At the end of every year since 2010 I have, to the greatest extent possible, disappeared back into the analogue world to recharge. This has been known as Belshaw Black Ops after Paul Lewis decided that just calling it a ‘hiatus’ wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll enough.
I’ve greatly appreciated these periods away from social media, blogging, and personal email as a time when I can be ‘more myself’. Why, then, a few people have asked me, didn’t I continue this routine at the end of 2017? The simple answer is that I’ve achieved the kind of balance that means it didn’t feel necessary.
There are a number of factors here:
Switching from Twitter to social.coop half-way through the year. Given that I still get the most-shared stuff from my Twitter network filtering through to me via Nuzzel, that’s been a revelation.
Looking after myself a bit better health-wise, including deciding to follow a mostly plant-based diet, starting running again, and taking supplements such as multivitamins, high doses of Vitamin D, and L-Theanine.
Enjoying the sunnier weather where I live (it makes a difference!)
Prioritising what’s important in my life. I find reading Stoic philosophy every morning helps greatly in that regard.
Today is my first day back as an employee. I’m working for Moodle, makers of the world’s largest (open source!) learning platform. I’m working four days per week leading an innovation project for them aimed at creating a new open social media platform for educators, focused on professional development and open content. I’ll still be consulting through We Are Open Co-op.
It was my birthday just before Christmas, and I’ve now spent most of my thirties working from home. There’s benefits and drawbacks to doing so, but the main upside for me is much more control over my schedule. I’ll still have a lot of autonomy at Moodle, so I anticipate that, while I’ll be away during the summer, there won’t be a need for Belshaw Black Ops in 2018, either.
As usual, I’m taking December off from social media, personal email, blogging, podcast-recording, and newsletter-writing. You may still see some of my stuff published if I’m doing some work for a client, but that’s it. You can still contact me via my Dynamic Skillset or We Are Open Co-op email addresses, but keep it work-related please.
I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to my digital hiatus this year. What a year 2016 has been! I think we’re all suffering from mild collective PTSD. I’ll be spending December resting more, spending more time with my family, and taking the opportunity to think more deeply about things I’ve put on hold for too long.
If you’ve got some potential work for me in early 2017, please do get in touch before Christmas. I’ve enjoyed helping clients with a whole range of things this year — edtech strategy, digital skills/literacies, Open Badges. I guess, in general, I translate things that could be seen as complicated into things that are easier to understand.
One of the best things to have happened this year is that a few of us founded a co-op called We Are Open. That’s been a ray of sunshine in a year of trouble within the wider world. So my joyful thanks to co-founders Bryan, John, and Laura for keeping me sane.
My biggest thank you, however, is reserved for my wonderful wife, who not only has had to come to terms with the ups-and-downs of me being self-employed over the last 18 months, but has stepped up to do the admin and finances for both my consultancy and the co-op. Thank you, Hannah. You’re awesome.
See you all in 2017! If you tend to celebrate them, I hope you enjoy both Christmas and New Year.
In a little over two weeks it will be December. For those who have followed my work for a year or more, you know what that means: I go ‘dark’. No personal email, blogging, or newsletter from me for the entire month.
I’ll still be working, so remain available via my consultancy, Dynamic Skillset, as well as via my We Are Open co-op email address. You may see the occasional article that clients have paid me to write popping up via various channels, too. The important thing is that I step out of the stream for a while, going more ‘read-only’.
While I’ve got your attention, I’d like to give you a quick heads-up that things will be changing with my weekly newsletter. I’ve enjoyed putting together Thought Shrapnel during the last few years, but Issue #239, going out on 27th November 2016 will be the last in its current format.
Why? Well, I’ve currently got over 1,500 subscribers and have attracted sponsorship over the last 18 months, but list growth has plateaued and I’m itching to do something different. If you’re subscribed my newsletter, don’t worry, I’ll let you know what’s coming next. It might involve several ‘pop-up’ newsletters; I’m not quite sure yet.
Also, given how out-of-touch I’ve felt with such a large part of the world after the results of the EU referendum and US election, I may do something fairly dramatic with my use of social networking. I’m unlikely to quit anything completely, but I can envisage unfollowing everyone I currently follow on Twitter and starting again in that regard. We’ll see.
