Peter's Random Thoughts

I have not been very active in all aspects of my life since the beginning of 2020 compared to how it used to be — my projects have been pretty much stagnated and I have hardly updated my main blog. More than any time before, I have been in a state of burnout in this unusual year of 2020.

The feeling of a burnout is strange. For me, I don't actually feel that I cannot work on my projects, or that I have no energy to spare for them. Quite the opposite. I can spend all my free time playing Minecraft and working on complicated redstone circuits, which is not less tiring at all when compared to my “real” projects, that is, things we consider “productive” to do. There is simply some sort of reluctance to doing anything productive, anything that could result in some kind of accomplishment. I am aware that they are not that complex to work on, and that once I start working on them, they would not be very tiring — but I just do not want to work on them.

Of course, knowing all of these often makes me “condemn” myself internally for my reluctance to productive work, for which I have to constantly find excuses for, an act called “moral licensing”. My initial excuse was my final year studies, including my final year project which I did not actually invest that much time on. After that came to an end, realizing me still being in a burnout state, I switched my excuse to preparation for application for master's studies. This one made some sense, as those exams that I have to go through are (and I still think so) very tedious to prepare for, especially the GRE which requires me to memorize a bunch of intricate words and their nuances that I probably will not even need for the rest of my life. But it takes nowhere near all of my time or energy, and I still have a lot of time lying around doing absolutely nothing.

I think the situation is more psychological than anything else. My productivity has always been intermittent — just look at my activity graph on GitHub. I would normally hit a one or two months streak, and then become dormant for the following month or two, normally because of a loss of direction. That is when I get confused about what the future of my project is, and what purpose it would serve, not just for me but also for everyone else. The loss of direction incurs a loss of motivation, which causes my productivity-burnout cycles.

This time it is different though. It has lasted for the entirety of 2020 so far, and I still don't feel any better than how I felt at the start of 2020 when everything ridiculous was still in their infancy. The more this state continues, the worse I feel, thanks to all those thoughts of “moral licensing” that I have done in vain, whose only effect was causing me to feel even worse about myself. I think that it came partially from uncertainties about my future, as now I am laser-focused on getting somewhere overseas for my master's studies and hopefully stay there, and if that fails, I don't even know what my plans for the future should be. This is more than just being confused about the purpose of a project, because if my attempt at this fails, none of my project, if any still lives on, would make any sense to me.

Social media of course did nothing helpful in this situation. I don't want to sound like a cynic, but as someone easily frustrated by a few trolls on the Internet, I am overwhelmed by the amount of pointless arguments and disappointing news since the beginning of this year. I am aware that killing my own productivity by indulging myself in these does nothing helpful to anybody including myself, but awareness is not the same as feelings. Without reading such news, I feel isolated; but once I take a look at any news this year at all, the frustration comes back. I cannot even try to go outside more and get a “real” life — travel restrictions mean no friends, no university, no party, nothing.

As of now, although I am trying to get back to working on some of my projects, as the exam dates get closer and closer, my level of motivation does not really increase enough for me to resume my normal activity. I am still not sure what the future holds for me, at least before the results of all these exams come in. I am sorry this is not an uplifting post in such a time, but the fact is that I have no idea how do I get out of all of this without the conditions disappearing first. I guess the best I can do as of now is to have a rest and do not break down completely before everything ridiculous even ends.

I've been told numerous times throughout my school years that one needs to not refrain from asking questions to be a truly good learner. Even simple questions, they say, is a sign of thinking and being in the process of learning. I myself, however, seldom find myself willing to ask questions, not because I have no questions, or I think it is stupid asking simple questions, but that I, more often than not, cannot formulate questions that I feel truly worth asking.

