Saturday, November 3, 2018

Analog Kid


If I don’t write this post now, I never will. I’ll get too caught up in other social media and waste my time away. So, I’m writing now, while the thoughts are hot.

I’m no luddite. I embrace technology. I’m on a lot of different social media platforms, Youtube is almost constantly streaming at my home (for obscure music, if nothing else), I have this here blog (duh), I host a podcast etc. And though I’m about to hit the half-century mark, I don’t consider myself “old,” not by any stretch of the imagination. I finally admitted I was middle aged when I turned 48 (reason: Grandma died at 96, and that’s one of my uncontrollable goals). In my church volunteer work, I spend many hours, every week, working with and alongside singles aged 18-30. Even years after back surgery, I *feel* young. No, not ride-my-bike-to-strange-unexplored-places-for-an-entire-day young, but still, young. I keep telling my kids that I’m still 16 in my head; 17 on a particularly mature day.

But I know, especially after burying both of my parents this past spring, that I don’t have all the time in the world. I love my parents, but they were hardcore television addicts. They did other things, of course, but as far as I can remember there was rarely ever a time when the TV wasn’t on in our house. Even as an adult, when I would call or visit, the TV was always blaring in the background. I wondered, as my father was dying, if he regretted so much time spent in front of the TV. He couldn’t communicate at that point, yet I wondered. I don’t watch much TV at all. Haven’t since I moved out of the house decades ago. I don’t know much about actors and TV shows – a little here and there from shows that I’ve watched, but nowhere near as much as almost everyone I interact with. I just don’t want to waste my time and brain space on that much TV. Again: Life is too short. Way too short. That has been hammered home to me in a big way this past year. Hammered right down into my heart with a sharp spike of grief. Twice.

And yet, I will get roped into surfing the internet and, in particular, social media, quite regularly. I probably waste nearly as much time on that as my parents did on TV. Not quite, but close.

A month or so ago, Google announced that it would no longer be supporting Google Plus outside of business use. I was big into G+, since the roleplaying game community there is a Big Deal. Artists use Instagram, authors and actors use twitter, bored housewives use facebook, and gamers use G+. And now, G+ is going to go the way of all flesh.

So, there was a mass scramble for “where to go” in the gaming community. Many of us ended up, for a number of reasons, on MeWe. It seems to be a happy medium between FB and G+, with some of the features of both and, of course, missing stuff from both. But it seems adequate to the task. And I don’t want to lose contact with my many gamer friends. At least not most of them.

In the process of all this, author Michael Curtis (known for his work for Goodman Games, primarily) wrote a post about something he had been thinking about for a long time, a physical newsletter, in which people would mail him (yes, with physical mail, not Email) a note and an SASE (that’s Self-addressed Stamped Envelope for those who don’t know) and he would, in return, send the newsletter and, if you wished, include your name and physical address in the newsletter as one who would desire to be contacted by others.

Michael also pointed out the very interesting RPG “DeProfundis,” which is based on, you guessed it, letter writing. I've just purchased it, in fact, after reading Michael's writeup about it in his newsletter. While they recommend writing in the medium that is “of the era” (so Email and texts for modern games, letters for older games), I would think letters all the time might be very cool, if it was limited to a small number of people who you are profoundly connected with in terms of gaming. I can think of a handful of people like that very easily! Back when I first started gaming, if you didn’t game face to face, you either did “play by mail” or you didn’t game at all! I’d LOVE to see “play by mail” resurrected. Seriously, handwriting the story that you exchange with each other, anticipating that letter arriving in the mail, opening it to discover what creative additions your other players have included – now THAT is exciting stuff!

As a teenager, in the days before Email, we used to (gasp!) write letters to each other all the time. Real, physical letters that oftentimes bared our souls to the recipient. You think it’s tough doing long-distance relationships now? Hah! Hahahahahaha! Anyway, when Email came along, I embraced it wholeheartedly. It was so much easier (and cheaper) to send an Email than to send a letter. Then along came social media, making connections with old friends as simple as a click.

But some things were lost. A lot was lost, in fact. Not a lot of information. In fact, I have access to far more information than I even thought existed back then. I can easily and conveniently look up information on any number of subjects, so long as I’m willing to winnow through the chaff of misinformation that exists on the internet now. Books that I had thought would be lost forever are easily found scanned into electronic nooks and crannies everywhere. The encyclopedias of my youth are entirely worthless at this point. Almost all he music in the world is at the tip of my fingers. I can look up and contact many old friends at will, or for a small fee.

The ubiquity of information is, overall, a good thing, if one is wise. Lost, though, is a lot of the heart and soul, the human-ness that went into establishing and maintaining connections and in creating new information and art to add to that which already exists. We have been digitized and de-humanized, to some extent. Futurist will argue that this is the next step in evolution, but when the tool becomes the user and the user becomes the tool (I’m looking straight at you, Facebook), are we evolving or are we surrendering growth to and becoming subjected to those who are wielding the tools, that is, wielding us. Your information online is not your own. You are fooling yourself if you don’t think you’re being fed information and influenced every time you start up a web-browser.

Again, though, I’m not a luddite. I’m not here to convince you that you should give up technology. I love it.

