The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything. – Tyler Durden, Fight Club
Hyperbolic though this quote might be for the purposes of this post, I like the quote because it succinctly highlights the materialist irony of working so hard to buy and own ‘things’ only to let those same things essentially own us by virtue of the time, resources and attention we pay to them. (I’m sure there’s a Zen kōan that can illustrate the point far more eloquently, but I’m a sucker for Fight Club quotes).
While the stereotypical man might have an expensive hobby involving cars or boats, my time and attention has historically been sunk into the world of computers and technology. I don’t have the disposable income to just buy fancy computers at will, so I substitute purchasing power with tinkering to optimize what I currently have to the best of my ability.
As my knowledge and experience with computers has deepened over time from a causal hobby to a full-time career, a curious thing has happened to my recreational time spend working with computers. Where once I would just build something and call it a day, my increased understanding of technology has added a mental encumbrance. Let me explain.
When I build a computer these days, I factor in a wide array of aspects of hardware performance and how they each interact. Price/performance ratios, system bottlenecks based on workloads, future upgrade-ability and compatibility, etc. And while I enjoy spec-ing out a new build, it has become a progressively longer process the more I know how to factor into a build process.
But what has become especially time-intensive and mentally taxing is juggling all of the parts in all the computers I personally own on how to best optimize what I currently have. That might not sound like much, but often a single part upgrade or substitution can trigger a complete tear down of my desktops and servers to construct a better overall setup.
“What if I move that Core i7 into my server instead of in my desktop where it currently resides? Then I would be able to swap that Core i5 back into the desktop and still have a powerful gaming rig. But that means that I would want to do all of my Handbrake video encoding on the server instead of the desktop (because it would be silly to waste the hyperthreading advantage of the i7), which means I should also relocate the Blu-Ray drive for media decoding along with the Core i7. But the server case doesn’t have a 5.25″ drive bay, so I need to remove the entire server components into a different enclosure and then relocate those components to a different enclosure altogether… ”
… and so on. One thought leads to another and soon turns into a domino effect of changes. Before I know it I have 6 hours of completely unnecessary work ahead of me.
And so my new approach going forward this year (after a frenzied final rebuild I will elaborate on some other time) is to abandon my tinkering tendencies for the time being. Computers and tech remain central interests of mine (as well as being a career), but I’m going to try to spend my time more wisely with it. In other words, more time using computers to create things and less time obsessing over the best way to configure the computer itself.
So in a way, maybe Tyler Durden is on to something with his minimalist message. Letting go of the unimportant details to allow time and energy to focus on the things that actually have value.
That Core i7 will be just fine right where it is …