Sunday, December 26, 2021

The Secret of Time Management

I won't keep you in suspense: it's saying No. Working smarter not harder is going to get you only so far, and if we're honest, a lot of smart working is saying no to certain things anyway. 

But how does one say No?

The curse of the era we live in is that we believe there is so much that we should say Yes to. The promise of the World Wide Web is just that: an interconnected world. But the world we are given easy access to is just so much garbage most of the time. It's a slightly more heightened version of the one available on television, which is itself a dumbed down version of the one available in books. A richer world is out there, but it's hidden in plain sight beneath the shiny glow of the baubles displayed by the internet.

I bring this up because, for the umpteenth time, I've listened in on a conversation in which people are concerned with Time Management (as well as the latest in gaming and television), and the intensity of these conversations might convince someone that distraction -- or Attention Deficit Disorder -- had been invented in the last two decades. But that is not true. What might be true is that the level of distraction has ratcheted up past what anyone could imagine.

Or couldn't they? Actually, haven't people been warning us about what mass media could do for decades? Neil Postman warned us in Amusing Ourselves to Death that Orwell's nightmare of Big Brother was irrelevant in a civilization that had chosen to make a god out of Entertainment; Carl Sagan saw that as our technology became more complex, many of us would backslide into superstition and revel in our ignorance; and Kurt Vonnegut described a society that was going to disguise the fact that it wasn't allowed to talk about substance by screaming about whatever was still left to us.

As far-seeing -- let's even call them visionary -- as these authors were, I don't think even they saw the sleight of hand that was going to be pulled on us in the twenty-first century. The usage of our modern technology -- small enough to fit into your pocket, more powerful than the Manhattan Project scientists could dream of -- gives us the illusion that we are participating in this movement called Technological Progress while we are, in fact, being commodified. We think we are using our technology to be more connected, but really we are connecting ourselves to a marketplace that listens into what we are already interested in and, like the best marketers in retail and politics, uses that information to convince us to buy what's already out there. We think we are choosing to watch and play the most cutting edge entertainment offered by Hollywood and Silicon Valley, but really many of us can't say no because we are addicted to the prospect of being entertained. 

Raj Patel, who has written more recently, had the great insight that the opposite of choice isn't coercion but instinct: if we have been participating in a marketplace from before the time we could consent -- before we were even born, in many instances -- our very "gut feelings" have been shaped to accommodate market values. Every other kind of value -- moral, political, intellectual -- will be indulged only to the point where it doesn't inconvenience said market. 

If you don't feel in control of your time -- and the life that it is filled with -- congratulations for realizing something that many are not yet able to see. You are not in control of your time because you are not in control of your attention. You cannot say No when you hear a demand, not a question.

This is a question

When you are being given thirty-nine different versions of chips in the snack aisle, you don't have thirty-nine options, but two: buy the chips, or walk away. (If one option has thirty-nine different varieties and the other has only one, what is the math weighted toward once you're in that aisle?) When you have available over fifty services for streaming in the United States, again, you really have two options: watch a program on one of the services, or walk away. (When each option has hundreds of programs per service, and there isn't a lot of drama inherent in walking away, what is the math weighted toward once you open up your device?)

Even those of us in a Community Supported Agriculture program will have to walk into a supermarket at some point, and once there it's difficult to avoid the snack aisle. By the same token, even those of us who are committed to spending as little time as possible on screens have to open them at some points, and once there it's difficult to avoid being plagued by ads and other "reminders" pointing you to entertainment. What is the solution? I don't know. But what I do know is that the more we remind ourselves that we are being asked, not told, we can start to say No more frequently.

Deb in the City

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

What's Making Me Better

A couple of health setbacks in the last month were exhausting enough that I decided to, you know, listen to my body and take it easy. (I hate taking it easy.) So I didn't tax myself with anything more strenuous than walking for about thirty minutes or forty-ish minutes of qigong. Shockingly, I feel better, and I think I got the message from my body that, just maybe, heavy weights aren't my thing, and if I want my epic walks back, I'm going to have to earn them. So now I can walk about forty minutes per day, and we'll go from there.

