Ooo! A piece of candy!

My “Dig” folder is a collection of kinda-curated links which I can dive into when I’ve got some time to kill. When I want to go down a rabbit hole. Here’s how I added to it: I’d see an article, come across a topic or theory, find an interesting person or company, and think, “Hmmm, I should explore that a bit more.” So I’d bookmark the URL and put it in the “Dig” folder.

The result of the above process applied over a year or so? Hundreds of articles and destinations that I’ve decided are interesting, but have yet to explore.

Yesterday, as I was procrastinating, I got a bit sick of it. Clicking into the folder was becoming almost overwhelming. There were so many links and ideas that I knew I could never get to them all. I wanted a better, less stressful way to explore it’s contents. So I came up with an alternative.

I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be cool if I could just load a website and have it redirect me to one of the bookmarked links I’d curated for myself?” Kind of like a personal StumbleUpon where I choose the links in the database.

So I set it out to do it. I came across this article–3 Steps to Create a Random URL Redirection Page (Free of Charge)—by searching “redirect to random url”. It looked simple to do. So I decided to try it out.

The service the article’s author recommended didn’t seem to exist anymore, so I searched “free PHP hosting” and came across 000webhost. It seemed legit, so I signed up, giving my new site a witty name: oooapieceofcandy.

I then created a text file by copying and pasting the script in the article above. I substituted in three or four links to use as a test and uploaded the file to the service’s site creation/management system. Here’s the outcome:

Apparently, they mistook my ignorance of the inner workings of websites and the internet for malicious intent and suspended my account. 

Now, because I’m not easily deterred, I looked for a few other ways to do the same thing. I poured over forums, over Stack Overflow, over different blogs and publications. Nada. It seemed that I needed more technical knowledge than I possessed, or was willing to acquire at that point, to do what I wanted to do.

After realising this, I closed all the tabs, right-clicked on the “Dig” folder, and hit “Delete”. 

Now, in retrospect, deleting the hundreds of links, most of which I can’t remember and which took me a good year to collect, may not have been the smartest thing to do. I told Molly this and she said, “If you think it might be a mistake, then it probably is”, or something annoyingly perceptive like that. 

But actually, you know what? Maybe it isn’t a mistake.

There are two types of notifications: push and pull. Most services, apps and products rely on push notifications to increase engagement (and revenue). They send updates, unleash alerts and sling emails designed to provoke you into interacting or giving up your money. This is known as “marketing”. 

When you think about it, the internet, for most people, is just one big push notification. It imposes itself on you. It’s like a toddler, constantly tapping your leg, saying “Daddy, Daddy, look at me, look at me!” Another way to think of it: you’re the hot blonde at the bar and the internet is the slew of guys that come up to you, trying to use cringeworthy pick up lines to get in your pants.

But unlike a demanding toddler or awkward singletons, we can silence the push notifications. We can opt to stop them stealing our attention. I, like many other people, have taken this step with my smartphone. The only push notifications I get are for texts and phone calls. Everything else requires me to manually check the app by going into it. 

What if we applied that same logic to our other internet usage? I’ve already unsubscribed from 99% of the newsletters and email lists I was signed up to—all I’m left with is Venkatesh Rao’s Breaking Smart newsletter and Sebastian Marshall’s Strategic Review. And now, by taking the first step and deleting my “Dig” folder, I’m beginning to apply it to my other online media consumption. 

In The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly says that we’re entering the third age of computing. The first was akin to the industrial age. Our computers were organised with desktops and folders. The second age saw the advent of the page. Billions of interconnected, interlinked, unique destinations. The third age is about streams and flows. And one feature of streams and flows is their present-ness. The past and the future is discounted in favour of what we’re seeing in the stream, right here, right now, right this moment.

I’d unwittingly embraced this third age in my online reading. I’d been implicitly operating by the now-or-never rule; if I didn’t read it now, immediately, I’d never read it. The majority of the things I saved to come back to later? I never went back to them. 

I don’t think this is such a bad thing anymore. When I first realised I was doing this, I chided myself for my poor management. “I just need a better system”. But you know what, maybe I don’t need a system for reading or consuming any form of online media? Maybe it’s better that I have nothing pushing, nothing imposing itself on my attention—no newsletters, no notifications, no folders or databases with things to explore or look into in the future, no bookmarks, no Pocket or Instapaper account, no online “To Read” lists. 

If we take away the push notifications, maybe we’ll stop viewing the online world as some evil time-and-attention blackhole. Maybe, without people and things competing constantly for our attention, our curiosity and wonder and excitement—which have been suppressed by the overwhelming demands we permit and submit ourselves to—will be allowed to rise up and inspire us to do something special, something interesting, something new.