This recent GQ interview with Aziz Ansari highlight’s the comedian’s unconventional approach to the Information Age. The interviewer seems incredulous as he comprehends just how much of an outlier Ansari is:
I heard you deleted the Internet from your phone. And that you deleted Twitter and Instagram and e-mail. No way that’s true, right?
It is! Whenever you check for a new post on Instagram or whenever you go on The New York Times to see if there’s a new thing, it’s not even about the content. It’s just about seeing a new thing. You get addicted to that feeling. You’re not going to be able to control yourself. So the only way to fight that is to take yourself out of the equation and remove all these things. What happens is, eventually you forget about it. You don’t care anymore. When I first took the browser off my phone, I’m like, [gasp] How am I gonna look stuff up? But most of the shit you look up, it’s not stuff you need to know. All those websites you read while you’re in a cab, you don’t need to look at any of that stuff. It’s better to just sit and be in your own head for a minute. I wanted to stop that thing where I get home and look at websites for an hour and a half, checking to see if there’s a new thing. And read a book instead. I’ve been doing it for a couple months, and it’s worked. I’m reading, like, three books right now. I’m putting something in my mind. It feels so much better than just reading the Internet and not remembering anything.
What about important news and politics?
I was reading all this Trump stuff, and it doesn’t feel like we’re reading news for the reason we used to, which was to get a better sense of what’s going on in the world and to enrich yourself by being aware. It seems like we’re reading wrestling rumors. It’s like reading about what happened on Monday Night Raw. When you take a step back, it all just seems so sensationalized. Trump’s gonna get impeached! No, he’s not. None of that shit’s happening. But you are going to read all the articles. So if you take yourself out of it, you’re not infected with this toxicity all the time. Also, guess what? Everything is fine! I’m not out of the loop on anything. Like, if something real is going down, I’ll find out about it.
￼Yeah, but take yesterday’s insane breaking story, for example.
Wait, tell me what it is. I don’t even know if I know what it is.
You didn’t hear about Pence stepping down?
Mike Pence stepped down yesterday?!
Dude! Yes. Mike Pence is no longer the vice president. He resigned because of the Russia investigation.
Wait, wait, wait. That really happened?!
No. It didn’t.
Okay, see! [laughs]
But that could happen! And you could have missed it.
No, see, I would have found out now—like, now. I would have found out, and then I’d be like, Wow, that’s crazy.
But you’re choosing to be uninformed.
I’m not choosing ignorance. I’m choosing to not watch wrestling.
Ansari’s career seems to be on a roll. Bringing Tom Haverford to the world through one of my all time favorite shows, Parks And Recreation, is a heck of an accomplishment on its own. But he also created, writes, and stars in his own critically acclaimed TV show, Master Of None. He’s producing quality and quantity at a high level. And he’s not paying attention at all to the constant flow of “new things” most of us fill our time with.
I’m guessing the most prolific creators and most productive knowledge workers take an Ansari-like approach to their time and attention. They at least carve out distraction-free days, times, and places to get things done or just to have moments of calm and quiet. One of author Jonathan Franzen’s rules for writers: “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.”
How much of significance would you really miss if you deleted even a few of those internet portals that consume your attention?
And how much could you learn and grow and produce and connect authentically if you freed up some of your head space from the attention suck of your flickering devices?
Do you even remember what it feels like to be bored? Can you, as Ansari suggested, “just sit and be in your own head for a minute”?
Can you engage in a long and winding conversation with a fellow human being without glancing at a screen or flinching at that buzzing notification in your pocket?
I deleted Facebook and Instagram from my phone a year ago. I don’t miss them. At all. I used to open The New York Times and The Washington Post every morning to check the headlines. I haven’t done that in a year. (I still have a Twitter problem. It’s my internet version of “treat yo’ self”. I’m no Aziz Ansari. Yet. I still have some Tom Haverford in me.)
Delete yo’ self (forgive me) from those things that suck your time and attention—basically your life—without offering worthwhile value or meaning in return.