November 13, 2019Pockets ofSolitude

I can't decide if it's the loud mating calls of the birds, or the nostril popping cold fresh air that makes me love early mornings so much. Or, with over half of us still asleep, maybe it's the momentary illusion of fewer humans on earth that makes early mornings special. Or maybe it's just me. Some people like early mornings, some don't. Which, I will never understand. How can someone not like early mornings? Especially when it comes with the horny, sweet mating calls. Of the birds, of course.

Since mornings are so precious to me I have taught myself to fall asleep early. It required baking in certain habits in the last few hours that lead to sleep. For example, no junk food, or coffee, or watching or reading something that sends my mind into a whirlwind of thoughts. Basically, saying no to anything that can potentially induce insomnia.

But show me a man who sticks to his habits and I'll show you a ... well rounded disciplined person. Which I am not, yet.

That one night I found myself watching the movie Her, way past my bedtime. Her is one of those Sci-Fi movies where technology has progressed to a point where computers have started to sound, behave and understand you, just like an actual person. So much so that you can fall in love with one. And that's exactly what happens in the movie.

So this person, Theodore, played by Joaquin Phoenix who also plays Joker in the 2019 movie, Joker falls in love with his computer, or to be more specific, with the Siri like AI, called Samantha that lives inside it. This, I thought would be weird when it's eventually confessed to a friend halfway through the movie, but instead, all his friend asked was ... "Is it (Theodore's relationship with his computer) real?" and even though I hoped for a conclusion, the whole scene ended with an "I don't know" from both sides.

Intuition tells us that of-course the "relationship" between Theodore and his AI girlfriend Samantha isn't real. But why isn't it "real"? And how do we define "real"? Is it not real because it's not a relationship between two humans, but rather a human and a machine? The emotions that Theodore feels aren't real because they're for something that exists only behind a screen? Does the fact that Samantha isn't tangible but resides only inside a 5 by 5 electronic device makes her, not real? Well, in that case, there's something more we should be questioning is real.

A good part of the population and yes, me and possibly even you spend hours creating things that only exist as flickering lights inside a screen. I am talking about the apps and the games and the websites and all the other things that we use on our little phones and tablets and laptops.

What we build is digital, with no tangible, real existence. Does that mean the things we build and the work we do isn't, real?

"Of course! The work we do is real because it has real world impacts", is what almost everyone who I know produces digital work answered, when I asked them if they think the work they do is "real". And I don't disagree with the statement, because it's true, reality today is shaped by glowing pixels. It's a crazy thought if you ponder, that something can not exist in reality and still shape it. That's the power of screens.

It's not that the screens are controlling autonomous evil beings, it's still us, the humans, congregated in corporations controlling rest of the population through screens. And because screens are so ubiquitous the power to control and brainwash has been grossly magnified in the past few decades. I bet from where you're sitting, if you get up and walk to the door closest to you, on the way you'll encounter at least 3 screens with more than 3 faces stuck to them.

Sucked into screens.
Sucked into screens.

I can even make it a 10 or 20 and it'll be true. Even you’re looking at a screen right now, and I am channeling my thoughts through it into your heads, thoughts that can potentially change the way you look at the world, at least for a week or even a lifetime, who knows. I couldn't have done this "before the screens". There were just two ways, publish what I have to say in print, which is a hell lot harder than publishing an unedited pile of thoughts I had at 2AM. Or, stand at a busy intersection, shout my ideas and expect 4 people to listen and even one of them to come and ask me to shut up.

You can't do that now, you can't kick me off my shouting pedestal. And it's not just me, it's everybody. Channeling and consuming and shaping through Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. It's too much.

The human brain is not designed to absorb such amounts of bullshit 24/7. The constant overload of mostly useless information, like where Becky is having her vacation or the pictures of Jonathan’s kid or the fact that someone went paragliding for the first time, all of this quickly turns your brain into a mush and you into a lab rat constantly chasing and clicking this tapping that scrolling there.

Brain or mush?
Brain or mush?

The biggest part of the problem is that you cannot do much about it. There are people far smarter than you, with PhDs and who wear lab-coats. They know your dopamine hit points, everything is engineered to keep you addicted, turn you into a junkie for notifications, and if you don't stop, pause and think, you're going to drive yourself insane. You're already halfway there, if a screen is the first thing you look at in the morning and the last thing at night, we really need to talk.

Constant exposure to screens and garbage information drains you eventually. It's not everyday, but there are days, and weeks when the brain feels like it's been wrung out of the juice, dry. Dry like squeezed meat, so dry that if you dropped it to the floor it won't plop, stick and spread like honey. It'd bounce a little and roll to a corner or wherever the air from the fan takes it.

In days like those what has helped me, is creating small pockets of isolation, from technology and people. It's not just turning your phone off and locking yourself in a room, if it was, I'd have told you so in the first paragraph and vanished. There's more to creating these moments of isolation, or what I like to call, creating these Pockets of Solitude. Good habits sometimes need to be enforced, and more often than not, on yourself.

Did I tell you? Mornings are my favorite time of the day. Morning for you is when you wake up, if you wake up at noon, hey that's your morning alright, no judgement. It's what you do after waking up that's worth judging. For example, it's not a good idea to unlock your phone the first thing after you've let your eyelids up.

A while ago I made a simple decision to check my phone only after I am done with my morning chores. So since then, from the moment I wake up, drink water, take a shit, brush my teeth, gag on my tongue cleaner to when I wash and wipe my face, I am offline. The first 30 minutes of my day makes my first pocket of solitude. Sitting on the crapper, alone, without your phone and with just your thoughts isn't as easy as you think. But it's a good way to start the day.

Epicurus, an old time greek philosopher said, “To eat and drink without a friend is to devour like the lion and the wolf.”. Which is, to eat like animals, alluding to the fact that humans are social creatures and it's kinda odd to sit and eat alone, ergo, have friends, be happy e.t.c e.t.c. But, Epicurus is fucking dead! We're now subject to over-socialisation, even if it's just through the screens.

When my brain's buzzing and if I have a choice, I choose having my meals alone, not alone watching Netflix just me and my plate of food. For however long it takes to eat I can recollect my thoughts and be with myself. If that's not possible for you I'd recommend having your evening snack, preferably healthy, alone and offline. That's another way to create yet another pocket of solitude.

Your work makes up a large part of your day. And even though it's general advice that constant context switching between social media and the work before you kills brain cells, don't do it! We're too destructive of a species to listen to good advice.

But there is a way, which I learnt from the book Deep Work, I talk more about it here. TL;DR work in blocks of 30 minutes, and for the blocks have your notifications turned off and social and other time chewing sites blocked. All the working blocks are yet another small pockets of solitude.

I have discovered the more of such pockets I sprinkle throughout my day, the better I feel at the end of it. At it's core the idea of making pockets of solitude is deliberately allowing yourself to get bored. And getting bored is not such a bad thing, especially when it's helping you stay sane. If you're waiting in a queue watch out don't just leap for your phone, wait, think. Make waiting in the queue a pocket of solitude. And if nothing works just force yourself to lie down and stare at the fucking ceiling for 30 minutes. There are ways and opportunities to create pockets of solitude, more than what I have discovered and shared with you in this article, I hope you find them and tweet them to me.

One important thing that contributed towards me conjuring this article was my personal frustration from watching people around me constantly picking up and staring at their phones, erasing their fingerprints against the glass. Even as I was closing this article I noticed the phone on the desk in-front of me buzzed, I looked up, it was my coworker’s, he picked it and as the blue light from the phone flooded his tired eyes, he smiled.