Battling Mindless Consumption

So I've not posted for just over a month. It's certainly not that I had forgotten this blog, far from it. I've had a hundred ideas for posts in the time since, it's just that I've been holding out for the perfect topic or for some big turning point in my computer studies, and such a magical moment simply failed to materialize.

There were a few instances over the last few weeks where I thought I might be on the verge of a breakthrough. The C++ 'deep dive' was actually quite fruitful. For about two weeks after I continued writing little C++ programs and eventually felt motivated to take a serious stab at one of my dream projects: a PC emulator that runs MS-DOS. I actually have had a bit of a breakthrough there in that I'm actually solidly started on the project. I've implemented the 8086's registers and have begun to build the memory model. I've become a bit hung up on implementing the first of the x86 instructions, but I actually have a fairly clear path forward which is more than encouraging, it's almost a dream come true.

This post however is about something else entirely, something that I've been aware of but haven't really felt seriously motivated to address until today. That something is my desire to end the practice of mindless consumption of web content. I became aware of the real damage succombing to the impulsive desire to check for new YouTube videos today after attempting to read a chapter of interest in a book on PHP programming (for a web app I am attempting to build) and making no progress after becoming bored, I suppose, and checking for new tech videos. I became disgusted with myself after taking the time to write a long comment on a video. It hit me after looking back on having wasted that time (the comment was one among thousands and never would've been noticed) commenting on a video from a channel with several hundred thousand subscribers, contributing to a community surrounding a person who neither knows me nor cares who I am, only to support the channel owner's ego and need for self-validation. Meanwhile, my well-being suffered as I felt dejected after having wasted a rare free moment I had at work essentially throwing my mental energy in the wind rather than taking the opportunity to improve myself.

I decided right there that this sort of mindless pleasure seeking has to end. I've made shallow proclamations like this before, but this time I'm actually sort of angry as I've felt manipulated by online communities on social media. I've caught myself eagerly checking to see how many likes my comments have gotten, or whether my comment received a like from the channel owner. This is literally an addiction and just as with chemical substance abuse, you know you're in trouble when it begins to interfere with your ability to function in your daily life; the ability to gain knowledge and focus deeply is critical to my goals, so anything that inhibits that has to go.

I've unsubscribed from all channels and wiped my watch history so I won't get any targeted suggestions. Right now Ionly intend to used YouTube to find instrumental music playlists to use as background noise. I know this will be challenging but presently I'm committed. If I can maintain that fervoer for long enough to make it a habit, I will most certainly see progress toward my engineering ambitions. I have thought about starting a channel for posting videos about the tech stuff I study, but I'm shaking those ideas off for now as I'm almost certain they'll jsut lead to a relapse of some sort. I'm tempted by the idea of making money online with those sorts of videos, howeveer I think I'll avoid the social media sorts of sites and just try to peddle them directly thru my own site, taking payments via PayPal or something. Even thinking abou that is a waste of time in itsef.

I take inspiration from something I read about Donald Knuth, author of The Art of Computer Programming. He apparently doesn't answer email and focuses on maintaining long periods of intense focus. The results of this style of work are obvious, in that he has written what mounts to the literal Bible of computer science literature, and created one of the most widely used digital typesetting languages in the world (Latex). In the book Deep Work, author Cal Newport explains something that continuously rings in my mind: the new 'knowledge' economy we live in which exists in a world of nearly constant distraction, will reward those who maintain rare skills. The rarest skill has become the ability to focus deeply and gain masterful knowledge of complex topics. My battle against mindless consumption of worthless information has begun.

October 17, 2018, 9:54PM