The USS Quad Damage

Servitors of our boredom

Computers have increasingly become servitors of our convenience, but in doing this they take far too long to get anything done.

I found that what I was doing in fact was waiting for my computer to do some shit or other for minutes at a time

Seth is talking about a gnome 3.0 which serves our needs and will organise our time for us. The intention is that the computer will manage our time. However, as of late I’ve found that in it’s eagerness to perform a variety of convenience functions for us, computers have become less able to manage their own time. To some extent, the popularity of mobile application platforms and netbooks is that because they don’t carry so much bloat, you can actually get stuff done on them instead of having convenience offered to you.

As I’ve gone through my computing career, I’ve found myself more and more distracted by my PC, and none of it is because of out and out terrible design. It has been because the computer has not been thought of as a real-time platform. I remember the days when I had a single vim window, and I would spend hours doing productive work within it. It would sometimes take me a couple of seconds to figure out how to move an icon or something because I forgot I had a mouse. Then I got Eclipse.

Before you groan, I’m not dissing Eclipse here. You see, Eclipse took a long time to start up, but (even though that’s annoying) you only really need to do it once. After that point, you can be free and lost in a world of coding like in the vim days. For every ounce of waiting, you got a pound of convenience. However, nowadays these applications will try and figure out intelligently what you’re trying to tell them to do. As a result, they might contact internet servers, consult a database, or otherwise do some heavy computation to offer you the best advice on what your next action should be.

It’s gotten to the point where every sentence is punctuated by the computer doing this whole "wait, do you want to do this as well? Are you trying to achieve that?". It’s got the stench of Clippy but without the convenience of having something to hate as a result. Whereas earlier I’d learnt to spam the “help me out here PC” key, I’m now learning to avoid it. Whereas before my computer was my partner in crime, now it’s an annoying lackey, more trouble than it’s worth.

Case in point: Mylyn – Eclipse’s strategy to keep you in the zone while you code. I really did try for a month or so, but after realising that it slowed me down so damn much while it was trying to figure out things that I didn’t care about, I just got angry and stopped using it. I spend more time waiting for my computer now than I have in my many many years of computing. Whereas earlier I would start my day with log in, start up some apps and go do something else, come back and start doing work, nowadays I start an app, start a distraction; take an action, then distraction while waiting; take another action, and so on.

For a while I thought this was just me getting distracted. Maybe I got into some bad habits or something. Then I tried out the Pomodoro technique, where you basically force yourself to concentrate on a task for 25 minutes straight. I found that what I was doing in fact was waiting for my computer to do some shit or other for minutes at a time, because I didn’t have the distractions.

When you look at things like netbooks and phone OSes in this perspective, it makes a lot more sense. It’s not a size or cost issue, it’s really more of a "here’s a place where there aren’t that many crazy features, so I can get my work done fast".

What Gnome 3.0 really needs to do is to focus on it’s applications and say "is this thing gonna make you wait for anything". If so, that’s what’s taking you out of the “zone”. No time management strategy is going to help you, whether it’s on the panel or somewhere else...