Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Who's going to change, me or the internet?

Disconnecting isn't just a thing anymore. It seems to be a need.

In my last blogpost, I pointed to three other people who felt the same way. I can now point to three more, and as an added bonus, another post that talks about paper and how it isn't going anywhere.

Please read all of them, most of which are short. But I can sum up the message in all of them: the internet we have now is too much and not enough. This is nothing like what we were promised, whether in the early 1980s or in 2007 when the iPhone first launched and arguably the real potential of the interconnected world was on the cusp of being realized. In some ways, ten years is a long time for an impatient civilization to give something a try, but the scope of the new tech (the paradigm shift, as it were) was massive and kept building on itself, to the point where many of us kept thinking that what we were waiting for was just around the corner. And maybe it was before it wholesale changed into something else and we were left waiting all over again.

A lot of the conversation around social media activity centers around addiction. I think the jury is still out, but it's safe to say that many of us have an unhealthy relationship with our handheld devices. But as I recall the evolution of the smartphone, I think we're missing the point. I remember the conversations around the deployment of smaller cellphones and the Palm Pilot. Of course no one was talking about how great it would be to share photos of your kids and pets with other people, but they did talk about how much more productive and accessible we could all be with these new devices. And while an increasing number of us can be convinced to walk away from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and every other sharing app, most of us aren't going to be able to turn off our phone because what if someone important can't then reach us? We worry to some extent about corporations and governments tracking our location and our buying habits so they can use than information in their favor, but most of us don't worry that we don't need to be tracked because we are always available to those who already demand the most from our time. We are always an email, text, or phone call away. That, I think, is the most insidious part of the digital revolution.

These are the thoughts that have been nagging at me since I read Solitude (recommended to me after my last blogpost). I worried that it was going to be a self-help book masquerading as social commentary, but Michael Harris isn't foolish enough to offer tips on how to disengage and be alone because that's much bigger than lists and so-called strategies. To truly reclaim our time, we need to reorganize our lives, and I don't just mean move things around in our schedule. We have to say that we are willing to be alone, we are willing to not even pretend to be social at times, and we have to risk being weird without a community of "geeks" or "nerds" to be weird with us. We have to say that we aren't willing to work every waking hour (or wake up to work at the sound of a beep) and take on all of the risks involved in that.

For reasons many reading this understand, that's not happening any time soon. We are risk-averse, and most of us can't afford to be otherwise. In the meantime, we're going to keep pretending that the problem is that no one is moderating Twitter and that Facebook and Amazon's algorithms are telling us what to read and what to buy.

But maybe we can make it a little better for ourselves, and though I don't like New Year's Resolutions, I broke tradition this year and made mine "spend less time on screens". I really can't keep conscious of something like that for an entire year, but I can break it up. For the month of January, I'm not watching television (my mother circa 1983 finally approves of me). For a month, that's not a problem (and admittedly it's made easier by the fact that I caught up on just about all of the Netflix Marvel offerings). Two days into it, and I'm not missing anything...except maybe Diane Kochilas' cooking show which is finally on my local PBS station (did you see the part above about being weird without a net?). 

In the meantime, I'm amusing myself with lots of paper.

The tools of my trade

As my ideas about were in their infancy, I reluctantly started Bullet Journaling, and I love it. I did not go out and buy a Moleskine or Leuchtturm1917 because all I want is a damn notebook. I washi taped a hardback notebook I've had since 2001 and it's been doing everything I need because at the end of the day all you want is paper that will stay together. I finished a composition notebook journal and did breakdown and buy a new one from Walgreen's for all of $10. It's actually perfect for my needs, and because I'm a worrier I'm wondering if I should go stock up.

(Aside: I'm also using the Bullet Journal as a kakeibo, and it's doing wonders for my budget. Good luck finding such a thing in the States, but check out these posts from Europe.)

The other thing about consumer technology: none of it is built to last. Every time one of my children wants to buy a laptop I try to talk them out of it because if they last three years that's amazing. I had a Chromebook for a few years that worked perfectly. Unfortunately, the connection to the cord became dysfunctional. I have been known to write on my phone when the need arises, but three hundred words in and I start to feel nauseous. I can use my husband's computer, but since he uses it for things like work, that's not a dependable option. Finally, I broke down and started drafting in a notebook (another composition book, of course) and no one is more shocked than I am that I can regularly (and legibly) write in it. My earliest fantasies about myself as a writer included me sitting at a typewriter or keyboard, but this is working very well. It's the ultimate in portable, so I don't have to worry about engaging in the comical pursuit to find an outlet in a cafe or library. However, while I'm glad I participated in NaNoWriMo this year, I just can't commit to 1700 words a day. 500 is much more my speed and something I can bust out in thirty minutes. I might try and increase that, but not by much. Consistent activity is so much more gratifying than dramatic bursts of activity.

And...I'm also using a sketch pad. I've found that sketching soothes a part of my brain that words can't touch. I'm not good, but I don't have to be in order for it to be useful. While there are plenty of programs that allow artists to sketch, that's one more thing I'm grateful I don't have to teach myself to do.

But that's not all the paper around here this month! I got two book out of the library on New Year's Eve (in keeping with my tradition of being in the library on New Year's Eve) and have something like twelve on hold. Some of it is fiction, but some of it is also politics and history. While that's always an interest of mine, another specific part of my resolution is to not only not read the news sites but not listen to news radio. I want to be clear: this isn't because I can't handle the news but rather because I don't feel like I'm learning anything. The best newspapers read like they're trying to be edgy blogs, and I've spent two and a half years being frustrated by it. I do keep informed by my local NPR radio station, but the repetition makes me feel like I'm watching CNN. So much is going on in the world, but for some reason it's not being reported with the same attention as political news that is starting to feel like gossip. (God, I miss elitist, wonky, insider-baseball coverage, because even that was more informative than what we have now.) So yes, for the month of January, I'm not going to be as up to the minute with anything, but I am going to be taking some deep dives that I don't usually have time for. Just two days in and it already feels like my brain has eaten something it doesn't usually get a hold of.

The reason I wanted to blog some eleven years ago was so I could participate in a meaningful conversation. What I was told about four years after that was that if you really wanted to "be someone" in the blogosphere you had to blog at least three times a week, even if you didn't have something to say, and you had to make sure that whatever it was you were putting out there was carefully directed at your "target audience". (Can someone prove to me that this wasn't the reason animated gifs became so popular?) I was horrible at that, and so were a lot of other people. I'm going to blog about once a month, and I'm going to do it when I have something to say. And while none of this may be of specific interest to people who read romance or science fantasy, I hope it's of interest to people who are thoughtful, because those are the kinds of readers and people in general that I want to talk to. 

I have changed none of the structural problems inherent in our economy that makes us an on-demand workforce, and I probably haven't told you anything you didn't already know or hadn't thought of. I write this in the interest of sharing, and I hope that if you have thoughts about the same topics, you'd like to share as well. 

Wish me luck for January, and I'll let you know how it goes.