Avoiding Distractions in Modern Computing

June 13 2020

This is a post about workflow and what I think about distractions in modern computing.

As I write this piece it is on a small screen, the background is solarized light and I see plain text. There are no push notifications, I see no tempting elements to click. My mind is generally all about the issue at hand. I have a top-notch Macbook Pro right beside me, but still I am here on this Lenovo x395 that represents a something else.

While I in some ways envy the worry-free computing our growing generation encounter, I also feel compassion for the conventional computing they will never be exposed to in the way that I have been. Like my generation never experienced the transition from transistors to modern CPUs in the 70–80s and can with few exceptions understand it, most of the upcoming generation will never experience “slow computing”. The reason I think this is in some ways a shame is that slow computing leaves space to think. About why you interact with the system, what to do and how and when to do it.

Combined with people indoctrinated on Microsoft Office, modern computing have left workers as robots with their primary mission to answer emails and managing calendar appointments. In some ways the art of communicating with each other and interacting without a digital reference has become lost. Freedom of defining your digital workspace should not and cannot be different to the freedom of organising your physical space.

Modern computing comes with bells and whistles, and I think that companies seeking cost-efficient and standardised computing environments are to blame. I think pragmatism is to blame for those environments. I also think “the cloud” is an attempt at creating a walled garden. Bureacracy are also to blame. An attempt at cost-effiency where the end-user is under-estimated and the systems dumbed down. We have built a digital world that imprints the use of products, generic in themselves, with little to no options for automation besides what the author meant for. All depending on a few global companies.

Emacs is a platform independent text editor which is POSIX-compliant and available on Windows, Linux, BSD, macOS and more. Emacs is especially known for its extensibility and its rich ecosystem of extensions. Richard Stallmann wrote the first version in 1976, 45 years ago!When I open my laptop lid, I log in and see a terminal, or crashed screen as some likes to describe it. It is like a blank canvas with no outputs, just waiting for a command about what I would like to do next. At this point I might navigate to a blog directory and open a document with my text editor of choice: emacs. When done writing this post I will add it to git, my text versioning system. After this I do whatever I please with the text file. I might push it to my central blog repository where a static HTML file generates on a public area or I may pipe it to some other program. This is the Unix philosophy.

After writing this post I may choose to check my mailbox for new messages that I am expecting. My electronic mail system runs decentralised and works for me, and me only. The reason for it is that I like to control my own data. I do not want my letters read by others, neither prying commercial or government eyes. For this I use neomutt, notmuch and muchsync.

Occasionally I like to communicate remotely with others, and for this purpose I use Riot, based on the distributed Matrix-protocol.

The Multitasking Mind, Tufte and Taatgen, 2010, ISBN: 9780199733569 The work of Edward tufte can be found at edwardtufte.com.Even though much is best formulated in words, The Multitasking Mind by Salvucci and Taatgen, and Edward Tufte thaught me about the power of visualisation and automation. This is also why I program in Python and Nim, and sometimes design illustrations to get my message across.

I may have been an avid macOS user once, but in the future I will seek to come as close as possible to using my computing platform as a tool, rather than to become a tool for those who seek to profit on others in cyberspace. I know it won’t be easy because computing also has a social component, and that is the real challenge.

I will leave you with a link to Make Time which have in some ways helped my journey.

Tags: #personal #workflow #unix
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