Notification literacy, monk mode, and going outside for a walk

    Back on my now-defunct blog I had a post about notification literacy. My point was that instead of starting from the default position of having all notifications turned on, you might want to start from a default of having them all turned off.

    On my Android phone running GrapheneOS, I use the Before Launcher. This not only has a minimalist homescreen, but has a configurable filter for ‘trivial notifications’. It allows me not to have to go ‘monk mode’ to be able to get things done.

    And so to this blog post, which seems to see going outside your house for a walk without your phone as some kind of revolutionary act. I think the author considers this an act of willpower. You will never win a war against a system which is designed to destroy your attention through sheer willpower. You have to modify the system instead.

    I’ve been experimenting with ways to be more disconnected from technology for a long time, from disabling notifications to using a dumbphone. However, a challenging exercise still hard to do is to go for a walk without my phone.


    It’s just a device, you might say. Oh no, it’s much more than that. It’s a chain you carry 24/7 connected to the rest of the world, and anyone can pull from the other side. People you care about, sure, but also a random algorithm that thinks you might be hungry, sending you a food delivery offer so you don’t cook today.

    Source: Leaving the phone at home | Jose M.

    A trickle, a ripple, a slow rush

    This article by Antonia Malchik reflects on her personal journey moving back to her hometown in Montana. It focuses on her deep sense of gratitude for the natural environment and community. She discusses the annual Gathering of the Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance, celebrating the retirement of the last remaining oil lease in the area, which is significant for the Blackfeet Nation.

    The part of the article in which I’m most interested is towards the end: a reflective moment by a creek. She writes about the importance of being present in nature and contemplating one’s place and responsibilities in the world. That feeling of being in and of nature after a day’s walking, feeling quite emotional. It stirs my soul just thinking about it.

    On my way home, I stopped at a creek I’m fond of, near a trailhead leading into the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The parking lot was empty of other cars or people. Last year when I’d camped there, the creek had held a delightful number of cylindrical caddisfly shells constructed from gravel about the size of a sesame seed. I looked for them but it was too late in the year.

    The creek ran cold across my bare feet, its sound and movement and chilly reminders of snowmelt all I really need in this world to ground myself in what’s real, and what matters. I sat there letting my feet go numb and the sound run through me, September’s late afternoon sunlight filtering through the aspen trees to glance off the water.

    I don’t even know what to call that sound—a trickle, a ripple, a slow rush?

    Sometimes the right answer is an action. Sometimes it’s a change in policy, or in culture. And sometimes it’s simply being, sitting there by a creek reminding yourself what it feels like to be alive, in a place you love. It’s asking questions of belonging and responsibility, and struggling with your own place in the world.

    That sound is all of life to me. I could have sat there forever, grown cold and hungry, but I never for a moment would have felt alone.

    Source: Sometimes there’s a right answer, sometimes you sit by a creek, and sometimes they’re the same thing | On The Commons

    Walking 1,000 miles across Europe

    As I know from personal experience, walking a long way by yourself is hard work, both mentally and physically. As this article points out, doing so as a woman is even harder, so good on Lea Page for not only walking a thousand miles across Europe, but writing about how the biggest danger is… men.

    When I walk alone, the consequences of every good or bad choice I make fall entirely on me: a responsibility and a freedom. As a woman and a mother, I rarely only have to consider what I want and need without having to first attend to other people. I know there are risks, but each time I come out of that “forest”, I feel stronger and more confident. Weighed against the simple daily rhythms of a long-distance walk and the joy and wonder I experience, risk – reasonable risk – becomes a small part of the equation, and one I am willing to accept.


    One other time, while walking along a river just outside Colle di Val D’Elsa in Tuscany, I felt that familiar clench of panic. This river, a glacial robin’s-egg blue, meandered and tumbled gently. The gorge was not deep, but a lonely wooded path just outside a city struck me as the perfect place for an ambush. Clearly, men exist everywhere, so it made no sense to be frightened in that one particular place. I knew that, statistically, women are safer out in the world than they are at home, but in that moment, knowledge felt like thin protection. Unable to shake my feelings of dread, I called my husband, and we talked about inconsequential things so I could hear his sleepy voice and keep putting one foot in front of another.

    And that’s what women are really talking about when we talk about being afraid. We are talking about men. But there is, I learned, a difference between being afraid and being unsafe.

    Source: I walked 1,000 miles alone through Europe – and learned that fear is the price of freedom | The Guardian

    Epic UK walking trails

    After walking Hadrian’s Wall (84 miles, 72 hours) a couple of months ago, I’m now seriously considering walking The Pennine Way (268 miles) next year. I reckon it might take a couple of weeks, as I absolutely beasted myself to do Hadrian’s Wall so quickly.

