In the last three years I’ve paid particular attention to how I handled my usual disconnection period of the year, the summer holidays. August 2012 was a refreshing time in this regard, because I was coming from a terrible year (no holidays in 2011 whatsoever — and no offline periods), and I was able to go on holiday bringing just the iPad with me, leaving my main laptop at home. That, combined with a very limited connectivity, resulted in a peaceful, productive time. Both from a creative standpoint (I wrote more; I jotted down a lot of ideas for short stories; I drew and painted using different iPad apps for this task, like Paper by Fifty-Three or Procreate), and because I managed to read more books in those 22 days of holiday than in the seven preceding months.
August 2013 led to a similar experience, but the subtle differences were even more interesting. For starters, I didn’t feel any of the typical withdrawal symptoms from being disconnected from the Web, my email, social networks and so forth. I was so engrossed by the books I was reading, that such activity was being more meaningful than the so-called ‘fear of missing out.’ (I talked about this experience at length in I was going nowhere fast — Vantage Point Magazine, Issue 2). Last summer I still had just my iPad with me, but thanks to a new SIM card with a great data plan my wife and I purchased for our iOS devices, connecting to the Internet was easier, and I didn’t have to go to a local café to check email and the news. Still, for the reasons stated above, I wasn’t that interested in spending my holidays online and checking stuff every five minutes. It felt great, it felt balanced: I could have spent more time online more easily, but I didn’t feel like it. I was engaged in more rewarding ‘offline’ activities.
August 2014 was, once again, different. This time I had to bring my MacBook Pro with me because, among other things, I needed to prepare Issue 5 of Vantage Point Magazine, and the iPad alone wouldn’t have been enough. The presence of my laptop (and the 350 GB of personal materials it contains) and the same, easier way to access the Internet I had the previous year, resulted in more or less the same level of distraction and mild disorganisation I have at home. Fortunately, I didn’t also spend the same amount of time sitting before my Mac as I spend when not on holiday. Still, looking back at the few past weeks, I can’t say I’ve been as productive as I had been in August 2012 and August 2013, or as productive as I wanted to be at the beginning of my summer holiday. My to-do list included reading three books and drawing, both on my notebook and using the iPad. I ended up reading one book and a half, and drawing very little.
Sure, there were other things to do this time, like preparing my magazine, which demanded more time spent online. Reading more stuff online led to less reading books on the iPad (my eyes were tired enough); and instead of drawing, I ended up entertaining myself watching series and films or playing games on my MacBook Pro. That’s okay, it’s always leisure — but, as I was musing on the plane back home, ultimately not the kind of leisure I had sought.
The RTWA Syndrome
I’m sharing all this for two reasons. First, it’s yet another example of how easy Internet connectivity can interfere with someone’s plans in subtle ways and despite all the organisation and discipline one may have when it comes to this matter (and I believe I have pretty much of both). The second reason is to mention a phenomenon I’ve recently noticed with myself, and perhaps it’s happened to you as well — especially if you, like me, are curious people, always hungry for knowledge, write on your blog and maybe even write your own magazine. I’ve called this phenomenon the RTWA Syndrome, where RTWA stands for “Read To Write About.” It happens like this: I’m reading a book, or an article, or something I’ve found on the Web, and while reading it I can’t help thinking “I have to write about this. I have to save this stuff, take notes, because I have to write about this later. It’s good material for an article on my blog or for my magazine, etc.”
It’s not entirely and inherently a bad thing — one accumulates knowledge to share it and spread it. But this underlying urge, this continuous buzz, is beginning to annoy me because it’s increasingly looking like the written equivalent of what had become my Instagram experience before I stopped posting photos there. I wasn’t shooting snaps for myself anymore. I wasn’t shooting snaps for the pleasure of shooting snaps anymore. I was looking for the ‘Instagram moment.’ I was shooting thinking how perfect for Instagram that snap would be. Similarly, the experience of reading something new, of assimilating new information, is starting to feel (in part) like ‘accumulation of useful stuff to write about,’ in a way or another, on my blog or elsewhere.
Again, it’s difficult to explain exactly why I’m not liking this phenomenon very much. I’m sure someone will read this and think “What’s wrong with that?” Let’s say it makes me feel like I’m just some sort of sieve, filtering all the inputted information to create an output. Or some sort of processing system or apparatus, looking for stuff to process, transform, and then provide. This has nothing to do with the quality of the product. It’s something subtle that happens in the back of my mind. Looking at everything I find, read, study, as nothing else but ‘stuff to then write about.’ All the time perfectly knowing that it’s so much more, that it should be so much more. Another side effect of the online sphere and online writing, I guess, and something I’m not entirely comfortable with. I’ll have to work on this, to figure out how I can defuse this mechanism and get rid of the interference.