The great thing about disconnecting for a while — over and above spending more time with family and avoiding showing my grumpy side — is that it provides the time to reflect on my current ‘ways of being’ in digital spaces. I always contemplate not coming back at all after my time away but, when I do return, feel that I tend to use technology more intentionally.
Anyway, I’ll be around for the next couple of weeks. Let me know if you need anything before then!
At over 1,200 words, this is a long-ish post so just a quick heads-up that I’ve divided it into sections (signified by the included Prisma-enhanced images) covering: an overview our holiday, my new fitness regime, what I’ve been reading, why I’m planning to use my wiki more, and how we can work together.
It’s been a great summer.
One of the great things about being your own boss is the fact that, on a macro level at least, you’re in charge of your own time. That means I get to choose to be ‘away’ when it suits me — for example, during the school summer holidays, or in December when my Seasonal Affective Disorder sets in.
I’d been banging the same drum with my family, repeating the same mantra over and over again: “we’re going away camping for the whole of August”. My wife thought it was too long. Friends said that three weeks would probably be a better idea. But I stuck to my guns. I even shaved my hair off in preparation!
Well, it turns out that other people were right: spending more than a couple of weeks under canvas is hard work. In the event, we split the month into several sections — partly due to external circumstances, partly due to conscious decision-making.
The original plan had been to travel down the east side of France, go a little way into Italy, come back along the south coast of France and into northern Spain, and then wend our way back up the west coast of France back to the UK. It didn’t quite work like that because of….
Thousands of them. And on the same night that our youngest contracted a tummy bug. Imagine being in a campsite on an Italian mountain with a five year-old up several times in the night to be sick, and ants swarming round you. It was me who decided enough was enough. We were going home.
My wife persuaded me to stay one night in an apartment (“just to get ourselves sorted out”) before the trip back. Now that Munchkin #2 was feeling better and we were in more salubrious surroundings, it all didn’t seem so bad. So we changed our plans, aiming to spend the money we would have spent on camping on hotels. We’d just have a shorter, more comfortable holiday.
To cut a long story short, we ended up making our way, via Avignon, Reims, and Orange to our favourite campsite: Municipal de Sézanne. We stayed there a week, enjoying the huge outdoor swimming pool, immaculately-clean facilities, and the fact it was (including electricity) only 15 Euros per night!
That final stretch of time on a single campsite, with a trip to Paris, leisurely walks through Champagne-producing vineyards, swimming, reading, and general messing about, was the best bit of the holiday. After returning to the UK via the Eurotunnel, we stopped off at the in-laws in Devon for a few days, then made our way back home via an overnight stay in Sheffield (where my wife and I met, at university).
It turns out that if, for a month, you do a lot less exercise than you’re used to, have pastries for breakfast every morning and an ice-cream every afternoon, you put on weight! Who knew?
Last week, I was the heaviest I’ve ever been. So I decided to do something about it. Luckily, I’d re-read most of the excellent Fitness for Geeks while I was away, which is a great addition to anyone’s shelf. In the last seven days I’ve lost half a stone, mainly through eating as little carbohydrate as possible, by starting running again (despite it increasing my risk of migraines), and by consuming the same things for breakfast (smoothie made from fruit, coffee, and various powders) and lunch (four egg omelette with cheese, tomatoes, spinach and peppers).
I’ve got another half a stone to go, but that should be gone by the end of September, especially seeing as our paused gym membership kicks back in today. One of the things I’ve had the children accompany me in doing is running up sand dunes at our nearest (National Trust) beach. My father used to get us down for pre-season training when he was manager of our football team, so I’m just passing on the baton. It’s hard work, I’ll tell you that!
Stepping out of the stream for a month is, unsurprisingly, a great way to reflect on your life, your priorities, and your habits. Something I’ve realised is how much I enjoy being up before everyone else in the morning. Not only does this give me a chance to read before the normal hustle-and-bustle of family life begins, but it gives me a chance to take my own emotional temperature before helping other people increase theirs.
