All in all, a good night out

iPhone photos from last night, edited with Diptic, filtered and posted with Instagram, uploaded to Flickr and linked to on Twitter – within 3 minutes of the shots being taken…

I’ve been following Pete Ashton‘s new blog. I think it’s brilliant.

I think it’s brilliant in a way that I do not wish to emulate. Normally when Pete does something online that’s cool, I think “ooh, that’s cool – I wonder if it’s for me” and then I experiment. This time, what has done has made me reflect upon how I use the web and consider what it is I want it to do for me.

It’s come at a good time too. I’d been thinking a lot recently about the individual internet-connected tools I use, how I use them, and whether I should continue to use them (or indeed, pick them up again after having previously discarded them). and particularly the thought that went into its creation, has led me to consider the totality of my internet use in a more holistic fashion. The sum total of my inputs and outputs, how they work together, how they make sense to me, how they connect me with things I want to know and do, and how they connect me with other people.

Whatever happened to the internet?

It’s interesting to me how many of my friends (and family) who used to blog now don’t blog anymore.

A lot of this can be put down to social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter taking the place of sharing “what I’m up to” in a more satisfying, controllable and straightforward manner, but I think there’s also a fair degree of drop-off because blogging is experienced as ‘writing’ (and therefore work). Tweeting or posting on Facebook feels more like ‘chatting’ (and therefore play).

I suspect there’s been a similar drop off in people using RSS feeds to stay up to date with what’s going on in the world. People will follow links that just pop up in their social media streams, but perhaps don’t want to start their day checking their newsreader for the latest, when the most interesting thing is likely to be filtered down and handed to them on a virtual plate sometime soon anyway.

This, at least, is my impression of the zeitgeist, based on some very anecdotal evidence and observation of my own internet use. Not a good guide perhaps, but I’m taking it as gospel since nobody else has told me otherwise.

Naturally, my first inclination is to buck the trend – start yet another blog, add more feeds to my RSS reader (I use NetNewsWire across all devices) and turn down the social media volume knob a notch or two. And it’s already having some interesting* results.

The new blog

I’m writing a book. I’m in the process of signing the contract, which has been going back and forth with the publisher because of a few minor details I wanted to change – one of which was to make sure I could blog about it along the way. That’s all sorted now, and I’ve started the new site accordingly.

It’s called Radio in the Digital Age for two very simple reasons. First, it’s also the title of the book – and second, it’s what it’s actually about.

The reason I started the blog was to think through a bunch of stuff out loud, in the hopes of gathering other opinions and input along the way that I can factor into the final product. I’m also relying quite heavily on the fact that the internet will always be sure to point out when you say something stupid or factually incorrect.

I’d quite like to get any instances of that sort of thing ironed out before going to press.

Spurred on by my own efforts there, I’ve also revamped another blog of mine that has pretensions of ending up being the source of a book someday. That’s called Deleting Music, and although there is no book contract, I’m happy to keep chipping away at that one from time to time too.

And of course, there’s this blog which has sort of ended up being a semi-frequent ‘what I’m up to’ update for the casually curious. All of the actual work projects I get involved with tend to have their own websites. New Music Strategies also bubbles away in the background as we do more work on projects and events from time to time.

The RSS reader

I’ve long been an advocate of RSS, and reckon it’s the most useful thing on the internet next to email. If you’ve never encountered it (still, I guess, possible) then imagine every newspaper and magazine you like in the world gets delivered to your doorstep each day, but with all the bits you’re not interested in taken out. Like that.

But I haven’t been using my newsreader as often recently, and nor have I been using it to its fullest. I removed a whole lot of feeds from it last year, because I was experiencing it as information overload, rather than as useful stuff.

But now I’m thinking that was a matter of quality rather than quantity. The point is not simply to reduce the amount of inputs, but to increase the ratio of interesting to uninteresting stuff.

My priorities are different now anyway.

I went for a good while there not feeling the need to scour the internet for clues as to what was going on in a particular field.

When I retired as a ‘music industry blogger’ (you didn’t know I had, did you?), I stopped looking at all those hundreds of websites where people gave information about the latest developments in online music and digital music strategies for independent artists.

I unsubscribed from their daily firehose of information, tips and opinion and disconnected from the music promotion matrix.

The relief was overwhelming. I am no longer (if indeed I ever was) the person to ask about how your band can become famous on the internet. I simply don’t know what you should do. These days, I’d probably just say “use Bandcamp, have your own website and be friendly on Twitter.” Or, more frequently: “Ask @solobasssteve. He’s clever.”

I also stopped looking at the tech pages, the album reviews, the world news, media blogs, arts pages, science briefings and all the personal blogs I used to subscribe to (that had mostly petered out or migrated to Facebook). I had whittled down my internet consumption to what I thought was a very minimalist experience.

