Learning to love silence

I’ve always been someone who has background noise around them. Growing up, the TV was always on, and my dad spent his time singing around the house – he couldn’t hear a silence without filling it with a song. My mum said that she knew my dad was seriously ill when he stopped singing.

I’ve been the same. Get home, turn the TV on, or – more recently – turn the radio on. When I lived in houses where the TV wasn’t the centre of the world, or I didn’t have one (strange to think I’ve lived in places with no TV!) then I would sing, or listen to music. I swam in noise.

Silence was a stranger.

And deeper than that, silence made me feel lonely. I used to listen to the radio late at night, while going to sleep, because the soft background hubbub of quiet voices made me feel like I wasn’t alone in the world. Noise, and especially talking, showed me the world was still alive, that things were still as they should be.

Since starting to meditate regularly I’ve become much more comfortable with silence. I still lapse into singing, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, but the ongoing song in my head in no longer automatically there. I can be silent inside, and sometimes just appreciate silence around me – as I am now, with no one else in the house, the cat fed (so not filling my ears with her “starved” little voice) and nothing on. No radio, no TV, no music. Just me and the sounds of my fingers clacking across the keyboard. There’s a certain comfort in that, too.

You’ve got to know when to fold ’em

Lots to agree with in Owen Williams piece on “Foldable phones: right tech, wrong place?”, starting with this:

If I consider it for a while, the largest advantage would be to merge the tablet category with the phone, but it’s a confusing proposal: do consumers desire a phone and tablet that will require charging even more often? Perhaps foldables are like adding a second monitor to your desktop: useful for power users to get a bit more space, but most people don’t care.

There’s two other problems with foldable phones of the kind we’re seeing at the moment. First, when unfolded they are too wide to thumb type on, but too narrow to have a meaningful keyboard. Second, the most popular size of tablet is around 10-11in: halve that and you have a very wide or very narrow phone, depending on which axis you put the fold.

Foldables actually make more sense applied to larger devices, such as the iPad Pro or something more complex along the lines of the Surface Book. While I never really wished my phone was a tablet, I’ve certainly mulled the idea of a tablet and laptop combined, adaptable to the situation I’m in, without the awkward detached keyboard kicking around somewhere.

Surface Book, for example, could simply be a single ultra-thin device that folds into itself to become a slate, rather than detaching. The lower half, in ‘laptop’ mode could transform into a simple display-based keyboard, and adapt dynamically to the form-factor it finds itself in at any moment.

I’m not sure about this. Part of the advantage of tablet form devices is that you don’t have to have the additional weight and bulk of the keyboard. Surface Book works because if you take off the base, it weighs less than half as much, making it easy to use when held. Surface Pro and iPad Pro work because you can remove the keyboard altogether and still have a usable slate.

In theory I would love an iPad Pro that folded in half to reduce its size. In practice, that would more than double the thickness once you account for the inevitable hinge mechanism. Folding devices are just bulky devices, and who wants that?

Most of the tech news sites are going absolutely crazy over folding devices. I just don’t think they have any kind of use case yet. Perhaps they’ll find one, but I can think of a million technologies in the past which never made it past this stage.

Becoming a creator

OK, this sounds trite. But…

The difference between you and the creators you follow is simply they are creating while you are consuming.

Source: 13 tips for making the switch from a consumer to a creator | Nathan Barry

You can’t create more than you consume. Consumption is quicker and easier by definition – it takes far longer to write a novel than for even the slowest reader to consume it. The key question is how much time you’ve investing in each.

Nathan’s tips are well worth reading. I think my favourite is this:

Decide what you are going to do before you sit down at the computer — Too often I sit down at my computer and think, what should I work on? That’s dangerous. It usually starts with checking social media, reading slack, and catching up on email. The trick is to decide what you are going to do before you approach the computer.

In other words – and this is something I come back a lot at the moment – be intentional about what you’re doing. If you’re just sitting there with a device playing around with it, you’re not doing anything that’s actually of value. Know what you’re going to do before you do it. Be intentional.

Remembering Project Marklar

Nick Wingfield mentioned something which took me back a long way:

It’s well worth reading the whole thread, as much of it typifies Steve Jobs, but describing the reporting of Nick dePlume and Matthew Rothenberg at eWeek on Project Marklar as “rumours” is wrong. In 2002, they absolutely nailed the details of the nascent Intel project. I know the work that went into that story, because I talked them about it at the time.

I was tangentially involved in it. At the time, I was news editor on MacUser UK, and a year before they broke the story, Nick called me to see if I’d heard anything about Transitive, the UK-based company whose PowerPC to Intel code translation software Apple was using.

Nick and Matthew worked on that story for a good 18 months before publishing anything. It was solid, dogged reporting. Calling it “rumours” is what Apple did at the time – basically, anything Apple didn’t want you to report, they called “rumours”.

Worth remembering: Jobs was so pissed off about the Marklar story (and many others) that he made closing dePlume’s site a priority – and eventually sued it out of existence. And way too many journalists covering the Mac gave Apple a free pass about this, effectively shrugging their shoulders.

Coda: one of our reporters, the wonderful and much missed Paul Nesbitt, asked Jobs the same question in about 2004. He got barred from Apple press conferences for it. Jobs had many fine qualities, but tolerance for a free press was not one of them.

Extra coda: there were quite a few writers about the Mac at the time who insisted that “it’s a rumour until Apple announces it”. This is a great tell that a writer isn’t a reporter and doesn’t understand that by that standard, Watergate was all rumours till Nixon resigned.

Rebuilding

Back in 2002 (or thereabouts), I started writing up my thoughts on technology at a site that I dubbed “Technovia“. About fifteen years later, after about a year’s break from blogging, I went back and found that at some point the database holding all that content had become corrupt. Thousands of posts, disappeared, and despite some pretty exhaustive investigation I’ve yet to find a way to get it back. I could probably do some snazzy SQL export and import, some kind of magic incantation, but at this point, when the site has been down for over a year, it’s just not worth it.

Which brings me here: Technovia’s successor, which I’ll be constructing over the next few weeks and months.

I actually feel like starting with a clean slate is actually appropriate. It’s not that I’m ashamed of my old posts, or feel the weight of history on me (there’s no way I could be that pretentious — my one significant contribution to “knowledge” can sit in Archive.org and Wikipedia for the rest of time — but that I feel there’s a new age of technology now, and it deserves somewhere new to write about it.

Hence, here.

The aim is to write something everyday. I’m following the “500ish words” model that MG Siegler pioneered, but hopefully with a little more regularity. It’s going to be rough — think of this as first drafts — but I think that’s perfectly fine.

And I might well stray from the world of technology regularly too. There days, I’m not an active participant in the world of technology journalism. I do more management and thinking about media and business models than I do about bits and bytes. So don’t expect too much commentary on the latest tech events only.

I think it will be fun, for me. I hope it will be for you too.