An addicted insider’s account of our real lives in the era of the realtime, social web.

Confession #21: Playing Poker on a Typewriter

My friend Norman is a professional online poker player. How does one determine professional status when it comes to such an endeavor? First, Norman makes a preponderance of his income playing Texas Holdem. And second, you can tell by the way he plays.

The room is dark. Curtains drawn. There is total silence other than the clicking of Norman’s mouse and the occasional frustrated scream following a bad beat. And there is only one program running on his computer. The poker program.

Online poker players like Norman make their living off of guys like me. Forget the room or the curtains. My entire computer is an amusement park of distractions. I am browsing the web, bookmarking stories for later blogging, responding to instant messages, being notified of comments on my Facebook status, checking email, obsessing over my web site traffic stats, choosing songs, viewing videos, and contantly being distracted by the glorious, blue luminosity of my Tweetie app’s menu bar icon.

In online poker, I’m known as a fish. I’m the kind of guy who likes to play but isn’t focused enough to play well.

As long as I’m sitting in front of this screen, I’m pretty sure I am becoming a fish regardless of the activity. It’s become almost impossible to deeply concentrate on one task (even one that only takes a few minutes). That’s certainly true when it comes to writing.

In a lot of ways, manual typewriters provided the exact opposite experience of modern computers. Far from being distracting, the tool itself required your complete attention. You had to be careful with each firm push of a key or risk having to use another container of White-Out. You had to be prepared to pull the Return lever at the end of each line. Even the sound of the keys hitting the paper drew you into the process.

Those private moments between man and page are increasingly difficult to achieve in the exploding ecosystem that is pouring out of my computer screen.

I can’t imagine Gabriel Garcia Marquez pausing to check the latest tweets or update his Facebook profile as he wrote: “It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.”

Think he stopped halfway through that line to check the buzz on the battery life of the new iPad or to IM a buddy and ask, “Which sounds better, almonds or pine-nuts?”

“But dude,” you’re thinking to yourself, “you could just shut all those other programs off.” True. But if I had that kind of inborn strength I’d be making so much money playing online poker that I wouldn’t have time for blog posts like this.

For those of you who share my weakness, there are a couple of word processing programs worth checking out. I am currently writing this post using the most excellent Ommwriter. I’m listening to some ambient sounds. Each keystroke is audible and my entire screen is white save a pair of (optional) trees in a snowy landscape. The Ommwriter folks describe it this way:

A wise man once said “We are all at the mercy of our wild monkey minds. Incessantly swinging from branch to branch.” With multiple windows and applications all vying for our attention, we have sadly adapted our working habits to that of the computer and not the other way around.

Ommwriter is a humble attempt to recapture what technology has snatched away from us today: our capacity to concentrate.

For something a little less experimental, you can also try WriteRoom which mirrors the experience of writing an early generation PC with the white letters on a blue or green background.

If you find it difficult to concentrate while writing something over 140 characters, I highly recommend giving one of these (Mac) programs a try.

Now if only I could convince the guys from Ommwriter to come out with an online poker client…


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My name is Dave Pell, internet superhero. This blog provides an addicted insider's account of what's happening to us in the era of the realtime, social web. You can read more about the site, grab the rss feed, follow me on twitter, join the Facebook page, or get email updates.