During my 2009 & 2010 holidays, I took the challenge to avoid any LCD screen wherever I went: no cellphone, no email, no IMG35002.jpg snapshots, no TV and no Web. This was such a refreshing experience that back in January, when the french labor laws made a lucky bastard out of me and let me enjoy a continuous four weeks leave from work, I decided to enforce this zero pixel policy again*.
Here are a few remarks about how it felt to be back in front of a glass panel emitting light in an organized fashion after about a month.
This was something I knew but didn’t really want to admit: in the evening, when I’m reading on my laptop or iPad, my eyes are hurting a little. After 8-9 hours spent in front of a 24” screen blasting light in my face at work, my eyes feel a bit like two sun dried tomatoes. They are tired. As I’m writing this, after work, I can feel it. They beg me to close this down and read some comics or something. But there is so much to discover, enjoy and tinker on these screens that I blind myself to this physiological Fact. And hope that we won’t discover in fifteen years that this habit was actually very very bad, making your sight half of what it should be when you’re seventy. Nothing to do about it though, really, but I sure wish brilliant engineers are making progress on 60fps color eink display technology so that we’ll be able to code CSS4 in plain sunlight. I’m this >< close to get a Kindle so I can read my Instapaper on it.
The info hose
On a typical day, not checking what the people I follow on Twitter have to say feels like I’m going to miss a good insight or a nice thought provoking / game changing read. With this feeling in mind, I was curious to find out how much I really had missed after four weeks off, and how far behind the flock I would be. As it turned out: not so much.
You don’t need every drop spitting out the info hose. Any relevant information will find its way into some relevant container there to stay and to be reachable later. Big news tend to ripple and leave more noticeable traces than a tweet.
This article from Robin Sloan came back knocking when thinking of this.
The desktop metaphor
That was the weirdest of all: for a good fifteen minutes I had a very awkward feeling about the computer interface itself. Almost like when I first used a pc. Everything felt very binary and jerky, on or off, opened or closed, white or black, visible or not. It missed a sense of continuity and suppleness analog things have (cars on roads, film cameras, watercolor on paper, hand writing, clouds in the sky). It was like walking in ski boots after a month of walking in sneakers. And yes, it was macOSX 10.6.
Then this feeling vanished, I was back to keyboard shortcuts and contextual menus. But this was very much worth to feel something like this, it had a strong impact on how I look at what I do all day.
Still loving it
I was a little reluctant about this experiment; not because it would impair my options during these holidays (asking people for directions is a very nice alternative to Google Maps, and quite "social" too), but because going back to my daily concerns about line height and fadeOut timings after so long could, afterwards, seem futile.
But when your efforts are geared towards making complexity more discernible, decision making quicker and learning easier, your role in today’s world has not to be perceived as futile. It doesn't matter if you're not actively working towards solving the world's mess we're in, if your work can make common problematics more soundable, it will have some impact in the end.
Spending a month offline is becoming a luxury for most of us, but I would recommend to any person involved in building screen based products to plan and devise in advance an extended period of time where no pixels cross their sight no matter what.
For what happens during this period of time, and for what happens when you’re back.
* it was made easier because She had a smartphone we could rely on for phone calls, and quick web accesses on wifi.