I talked in this entry about how technology has gone from “pull” services to “push” services, meaning that the internet now comes to you if that’s what you want. You can get everything from email to weather updates to traffic information and Facebook messages on your phone or in your inbox 24/7. As these technologies emerged, all of this seemed like a huge convenience, but all of these push notifications aren’t convenient at all. They are distracting and unnecessary, which makes them more trouble than they are worth.

While thinking about all of this, it occurred to me that this is really all about filtering. We use filters in every aspect of our life, and indeed we always have. When I was a kid (before the internet), the filter that kept me from knowing what all of my friends were doing at any given moment was the fact that I couldn’t see them all at once. That was the only way to really know what anyone was up to, you could either see them or you were talking them on a phone (that was connected to the wall! With a wire! I am old). Throughout my entire life, we have been working as hard as we possibly could to eliminate these filters.

First, we got an answering machine, which let folks leave a message to tell us what they were doing if we weren’t home. Then, we got call waiting, which let people call to tell us what they were doing even if we were on another call. Then we got cell phones, so people could call us no matter where we were. Then we got voicemail to replace the answering machines. Somewhere along the line we got email and websites, and then Myspace happened and now we have Facebook, the single most convenient and intrusive technology the world has ever seen. Facebook is the culmination of our filter elimination process (so far). At this point, if you don’t know exactly what a random person from your high school that never spoke to you while you were actually attending said school together is doing, then you’re not using Facebook right. All of the filters are gone.

Like I said, at first, this seemed like a good thing. We were getting so much information, and information is power, right? But at some point, I realized that information is only powerful if it’s relevant. I don’t need to know every intimate detail of a high school acquaintance’s social life. I don’t care if they wish me happy birthday. And I really don’t need all of that crap popping up on my phone at all hours of the day and night.

In the past, filters were there by default, sometimes because of technological boundaries, and sometimes because our technologies were just more polite than they are now. At this point in the technological revolution, we have to be responsible for creating our own filters, and creating filters is harder than it sounds. After all, it’s really affirming to get 354 happy birthday wishes. It satisfies the voyeur in us all to see random pictures of people from our distant past in their daily lives. And being “in the know” makes you cool, right?

But really, what’s the point of all of this?

I’m going to be making a lot of posts about filters. Some of those filters will be technological, some of them will be more practical. I’ve already listed some of these in this post before I even knew what I was doing. I’ve added a couple more that I’ll list here, and I’ll be experimenting with more as all of this continues. My new additions are:

  1. SelfControl – This is a pretty nifty program that’s worth a try if you have trouble setting aside your internet addictions. Basically you create a blacklist of websites that distract you like Facebook, Gmail, and if you’re like me, ESPN. Then you set a timer and you click start. This program keeps your computer from visiting those sites for whatever amount of time you specify. It’s a simple and effective way to force some focus on you. It’s a free download, but one word of warning: there is no undoing this program. Even if you shut down your system or delete the program, you can’t turn it off once it has been started.
  2. I’ve decided not to write in this blog over the weekends. As a matter of fact, I’ve decided not to do anything on my computers that is not a leisure activity over the weekends, and even those I will limit. If the high speed nature of the internet is causing this shrinking attention span, I’m going to step away from it as much as possible for a couple of days per week. Seems healthy to me. Please note, checking your fantasy football score is most definitely a leisure activity.
  3. Moving forward, when I’m socializing with friends at a restaurant or a bar, my phone is staying either in the car or in my pocket at the very least. This is doubly true if that friend happens to be my wife. She is way hotter than my phone.

Okay, that’s it for now. I know that I picked on Facebook quite a bit here and then completely ignored it when it came to taking action, but don’t worry, Facebook is on my list. It’s just such a big problem to solve in terms of limiting the things you don’t want there and balancing that with getting the things that you do want. It’s a delicate balance, so that one might take a bit longer.