But that minimalism was also more characterised by chatter and distraction than it was by reflection and focus – the very opposite of the zen-like web experience I was after. It was like having a lovely holiday with friends in a shopping mall, away from all of that information overload and stress of a library.

In other words, I think I may have misread quiet as calm.

But now my priorities have shifted again. I’m actively searching for information and knowledge again. I was always open to it, but the stuff I happened upon through the various ambient channels left open to me all day (Twitter, the sight of headlines on newspapers on the bus, ‘did you hear?’ conversations at work…) was enough to keep me relatively informed and that had been sufficient.

Now I’m actively seeking interesting stuff, and RSS is a good way to gather content from all the likely sources and then sift through it once or twice a day. In my web library, it’s a well-stocked periodicals section.

Other input and output

I haven’t stopped using the ‘chatter’ media. I’m a gregarious person – at least, I am in text. Twitter still figures pretty large for me, and I’ve more than doubled the number of people I follow for the simple reason that I’ve more than doubled the number of things that I consider ‘relevant to my interests’. Some are weighty, some frivolous. Most skip between the two or lie somewhere in the middle.

I’ve signed up to Google+ but I’m not really using it as yet. It doesn’t solve anything for me. Not writing it off yet, because it does do some very cool and potentially useful stuff, but I have to actually remember to use it, and then do it deliberately. I don’t find myself checking it out of habit like I do with some other stuff.

Likewise that other social media startup Diaspora. I had high hopes for that, but don’t really find it that useful yet either.

I have, however, found myself commenting on blogs more often. When much of the conversation has shifted to private social media environments, my inclination has been to contribute to and, in some small way, prompt the public social dimension.

I’ve become interested in Tumblr about two years late, and after many people have walked away from it because of all the emo/hipster/catblogger connotations it has. But now that I’ve discovered the iPhone app, I experience it as a stream of interesting stuff, much as I experience Instagram, which I’m also absolutely loving at the moment.

I’m likely to blog here somewhat more often than I have been recently, more as a way of thinking out loud and capturing where I’m at metaphorically than giving an ongoing physical location travelogue – though that will still play a part (and I have some interesting trips and adventures lined up).

On that note, as recently as two weeks ago, I would have sworn I would never find a use for Foursquare, but now here I am ‘checking in’ to the places I go, and becoming the ‘Mayor’ of our local Oxfam after popping in a few times to look for bargain jazz records.

I’d long ago stopped using Instant Messaging clients like MSN Messenger and Gchat to talk to friends. Conversations started that way were interruptions more often than not.

And yet, I’ve recently installed multi-account chat clients like Adium, eBuddy and IMO on all my devices (Macbook, iPhone, iPad respectively) and have had some brilliant chats with some great people – all in a timely – but more importantly, in a background and ‘office banter’ fashion, much of which has added to rather than detracted from my work.

Hell, I’ve even been using good, old-fashioned IRC recently (using Colloquy) and found it to be incredibly well-suited to a bunch of situations that no other social media form manages terribly well.

I’ve started finding Instapaper really useful as a holding bucket for news articles that require some proper sit-down reading time, and I’ve been getting a lot out of the new Reading List feature in Safari as a place to store Bandcamp albums that I get recommended and want to come back to in order to give them proper attention later. More of a ‘listening list’ then, actually.

Add to that the fact that I’ve just gone back to Spotify after about a year away, and the rediscovery of MarsEdit software to do my blogging… and my overall experience of the internet has radically altered.

Paradoxically, I spend no more time on the internet than I used to. Perhaps even less than before.

I’m reading more books now (even fiction for the first time in about five years), and hanging out with people having actual face to face conversations, which I’d sort of become less adept at over time.

I’ve even started doing morning pages again – with good, old fashioned pen and paper (for the usual reasons morning pages advocates go on about, and not on the 750 words website, as I had been earlier in the year.

And perhaps more importantly, I’ve taken control of how and when I use the internet. I’ve turned off all the alerts that tell me I have new messages, new email or other new updates of any form (inspired by Pete Ashton’s post about Douglas Rushkoff whose book I am taking with me on holiday).

It’s about focus. The messages are there when I check them. I check them when I choose and then I do with that information as I see fit. Mind like water.

Of course, all of this is up for grabs. I’ll change this approach again, and I’m always fine tuning. But I like to make a note when I radically change my approach, just so I can go back later and see what it was I was thinking when I mistakenly signed up to all this stuff.

In other words, this blog post was for me, and not really for you. I should probably have mentioned that at the beginning before you read all these words.

Fortunately, you probably don’t read blogs these days, do you?

*Disclaimer: by ‘interesting’ I mean interesting to me… Your milage may vary.