Friday, January 31, 2020

Social Media Pre-withdrawal Anxiety

In a few short hours, I will, as previously-threatened, stop using Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook for 1 month. My only "social media" will be Goodreads, and is that really social media, by it's strictest definition? Sorry, but you purists will have to suck it up. I'm not bailing on books and discussions surrounding them for a month! I'm not a Luddite!

As I was driving home from work tonight thinking about the upcoming "social media fast" (while listening to a podcast and some music of course, and seeing how good of gas mileage I could get by driving smart - 33.4 mpg!), I thought about the many projects I have lined up (a few of which include some soon-to-be-posts to this blog that I have been putting off for literally years). I imagined sewing the patches on my esoteric denim, writing my long-overdue post about my and my wife's trip to England, Austria, and Germany, reading more, and doing some cool RPG stuff (think Nick Cave and David Bowie meet Dungeon-Crawl Classics and Carcosa, respectively), I was hit by a wave of anxiety.

This wasn't your "I forgot to do laundry" level of anxiety. This was "I might need to take the next exit" level of anxiety and it seemed to come out of nowhere. Thankfully, I didn't panic, just got into the slow lane and enjoyed a more leisurely pace (after all, how do you think I got 33.4 mpg?).

I thought about this for a while. Obviously, something was bugging me, badly, and it had to do with the upcoming fast. But what was it? Am I worried about missing the news? Nope. I listen to NPR every morning when I wake up. Besides, after the travesty in the US Senate and the idiocy of Brexit, I don't have a taste for much news right at the moment. Was I worried about not being heard? Nope. I've got this here blog and Goodreads for that. Maybe I was worried about missing something important? No. One of my intentions doing the fast was to miss stuff, even some important stuff. Was it fear of boredom? Oh, no, not at all - I have PLENTY to do, stuff that I really want to do, for the month.

Then, it dawned on me. I am anxious about being "alone". Now, I enjoy a good flesh and blood social life. My wife is great and, after almost thirty years of marriage, we are still together and enjoying marriage, even with its ups and downs. We have a date night every Friday night (okay, this week's was last night, when we went to see Riverdance at the Overture Center - it was awesome). And I am very involved as a volunteer with my church group. I get on google hangouts (long may it live) every Tuesday to do RPGing. And I (usually) hit one Wednesday night game a month, in addition, and a Saturday game occasionally. Throw in all the events we have going on, a monthly date night with friends, kids and grandkids coming and going . . . you get the idea. I am far from alone.

Where did this fear of being alone come from, then? Ironically, I think it came from overusing social media in the first place. I have an addiction. I am an addict. And I need a freaking break.

When we visited England last July, we went to one of the most beautiful little villages I have seen in my entire life, the picturesque village of Bibury, I had been wanting to visit this village for many, many years. My computer desktop background was a great black and white photo of the beautiful stone houses known as "Arlington Row" way back in the early 2000's (I'll post my own images this month, though they're not great photography). Our tour guide, Alistair, one of the great guides for the (VERY much strongly-recommended) Kooky Cotswold Tours, dropped us off and we wandered for a good half hour or so, just bathing in the relaxing quaintness of it all. It really is a little slice of heaven.

When we met back up with Alistair, I mentioned to him that I had been looking forward to seeing this sight for ages. I asked if anyone lived in the cottages (I thought they were publicly-held-type buildings) and he mentioned that people lived in them. I expressed my forlorn desire to live in one of those cottages, and Alistair surprised me by remarking "yeah, it's beautiful and all, but it would be kind of like living in a fishbowl, wouldn't it? All those people coming by all day long wanting to peek inside your windows and strangers constantly taking photos of your house. I couldn't live with that." I told him I hadn't thought about that. As we drove on to go see a couple more lovely towns, including Stow-on-the-Wold, we remarked at how lovely these towns were, and Alistair remarked again that, though they are beautiful, living in them would feel like living in a fishbowl.

I thought a lot about this as we continued on, the thoughts not diminishing my enjoyment of the peace at all, but the cautionary phrase "living in a fishbowl" continued to resonate with me.

About halfway home from work today, after my initial anxiety attacks, it dawned on me: I've become inured to living in a virtual fishbowl. Like it or not, when you are on social media, all kinds of eyes are on you. I find myself sometimes taking on a bit of a performative persona, like I'm on stage (and I suffer from horrible stage-fright!) and "another me" comes out. Not someone who is entirely NOT me, but someone with both exaggerated and overly-subdued characteristics that don't always reflect how I am in person (though, to some extent, they do - they're just magnified or minimized by that performative feeling).