I am not denying that questions are valuable for the learning process — they most definitely are. What I often find reluctant to do — or rather, a waste of time — is the act of articulating the question to someone else (let's define, in this article, “asking”, as “articulating”). You see, this is the age of information, and it is not an exaggeration to say that over 80% of questions, especially those that come when learning about a new subject, has an answer lurking somewhere online waiting to be discovered through searching. More often than not, rather than sending the question to someone else, doing a few simple search queries results is much more efficient, not to mention that people being asked the question may themselves have to find the answer online. This is often the case when someone asks me a question that I am also not 100% sure about. It's not even being lazy — finding someone else to help normally requires more effort, not less, than typing a few words in a search engine. Asking about this 80% of questions, to me, is nothing more than an inefficient use of precious time.

What about the other 20% of questions? In that case, asking the question seldom gets you a single definitive answer, but rather brings about a discussion, which is good if you are prepared for a productive discussion. Unfortunately, when one asks a question simply for the objective of getting an answer, the person is most likely not actually prepared for a discussion. The questioner will only be able to observe others doing the discussion, feeling lonely, helpless and have no substantial point to bring into the discussion, which, for me, causes frustration and nothing is truly gained after the matter. When one actually thinks, does the research, until the point of being prepared for such a discussion, the person would have most definitely already had an answer of their own to the question. At this point, I would not still classify the act as asking a question, but rather an exchange and critique of ideas, which I love to see, but it is not “asking” per se. It is somewhat like the practice of debugging to a rubber duck: when you actually know what you want to ask, you usually have an answer already — even though it might be wrong. That is what discussions are for.

In my opinion, this is also what “the art of asking questions”, a notion prevalent on several tech forums, really expects. For most of the questions one can post brainlessly onto these forums, the answer could be found with no more than a little bit of effort on search engines. For the rest of questions, just throwing a question mark there would not get you anywhere, and can also be considered rude if the question is difficult and do not have a definitive answer, but the person asking the question does not even show any evidence of trying to solve it on their own. What is more valuable is an exchange of ideas and attempted solutions, not questions that literally take seconds to find with a modern search engine.

In other words, the act of asking questions does not imply intelligence. Rather, it is the ability to try to solve problems, think, discuss, and exchange ideas that really makes one gain knowledge. One needs to question and think to be a truly good learner.

I have been a long-time blogger since the good old days of internet, and my habit of writing long and elaborate essays on every interesting topic I can think of has become almost an instinct after all these years. I am also one that loves social networks (despite all my previous rants on social networks, ironically, posted on social networks), and I even have a Mastodon instance of my own. For a long while, the distinction between these two was pretty clear to me: for my long and pedantic essays, I use my blog; while social networks are for jokes, short comments, stupid arguments, or whatever that I cannot bother writing a full article on.

During recent years, I found myself somehow posting longer and longer messages on my social media account on Mastodon, while my blog sees barely any update throughout the year. I hit the upper character limit of Mastodon regularly, so I have even modified its code for a longer upper limit. Reviewing my own posts, I see them legitimately too short and incomplete for publication on my main blog, but too long to even read comfortably in the UI of a social media platform. Expanding them to full articles takes a considerable amount of time effort, and as other aspects of my life get more and more occupied by “important stuff” as one grows up, I find myself being increasingly reluctant to do so.

So here is the problem. I do not want any more thousand-character-long posts on my social media account, but on the other hand, I do not want my main blog to become filled with random incomplete comments or even just ideas, defeating the purpose of having a separate blog from social media in the first place. I could have just set up a secondary blog (again), but I find WriteFreely more suitable for this role, as it supports federation with ActivityPub, allowing me to integrate it with my circle on Mastodon, while providing a simplistic writing experience. Since my purpose of having a WriteFreely instance is to replace my super long posts on social media, I see ActivityPub integration pretty important. In addition, compared to something like Plume, the codebase of WriteFreely seems way more simple and clean. There's no 2 megabytes of WASM binary just to view an article, and no fancy eye-hurting styles, but still beautiful.

And here we are. A new WriteFreely instance. I welcome you (if you have an invitation) to join me exchanging our writing and our ideas on this instance. It doesn't matter if you use this as your main place of publication or like me, just to replace long social media posts. And who knows, maybe one day WriteFreely will actually replace my main blog. For now it doesn't matter. What is important is that we keep thinking and keep writing.

Keep writing. Keep smiling. Don't be angry :)