Sunday, January 1, 2012

Simplify, Simplify


I spent too much time this morning trying to get my iPhone working. The problem is iTunes, a program that was never very intuitive but that has, over time, become so unwieldy that it surprises me that Apple still uses it. The thing just wouldn't do what I wanted it to do, kept erasing my music, wouldn't bring my apps over, and on and on. I was able to get it right but the experience has encouraged me not to plug the phone into the computer again for a very long time.

What I want in a program on the computer is simplicity. I'm typing the draft of this on 750words.com. It is beyond simple. I open up the site, sign in, and it brings me to a blank screen that announces the date and tells me that I haven't yet written in January. On the bottom is a counter that updates as I type. I'm currently at 161 words. I can't change the font (that I know of), can't put things in bold, italics, or underline, can't change the spacing, can't make the letters turn colors, can't insert pictures, can't, can't, can't. All I can do is write. It is simple and simply gorgeous.

Think about why 750words.com is so simple. It is meant to do one thing: to help people write three daily pages. That was the driving force of the thing. And that's just what it does very well. They're are some other features to the site such as badges people win for long streaks and the like, but all that comes after the words are written. There are ways to go back and look at the words and ways to share, but all that is after the words are done. I like that. I like that I don't need to use those features. I like that I'm not asked to use those features. They are there if I want to investigate them, but the site is all about getting writing done.

My favorite tool is my Estwing framing hammer. It is the simplest of tools but it is elegantly designed, balanced, strong, powerful. I have used that hammer to pound countless nails, remove thousands of others, and to rip walls down. The hammer feels good in my hand even as it becomes invisible in the process. I know that I'm using a hammer but I don't focus in any way on the fact of using the hammer. It is as natural as anything I do.

So it is with 750words.com. I don't think much about the site as I'm using it. I don't have that same experience as much with word processors from Google Docs to Microsoft Word. In fact, Word is so distracting that I never use it. I've used editors such VIM but the learning curve is a bit difficult for me and I like seeing on the screen the way things will look on the page. I crave simplicity when I'm writing. A plain white screen with black letters. I plain white page and a good pen with blue ink.

iTunes is the opposite of all this and so I want to stay clear of it as much as possible, which is to say that every so often I'll need to change some music on my phone but otherwise I'll keep away from the program because it suffers from something called feature-creep. Too many features have crept into the program for it to be simple and elegant.

Life is full of feature-creep. The cell phone is a pretty good example as is the computer. Over the past month I have used my phone less and less. I've tried to not use the computer as much but haven't gotten to a point at which I'm comfortable. I'm not making resolutions this year, but I do want to have questions to answer. Today I've been thinking about how to simplify things and how to stay away from the complexities that don't add to my life.

I went out for a run today and that has to be one of the simplest enjoyments I have. I simply walk out the door and run. I don't think too much about things, just put one foot in front of the other. It's a natural thing and feels good, feels simple, feels right. Sure, I throw some complexities into the mix by wearing a GPS running watch. I can live with that though as it didn't interfere with the run at all and helped me go farther than I would have otherwise.

Over the next few days I'll try to keep you posted on my simple pleasures as I write on.