So, really, it's time for me to take a break. I'll be back in March. At least back on Twitter. Facebook? Probably not. Instagram? I'll probably mostly lurk there, like I do now. And, after my great purge of Twitter a moth ago, I'm probably going to do another great purge. I'm under a thousand people I'm following now. Depending on how I feel when I come back, I might cut another 500, who knows? Maybe 700? I dunno. In any case, I'll be back, but . . . cautiously. I don't want to become addicted to being a performer again. That's really not me. And, most of all, I want my time back. I want to be able to be bored and have to find something to do. I want to slow my pace, rather than thinking I have to  be checking Facebook and Twitter in between every other thing I'm doing. I need some breathing room, and this is me pushing clutter away, starting at midnight tonight. Don't worry - you'll be the beneficiary of some cool stuff, as a result. And I'd love to hear what you have to say in the comments section of each post. Seriously! Because while I don't want to be in the fishbowl, I do want to stay engaged with old friends and new and interesting people. Except bots. Bots suck.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Carpe Diem

As you may have gathered from my recent reading, I'm feeling a bit of social media fatigue. I honestly think that the internet *feels* fundamentally different for me in the last couple of years. The decease of Google+ and the incredible RPG community that existed there is one of the primary factors. We just haven't quite gathered in other places like we did there. And, frankly, none of the other options excite me nearly as much.

There's also the matter of having a lot of things on my "want to do" list that don't get done because it's just way too easy and comfortable to slip into the worlds of social media where I don't need to do much work to be entertained. But, you know, I miss having to work to be entertained. And I've got a lot I want to do, some analog, some digital.

Last summer, my wife and I took a trip to Europe. While I didn't completely disengage, I did take a big step back. And it felt great. I was more "in the moment" than I had been in a while. I realized that I really miss that. I need more Carpe Diem in my life, and I can't find it when my eyeballs are on the screen all the time.

Now, this isn't a Swan Song to online life. Far from it. In fact, many of the projects I want to work on will show on this blog. I need to document our trip to Europe, for example. And I now have all the patches I need for my "esoteric denim" project that I've been teasing on twitter. I keep a bullet journal, and there are three or four projects, some of which will only take a matter of a couple of hours to do, that keep popping up as undone. These things, which I find incredibly rewarding, are slipping through the cracks of time. Ironically, many of them will manifest here on this blog, but because of my social media time, they don't. get. done.

So, it's time to do. During the month of February, my social media will consist of two things: Goodreads (because it is a part of my core belief that reading is fundamental to an enjoyable and informed life) and this blog (because many of my undone projects have to do with blog posts I've been wanting to do for years now). You won't see me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. I may never come back to Facebook. In fact, it is likely that my account will sit there, moribund, for a long time. I still want it up so that old friends can regain contact, but I'm nuking the app from my phone, for sure. Twitter I like, and I will be back, though I've cut the number of people I'm following from over 4,000 to (just) under 1,000. And Instagram - I'll stay there, but mostly as a lurker to watch my favorite artists, tattooists, etc. I suppose I will post comments on youtube once in a while, since I listen to music constantly on there. But the only real "social media" I'll be using in February will be Goodreads. So, if you really want to hear from me, those who have my snail mail, my phone number, and my email addy (you know who you are) can contact me, no problem.

And, of course, you can check back here. I promise there will be more content here. And when I'm not working on blog projects, I'll be working on that esoteric denim, working out (I've caught the exercise bug the last few months and I feel great!!!), writing gaming materials (watch the blog!) and short stories, and finally nailing down the handful of songs on guitar that I've begun working on, but haven't put in enough discipline to master. Oh, yeah, and I need to get ready to run games at Garycon!

So much to do, and, as I learned when my parents both passed away within a couple of months of each other back in 2018 - LIFE IS SHORT!

Carpe Diem, indeed!!!

As a reminder, if you want to contact me via real, hard, physical mail, you can do so at this place, minus the carrots, of course!:

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

Saturday, January 18, 2020

gun, with occasional music

Gun, With Occasional MusicGun, With Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For the truly sick individuals that pay attention to my meanderings on Goodreads, you'll note that I frequently take notes as I'm reading. Except when I don't. And I didn't, much, while reading this. Why? Because 1) I was too engrossed in the story, 2) things happened so fast that I didn't have time to process them, and 3) I have no good way of actually conveying what I thought as I read.

So, "why", you ask "are you even writing this review, Forrest?" - because: Duty. You see, back in 2017, I vowed to become more intentional in my reading, to really only list on my "to-be-read" list books that I intended to buy and actually read. Because I am a slow reader, that meant cutting that list dramatically, which I have done. But part of being intentional in reading, for me, is reviewing each book, as difficult as it might be, and as craptacular as the review might be. And so, here we are.

