Weeknotes #9,892: Battling distraction and 'digital maximalism'

Clay Shirky's Twitter bio says it all: "Bald. Unreliable. Easily distracte..."

But aren't we all? During a 'less online' week away, I was preoccupied 'distraction'. The book I'm surging through is Hamlet's Blackberry, which is about how we create spaces in our lives that allow us to experience depth and reflection. That's something 'digital maximalism' destroys, and with it our ability to concentrate, to appreciate and to be fully in the moment.

We're distractedly thinking about what to tweet, what to Twitpic, what to blog, always reading one line before we're torn off elsewhere, writing one line before we flit off to the next shiny thing. And the more we grow accustomed to living like that, the more our critical skills suffer.

Photo by orangeacid on Flickr. Some rights reserved

Those observations are nothing new - the impact of digital technologies on our lives has been discussed and theorised for years. But my interest is in the practical outcomes of these realisations because I'm brewing some ideas for a Guardian presentation in a few weeks.

If we recognise that depth is valuable, and that the ideas and observations we develop when we're not being interrupted are essential, then we have to structure our time and our technology in a way that works better for us. My view is that many of the communication tools (and Twitter, for example, is still primarily a communication rather than publishing tool) we have become addicted to are still so new that we're in the explosion phase, a burst of activity and excitement.

The next phase is a more sophisticated, realistic and productive adaptation of these tools to make them work for us in a balanced way that means we benefit from the communication and the connectivity, but in a way that does not interrupt precious 'long-form thinking' time. This is increasingly the issue of our age, in terms of productivity at work and at home - where I resent that nagging impulse to check Twitter or whatever else on my phone when I'm spending time with my incomparably precious 16-month old son.

How will this evolution happen? Through intelligent filtering. I've said before that as far as email is concerned, Priority Inbox was heading in the right direction but it's a miniscule contribution to solving this problem - and it is a problem, I think. The demands on our time made by email, phone, Twitter, Facebook and all the rest are unmanageable.

Elsewhere... the Guardian Tech Weekly podcast team is off to Dublin for two days of exploration and discovery. This is part of an initiative to make our coverage less Londoncentric, and we've already been to Edinburgh, Newscastle, Manchester, Bristol, and Bradford. The timing couldn't be more 'interesting'.

Emails to action: Holiday time cleared my inbox to a delightful 32. Amazing what you can do when you're not interrupted, isn't it?
Technology disaster of the week: iPhone (the one with the cracked screen) was dropped in the bath and survived. Now keen to see what else it can endure.
Highlight of the week: Joining a phone-in on BBC Radio Cornwall, praising their coverage during the floods.

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