Christian Heilmann

Flight mode on

Monday, June 9th, 2014 at 11:21 am

Much like everybody else these days, I use my phone as an alarm clock. In addition to this, however, I also made a conscious decision to turn on flight mode on during the night. The reason is updates coming in that may or may not make it buzz or make a sound. Of course, I could turn that off. Of course I could not care about it. Of course that is nonsense as we are wired to react to sounds and blinking lights.

men in black flasher

In many applications the option to turn audio or visual or buzz notifications off is hidden well as their sole business model is to keep you interacting with them. And we do. All the time. 24/7. Because we might miss something important. That can so not wait. And we need to know about it now, now, now…

I also started turning off my phone when I am on the go – on my bicycle or on the train and bus. There is no point for me keeping it on as there is no connectivity in trains in London and I get car sick trying to interact with my phone on a bus. Furthermore, so many apps are built with woefully bad offline and intermittent connection support. I am just tired of seeing spinners.

museum of loading

So what? Why am I telling you this? The reason is that I am starting to get bored and annoyed with social media. I sense a strong feeling of being part of a never-ending current of mediocrity, quick wins and pointless data consumption. Yes, I know the “irony” of me saying this, seeing how active I am on Twitter and how much “pointless” fluffy animal material I intersperse with technical updates.

The point for myself is that I miss the old times of slow connections and scarcity of technical information. Well, not really miss, but I think we are losing a lot by constantly chasing the newest and most amazing and being the first to break the “news” of some cool new script or solution.
birthday without wifi

When I started in web development I had a modem. I also paid for my connection by the minute. I didn’t have a laptop. At work I wasn’t allowed to read personal mails or surf the web – I was there to attend meetings, slice up photoshop files, add copy to pages and code.

At home I had a desktop. I connected to the internet, downloaded all my emails and newsgroup items (most of the time the headers only), surfed the web a bit, disconnected and started answering my emails. I subscribed to email forums like webdesign-l,, CSS Discuss and many others. In these forums I found articles of A List Apart, Webmonkey, Digital Web and many others worth reading.

Sounds inconvenient and terrible by nowadays standards, when we are annoyed that TV series don’t stream without buffering while we are on planes. It was, but it also meant one thing I think we lost: I cherished every email and every article much more than I do now. I appreciated the work that went into them as they were more scarce. To get someone’s full attention these days you need to be either outrageous or overpromising. The wisdom of the crowds seems to get very dubious when limited to social media updates. Not the best bubbles up, but the most impressive.

Meeting Point

I also forged close relationships with the people subscribed in these lists and forums by interacting more closely than 140 characters. A List Apart, for example, was not only about the articles – the more interesting and amazing solutions came from the discussions in the comments. I made my name by taking part in these discussions and agreeing and disagreeing with people. Many people I know now who speak, coach, run companies and have high positions in the mover and shaker companies of the web came from this crowd.

I took my time to digest things, I played with technology and tried it out and gave feedback. We took our time to whittle away the rough edges and come up with something more rounded.

We call this web of now social. We have amazing connections and collaboration tools. We have feedback channels beyond our dreams. But we rush through them. Instead of commenting and giving feedback we like, share and +1. Instead of writing a thought out response, we post a reaction GIF. Instead of communicating, we play catch up.

The sheer mass of tech articles, videos, software betas, updates and posts released every hour makes it almost impossible to catch up. Far too many great ideas, solutions and approaches fall through the cracks because ending up on Hackernews and getting lots of likes is the goal. This means you need to be talking about the newest thing, not the thing that interests you the most.

Maybe this makes me sound like an old fart. So be it. I think we deserve some downtime from time to time. And the content other people create and publish deserves more attention than a fly-by, glancing over it and sharing, hoping to be seen as the person with the cool news.

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