I haven‘t always loved New York.
I first visited New York City in 2002. It was, coincidentally, the 8-month anniversary of 9/11. Julia’s brother Joel and I had been in Providence scoping out jobs and apartments so we took the train to NYC for a couple of days, and we walked everywhere during that visit. With no real destination, we wandered all over the city so he could check off buildings and landmarks from his list of places to see. But that was it. As soon as we arrived somewhere, we were leaving. We walked for miles and miles, my knees swelling and buckling beneath me.
We saw most of Manhattan in those two days, including a Mets game in the freezing rain. We even walked right up to David Bowie playing a free concert in Battery Park! But it was exhausting. Not just physically, mentally too. I kept wondering, “Where are we going? When will we get there? Why are we doing this?”
The social web is like that. As much as I love it, it exhausts me. I feel like I’m constantly leaving when I’ve only just arrived. Twitter (my social media of choice) is a constant stream of surprise not unlike walking down the streets of New York City. It’s excellent people watching, socializing, breaking news and entertainment. From crazy to sad to laugh-out-loud hilarious, Twitter is available for non-stop distraction. And as a maker, it really is that: a distraction.
Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.
I’ve been thinking lately about attention and how much of it I have to offer, and as it turns out, it’s not much. And the more things I try to give attention to the less attention I have to give.
Our minds have a depth of field, much like the lens on a camera. When we think about one thing, everything else becomes unclear or temporarily ‘forgotten’. To pay attention to a thing means we must ignore everything else, if only briefly. The more complex a thing is, the more uninterrupted attention is required.
Do the things that make you interesting.
There are many things vying for our attention, and while some of them are a good use of time, many of them are only keeping us from what we *should* be doing. Our time and headspace are the most valuable things we have, and what we can do with them is virtually unlimited. I am learning (or perhaps re-learning) that cutting out distractions can be more valuable than any to-do app or time in front of a screen. We need to spend less time looking to others for interesting things, and start spending more time doing the things that make us interesting. Perhaps you need to dedicate more time to that thing that got you where you are or that thing that will get you where you want to be.
Similarly, and I am saying this more for myself, it’s easy to give time and attention to the things you enjoy or are easy, but true character comes when you give focus to the things that are difficult but must be done. This means you have to ignore everything else, and know that you will be better because of it.
That’s really the heart of it for me. I feel depressed the moment I realize I’ve wasted time. Like my first few trips to New York where I just wandered around not really knowing what I wanted to be doing. Sure, wonderful serendipitous stuff happened (like the Bowie concert), but I was generally at the mercy of decisions others made. I was just following. But I want to turn the lens of my mind towards the things I care about, the things that make me interesting. And to do this, I will have to ignore a good amount of things I enjoy doing knowing I will be happier for it, and perhaps others will be able to delight in what I have made as a result of it.
My friend Indra asked me a great couple of questions recently.
“How come we feel like we are good friends with people – some for a long time – we’ve never met in real life? Does the internet and social media make you want to meet more people instead of less, too?”
It’s taken me a while to come around to answering this, because it’s something I think about often, but haven’t been able to articulate.
I’m a social introvert. I love being around people, yet I love a good dose of isolation. With social media, I can, in some ways, have both at the same time. For instance, I can take my time answering questions, like this one. （＾＿・）
In some respects, online relationships are like pen pals in that there are written exchanges. But it’s more like being a mouse in someone’s room. You can sit in silence, nibbling your cheese, while they ramble on to themselves like a crazy person. And that’s when you get to know them. If you’re both in the same room, there’s a good chance your crazy ramblings will cross and make some sense, and you get to know each other.
You may learn enough about a person that you feel you’d like to meet them in person. I have done this often, and with great results. (That’s how I met Indra, btw.) One of the best advantages to online relationships is that location is almost meaningless. You can be friends from across oceans, and when your travels bring you in proximity to one another, you can finally meet. Sometimes those meetings are fruitful. I know mine often are.
But I can only be close friends with a limited amount of people, and this disappoints me. I’d love to spend more time with my friends. I’d love to spend more time with my wife. I’d love to spend more time alone. I’d love to spend more time making things. I’d love to spend more time sleeping. (I should be sleeping.) I can’t do more of all these things. In fact, I’ve basically given up trying to make time to play guitar; I just can’t do it all.
The only answer I’ve come up with is to make sure I get enough time to be in isolation. It’s the only thing I can truly control. Plus, I’m a terrible friend, husband, and employee if I don’t get enough time alone to sort out my thoughts. I’ll continue meeting new people, and I’m sure there will be meaningful friendships that emerge, but only of I take care and nurture myself.
Thanks for asking, Indra. If anyone else would like to ask me something, you can do it here.
Thanks for reading.
The dinner table is the best social platform.
I hadn’t felt this socially trampled since I was an overweight 12-year-old struggling to get through recess without having my shoes mocked. It was total e-visceration.
When we comment on blogs or say something brash on Twitter, the ‘conversation’ may never get resolved, because it’s difficult to come to any agreement after going back-and-forth in the comments on a blog post or on Twitter. This process can sometimes go on for days. The irony is that arguments are quickly exhausted, because they take so long to happen.