    High Force waterfall

    If you can’t spare a week to walk Britain’s mountain trails, coastal tracks and riverside paths, head for these expert-picked highlights
    Source: The best of the UK’s most epic walking trails in 2-3 days | The Guardian

    Epic UK walking trails

    After walking Hadrian’s Wall (84 miles, 72 hours) a couple of months ago, I’m now seriously considering walking The Pennine Way (268 miles) next year. I reckon it might take a couple of weeks, as I absolutely beasted myself to do Hadrian’s Wall so quickly.

    High Force waterfall

    If you can’t spare a week to walk Britain’s mountain trails, coastal tracks and riverside paths, head for these expert-picked highlights
    Source: The best of the UK’s most epic walking trails in 2-3 days | The Guardian

    A hardwired obedience to the capitalist system that we exist within

    I’m not sure where I came across this, but Ian Nesbitt is undertaking a modern pilgrimage on a recently-uncovered medieval route from Southampton to Canterbury.

    He talks about the ‘inner journey’ as well as the actual one-foot-in-front-of-another journey. Sounds interesting, so I’ve added his blog to my feed reader.

    Then there was a pandemic. During that period, Iike many others, I found myself looking inwards and, in the relative stasis of those months, began to question parts of myself that I never questioned before, in particular the drive to progress and keep moving on to the next thing, to keep producing. I began to wonder if that wasn’t just part of my character, so to speak, but actually a hardwired obedience to the capitalist system that we exist within.
    Source: Pilgrimage #1: the adequate step | The Book of Visions

    Microcast #088 — Spontaneous fluctuations


    In which I pick another three interesting items from my bookmarks to discuss.

    Show notes

    Image: Richard Horvath

    Background music: Shimmers by Synth Soundscapes (aka Mentat)

    As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of demand

    Saturday shiftings

    I think this is the latest I've published my weekly roundup of links. That's partly because of an epic family walk we did today, but also because of work, and because of the length and quality of the things I bookmarked to come back to...


    Graffiti in Hong Kong subway station (translation: “We can’t return to normal, because the normal that we had was precisely the problem.”)

    FC97: Portal Economics

    Most of us are still trapped in the mental coordinates of a world that isn’t waiting for us on the other side. You can see this in the language journalists are still using. The coronavirus is a ‘strategic surprise’ and we’re still very much in the ‘fog of war,’ dealing with the equivalent of an ‘alien invasion’ or an ‘unexpected asteroid strike.’ As I said back in March though, this is not a natural disaster, like an earthquake, a one-off event from which we can rebuild. It’s not a war or a financial crisis either. There are deaths, but no combatants, no physical resources have been destroyed, and there was no initial market crash, although obviously the markets are now reacting.

    The crisis is of the entire system we’ve built. In another article, I described this as the bio-political straitjacket. We can’t reopen our economies, because if we do then more people will die. We can’t keep them closed either, because our entire way of life is built on growth, and without it, everything collapses. We can give up our civil liberties, submitting to more surveillance and control, but as Amartya Sen would say, what good is a society if the cost of our health and livelihoods is our hard fought for freedoms?

    Gus Hurvey (Future Crunch)

    This is an incredible read, and if you click through to anything this week to sit down and consume with your favourite beverage, I highly recommend this one.

    Coronavirus shows us it’s time to rethink everything. Let's start with education

    There’s nothing radical about the things we’re learning: it’s a matter of emphasis more than content – of centralising what is most important. Now, perhaps, we have an opportunity to rethink the entire basis of education. As local authorities in Scotland point out, outdoor learning could be the best means of getting children back to school, as it permits physical distancing. It lends itself to re-engagement with the living world. But, despite years of research demonstrating its many benefits, the funding for outdoor education and adventure learning has been cut to almost nothing.

    George Monbiot (The Guardian)

    To some extent, this is Monbiot using a different stick to bang the same drum, but he certainly has a point about the most important things to be teaching our young people as their future begins to look a lot different to ours.

    The Machine Pauses

    In 1909, following a watershed era of technological progress, but preceding the industrialized massacres of the Somme and Verdun, E.M. Forster imagined, in “The Machine Stops,” a future society in which the entirety of lived experience is administered by a kind of mechanical demiurge. The story is the perfect allegory for the moment, owing not least to its account of a society-wide sudden stop and its eerily prescient description of isolated lives experienced wholly through screens.

