Archive for the 'Life Hack' Category

Notes to Self: Don’t Waste Your Time Online

Your life is short. Time is valuable. Produce something. Write, make music, draw, paint, anything. Imagine things and make them come true. You will feel great once you are done, even if it’s junk. Put what you think worthy online. Make stuff accessible and find proper channels. (Facebook is not a proper channel for anything but Facebook posts.) Do these things for fun as well. Do them as much as you like, but remember to rest. Your side hustles are not going to become your main hustle.

Find someplace quiet. Don’t be afraid of sitting still. Read a book, any book. Read without purpose, and read with purpose if you must. You subscribe to the New York Times for news. Read the New York Times. You subscribe to the London Review of Books. Read the London Review of Books. You subscribe to Spotify. Listen to music and podcasts from Spotify. Pick a film and watch it from beginning to end. Don’t watch it on YouTube or your computer. Watch a DVD. Go to the movies. Go to a museum.

You have a gym membership. Go to the gym. A gym with heavy metal blasting in your ears can sometimes be your quiet place. Go for a run. Organize your closet. Do a bit of housework. Brush up on your languages. These things may seem like chores, but it’s really time set aside for thought and reflection. The best ideas may come to you when you’re not paying attention and doing something else. Do these other things so that you can do the things that really matter. You don’t necessarily have to do any of this, but if you have prepared for them and set aside the time to do them, why not to do them?

For the Laziest Writers

I have always looked for ways of working that involve the least stress, physical or mental. Ideally, I don’t want to get out of bed to do a day’s work. This rarely happens, but because some of my work involves writing, I sometimes get to spend the day in bed, working. It’s about as great as it sounds. But, is there a way to make it even easier? I think I may have found it. Because I can work in bed, there is little physical stress involved. The mental stress is unavoidable, but I actually enjoy some of the mental stress and thinking that goes into the writing process. What I don’t like is the actual typing.

My tablet has a Gboard speech-to-text application integrated into its virtual keyboard. I believe it’s something invented by Google, perhaps to spy on all of us. They call it “voice typing.” It was quite poor in the past and required incredibly clear enunciation, lots of editing, frustration and quiet rage. However, I tried it again a few days ago and noticed that it’s actually quite good now. At the very least, it is usable. And that’s all I ask for. It has now enabled me to fulfil one of my old Proustian dreams: doing a day’s work in bed without even opening my eyes very often. What could be better?

On a more serious note, voice typing is actually very useful when you have to communicate with someone and do not want to use the virtual keyboard on your device. If you are like me and hate those things, voice typing your message is a godsend. The app on my phone is slightly different and it does not understand Finnish like my tablet app, but it’ll do in a pinch. I suppose I could configure my phone to do all the things my tablet does, but I haven’t gotten around to it just yet. Being able to talk to my phone actually diminishes stress in my everyday life, because I write emails, send messages and and write stuff on the go all the time. Having to fiddle with tiny slippery keyboards is a pain, speaking a note is much easier on the nerves. Simply put, I’m a big fan of speech-to-text, voice typing, or whatever it’s called.

Are there any downsides? Yes, of course there are. First of all, Google listens in on everything I say. Therefore, I can’t really record anything that would be considered confidential or sensitive information. It’s a bummer. Secondly, speech-to-text is useful for text that is conversational, but other genres are problematic. Blog posts are easy, text messages great, but writing something like a research article still involves sitting at the desk typing away on a keyboard. Thirdly, the text requires editing afterwards. With text messages and the like you don’t really have to be that careful, but with emails, for example, you do have to edit. There may be more downsides, but out of these three, I can live with the genre limitations and the editing. What sometimes worries me is the spying aspect.

Should we be worried? I worry, but I can’t get too worked up about it even if I try. There’s a recording of me speaking these words somewhere in the bowels of Google, for example, but will that information ever be used against me? There are many things we don’t know yet. Big data is a thing, but we still don’t know how the individual should relate to big data. Some are quite paranoid, others think that it’s basically a big dumb pile of data that cannot be used in any nefarious way to hassle individual people. AI has a role to play in the paranoid scenarios, but AI itself is still quite dumb. Even if some of the paranoid fears are feasible, I place my trust in the fact that nobody really cares about my data. There is nothing interesting there for anybody, I think.

