Somewhere amidst the hectic and heady digital world lies the calm and contemplative Analog Sea.
An “offline publisher of printed books,” its one-page website has but a logo, a total of forty-one words, and two mailing addresses. No other information is offered—not social media links, no contact form, no email address. At a time when one appears not to exist if one is not online, this seems quite an audacious and revolutionary approach to publication and communication.
Analog Sea regularly publishes a pocket-sized journal presenting a collection of poetry, essays, fiction, and fine art. In the first issue of The Analog Sea Review (released Summer 2018), Simons wrote: “Our mission is to support what we call offline culture. We are interested in what poets, novelists, essayists and visual artists create in solitude, that vital stretch of time when distraction fades and deep wells of thinking and feeling emerge. We aim to spark conversations between those who find artistic expression, philosophical inquiry, and reverence for nature critical counterweights to the racket and fragmentation of modern life.”
What Simons wrote touched a chord in me, and I want to share it with you.
A friend referred me to Analog Sea soon after I’d finished reading Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. After digesting the arguments and anecdotes Newport presented in his books, and the life and writing philosophy Simons championed, I went ahead and deleted all my social media accounts (short of this website and my email address).
And I like it that way.
Why? Because offline life trumps online life.
I’m convinced that what is truly meaningful and valuable—in-person interaction with others, solitary contemplation, and periods of undistracted “deep” work for us writers and artists—can only come about when we step back from the Internet. Even if only for ten minutes.
Those minutes make up what Mr. Simons calls the “contemplative gap”: the accidental moments of solitude between one engagement or activity and another. These are times when we allow our minds to wander, to think, to daydream. And—to be bored. Because boredom, ironic as it may sound, forces us to do something, to think.
Human beings have long attempted to escape or eradicate boredom. The basic drive for constant stimulation is within us, whether we admit it or not.
But it cannot—and should not, I would argue—be eradicated or avoided.
As Mr. Simons told The London Magazine in March 2020: “The discomfort of boredom leads to everything that we love in society. It leads to ideas, it leads to empathy, it leads to the kinds of dreams that lead to good storytelling.”
Solitude, which at first might be absurdly boring to some of us, brings out hidden aspects of humanness within us, and frees us to think, and feel, and simply be.
The internet tends to turn people into externalized human beings. Documentation and sharing of an experience is prioritized over the direct experience itself. We have traded in primary experiences for secondary ones.
But an Instagram post of a beautiful meal doesn’t fill our bodies, nor can we taste or smell or hug the Internet.
And faculties so vital to writing—feeling, intuition and imagination—wither with over-stimulation. And overstimulation is one thing the digital age does not lack, nor slacken. Over the past few years, it has only grown more personalized and more prevalent. And in the midst of all this, we begin to feel uncomfortable with ourselves, by ourselves. We begin to miss noticing and treasuring unexpected bits of beauty around us. We begin to lose depth and broadness in contemplation. We lose all that makes words put onto paper worth reading.
As our lives become more and more fragmented, it becomes hard for one individual thing to command our attention long enough for us to pay attention to it, master it, and do something great with it. Serious literature requires serious thinking. Excellence demands attention.
But there is hope—sustained attention can be honed. The strength to dream and think and imagine does not comes only from intention, but also from practice.
So turn contemplation, intuition, emotion, and imagination into a regular practice.
Think about what tools we want around us, and how we could best to spend our time in developing our craft and producing content worth reading and thinking about. We analyze the tools we are currently using; determine if a process can be made more efficient; set timers for activity on the Internet; and strive for excellence not just in our craft, but in how we approach and nurture it. (An example of this would be subscribing to an email feed of writing gigs such as Listiller, instead of spending hours upon hours scouring job boards on your own.)
Learn to focus on one thing at a time. The more we tune out of distractions, the more value we can bring into our work, and the more value we produce.
Shift our focus from representation and back to direct experience—back to raw, real living. One way I have done this in my practice is to write something by hand each day. Alone with pen and paper, away from the digital world—it is a wonderful feeling; such freedom, such focus, such joy!
Carve out time to think and to feel, to think without distraction and to feel deeply. It may mean physical isolation from other people, or simply an hour away from the computer or phone.
Is Analog Sea on to something? I think so. And I hope you’ll join me in the pursuit of a contemplative life.