on disconnecting to think


I'm in the third week of a PhD program, and have had to make some adjustments to how I do things in order to be able to concentrate and actually think. I was struck by my inability to read a full paragraph without switching over to check email/calendar/twitter/slack/facebook/whatever. Mostly email and twitter.

I'm basically living in digital content - everything I do is in OneNote and Outlook, synced to every device I use. My email and calendar basically organize my day. There are people in there.

But, I also need to be able to withdraw. To remove myself from the chaos and distraction and constant competing demands for my attention, in order to really think deeply and longly about something (or somethings). I spent some time observing what I do on my desktop, iPad and phone. So much of it is scattered, unfocussed, and intensely synchronous - responding in near realtime, rather than pausing to think and reflect.

What about a ritual - totems and practices that signify the shift from Always Connected Work D'Arcy to Solitary Time to Think D'Arcy. So, I bought a new paper notebook - handcrafted in Italy - wrapped in rich leather (I don't believe it's Corinthian). Something I would never have used otherwise - it has a fussy leather strap tie that I would have avoided as inefficient or unwieldy. But, it serves the purpose perfectly. And, I bought a fountain pen. The feel of writing with it is completely different, especially in a good notebook. And I'm writing in cursive for the first time since the early 80's. Which is interesting, because it forces me to slow down as I write.

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The hard part is stopping myself from distracting myself. I spent some time at my grad student desk yesterday, to prepare for a discussion of research methods in theatre and performance. I revised some notes in my fancy notebook. And then I wondered if my student login would work on the computer I'd inherited with the desk. Huh. Login worked. Looks like a stock Windows 7 install. Better install Chrome. And sync my bookmarks. And grab Putty so I can connect to stuff. And while I'm here, I better check Twitter and update WordPress plugins on my blog. Wait. What? Start > Power > Sleep.

Will the fancy notebook and hipsterific fountain pen make me concentrate and become a Real Thinkerâ„¢? No. That's a cargo cult fetishism of tools. But, putting away things that I seem to find difficult to tune out, and shifting to a quiet, solitaire place through a ritual of de-digitalization and picking up a notebook and pen that carry a different kind of energy (and feel, and smell) may be a good start.