One of things I like doing with my morning reading is to read things on repeat. My go-to for this purpose over the last few years has been the relatively-unknown work of a 17th-century Jesuit priest named Baltasar Gracián. Sometimes translated as ‘The Art of Worldly Wisdom’, the Penguin version I’ve got (both in print form and ebook) is entitled The Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence. It contains 300 maxims about ways to approach the world and, in the Stoic tradition, is kind of a pithier version of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.
Over the last few months, and in the last few weeks in particular, I’ve collected eight books in total which I’m currently reading on repeat. I’ll swap out any when I feel I’ve fully digested what they contain. So in addition to the two above, I’ve also got as a Kindle ‘daily reading’ collection:
At the other end of the day, before bed, I tend to read fiction. Right now, I’m reading the excellent Saxon series by Bernard Cornwell. It’s set partly in Northumberland (where I live) and was recommended to me a few years ago by a colleague when I was at Mozilla. I should have paid attention as it’s great!
Since we’ve returned from holiday, I’ve settled into a new routine in the evening after putting the children to bed. I’ll put on some ambient music and read in the small ‘cubby hole’ (for want of a better word) that we’ve got next to our bedroom in our new-ish loft conversion. I’ve just finished Invisible Forms: a guide to literary curiosities, which I stumbled upon in a secondhand bookshop while I was away.
A quick note about my intentions for where I’ll be focusing my attention over the next few months. I’m wary of making grand pronouncements of what I intend to do because, as the saying goes, man plans and God laughs. However, I do intend to make more use of my wiki in the future.* Along with starting to use Feedly again (and its excellent ‘knowledge board’ feature) it’s time to spend at least as much time on the side of the river, curating, as it is in the stream itself.
Finally, I’m always looking for ways in which I can help people achieve their goals in a way that also helps me reach mine. I make my living as a consultant, which means I’m a knowledge worker, someone who advises, synthesises, and creates. If you, or someone you know could do with my input, please do direct them towards my Dynamic Skillset website, or towards We Are Open Co-op!
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’ll be away for the month of August, camping with my family around Europe. I’m back online in September.
That means no personal email, no social networking, no blogging, no weekly newsletter, and no podcasting.
Consultancy-wise, I’ve still got some capacity from September so I’ll occasionally be checking work email to interact with new and existing clients. I hope you have a great summer (northern hemisphere) / winter (southern hemisphere)!
Since 2010, I’ve taken a personal digital hiatus for a least one month each year. This involves abstaining from social networks, personal email, and blogging in an attempt to be more mindful about my existence in the world.
This is a quick note to say that I’ll be away for the entire month of August. I’ll be spending all (or nearly all) of it camping around Europe with my family. The plan is to spend lots of time with my wife and two children, slow down, read, play, and be a different kind of person than I am for the rest of the year.
I’ll take the second part of my digital hiatus in December, after experimenting with the August/December approach last year and it working well. Taking two months together is a little too much, I’ve found. A month in the summer (sunshine! family!) is great, and a month in the winter (Christmas! Seasonal Affective Disorder!) is regenerative.
On our camping trip I’ll be taking minimal tech, but I will be taking my iPad and smartphone, so I’ll still have access to my work emails. Get in touch if you want to discuss working with me in September and beyond! I’m spending the next couple of weeks finishing up existing work for clients, travelling to California for some work with the Corona-Norco schools district, and tying off other loose ends.
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I’ll be spending the month of December away from personal, published, digital output. This includes personal emails, my Thought Shrapnel weekly newsletter, the Today In Digital Education (TIDE) podcast, blog posts, comments, and (even) the super-secret Slack channel I started this year with some pretty awesome people.
I’ll still be replying to work-related emails, so you can get me on my Dynamic Skillset address. If you’ve got my phone number (lucky you!) I’ll be replying to text messages, too. Other than that, I’ll be enjoying a different way of being that doesn’t involve a) thinking in 140 characters, b) expressing myself via animated gifs, and c) treating my brain as a way to connect together what other people are saying.
In terms of consultancy, I’ve got enough to keep me going for most of the first half of 2016, but do let me know if you’ve got projects you think I might be interested in around digital skills/literacies, badges, and/or educational technology!
