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Unplug. Unfollow. Drop Out.

Aug 28, 2009 In Design By Thomas Lewis

For the past month, we’ve been flooded with Woodstock flashbacks from 40 years ago. The peace and love movement. People who bucked conventions and did things their way. The Beatles, throwing out their suits and experimenting.

Of course, we’ve taken a dramatic turn since the countercultural hippie/beatnik era. These days, we are obsessively plugged into culture through our online behavior–activity streams, feedreaders, and social media keep us on high alert at all times. As a result, many of us feel a growing sense of suffocation. The pressure to keep up with every new development in real time is simply too much, too often.

Is Quitting Trendy?

More and more, I’m seeing digital people “drop out”. Notably, it’s my geek friends who are admitting in hushed whispers that they’ve unfollowed everyone on Twitter or stopped reading RSS feeds. Each says the same thing: “I found myself not worrying about keeping up with everything and have been creative and productive again.” They’re unplugging and enjoying life more.

Better Tools.

I think our tools have failed us. We have an exponential amount of data available to us, but mediocre ways of managing it. I’m hopeful for tools like Fever,which filters feeds according to what’s most hot and allows you to read on the go,at your leisure, via a mobile device. Perhaps the best thing about Fever is that it hides your unread counts, so you aren’t compelled to read every single feed. And when it comes to activity streams, Facebook is getting smarter with its Like feature.

More Creativity.

It’s human to create. As kids, we were constantly creating. Crayon art. Stories that we acted out with toys. Imaginary worlds that no one else could see. Creativity is a big part of who we are–yet somehow, we let people beat it out of us. I see this happen a lot in technical circles, where the attitude that “there can only be one way” dominates. Sorry, but I don’t buy that. I want software be an art form, not just a science.

Just Do It.

Let me make a suggestion: Take small steps to drop out. Try unfollowing everyone, or only follow people who inspire you and make you smile. Turn off e-mail for two hours a day. Instead of pinging Techmeme or TechCrunch every five minutes, create a wallpaper or font.

Do you feel suffocated under keeping on top of it all? Have you decided to drop out? If so, how did you do it? Did you find your creativity or passion? Let me know with a comment. And don’t forget to follow our Twitter feed (or not!).

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2 comments so far. You should leave one, too.

rtpHarry said on Aug 29, 2009

I barely use twitter myself and the few days I did have it loaded at work I felt compelled to click every link that popped up and generally got totally distracted.

You can filter your data though so you only see some people such as having the columns in TweetDeck for when you dont want to be busy.

Also you dont have to have the program loaded all the time.

Something I have always found strange is the having twitter on at work is ok but facebook/myspace isnt.

I think potentially twitter could be a great way to connect to like minded developers but personally I dont have the time to invest to make it work.

Jorge M Machado said on Sep 3, 2009

Once a friend and I sat at a restaurant and, at the end of a fine meal, he said to me, "as I grow old I notice that life becomes more rewarding if you start editing out the things that matter least." (He''s a film buff, that''s where the choice of verb comes from.)

It''s ok not to be on your toes all the time. It''s ok not to try and keep up with everything and everyone. Writer Neal Stephenson once blogged: "I either answer all my e-mails or write novels, so I am a very bad correspondent."

Ask yourself, then - what are you? A creative or a "reactive" professional?

Basically, I have a routine. I give myself an hour and a half everyday to deal with all the feeds I subscribe to. After that, it''s work, work, work.