Out of Sight...

Back in August, I made the switch to an iPad Pro as my primary working device. No laptop. No desktop. Nothing but me and iOS in this thing together. It’s unsurprisingly had a huge impact on how my life and work both operate, and this week I’m going to write about that in some detail.

To warm up, though, I want to talk about a problem I’ve been having lately that I only rarely encountered on a laptop. Friends, I am finding myself bored on the internet. 

This isn’t a new problem; rather a cyclical one, found mostly in the spaces when internet use as a whole is shifting. In the early 90s, browsing Yahoo’s hand-curated index of the World Wide Web and chatting with friends on IRC was enough to occupy as many hours as I had to spare, and more, until it wasn’t. Later, groups and forums filled my time, until they didn’t. Then social media was born, and we all know what happened then.

My RSS reader is light on updates these days. Twitter, at least, seems to be drying up as people tire of Nazis and bad news, and accordingly seek out sunnier digital climates. But none of that is new since August. So why am I feeling listless and bored now?

There’s a piece of diet advice that goes around: put your healthy snacks at eye level, and hide away your cookies so you don’t spot them when you’re hungry.  Well! Apparently I’ve put myself on a very serious media diet. Because I still in theory have access to near-infinite content on Medium, Wikipedia, YouTube. There are podcasts and videos galore I have not yet even dreamt of, and enough art and snark on Tumblr to fuel a galaxy.

But I put those apps in a folder, and so they might as well not exist.

This is an astonishing and true fact, and bears repeating: once I put an app in a folder, I might as well not have it, because I will not think of it unless a specific need arises (and how often do you have a specific need for Tumblr or YouTube, truly?) I theorize that hiding the icon from easy and habitual view allows me to subconsciously forget about the app as a category of activity I can participate in. Even where it used to be a habit! Where once I spent a lot of time visiting Google News, now I forget to open any of my half-dozen news apps. Likewise I forget about my RSS reader. I forget about the lesser social sites that didn’t make it into my dock. I forget about Duolingo, and the thought of playing games hardly crosses my mind on the iPad. 

The same goes for browser tabs. Where once I always had dozens open, now I keep it down to a manageable four or five, excepting specific research periods. iOS handles clicked links in such a way that you’re subtly nudged to finish reading an article before returning to the app that sent you there. Which means when I pop into my browser to see if there’s something I meant to read later, there’s... nothing. I did it already. 

Being bored on the internet sounds kind of terrible, but it is in fact a true and perfect blessing. It means nothing less than that I am reclaiming time that I had spent on the laptop idly clicking from one tab to another, trying to find something to do, or trying to trigger the memory of what I’d intended to get done. 

And the apps that almost haphazardly wound up in my dock or on my home screen, unfoldered, are the ones I’m spending more time in. Example: I do a lot of idle sketching now, a habit I’m pleased to come back to, since ProCreate is just... always right there, looking at me. Shockingly, my email inbox is the leanest it’s consistently been in... gosh, it must be a decade. I’m reorganizing my Dropbox folder structure, not because it’s any worse than it was in July, but because I’m in and out of the Dropbox app all day long.

That leads into a hypothesis that I’m testing now. Can I intentionally shape my days simply by rearranging my flipping home screen? Or a more specific test: If I put the Kindle app on my home screen, right there prominently in the corner, will I remember more often that reading is a thing to do, and accordingly read more books?

I can’t know for sure just yet, but since I moved the app into the light, I’ve read 50 pages more in a day than I did any other day in the last month. Signs point to yes.

Sooooooo in turn, the question becomes: what version of myself do I want to be? How do I wish my time usually looked? Which self do I want to be? Because all I need to do to become that person, it seems, is put the healthy apps a little closer to eye level.


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