Otherwise, see you on the other side. Have a great festive period and, for those of you in the northern hemisphere at least, keep warm!
I’ll ease myself back into social networks over the next few days and weeks, but I just wanted to share some of my reflections on my changing attitude to Twitter in particular. I’m now over eight and a half years into using this particular social network; I can remember when people used to liken it to a café where you could overhear (and drop into) conversations with like-minded people. I think that’s still the case to some degree. However, to extend the metaphor, it’s now less like your favourite hipster coffee hangout and more like a gaudy tourist trap. The signal to noise ratio is all wrong.
This reminds me of what Warren Ellis, someone I’ve only recently started following, posted recently:
My internet generation has a ton of (aching, bruised) muscle memory for communicating and reading in several windows and apps across a couple of devices simultaneously. The new silence has my muscles twitching, yelling that we’re being lazy, but it’s just because nothing’s happening and nobody is talking. I read a thing the other day saying that the drop-off in new Twitter users is down to the fact that it’s now so loud that it’s lonely.
Waiting for my muscles to learn peace. My Twitter is DM-only now — I took my mentions/replies pane off, and only read my information lists. Think of it like rubbing painkillers into the internet.
Using Twitter solely for direct messaging is extremely tempting, especially now they’ve removed the 140-character limit. But, for now, I’ll simply fire up Tweetdeck on my Mac while resisting the urge to re-install the Twitter app on my smartphone. After all, during the past few weeks I’ve managed to learn again, as I always do during these self-imposed strictures, how to be alone in public without looking at a screen.
I have to say that I prefer the #BelshawBlackOps version of me. I think others do, too. I’m slightly more conservative when removed from the (admittedly self-created) vortex of left-leaning sentiment. I’m also more certain during these times of what I do and don’t like, and I’m more likely to show an interest in people rather than trying to show off to them.
During August I endeavored to meet for coffee with a good number of people while I was down in London. One blogger and author shared their concern that what we’re doing these days is simply an advanced version of content marketing. Brands are attempting to become more like people, and people more like brands. It’s hard to argue with that logic.
Now’s not the time to make any big promises or for grandstanding. But what I am going to commit to is providing more value to those following me. What I mean by that is to focus on the upper level of Bloom’s (revised) taxonomy — connecting together people and ideas to create something new. I think that’s much more useful than being the 15th person in your Twitter feed today to share the same link.
If you’re already a subscriber, then you don’t need to do anything. If you’re not, I hope you’ll take this as an invitation to sign up.
Finally, my sincere thanks go to you for reading this blog, or indeed any of my work. I think sometimes we forget (or at least I do) just how much of a privilege it is to be able to publish immediately, without censorship, to a worldwide audience of people.
Update: further to the Warren Ellis quotation above, I hadn’t caught up with one of his most recent post, in which he’s even more eloquent on the changing nature of social networking
As I get older, I’m getting better at looking after myself. I’m eating more healthily, doing more exercise, and remaining more calm and centered. Part of the reason I’m able to do that is that I’m increasingly in control of my own time and, as a result, can prioritise things important to me.
I so enjoyed the family road trip we went on last year, camping and travelling around Europe. I actually chose to disconnect for a good deal of that, too. This year, then, I’ve decided to split #BelshawBlackOps15 into two – part one will be next month (August) and then I’ll be ‘away’ for part two in December.
I’ll see how I feel in terms of my ‘rules’ for December, but for August, I’ll be:
Keeping anything I write or create offline
Avoiding online social networks
Replying to personal emails on a weekly basis
One day, I hope to be in the position to work four days a week and for ten months a year. That would be my ideal. Until that point, and throughout both parts of #BelshawBlackOps, I still need to work on projects for clients and be available via email. That means can still get a timely response from me via my Dynamic Skillset and City & Guilds accounts.
So, practically speaking: this Sunday’s newsletter will be my last one until September; there’ll be no August episodes of the #TIDE podcast; on my return I’ll write a ‘monthnote’ for August (instead of my usual weeknotes); and for those privileged few on my private Slack channel, I’ll be around as usual. 🙂