Still, something has been lost. And I feel it. I feel it in my soul. Just before Michael Curtis announced his initiative, I had sent a couple of snail mail letters out to friends of mine – good friends, close friends who I initially “met” online, but have since met in person several times. Friends that I leaned on when my parents died, even. These are not cursory relationships.

Yet so many of my online relationships are cursory. This is just a question of statistics – I get it. I’ve got almost 5,000 followers on Twitter. I can’t follow all of them every day. I’d have no life at all. So I cull my “must check on” list to 150 people. Still, that’s 150 people, the so-called “Dunbar’snumber” – the number of people that one can realistically maintain stable social relationships. And that’s just on Twitter. Add in Facebook, Instagram, and now MeWe (acknowledging that there is some overlap) and it’s still just . . . too . . . much.

When I sent those letters and when I received Michael’s little newsletter, I felt CONNECTED. And that’s what I long for, feeling really, truly connected in meaningful ways to interesting people whom I love. I also want to feel connected with myself! So often, I lose myself in social media, and I mean that in all the worst ways. I lose time, I lose focus on my existential being here and now, I get distracted from those with whom I want to build the strongest relationships, and I don’t take the critical, soul-feeding time I need to be creative and let my mind wander and expand on its own, away from the noise of social media.

In time, I’m going to probably abandon Facebook. I need to be on there now, because of the church responsibilities I mentioned above. But I will only be in my current position for two more years, after which I plan on really ramping down on FB usage and maybe just leaving it altogether. As it is, I really only go on to wish someone happy birthday or to see pictures of my grandson that my daughter has posted. Even then, though, the distraction, the hook, is waiting there, just off to the side, to drag me down into a fugue of wasted time and empty conversations, away from my creative energies, away from my analog self.

Twitter seems to be about my speed, and I don't see myself leaving it for a while. But I am careful to cull those who I follow, but who don’t follow me, unless I feel really compelled to do so. There are certain artists and thinkers and book publishers who I will follow that will never follow me (Nick Cave, Useke Ueno, I’m looking at you two), and I’m fine with that. But by and large, I am purging Twitter of those who just want to advertise to me or who don’t provide me something meaningful to me.

MeWe is a work in progress. I’m connected to far fewer people than I was on G+, and this is a bit of a disappointment, because gamers are my crew, so to speak. But I’m okay with thinning the herd a bit, too. That let’s me concentrate on those who fill my heart, head, and soul.
Instagram is a clean interface, but I've gone into it really limiting who I follow, for reasons that should be apparent by now, if not by the end of this post. 
Pinterest is a great place for collecting images. But definitely not a good social media platform. I consider it more of an idea dumping ground than anything. 
Tumblr I hardly use specifically because it is way too easy to become enwrapped there. I pretty much just don't go there anymore, and I'm happier and more fulfilled for it.
For a time, I was really, really into Goodreads as my preferred method of social media. I don't quite know why I got away from that. How cool is it to be able to connect with people about books. You'll always have something to talk about there, and I've developed some great, real life relationships via Goodreads. Goodreads stays! In fact, if I were to cut down my social media list dramatically, Goodreads would be the last thing to go.
I'm hoping that clearing a bit more space in my analog life by cutting out some virtual life will also free me up to do what I love most: writing and gaming and reading and hiking and learning to play that darned guitar, as well as spending time with my wife, kids, and grandson, as well as those friends who are in proximity (or travelling to bring me in proximity with those friends). I need to interact directly with the world. And the internet is not the world. It's a mask. I'm ready to begin clawing off the mask.

What lies ahead? I’m not sure. Changes, definitely. But not all at once. Consider this post a declaration of intent and a beginning. I’m not abandoning the internet, no, far, far from it. I’ve developed many real and lasting friendships there. But the internet is a starting point for me, now. Not an end in and of itself. It’s a place to test the waters, but not a place to dive to the bottom. I want to see who is out there and what they have to offer, but you’ll find me concentrating on far fewer people, far more deeply than before. If you feel like maybe I’ve been inattentive to you online, maybe it’s time for you to reach out a bit, too, huh? Leave me a message here with your Email address, for starts. Then let’s exchange snail mail addresses. Of course, I won’t be able to take up correspondences with everyone, but we might just strike it rich and be rewarded with getting to know each other better than the virtual masks we both wear online. I’ll start. Here’s my snail mail (which I will keep up until some doofus does something stupid, but I’m willing to take that chance), coded to screw with bots:

1^7^1^8 W^e^b^e^r D^r

M^a^d^i^s^o^n^, W^I 5^3^7^1^3

U^S^A

Send me a letter. Or a postcard. Or knickknacks. Whatever you like (so long as it’s legal and not obscene, please). I’ll get something back in the mail to you until I can’t afford the time or postage anymore.

And, of course, feel free to ping me at all the usual social media. Just remember that you’re up against thousands of other people and all their potential distractions. Your chances of getting my attention are infinitely larger via snail mail. Now, I’m off to send another SASE to Michael!

3 comments:

  1. Great entry, Forrest. Also, sorry to hear about your parents. I have avoided social media for the most part except for G+ and now I don't know where to go. It honestly might be nowhere. Then again, I just heard about this website called My Space . . . .

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, on all accounts. My Space . . . hmm. that might just be a hit!

      Delete
    2. Thank you, on all accounts. My Space . . . hmm. that might just be a hit!

      Delete