Tabbed browsing is a mixed blessing. It allows me to focus on a variety of things more or less discretely, but on the flip side, it allows me to have my attention perpetually shifting. Here’s a small sample of what I have on just two devices:
Desktop: Work email, YNAB budget, trial web-based accounting System, an article on paying yourself when you’re self-employed, an article on owner’s equity vs retained earnings, a retained earnings formula explainer, another explainer on calculating retained earnings for a new company, an article about memory as part of research for one of my cognitive patients, an article on uninstalling Silverlight, a newsletter on Substack, an iOS-based alternative communication app I want to try out for a patient, an association for Deaf-Blind individuals, a YouTube video by Deaf and Deaf-Blind individuals, a website for a HIPAA-compliant web- and app-based phone service, an interesting eyeglass cleaning tool I found via Seth Godin I’ve thought about trying, Late Nite Harp podcast (highly recommended listening and great for both relaxing and for writing), Micro.Blog, and a GitHub page.
iPad: A website for an interpreter I met at a conference (in July), vicarious trauma resources from that same website, a reference site about SOAP notes I was referencing for something, a recipe for Mongolian beef, a New York Times article about slowing down in the age of TikTok, a site for reference on articulation of sounds and development, an article about the Moai, an article about styling links in CSS, an article about Frank Chimero’s site redesign, Late Nite Harp (again, highly recommended listening), Micro.Blog (I like using it in the browser more than the app, usually), an Amazon page with a USB-C cable.
That’s 18 open tabs on my desktop, and 12 more on my iPad. On my phone, the problem is even greater, as I frequently just open a new tab when I need to use the browser for something.
I’ve realized this before, and had focused on trying to reduce the number of tabs I have open at any given time. For about two months, I was able to manage with probably just three to four open tabs at any given time, on any given device. Obviously, that didn’t stick, but while I was able to manage it before, it was more calming.
The bounty of tabs I currently have open have made me realize that my thinking is more scattered, and as a result less focused, with so much visual input. The medical record system I use to run my practice is fully web-based, which I love, and it dawned on me last week that I should try using it as a stand-alone full-screen window instead of part of the sheer volume of tabs I had open. The impact was more significant than I thought it would be: without the address bar, or the increasingly busy bar below it, I was able to focus on what I needed right in front of me: writing notes, scheduling, billing, etc. Having one thing to do changed how I behaved.
I suspect that part of why I keep so many tabs open is because I want to use that information again at some point. Given that at least two of my tabs have been open on my iPad since July, that “some point” really should have an expiration date. I need to remind myself that if I need something, I should act on it sooner rather than later, and move on. If I need it later, I can either save it in some place for reference later, or just close it and check for it again later should the need arise.
Using tabbed browsing as a de facto memory tool is cluttering up my vision and making it hard for me to do what I need to do in the moment. Time to rethink and re-adjust my use accordingly.