Basic Cable for the Internet
Friday, February 11, 2005
Boy, that's a perfect name for it. And it's the latest in computer-related maladies we should all throw our hands up and fret about.

This article in the NY Times discusses how computers offer infinite distraction capability, both overt (the "ding" of a new instant message) and subtle (the constant need to check and re-check your email). I'm a victim of this, I admit: too many times when I'm stuck on a task or a phrase or a problem, I find it too easy to flip over to another program on my computer and check up other things. An RSS feed to refresh, an inbox to clean... some of these "distractions" are actually valuable tasks in themselves: my "Sent" folder is a mess, and I desperately need to sort it out, but I find it's my default thing to do when I don't want to attack what should be my primary task.

When I'm really into the flow of writing a program or a document or fixing a problem, it's impossible to tear me away. Hours fly by and I forget to eat or sleep, and I'm insanely productive, nothing distracts me. The problems is that it's *very* hard to get into that groove: once you're in, you're in, but achieving Groove Nirvana is a process that can be derailed easily. A head poking in the door to ask a simple question, a phone call, and email, all have the tendency to throw off the concentration focus spiral (and that is really what it feels like, too: I'm spiraling in on a task, and the more I spiral in, the further away the rest of the world falls).

Even right now, I'm writing this blog article instead of cleaning up my Sent folder, which is the task I actually assigned some time in my Calendar for. Recursive distraction!

The distractive nature of email is worsened by the fact that I can't really turn it off. The "flow" improvers may tell you to shut off Outlook, but I have a Blackberry that is expected to be on at all times. Even if I exit all my email programs (I usually have about 3 running at any given time), I still get the buzz at my hip from the damn Blackberry, and I just *know* there's an email waiting to be read. That can throw me off my spiral in no time flat.

I believe the task of allowing computers to recognize this type of cognitive flow and somehow only chime up when you're open for interruption is a pipe dream, though. It's varies so much across individuals, and the fact that I'm typing away furiously doesn't mean I'm flowing. I may look like I'm hard at work and shouldn't be interrupted, but I may just be cleaning out my Sent folder. And when I'm reading a web page and thus interacting little with the computer, it doesn't mean I'm idle.

No matter what my Instant Messenger icon says. On any of my 3 IM clients. Which is another problem.
Trillian can help you integrate those three clients into one centralized "omni-annoyance". That way you're always available to friends, cow-orkers, people who basically drove you off ICQ, and random sexbots who will engage you in cybersex without your consent.

You can also waste hours downloading "skins" for it, in case you want to pretend your having cybersex from your workstation aboard the starship enterprise.

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