Therefore, I think I will continue using this application. At least for the moment. I will continue to trust the good will and, more importantly, the indifference of my fellow Internet-dwellers. If I become an example of someone whose laziness doomed him in some way, so be it. And should something happen, I still have my notebooks, pencils and pens with which I can take notes without getting spied on by giant corporations. These thoughts, at least, are still private in the old-fashioned sense. You’re not going to see them, nor can Google access them. At least not yet.
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An Experiment in Silence Day 1

Note: I decided to give up aural media for two weeks. This meant I would mute music, films, TV, YouTube, audiobooks and other media at all times. The point was to minimize unnecessary junk entering my ears in my daily life.

The first day did not begin quite as well as I had hoped. The radio was on during breakfast and it would have been silly to ask it to be turned off. We listened to a lecture on British agriculture and some music. I cannot remember anything about the music, but the lecturer had an annoying voice and was obviously reading her presentation from a paper. The rest of the day was better. I went to the gym and wore noise-cancelling earbuds which blocked out the music from the speakers very well. Again, no memory of any of the music that did get past the noise-cancelling.


I noticed three things. First, I was very fidgety. My attention span was short and I moved from one potential distraction to the next all the time. Second, songs that I had heard a long time ago kept playing in my head like a constant flow of earworms that were at times annoying and pleasant at other times. Earlier I would have put on some background music, perhaps listened to the songs that came to me and eventually moved on to some others. Now, I let them repeat freely and, among other things, analyzed the guitar riffs I heard. This made me want to make music myself. Thirdly, the day went by incredibly slowly. It sounds odd, but it really felt like there were more hours in the day.

An Experiment in Silence

WP_20140522_14_29_57_ProLike most people, I love the Internet. I do not watch television, listen to much radio, play games or buy that many records. Everything I need is provided by my tablet via WiFi and I have control over almost all the media content I consume. You often hear concerns about the amount of media junk people accept into their lives. Television’s passivating influence has long been an issue, but now that people have a much bigger say in what they consume, these concerns have naturally changed. People seek out harmful entertainment, spend too much time in virtual worlds and social media, play games that may have a bad influence on them, watch too much porn, and so on. The new controversies are interesting, but there is another issue that should be considered. Unless I am mistaken, most of the concerns deal with visual media and very rarely does anyone think about what we allow into our ears. That is why I have decided to conduct an experiment by giving up aural media for two weeks.

It may sound a bit gimmicky, but there is a reason for focusing on sound. I have always been sensitive to noise. Loud sounds have always made me anxious. They have even triggered migraine attacks. I have played in rock bands for much of my life, but the sound of a band is a different thing altogether. It is directed, coherent and wraps around you like a warm blanket. Incoherent noise is simply impossible to process in the same way. There is no meaning to the latter and its shapelessness is a source of great discomfort to me. Riding the tube, for example, can be absolutely terrifying. But volume is not everything. There is also a different kind of noise that produces nearly the same effect, which I have termed semantic garbage. A conversation taking place in the background while waiting in line or riding a bus, for example, can be disquieting even at low volumes. A radio playing in the background can produce a similar effect. The two together with the sound of the wheels can create an unbearable cacophony. Again, the brain gets going and tries to dig meaning out of the noise and soon exhausts itself. I envy people who can drown these things out, because I am obviously very bad at it.

Luckily my friends and loved ones have accepted my odd impairment and I have discovered ways of getting around these issues. One of these is to use noise-cancelling headphones. On the tube, I put them on and they enable me to behave like a normal person and have conversations. When I walk around London, a very noisy city, I rarely go without them. Sometimes I have nothing playing through them and just use the noise-cancelling function to block out sound. It may be strange, but quite a lot of people have headphones on walking around town, so it does not look strange at all. Wearing these things a lot, I have picked up the habit of listening to audiobooks almost all the time while commuting or walking around. This combined with the fact that I listen to online content all the time while at the office or at home means that I am constantly submerged in either music, YouTube babble, books or films.

The volume is never high and I am not afraid all this will affect my hearing. Rather, I am concerned that the constant noise that I use to block out noise might be exhausting my cognitive faculties and fuzzying up my brain in other ways. I also feel I might be hooked. When a moment of silence creeps up on me, I feel anxious. This frightens me a little, so why not take the plunge and try to see how deep the rabbit hole goes. The rules are as follows: I will mute music, films, TV and YouTube series, audiobooks and other media for at least two weeks. Noise-cancelling headphones are still a necessity, because they enhance silence, which is after all the whole point. For anyone interested in following this little experiment, I will keep a log of it on this blog and on Twitter. Let us see and listen what happens.