    Stuart Whatley (The Hedgehog Review)

    No, I didn't know what a 'demiurge' was either. Apparently, it's "an artisan-like figure responsible for fashioning and maintaining the physical universe".

    This article, which not only quote E.M. Forster, but also Heidegger and Nathaniel Hawthorne, discusses whether we really should be allowing technology to dictate the momentum of society.

    Party in a spreadsheet

    Party in a Shared Google Doc

    The party has no communal chat log. Whilst I can enable edit permissions for those with the party link, shared google docs don’t not allow for chat between anonymous animals. Instead conversations are typed in cells. There are too many animals to keep track of who is who. I stop and type to someone in a nearby cell. My cursor is blue, theirs is orange. I have no idea if they are a close friend or a total stranger. How do you hold yourself and what do you say to someone when personal context is totally stripped away?

    Marie Foulston

    I love this so much.

    Being messy when everything is clean

    [T]o put it another way, people whose working lives can be mediated through technology — conducted from bedrooms and kitchen tables via Teams or Slack, email and video calls — are at much less risk. In fact, our laptops and smartphones might almost be said to be saving our lives. This is an unintended consequence of remote working, but it is certainly a new reality that needs to be confronted and understood.

    And many people who can work from a laptop are also less likely to lose their jobs than people who work in the service and hospitality industries, especially those who have well-developed professional networks and high social capital. According to The Economist, this group are having a much better lockdown than most — homeschooling notwithstanding. But then, they probably also had a more comfortable life beforehand.

    Rachel Coldicutt (Glimmers)

    This post, "a scrapbook of links and questions that explore how civil society might be in a digital world," is a really interesting look at the physicality of our increasingly-digital world and how the messiness of human life is being 'cleaned up' by technology.

    Remote work worsens inequality by mostly helping high-income earners

    Given its potential benefits, telecommuting is an attractive option to many. Studies have shown a substantial number of workers would even agree to a lower salary for a job that would allow them to work from home. The appeal of remote work can be especially strong during times of crisis, but also exists under more normal circumstances.

    The ongoing crisis therefore amplifies inequalities when it comes to financial and work-life balance benefits. If there’s a broader future adoption of telecommuting, a likely result of the current situation, that would still mean a large portion of the working population, many of them low-income workers, would be disadvantaged

    Georges A. Tanguay & Ugo Lachapelle (The Conversation)

    There's some interesting graphs included in this Canadian study of remote work. While I've written plenty about remote work before, I don't think I've really touched on how much it reinforces white, middle-class, male privilege.

    The BBC has an article entitled Why are some people better at working from home than others? which suggests that succeeding and/or flourishing in a remote work situation is down to the individual, rather than the context. The truth is, it's almost always easier to be a man in a work environement ⁠— remote, or otherwise. This is something we need to change.

    Unreal engine

    A first look at Unreal Engine 5

    We’ve just released a first look at Unreal Engine 5. One of our goals in this next generation is to achieve photorealism on par with movie CG and real life, and put it within practical reach of development teams of all sizes through highly productive tools and content libraries.

    I remember showing my late grandmother FIFA 18 and her not being able to tell the difference between it and the football she watched regularly on the television.

    Even if you're not a gamer, you'll find this video incredible. It shows how, from early next year, cinematic-quality experiences will be within grasp of even small development teams.

    Grand illusion: how the pandemic exposed we're all just pretending

    Our pretending we’re not drowning is the proof we have that we might still be worth saving. Our performing stability is one of the few ways that we hope we might navigate the narrow avenues that might still get us out.

    A thing, though, about perpetuating misperceptions, about pretending – because you’re busy surviving, because you can’t stop playing the rigged game on the off-chance somehow that you might outsmart it, because you can’t help but feel like your circumstances must somehow be your fault – is that it makes it that much harder for any individual within the group to tell the truth.

    Lynn Steger Strong (The Guardian)

    Wouldn't be amazing if we collectively turned to one another, recognised our collective desire not to play 'the game' any more, and decided to go after those who have rigged the system against us?

    How to improve your walking technique

    What research shows is that how we walk, our gait mechanics, isn’t as “natural” as we might believe. We learn to walk by observing our parents and the world around us. As we grow up, we embody the patterns we see. These can limit the full potential of our gait. Some of us unconsciouly prevent the pelvis and arms from swinging because of cultural taboos that frown upon having a gait as being, for example, too free.


    My late, great, friend Dai Barnes was a barefoot runner. He used to talk a lot about how people walk and run incorrectly, partly because of the 'unnatural' cushioning of their feet. This article gives some advice on improving your walking gait, which I tried out today on a long family walk.

    Header mage via xkcd