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I feel like you could edit a video so that it was a tennis player...rallying...with themselves...?
In the book I'm currently reading (Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, for all you sick, depraved little leeches that won't stop nagging me, pestering my inbox, asking me shit like, "Hey, what was that book you were reading that you mentioned in the first six words?," mailing my home address with anthrax to force me to reveal its title, and its author, you better not skimp on the goddamn author, well...are you happy now, you freaks?), a lightly fictionalized version of Thomas Cromwell sets sail on a boat.
The book is great so far, but there is nothing particularly special about this early scene. He gets on a boat. It leaves. My imagination was left to fill in the blanks because this was the end of the chapter. I pictured him sitting on the deck for a while, possibly a few hours, staring out into the river Thames, maybe striking up a conversation with deckhands here and there.
In the past ten minutes, I have swiped my three fingers on my trackpad back and forth countless times. I've scrolled through what would be, if you laid it all out, around 4 feet 9 inches of my Twitter feed. I clicked on a tweet that said "technically a pool noodle is a bucatini," reflexively groaned, then scrolled through the replies to see which ones were the dumbest.
I processed all of this, and then searched for a couple of handles to follow up on the latest status of a Brooklyn comedian's untimely cancellation (which one? Well, isn't that telling that you even had to ask...). I clicked back to my perpetually running YouTube tab, noted that there was a new GQ "Can't Live Without" video and command-clicked that into a new tab so I knew it would be waiting for me, and then continued watching this video of two tennis players just hitting the ball back and forth. After mulling it over for a second, my brain registered the thought, "Hey...isn't that technically just what tennis is?"
Then I answered a few Slacks, rapidly mentally cataloguing the "asks" being requested of me as I flitted between different DMs and channels. And then I remembered a song I wanted to listen to, so I swiped my three fingers over my trackpad again—this time to the right—to the Spotify desktop client to search and queue up "All Day Chill" by 2 Of The Crew. I swiped back to Chrome and finished reading an article about another police officer murdering an unarmed Black man, adding it to the running tally and filing it away.
Then I clicked back to the Twitter tab and saw a tweet from a former Grantland writer, which reminded me of the time I had tried to deduce which Grantland writers had fallen into which camps (The Ringer and not-The-Ringer) and whether or not they all had beef, disgusted at how much of my pre-frontal cortex was devoted to sleuthing out the intricacies of the personal relationships of former colleagues of a company owned by Disney.
I guess what I'm trying to say here is: Thomas Cromwell's boat sounds fucking amazing.
The amount of information we process in the span of 10 minutes on the internet is, if you truly, truly think about it, deeply fucked. I've begun to feel a deep moral rot, some creeping feeling of profound unhealthiness. Taking in the facts of someone's unjust murder at the hands of the state at the same time as a Dua Lipa live performance on Jimmy Fallon feels like a flawed system—this system through which we often develop our senses of right and wrong, our internal structures of critical thought.
We are drowning in a shit-ton of Things. There is data upon news upon further details, and we can't get a break, but neither can we truly process it all like we should. Every new piece of information about the world is at your fingertips, is nested in another tab, spirals into a new set of URLs and video explainers and Google digressions — scroll down a bit and you'll see what Other People think of this one issue, which maybe will make you rethink your initial position, then possibly click on that person's profile to know what they think about Stuff In General. The facts of the world, like every other word in this newsletter, are hyperlinked.
And I recognize this is a privileged position to come from—I sit here every day on my laptop, dutifully doing my fake Big Tech job of sending antonio_banderas.gif on Slack, while real people toil away in grocery stores and on mail delivery routes. So maybe this overwhelming sense of informational overload is unique to me and my horrible screen habits. But the bleak vision of the future the pandemic portends is one that looks more like this—life lived and learned through multiple screens of different sizes—and less like a guy with a few spare hours to stare at water on a boat. That sucks shit.
I recently downloaded an app called Notion. It's one of those productivity tools, usually proselytized by vaguely Scandinavian guys with unboxing videos on YouTube and signed copies of Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs. This was one of my rare attempts at becoming a Guy Who Uses Software and Apps. It's working fine for now, but one thing I have managed to incorporate into my shitty routine is keeping a running list of media (books, TV shows, movies, podcasts, articles, holy scriptures, Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyers, FaZe Clan vlogs, etc.) I want to consume, have yet to consume, am currently consuming, and have consumed. I hate looking at it, but I feel an urgent compulsion to keep it going. Just to keep track of everything.
I’ll zero in on one particular thing in this (grim) piece — becoming a Guy Who Uses Apps. I am famously a Guy Who Uses Apps, and I have for a long time. Here are some recommendations in case you are considering becoming an App Person. If you’re familiar with the productivity app ecosystem at all, skip this footnote, because all this stuff is hella basic.
Things 3 - I use this to track my entire (non-work) life. I have it on my laptop and phone, and the syncing is fantastic. I’ve set up a bevy of recurring to-dos that remind me, at odd intervals, to do things like Vacuum and Mop The Floor and Edit Nabeel’s Entry. It’s helped me so much — I’m pretty naturally absent-minded, and having an external source of truth for the Things I Need To Get Done helps me not think about the annoying everyday garbage that takes up so much of our valuable brain space. I even made this iOS shortcut that takes all of my friends’ birthdays and adds them to Things for the next year so I never forget to get people a gift.
Fantastical - Lets me use natural language input to create events really easily.
Alfred 4 with Powerpack - A very useful app launcher with infinite extensibility. I use it to do everything from checking the weather to controlling Spotify to opening a new note in Bear.
Bear - I love writing in Markdown, and Bear makes it easy and keeps everything in sync. It has a really straightforward nested tagging system for organization, which lowers the friction to just creating a new note and typing.
Day One - I know it’s blasphemous, but I’ve used this app for journaling consistently since 2015. I don’t keep a physical journal because my handwriting sort of sucks, I lose things easily, and it’s hard to write on a moving subway. Also uses Markdown and has great inline photo support.
Rectangle - The successor to Spectacle. Absolutely invaluable for window management on MacOS.
Mouseless - I’m trying to transition into just using my keyboard to do everything, and so I do a module of this every day to teach myself keyboard shortcuts. This is genuinely psychotic of me. Insane.
1password - If you’re not using a password manager… use a password manager. It’s a little effort to set up, but after that it becomes effortless.
Unclutter - I hate dragging things to the desktop. Unclutter provides an always-there but always-hidden window for shit I need to access on the fly. It rocks.
It’s easy get caught up in the “always be improving” culture of all of this and seriously consider establishing some insane shit like a Zettelkasten.
There’s definitely some big Societal Point to be made about the effort we spend to maximize productivity, but for me, these things let me spend more time enjoying my life, and they outsource a lot of little annoyances and worries to external systems. It’s not like I use these to get more work done, I mostly use them to do the things I have to do more quickly, so that I can spend more time doing nothing. And isn’t that ultimately the point of the guy on the boat in Nabeel’s post.