Open Thinkering


Tag: digital hiatus

#BelshawBlackOps15 (part 1) has begun!

As I mentioned last week, I’m taking a personal digital hiatus during the month of August. I’ll still be checking my work emails, but steering clear of social media, personal email, and blogging.

Here’s five things beginning with ‘C’ that you can do while I’m away:

  1. Complete my 2015 reader survey. It won’t take you long and it’s of immense value to me.
  2. Catch up with episodes of the Today In Digital Education (TIDE) podcast that Dai Barnes and I record every week. We’re not recording new episodes until September.
  3. Consider hiring me from September onwards. I’ll have about a day per week spare but I’m available in hourly, half-daily, daily, and ongoing ‘chunks’. Get in touch via Dynamic Skillset.
  4. Collaborate in building the Open Badges 101 course.
  5. Chill out. You deserve a break too! Go and lie in a field somewhere.

See you in September with my batteries full and raring to go! 🙂

[INCOMING] #BelshawBlackOps15 (part 1)

Every year I take some time off from publishing blog posts, composing tweets, and ‘personal’ online/screen time. I call this a digital hiatus or (more grandly) Belshaw Black Ops.

This all started in 2010 with taking three weeks off in December as I’m prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). However, I’ve found it so valuable that for the last couple of years I’ve disappeared for two months including November! It means I can come back full force in January refreshed, with lots of plans and ideas.

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. 🙂

Image CC BY-NC Jeremy Brooks

What I got up to during #BelshawBlackOps14 (and what 2015 has in store)

So, I’m back.

Back to blogging, back to social networks, and back to keeping up with the news. In previous years I’ve been chomping at the bit to get ‘back to normality’. This time, however, it’s a bit different.

My signing-off blog post for #BelshawBlackOps14 included the following paragraph:

I realised recently that for around the last 13 years I’ve been thinking on-and-off about something I read in one of Iris Murdoch’s books. I’m pretty sure it was in a philosophical work such as ‘Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals’ but it may have been in one of her novels. Murdoch talked about not really ever having had a ‘strong sense of self’. I really wish I could find the quotation. Putting my own gloss on it, I’ve come to believe that those who don’t have a strong sense of self are more empathetic than others, but may also have more problems with self-actualisation.

Simon Knight got in touch (via my Mozilla email address) to inform me that he’d found out, quite by chance, that the quotation comes from John Bayley’s memoir.

Reflecting on this, over the last two months I’ve realised a few things:

  1. My ‘true self’ / default state / eudaimonic mean is a good deal more conservative than I realised.
  2. The reason for this conservatism stems from a belief in the importance of community and of ritual.
  3. Being part of a community sometimes means personal sacrifice towards a larger goal.

I began to see that that although I abhor the methods the current UK government has employed since 2010, their overall aim may actually be one that I agree with. In other words, the move to a small State (with checks and balances) leading to bottom-up solutions provided by people on the ground – rather than top-down interventionism. What I find absolutely shocking is the removal of the social safety net. That’s really tearing up the fabric of society.

But, to be honest, I’m kind of done with politics and national / international news. I’m more interested in what’s happening immediately around me. It’s all very well being a citizen of the world, but doing so has made me somewhat rootless and rudderless. After a while you begin to realise that some things are incapable of change due to the way the system is structured (and loaded).

I did write some stuff while I was away. For DMLcentral I wrote a brief history of web literacy – which was picked up by the Washington Post. I also spoke on a panel at the Safer Internet Forum in Brussels (which I wrote up here). In December there was a Mozilla workweek in Portland, Oregon. I left that early to speak at the Literacy Research Association conference on Marco Island, Florida. Oh, and Maker Party North East went well.

During my hiatus I went out of my way to avoid the news and social networks. As a result, I had so much more free time that I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. I did quite a bit of exercise. This, combined with 2014 seemingly the sunniest year I’ve ever experienced, staved off my SAD and migraines. Also, although it wasn’t my explicit aim, I’ve lost a stone in weight since moving house in February. Having a routine rocks.

I read during #BelshawBlackOps14. Not as much as I planned, but more widely than usual. Some of this via dead tree books from the library, some via the Kindle Paperwhite 3G I bought while it was on offer. Since I last had one with 3G they’ve restricted it to the Amazon store and Wikipedia website. But still, it’s a useful thing to have.

Books I read:

Books I’m still reading:

Another book I read, after spotting it on the shelf in the library, was on the Alexander technique. After reading it I ended up so concerned about my posture that subconscious worry led to agonising back pain. I booked a physio appointment only for him to tell me it was psycho-somatic! I used that experience as a convenient excuse to attend a Pilates class for the first time. I’ve been every week since as it makes me feel amazing afterwards. I’d recommend it.

Something else I’d recommend is asking advice. I don’t do this enough, so I decided to get in touch with some people I’ve known for a while and respect. I asked how they view me – and for an honest assessment of my strengths and weaknesses. The findings were interesting. As a result, I’m going to build up some small-scale consultancy in 2015 under the banner of Dynamic Skillset. The consensus was that this would not only allow me to follow-up on my diverse interests, but to support those who ask me for the kind of help I can’t provide for free (or with my Mozilla hat on).

More on that as the year progresses.

Image CC BY-NC-SA Philip Chapman-Bell