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Environment Free of Distraction

This essay started out being about association, specifically, about how to apply the proverb Out of Sight, Out of Mind. For me, however, the important point isn't the list of principles I use for creating an environment free of distraction, but rather the very idea that creating such an environment is worthwhile. I won't make too big a deal out of it, I hope, but I really do recommend it as a practice, for several reasons.

To explain the reasons, let me start by restating (?) the idea: to create an environment free of distraction is to reduce the amount of input one receives. That may sound simple enough, but it's not something people seem to do very often, in spite of the fact that it's the obvious solution to the oft-cited problem of information overload in modern society.

So, that's the first of my reasons. The other two both depend on the same idea, which is that reducing the amount of input one receives helps one become aware of how one responds to each individual input. I tend to think of it in reductionist physics terms: the flow of ideas is more easily studied in the low-stimulus regime. I say “flow” because fluid dynamics is where you hear about regimes, but that's not quite the right analogy. It's better to think of ideas as particles scattering and decaying into other particles, then the analogy is that it's easier to study single or weakly-interacting particles, as in a gas, than to study the collective behavior of many particles, as in a liquid or solid. (This analogy also suggests, correctly, that the collective behavior may be radically different, but understanding single particles is still the place to start.)

With the above in mind, here are the other two reasons I recommend the distraction-free environment. First, if you're like me, then studying the flow of ideas is in itself a worthwhile and interesting thing. Second, by becoming aware of how you respond to input, you become aware of all the button-pushing that's going on, and that's a good first step toward creating an effective defense against it. Since some button-pushing also counts as advertising, defense against it is a practical form of anti-consumerism, something I think would be worth trying to teach kids in school.

It's possible that one day I'll have had enough of the low-stimulus regime, and will go back to a more normal mode of existence. If you look back at the reasons I gave, though, you'll see that in each case, some or all of the benefits should continue to exist. That is, they depend on having once been in a low-stimulus regime, not on continuing to be in one.

Finally, speaking of the flow of ideas, here's a nice passage I found by accident in Impossible Vacation.

As the what-ifs spun by in my mind, I knew I could stop the Ferris wheel at any point and take the thought out and examine it. Or I could let the Ferris wheel keep spinning. Then the Ferris wheel turned into a stream just like the one I'd been standing by and its seats were now wooden boxes floating down the stream and every box, I knew, contained a thought. I could drag it out and open it up. Or I could let the boxes go—and I did. I watched them flow by.


  See Also

  Daytime Running Lights
  Footnote (Antiviral Memes)
  Liking What You See
  Mind Maps
  Out of Sight, Out of Mind
  Picking Up Trash
  Some Thoughts

@ June (2000)