What people think
- When I cracked open my first edition I felt like it had been grown in a lab just for me. The perfect digital detox. Jenn, librarian.
- I take mine to a cafe, and leave my phone at home. If I take the phone it takes two hours to read, without it it takes an hour. If I try reading long articles on the Pocket app, I don’t know how long it would take, I always get distracted! Ben, developer.
- I read on a screen all day for work, so taking time to read on a physical zine custom curated by me makes my leisure reading really enjoyable. Great quality printing and integrates really well with my pocket. Jülz, engineer.
Why is it called “Walden Pond”?
When it comes to unplugging and digital detoxes, some of the more loony self-help gurus preach an all-or-nothing doctrine that’s not that helpful if you live in the real* world. (*Whatever that actually means.)
Henry Thoreau wrote Walden while shacked up in a cabin by Walden Pond (the lake). He was making a show of being far from the madding crowd, but was only 2 miles away from town, and would get his mum to do his laundry. This isn’t taking a swipe at Thoreau for being disingenuous, I think it was smart. He was managing his attention, not living in a state of nature, and not living in a state of perpetual hyperstimulation.
Walden Pond the zine is named after the technique, not the place. (See: Against Waldenponding.)
The quick story
There’s a lot of good content online, but I can’t martial my attention to engage with it properly. My limit is about 4 minutes before a notification breaks my focus, or I get sucked into checking my phone. Maybe you’re a bit like me? The idea here is that you can just save articles to Pocket, and then once a month you’ll get a little magazine with over an hour of reading.
The long story
“There is valuable info at all levels from twitter gossip to philosophy books. You should stay plugged in. You can manage anxiety and beat the House without resorting to shaming social platforms into managing attention for you.”
Which is exactly what Walden Pond is for; it lets you manage your attention yourself. It keeps you plugged into the “Giant Social Computer in the Cloud” but in a way that allows you to manage the flow of disruptions across your brain-cloud barrier.
It’s fashionable (and obvious in hindsight) to work out what part of the day you work in what ways, and to do the work that fits that work style best. Richard Hamming scheduled “Great Thoughts Time” on Friday afternoons. Lots of people try to avoid meetings in the mornings. Whatever you need to do to manage your connection to the world is the right thing to do, as long as it optimises for what you want out of life.
In Deep work Cal Newport suggests that you should
attack the task with every free neuron until it gives way under your unwavering barrage of concentration., which is pretty hard to do if you’re getting group WhatsApp messages about nothing in particular. Even the buzz of the phone causes a burning FOMO that eventually forces me to look at it and break my attention.