May 16, 2006

The Backlogged Life (a borrowed title)

Filed under: Uncategorized — Brian @ 6:43 am

Greg Knauss understands.

Years ago, someone phoned you and you weren’t home, you missed the call and they had to try back — now, the messages queue up in voice-mail. … The Web originally required me to actually go out and do something as quaint as visit sites to read them — these days, my feed reader pulls down megabytes of data — a large portion of it, of course, cat pictures — and piles it up, forever. Each of these swollen reservoirs of data silently mocks me with my inadequacy.

I have reduced the things I get via RSS to only the blogs in my “the neighborhood” blogroll. When I had Safari pulling down feeds from all the sites I visit that offered them, it drove me nuts to see how many possibly-good articles were out there for me to read. There was a number – I had to get it to zero. Of course, as soon as I did, it would pop right back up again. (There is *always* something interesting to read. Repeat after me… you cannot – not you *should* not, not that “it would take a long time” but – you cannot read it all.)

You know those NetFlix commercials, where the person comes home to find the house filled with centurions or youg ladies dressed for a ball – representing the movie that’s arrived on DVD while the person was away? Those have done a great job to convince me *not* to use NetFlix, though I was tempted. And no way am I getting a TiVo, though I wanted one for a time.

I don’t want all that stuff piling up, begging for my attention. I tell ya – if I come home someday to a house full of roman centurions, there will be a brief but complete lesson in modern weaponry right quick.

I trust my wife would take care of the corset-and-gown set for me, but really – she’s got better things to do.

The proper solution, of course, is to further improve the tools. There are plenty of rants out there about how to fix feed readers and e-mail clients and DVRs, or to allow community filtering and sort-by-affinity and Bayesian ranking. And that’s all great, and I’ll heartily welcome the day when Outlook is smart enough to simply trash the messages that I’m going to trash anyway, before I even see them. (Rule: “From: Boss” to “Deleted Items”.)

But I’m not waiting until then. As of now, my fancy-pants, community-generated, emergent-behavior data-sorting heuristic is: a calendar. If I haven’t gotten to something in a week, it dies. Stick that in your attention economy and smoke it. I’m re-booting. Feed list: empty. In-box: empty.

Bayesian filtering of e-mails was supposed to kill the spam. It catches over a hundred a day for me, but still lets through 10 – 30. I need a new e-mail address so I can start over, but I don’t want to hassle with making the switch right now.

GMail was supposed to make e-mail easier. But now I have to open a web browser, bring up a bookmark, type in my password, and wait for the screen to render after … every … single … mouseclick …

Windows at work, Mac at home, dreams of the perfectly-efficient, command-line-driven Linux at home (currently seriously considering a customized Knoppix live CD for the operating system and a USB thumb drive for the config files and documents – can I make it harder on myself, here?) — it all conspires to keep me from creating a system that works in more than one place.

I have one that works at work. I have a completely different one at home that almost works. Most of the time. When I keep up with it.

So screw you, info-glut! I’m not going to be the responsible info-citizen I’m expected to info-be anymore. If I get to it, I get to it. If I don’t, well, then it couldn’t have been very important in the first place. I suspect that burning children and drowning buildings will still get the attention they need. But the year-old e-mails that are stinking up the bottom of my in-box? The month-old “Daily Shows”? The three dozen Waxy Links that I’ve flagged and sorted and pinned to a corkboard for further study some day? Gone. And good riddance.

You’re on notice, Entirety of Human Knowledge. You get a week. If you can’t get my attention in that time — and it’s plenty of time — then you’re tossed, junked, thrown away and forgotten.

I get the sense that people are doing this to me anyhow. E-mailed questions sometimes go unanswered until I re-ask them several times. Lots of things really *do* go away if you ignore them. And that works both ways.

I’m learning to use the best in real-time, Person-2-Person communication tools: the telephone. Anything that requires me to “do something” and then “wait for someone to respond” is now at the bottom of my list of communication choices.

My motto has become this: Do It Now.

It’s working. I’m still behind, and still have too many commitments, but it’s getting better.



  1. If I had a file for this, it would be labeled “Famous Last Words.”

    Good luck taking back control of your life. It’s great in theory. Unfortunately, in practice there are those messy details which collectively are known as “life.”

    You can stress over taking control…or learn to love not being in complete control. ;-)

    Comment by Eric — May 16, 2006 @ 10:20 pm

  2. Oh, I know I’m not in complete control.

    But I can do better than I am now.

    If “life is what happens while you’re making other plans,” then these are my plans.


    Comment by Brian — May 17, 2006 @ 6:20 am

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