7 Days Without Recreational Media
If I didn’t write this today—right now even—I’d never do it.
Over that last 7 days I’ve been going on a “recreational media hiatus”—meaning not reading, listening to, or watching anything that is not directly applicable to the work at hand.
While there is a current trend to ignore specific social networks for a while, this included every single leisurely used0 information source, such as:
- Books not concerned with the current day’s task
- Any Blogs, News Site, Aggregators ("push" content)
- Podcasts and Audio Books
- E-Mail Newsletters1
- TV, Movies, and Radio when alone
The only two exceptions I allowed myself was using the Calm app's sleep stories, and the Pema Chödrön meditations collection. I anticipated that I wouldn’t want to spent every minute alone doing work or nothing at all, so getting deeper into meditation seemed like a worthwhile endeavor, one that would hopefully further unclutter and calm my mind.
I made the decision to try this for a week, while sitting on a train and skipping into the third audiobook on 1 hour ride. I somehow felt that something must be wrong when I couldn’t even keep my attention on an audiobook that I chose myself and wanted to, or at least aspired to, listen to.
Similarly I noticed that while taking a break during work (🍅), I would often get lost on a tangent like some interesting but obscure technology or some new open source project, which would then far exceed the 5 minute goal time.
While getting input from outside my immediate area of work and interest is generally an inspiring source, oftentimes nothing sticks out and I wouldn’t have been able to recite half of the topics I scratched that day when asked about it before bedtime.
Here are some unordered observations I made throughout the week:
- As there were much less inputs, every single one of them left way more of an impression, and got more time and thorough thought than in any previous week
- The meditation felt much easier, more fruitful as my mind was not cluttered with technical trivia. Instead I was able to better listen to the teachings and myself
- A lot of times at night I had neither energy to work on anything specific nor the willingness to listen to mediations, so I just ended up doing nothing—just sitting and thinking
- In the course of the week, snacking emerged as an alternative distraction/feel good mechanism. Apparently there were some voids to fill
- Every bit of personal interaction got more valuable. Before I was often so focused on my reading etc. that I would view everyone else nearby as a distraction. Now I was grateful for conversations
- The insights I gained during meditation and the “just sitting” times were profunder than anything I have ever experienced. Instead of just hearing the teachers opinions/experiences/facts, I had some very deep insights emerge from within2
If I ever get to do this again (who knows, maybe by this time tomorrow I am so exhausted from my “cheat day”, that I'll plan doing this regularly), I will definitely prepare myself to not fall into the next trap, i.e. stock up on healthy, boring food.
Other than that I appreciated the change this week, and how it allowed me to reevaluate my day-to-day behavior and see this media consumption in a more honest light: it's primarily distractions and rewards, which I was voluntarily seeking out–craving even. Only secondarily were they are source of information, often neither actionable or acted upon.
0 ↩ This is an important distinction to make. While often those media are deeply technical in some field, aspirational, or otherwise of importance to some, I often would just read them for recreational purposes: satisfaction and distraction.
1 ↩ Yep, it’s not enough these days to ignore specific apps and not visiting specific sites, somehow I justified for a while now to clutter my inbox with non-critical information. If some site only offers e-mail updates, I will not subscribe to them anymore. The overall downside just outweighs any single of those sources. Side-note: Feedbin has a great service where you can have newsletters/mails shown alongside your RSS subscriptions.
2 ↩ I think this stems from a mix of the longer time spent doing meditation as well as the different style used on the above mentioned audio collection. It’s meditation practices framed by teachings into hour-long sessions. This additional time compared to the short 5-15 minute sessions others offer might’ve been a major contributor to this.