I’ve been thinking and talking about side projects for a long time. Now is the first time I’ve shipped something that 1) actually works and 2) has at least a snowball’s chance of becoming something people use.

Why is that? I now get bored.

I didn’t used to. It always felt like there was an infinite number of things to read on the internet and an infinite number of TV shows to watch. Of course, I would mostly reread the same websites and rewatch the same shows. Not hard for a journey to be infinite if you go in a loop.

My work was also…intense. It wasn’t at all unusual to work 12 hour days, in a country where I knew almost no one, return to the paid-for corporate apartment, eat some food on the company card, go to the gym wearing a company shirt, and go to sleep, repeat. Nowadays I almost always finish work at 6 PM, so I have a lot more free time than before.

I’m not sure what made me decide to break out of the loop. But I began treating it as an addiction. I considered myself to have absolutely no ability to enjoy such things in moderation, and that the only path was to teetotal my way to freedom.

And I found myself to have lots of time. Hours and days that used to fly by suddenly went terribly slowly. Have you ever spent a day without internet, or TV, and nothing to occupy your time? I worked out, played my guitar, called friends on the phone, wrote, and programmed [1]. Once I’d been doing this for a few weeks, it became a habit.

So if I had to provide some advice on how to be productive in something that isn’t your day job, that’d be my recommendation. Don’t bother trying to get “motivated”, or to find some secret pseudo-scientific trick that’ll make you more productive. In fact, you can start now. Close this browser window, sit in a chair, and stare at the wall for 15 minutes. If you’re anything like I was, you won’t be able to do it without checking your phone within a few minutes.

I suspect that screen addiction will be seen as smoking was in the previous generation. If you were to ask a former smoker why they smoked, they would say “it’s just what everyone was doing”, “we did it to pass the time”, “we did it to socialize with other people”, and “it was fun”. All things you could say about the internet today.

What scares me a little bit is how complete the conspiracy seems to go. I can think of hardly anyone who doesn’t spend the vast majority of their free time watching tv or reading the internet. Even people who enjoy the outdoors, or play music, or cook, or are getting ready to have kids. It all seems to be in service of, ultimately, an arrangement of pixels on a screen.

[1] Programming seems like an unusual thing to be proud of doing, given my rant about screen addiction. I don’t consider reading or watching to be the same thing as writing or creating. To me, the latter is much, much harder.