This just occurred to me. Maybe you who’s reading this knew this for ages, but when Aamir Khan reads about dyslexia ages after Arun Shourie established a special school [Ok, not too sure about the establishment bit… but I think it has to do with autism… his child is autistic. I think], and gets excited enough to make a movie about it, and which gets critically acclaimed in spite of being a copy of a ten-year-old illustrated children’s book (You didn’t think Aamir was capable of originality, did you?) I’m sure I can be excused for writing this post.
So there are folks who manage time pretty well normally, but the moment they log on to the Net, their time gets sucked into a black hole. I wondered why.
Firstly, it is because we haven’t grown up using the Net for educational purposes, or for getting work done. We are used to seeing it as an entertainment medium.
But the larger reason is, everything is so close to everything else. It takes very less time to context-switch between work and fun, or fun and fun. Now you wouldn’t be talking to a friend in your living room, and run to check your postbox every few minutes, would you? And movies on TV don’t take time to load that you pick a book out of your bookshelf in the buffering time.
Essentially, there’s very less decoupling. The same applications are used for a variety of tasks, so much that it becomes increasingly hard to distinguish between the two. And it gets worse when these tasks are on opposite ends of the essential-nonessential spectrum.
One of the biggest defaulters is Mail. It is a very convenient application. It is non-intrusive. The user can respond when (s)he wants to. Items stay on for as long as you want them to.
So you find a very interesting post on cracked.com which tells you about 10 Rags-to-Riches tales that weren’t. You know a dozen friends who’d be interested in reading this. You can’t disturb them in the middle of the day over this. So you do the logical thing: mail it to them.
And you also find a bug that needs to be fixed urgently. You feel too lazy to get off your chair and tell the owner of the code to fix it. What do you do? Mail.
You want to urgently call a team meeting. Your team is distributed over three floors. No prizes for guessing how you inform them all.
Now the logical thing to do while you are hard at work at a task that requires concentration is to turn off new mail notifications. In most practical situations, that is humanly impossible. Because folks who mail you mail you stuff with different levels of priority. You can’t forgo the urgent stuff (like meeting notifications and bugs that need fixing). (Actually, one solution involves staying off the Net while at work. But what about when you’re on a task that requires your use of the Net? Or one of the time-sink type websites/applications?)
This problem is not hard to solve. You use filters, block some, tell your friends to mail you the chit-chatty bakwaas discussions on some other ID…
Sadly, Wikipedia doesn’t have any of these features. So you go searching for info about Bio-NLP, and end up reading the story of Dev D, then some about Bimal Roy, Suchitra Sen… and before you know it, you’re chuckling at the dialogues of Jhankaar Beats… and an hour of your life is gone, never to come back.
While applications with multiple features seem a good deal, they aren’t exactly made with the monkey-mind of people in mind. People tend to get distracted easily. By the slightest thing. So while ISKCON and the Art of Mind Control might be a sight richer due to that fact, it doesn’t mean the problem is with you. You can only try to change the way your mind works, but heck, why mess with nature? Instead, tailor the world around you.to suit the way you and your mind work… isn’t that what technology is all about?
After the advent of Google Reader, the number of email FWDs have reduced to a really great extent. (It is of course another matter that a lot of time is wasted on Reader). That’s the sort of decoupling we want. We should be able to distinguish between the different aspects of our life. While you can technically talk to your PhD advisor and better half at the same time now, it doesn’t mean you have to, if you’re morbidly scared of signing off with “Luv ya hon” to your advisor.
More features might seem a good deal, but heck, this is the Internet and we’re mostly talking about Freeware. You need to quit the whole bargain-and-buy mentality if you want to make some real optimal choices here.
If you’re waiting for some important mail to turn up in your GMail inbox, don’t have an open browser window which you’ll open every now and then and occasionally open a new tab where you check your blog stats or your feedReader updates. Don’t even keep GTalk on that you’ll be tempted to ping someone with a scandalous status message. Use GMail Notifier instead.
If you want to inform people about urgent work, use an instant messenger. Or the phone. Not mail. Or if you have some stuff that needs to be said in writing, mail them, and call them saying you’ve mailed them.
Like the Late Prof. Randy Pausch said, email is supposed to be checked at leisure. You don’t sit at your postbox all day waiting for the mailman. That’s the whole point of mail – a means of communication which can be checked at your own convenience.
Similarly, I’m waiting for a point-to-point messenger service. It’d be anyday better than signing on to GTalk to talk to some very important person halfway across the world, and being interrupted with “wazzaaa?”s. You could of course set your status as “DND”, but the hecklers who ping you with “y u login if ur2busy ya?” are painful enough. No, I don’t accept the ‘Invisible’ mode as a true solution. It is, at best, a workaround.
And wasting time on Google Reader? The only solution I can think of is don’t login if you don’t have the time.
I’d really like it if applications with multiple features provided a way to switch on only those features you wanted. At each session.
So… tell me.. what are your biggest time-BlackHoles on the Internet? How do you manage when you need to get stuff done?