From reading drift to reading flow: how to reclaim focus (and self)

(3rd in an occasional series on Designing for User Agency).

Cognac distillery, from from Diderot's Encyclopedie, 1763.

Cognac distillery, from from Diderot’s Encyclopedie, 1763.

1. Introduction
2. Model: from Find-Read to Find-SORT-Read
2b. “Bookpiles and Distilleries”
3. Tools to weave a personal web

4. Further Steps, a): analytics
5. Further Steps, b): idea for a Personal Peer Review Journal

6. Afterword: Objections, & why doesn’t Google do this now?


Last year I presented to Quantified Self Silicon Valley about my explorations in “Healthier Information,” such as evaluating all my information sources for their value (to me). In that talk & slides I also discuss some key methods for reclaiming your attention in general, such as turning off or tightly managing all forms of alerting on your phone, computers, and email.


Recently I’ve been intensively exploring ways to manage and improve the media engagement we select for ourselves, such as Web articles, books, and video. In this post I’ll describe both how I think about the problem, and the specific online/reading tools I’ve set up to (try to) address it.


Hydra, of Greek mythology. Two heads grow back for each cut off, like email.

People rarely try to manage their attention deliberately across all media; but it seems to me they are rarely very satisfied by how well they’re doing it at all. Many people seem to experience their  information flows as a sort of Hydra, the Greek mythological many-headed beast which grows back two heads for each one you cut off.

Or as just ennui, dissatisfaction, or (in work) stupor — like the sadness of channel-surfing or Facebook use — usually aimless drift rather than the joyous and productive, engaged state of flow described by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.

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The objects in my life, Part 2: Better engagement through pens

Muji fountain pen. I have one of these.

Muji fountain pen, Japan; on top of a Clairefontaine notebook, France.  It looks like stock photography, but for real, I have one of these pens, and it was only $15.

Part 2 in the “Objects in my Life” series, aka “Small objects in my tiny life, defended.” See also “Introduction: ‘useless stuff’ versus perfect things.

I didn’t know quite how to categorize my survey of objects, and I didn’t attempt anything correct, complete, or philosophic.

I just surveyed objects in my life, made notes, and grouped them under labels I made up. As Notorious B.I.G. said: It ain’t no more to it.

So, moving on, let’s start from objects closest to me and move outwards. The first item then is the ankle bracelet tracker I wear for my probation after — just kidding! Also, nothing inescapable like a titanium rod, replacement joint, or wedding ring.


Uni-ball Roller Micro. I’d never use a blue one like this, though, just the best Google Image Search did for me today. I only do off-black if it’s subtle fountain-pen near-black inks. Amazon $9.06 for 12-pack. Also, levitation.

No really, then let’s start with pens — usually a particular particularity among design folk. Sort of an anchor-point for us, or deadly money-sink, fatal albatross.. but I digress.

Recently, I have returned to sometimes using the above Uni-ball Roller Micro model which I used way back in high school. I mean, this thing is real vintage stuff, as high-tech pens go. Sharp, great for detail work though.

Uni-ball Vision Needle Micro

Uni-ball Vision Needle Micro

However, I had some years ago defected to, and am still using, the successor Uni-ball Vision Micro, Elite, and lately, Needle models; still ultra fine-point, but later and freer-rolling, higher-ink-volume cousins to the Roller. The choice between them, like the choice of any pen, is a choice of stances towards life. Roller does finer details, but sometimes scratches or runs on the dry side; Vision is expansive, vigorous: more like Whitman’s “barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world,” relatively speaking.

Background note: Uni-ball pens are made by the Mitsubishi Pencil Company of Japan. In fact, just about all of the more advanced mass-market pens in the world are made by Japanese companies, although sometimes resold under other brands like Sanford. Japan, and the Japanese of all nations, are a sort of separate planet when it comes to high-tech mass-market pens.

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