Be Careful What You Blackout

Note: Most of this post was written before a recent update from J. D.

From J. D. Bentley:

For the next thirty days, I am exclusively committing to what I call “productive consumption.” That is to say, the only things I will consume will result directly in the completion of goals and the acquisition of valuable knowledge.

There will be a total black­out on information that does nothing to further my growth and development, professionally or per­son­ally. All mindless consumption will be eradicated.

What will be avoided?

Twitter — My account will automatically post new articles, but nothing else. Red­dit Face­book with a minor exception Flip­board Netflix Hulu YouTube CNN, MSNBC, Fox News & all other news sites Fark Digg Hacker News Blogs with a few exceptions

Lately we are seeing a lot of this. Those of us who spend considerable amounts of our lives tethered to the web are realizing just how dependent we’ve become. Many are taking drastic steps in an attempt to restore balance.

While this isn’t new, it feels as if people are beginning to black out their web consumption at a noteworthy rate. I don’t know if this is a byproduct of books like The Information Diet (which I’m just digging into) or the fact that the information at our fingertips has increased so rapidly and so dramatically that it’s impossible not to take notice and react accordingly. It seems that every day I see or hear about someone “going dark.”

While I understand the need for balance (even though I’m terrible at it), I’ve never really considered the blackout method to be viable for me. As much as it helps you focus in on the work, it can be a challenge to pre-determine “information that does nothing to further my growth and development, professionally or per­son­ally,” as J. D. put it.

Inspiration rarely comes from where you’d expect it. Just look at Patrick Rhone’s upcoming book Enough. The genesis of that idea could not have come from a less expected place. Rather than deep study of important works, it was while watching his daughter at her circus class that the idea and inspiration came to life.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of potential time sucks in what J. D. has decided to avoid, but there is a fair bit of inspiration that he will potentially miss out on as well. There is little argument Digg and Reddit are not likely to drive you to do your best work. But when used well, sites like Twitter, news sites, blogs and RSS feeds can take your thoughts to unexpected places and discoveries. It’s easy to write them off; it’s a greater challenge to make the changes needed to use them in a way that offers value rather than distraction.

As for my own consumption and creation, I’m not extremely selective about what comes across my eyes. I am however very conscious of what I choose to dig into. I pull a large array of feeds, some for sites I love, others that I disagree with but learn and grow from and some that offer small distractions that give my brain time to work things out. I just try to balance this with a fair amount of creation along the way. And in my case, great consumption often leads to good creation.

I could use more balance. I need to put the phone away more often than I do. I need to consume a bit less and create a bit more, but I can’t help but believe that this will come from making better choices rather than drastic ones.

At the end of the day, this is essentially a matter of taking two different roads with the hope of getting to the same place: making something of value. Some will see benefits from pulling back and others from leaning in. But before you start blacking things out, thing long and hard about the ways you get inspired.

Balance is a worthwhile goal, but I don’t see how you expect to find it by seeking out a different extreme.

In fact, just a few weeks after the initial post J. D. hit on exactly the right refinement:

You can­not fight dark­ness by resolving to eradicate dark­ness. Instead you must commit to generating light. You can­not fight the cold by resolving to eradicate the cold. Instead you must commit to generating heat. Similarly, consumption can­not be fought by resolving to eradicate consumption (as I had), but only by committing to creation, to the creative act (which I hadn’t).

Focus on creating and the reduction of wasteful consumption will take care of itself. Damn I wish I had thought of that…

  • http://www.mattsouthern.com Matt Southern

    It’s great to read a post arguing against these kinds of blackouts. They have been especially prevalent lately since people are giving up all kinds of things for lent, including Twitter, Facebook etc. I really think it does more harm than good, both personally and professionally, to be disconnected for so long. The key is to find balance, as you say. I loved J.D.’s follow up post only a few weeks after committing himself to a blackout. Thanks for sharing that.

    • http://michaelschechter.me MSchechter

      I hadn’t thought about lent (sorry, Jew.), but that probably does explain why I’m seeing so many of them. I thought J.D. really nailed it with his response as well. Way better than mine :)

  • http://dempseymarketing.com/about-robert-dempsey/ Robert Dempsey

    In my experience and from what I read on psychology it takes our brain some time to process all the incoming information and create those “eureka” moments when inspiration strikes. It’s this reason that I continue to read book, blogs, tweets, FB posts, talk with fellow entrepreneurs, and more.

    More information, more experiences, more lightbulbs and inspiration.

    As you allude to in the post though you can’t simply consume you also have to do. That’s where discovery comes in.

    • http://michaelschechter.me MSchechter

      I think everyone processes differently. Some prefer meditation or boredom. I tend to do my best thinking when reading or listening to something. The thoughts in my head tend to collide with the words in front of my face and every now and again one of them is an eureka. For me, it’s a matter of finding the things that encourage your ideas and encouraging those things.

      The making of something, anything, also helps.

  • http://freetraffictip.com Tinu

    Yeah, I think is issue is more understanding how to sel-curate & having the discipline to be able to stop from, as you put it, digging in. I tried blackouts 3years ago. Like a starvation diets, it cuts you off from what you need, not just what you crave.

    • http://michaelschechter.me MSchechter

      Discipline is the key (and something I suck at). The starvation diet comparison is damn apt.

  • http://www.thinkinprojects.com Rafal

    I would say that we consume information for two reasons. First to stay current with the changes in our respective fields and for this we need good filters and ability to curate sources. Second one is inspiration and this is were we should allow seemingly chaotic torrent of information. The more information, experiences we have the bigger to pool of thoughts and scope for innovation. 

    • http://michaelschechter.me MSchechter

      And once you get enough information coming it, you can do more than stay current. You can see trends and patterns emerge.

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