Along the same lines, but not nearly as serious, I think herbs are not my friend. Please, not those herbs, which have never been my thing for numerous reasons that make me a complete outlier in our civilization. No, I mean medicinal herbs that grow in my garden. I mean echinacea, which people I know have been going on about for most of my adult life. We grow some in my community garden plot, and my plot-mate dried a slew and gave me some to take home. After two tries with the tea in the morning that I thought might be bothering my stomach, I decided to incorporate it into a ginger-bug based soda. I lasted three or four days before I realized that the increasingly painful cramping of my digestive organs was not being helped by the echinacea. And then, oh yeah, my kidneys were sore, which isn't something that happens to me a lot. 

I hate when people talk about "detoxing", but I decided that I was going to confine myself to fruits, vegetables, and nuts until I felt better (basically, a vegan "high raw" diet). And you know what? I do feel better -- better than I have in a few years. So I'm going to stick with this until/unless it feels like it's not enough, and then we'll reassess from there. But I feel...good.

Just say no

The cure, apparently, for what ails me

I'm finding it more and more that I just can't listen to the news. No, I do not mean because it's traumatizing -- did I mention that I'm a member of Gen X and thus I grew up being threatened by nuclear war every other month? -- but because it just seems so dumbed down. I think, and I'm horrified by this thought, that the news is being dumbed down in order to appeal to younger audiences, who apparently aren't being given enough credit to be able to keep up and learn something. (FYI, I'm talking about NPR and Boston's NPR affiliates.) It's one thing for social media to be a younger person's game -- and it is -- it's another thing for the news to be so. So far, the Economist is still doing a pretty good job of being a site that caters to "adult audiences", but we'll see how that progresses in the next few years. Oh right -- I was also watching a lot of NHK Newsline until one of the anchors smugly reported on the failure of South Korea's rocket -- sorry, you want to bring down the tension, or not? -- and Arirang News has some interesting perspectives on foreign affairs.

What's helping me now is my reading, and as I get older I find that to be increasingly the case. I finished Jade Legacy, the final book in Fonda Lee's Green Bone Saga, and I'm kind of ruined now for a lot of other fiction. I'm utterly in awe of someone who can write action scenes that make me feel like I'm watching a movie, organizational and political dynamics, AND intimate portraits of the members of an imperfect family. Needless to say, that's not everyone. Fortunately, there's The Veiled Throne, the third book in Ken Liu's quartet (?), The Dandelion Dynasty. It's 982 pages, because of course it is, but I'm a sixth of the way through and I haven't felt the passage of time. If Fonda Lee can immerse you in an organization with a kaleidoscopic perspective, Liu can show you how the world is built, including everything from the harnessing of silk's static electricity and the building of airships to the dueling philosophical underpinnings of a civilization. If it's not as intimate, it's because the canvas he has to work with is so vast -- and amazing. 

As far as non-fiction, the last month or so was kind of rough. Most difficult title was Not "A Nation of Immigrants" by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. Dunbar-Ortiz makes the work of Ibram X. Kendi and Erika Lee feel like a party (and boy, am I never going to look at the Hamilton fans the same way again). Not perfect -- don't get me started on Syria -- but mostly very good. African Europeans: An Untold History by Olivette Otele was a little less wrenching, but not significantly so. I learned a number of things -- one of the de Medici's whose descendants still have some power was in, fact, an African European, as were Septimus Severus and Alexander Pushkin -- but I couldn't help but walk away feeling like, gee, maybe the United States isn't so much worse than Europe. Jesus, Finland, keep your educational system if you're so awfully, extra-special racist, okay? With all that behind me, Stalin's War: A New History of World War II by Sean McMeekin is a relative breeze. I might not be completely convinced of his thesis yet, but it is worthwhile to read about World War II through the Soviet lens (and let's admit that Stalin- and Mao-apologists have persisted much longer than they should have).

No, really -- just say no

My writing continues -- I swear to all the deities of humanity that I will not only finish drafting this, I will also edit it! Getting installment eleven done was a huge confidence booster, and it made getting through installment twelve easier. I am currently in the middle of installment thirteen, and this is where blood touches metal, literally and figuratively. I'm excited because it's here that everything starts escalating and really can't be stopped anymore. And like all writers, I love being on a runaway train!

What's really keeping me sane? Playing with differential equations and studying chemistry in the early morning hours. There, I said it. Now you all know what a nerd I am. (It's not all crazy fantasy fandoms, right?)

Okay -- off to another smoothie and then I catch up on Taxi Driver, the Korean (of course) series -- more on the other k-dramas and k-movies later.

Deb in the City