (myself included, I’m trying to show a better example to him too in what I do).

Anyway, there’s probably more but I think that’s a more or less thorough accounting for the most part. I realize I’m probably at a minority of a minority position here, but I think that’s exactly right and great. People have to find out what works for them, and the best way to do that is to have many examples and ideas to choose from to implement in one’s own life and practice.

Sidenote to Ben: Could you also please build a simple way for blogs to talk to one another? You seem like an ideal candidate for this. Trackbacks & pingbacks got drowned in spam back in the day, though were a good idea in theory. I’m not part of the Fediverse as such, but perhaps there’s a way there? I tried some WP plugins to get this sort of thing set up, but they didn’t work for me at the time. Thank you!