Extinguish Distractions

Christopher Nolan, one of the greatest filmmakers of our time, does not have a cell phone. In an effort to live a focused and productive life, he is vigilant about keeping his personal bubble distraction-free. I’ve advocated for periods of digital silence before, but Mr. Nolan’s approach to creative sanctuary is something else entirely. No outside forces may enter the gates of his life while he is working. That’s a special thing.

We consume so much information every single day: emails, articles, status updates, pictures and video. Since the beginning of the year, I have consumed approximately 2,000 emails, 6,400 tweets, 12,500 articles and god knows how many status updates. Let’s conservatively estimate that I spend an average of 20 seconds per item (an overestimate for tweets; a radical underestimate for email and news). By that average, I spend around 58 hours per month or 12% of my time awake consuming emails, tweets and articles alone. Realistically, I think that number is closer to 35% or 40%. Needless to say, that’s a lot.

The numbers make me sick. I could be spending time creating for and giving back to the world. I can only imagine how much more I could get done if I extinguished those distractions from my life. After adopting the Galaxy Nexus, I am now more connected than ever. I’m starting to feel the water rising to my ears – and I don’t like it. Tonight, I vow to wean myself off consumption as much as possible. I will keep this blog up to date with any tips I discover along the way.

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Leaving A Data Legacy

I would love to know how my grandparents lived their lives half a century ago. Now that all but one have passed, I’m left with only a few pictures and stories. While there may be a Big Fish fantasy charm to the finite amount of information I have, my curiosity endures.

FoursquareI finally adopted Foursquare in January and checked in nearly a hundred times since. To this day, I struggle to find direct utility in the service (beyond specials, which I have never successfully used). That said, I am a data nut. I appreciate the value of collecting information on my life, whether I do anything with it or not. I’m too lazy to keep a journal, so social and location services help a lot. Despite the fact that my data may be used to serve the gains of others, I (perhaps naively) trust that these services will evolve to capture and interpret the nodes of my life back to me and all who follow.

I am of the camp that sees big data not as a violation of personal privacy, but as a path to building a data legacy. I don’t presume to become wildly famous and expect the world to care what I ate for breakfast yesterday. No, I mean to say that I want to leave slices of history for my children and children’s children to better understand me and the times I live in. Does anybody really care that I had Pad Thai for lunch yesterday? Fuck no. But the next generation might appreciate a rich data set on American dining habits and dietary evolution. My grandchildren might appreciate that Pad Thai is one of my favorite dishes.

Like donating your body to science, I want to donate the computed history of my life to the next generation of sociologists, historians and nostalgics. I want my grandchildren to have access to anything they could possibly want to know about me and learn from my mistakes. We all have an opportunity like never before to contribute to the nuance of our generation’s history books.

So, in spite of all this privacy hooplah, I will continue to check in and contribute to big data through applications and organizations that lend to a long shelf life and value for greater societal context.

What Do You Get From Social Media?

Today’s major platforms have connected me with people I would have otherwise lost touch with and to a wealth of digital content shared by peers. Beyond that, I am slowly failing to identify with Facebook, Twitter, and Google+’s value propositions. I am very curious to hear from you, dear audience. What do you get from social media? What services do you use and how have they changed your life? How could they be better? If you have thoughts on the subject, I’d love to hear from you – simply post in the comments below or email me.