I have to thank two of my favorite Goodreaders, Glenn Russell and Dan Schwent, for pointing me towards this genre-blurring novel. I am a big fan of genre-blurring, and I love it when it's done right, and really, really hate it when it's not. Here, Lethem has a winner. When I first read the blurb on the book "Marries Chandler's style and Philip K. Dick's vision," I was intrigued, but wary. I've heard that kind of praise before, and . . .

In this case, the claim is accurate. Take one part Dashiell Hammett, one part Raymond Chandler, one part Philip K. Dick (minus the mysticism), play some Big Bad Voodoo Daddy in the background, do a line of coke, and you are in the zone. The characters are fantastic, especially the narrator, who is as snarky as they get. The setting is caught somewhere between the 1940s and the "future" - honestly, I had something between the movie version of "The Big Sleep" and "Blade Runner" in my head, though the futuristic accouterments were not nearly as pervasive as in Ridley Scott's film. The thing that sets gun, with occasional music apart (besides it's intriguing title, which, you will note, is uncapitalized, at least on the cover) is the way that it interweaves seemingly disparate elements in such a way that they feel perfectly natural. An "uplifted" (not Lethem's term -I'm stealing it from the scifi hive mind) kangaroo as thug, babies who have been genetically accelerated into adulthood (except their heads, hence the term "Babyheads"), and the titular gun, with occasional music, all seem to be of a piece (okay, pun intended - i couldn't help myself, so shoot me). Nothing seems shoehorned in, which is often a shortcoming in such genre-blurring novels. No, this book is as smooth as butter.

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Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World

Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy WorldDigital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World by Cal Newport
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A little over a year ago, I posted an entry to my blog softly decrying the place that social media and screen time was playing in my life. A few months later, as I was preparing for a trip to Europe, I vowed to go without social media for two weeks while I was away (outside of texting my kids). I was . . . mostly successful. I was on very little, far less than "normal". And my strategy of taking a notebook with me and writing every night proved successful. But I didn't drop everything all the way.

Now, as I said in the blogposts referenced above, I am no luddite. Not by a long shot. Okay, so I'm not on the bleeding edge of technology, either, but I am facile in the use of technology and catch on fairly quickly.

But I do recall a time, many years ago, when I spent far less time online and was more satisfied with life, in general. I think that the quality of my online experience has diminished a great deal since those early days. Some of it has to do with the fact that those days were the "wild west" of the web when you could code your own (admittedly crappy) web page, you had to look hard to actually find information (remember webcrawler?), and the internet was far less homogenized.

So, I decided I'd give Newport's book a read. I was leaning this direction anyway (c.f., my blog posts), and I'm not one to just swallow people's advice, but I was curious what he had to say about "choosing a focused life in a noisy world". I expected to read a lambasting of those who spend time online, a hard stance against distracting technology, a flaggelant's guide to the evils of the internet.

I was pleasantly surprised to find this was not the case at all. Newport's arguments are measured and logical in a way that isn't derisive or condescending. It can be brutally honest, at times, and a touch too ascetic for my tastes. But only a touch. There is a lot here to learn from.

Rather than go through Newport's arguments, I'd like to present what I've done already and will be doing as a result of this book. First of all, my habits on Goodreads are not changing at all. In fact, I would expect to see more action out of me, rather than less. Because reading is one of my core values, and I need to feed those core values. And I love other readers, for the most part. Goodreads, despite it's difficulties, feeds my soul.

Facebook is dead to me. Yes, I'm there, but only to see cute pictures of my grandkids. I can do without Facebook, and am barely ever on there now. I keep a presence there so old high school friends can keep in touch and for family stuff, but I am now barely ever on there. Newport's book didn't start my process of leaving, but it definitely accelerated it.

I love Twitter. I know, there's a lot to hate, but I do love it. However, I have changed my presence there dramatically. I followed about 4,000 people at one time. I've cut that down to under 1,000 and feel pretty great about that. Because now I can actually see the posts my friends make and the free static is much diminished now. I spot more articles and art that I like (loving art is another core value of mine), much of which I missed before because of all the flotsam and jetsam surrounding the really good posts.

One habit I have changed on Twitter as a result of reading Newport's book is that I no longer "like" posts on Twitter. If I really like the post enough, I'll retweet it. Even better, if I really, really like the post, I will respond to the poster directly, rather than just clicking the little heart icon. I mean, really, who remembers who has "liked" their posts? Almost no one, in the long run. But I can recall some meaningful conversations that have happened between me and others on Twitter because I chose to respond and engage in real interaction rather than just satisfying my conscience by clicking like. I value those qualitatively-better conversations more and more as I avoid hitting the like button. This has made a huge difference in how I feel inside when I go online. Sounds corny, but it's true.

Next month is February. I plan on taking the month offline except for Goodreads and blog posts. I have several blog posts that I have promised myself (hello, bullet journal) I would create, but have not. It's easier to go around liking stuff than it is actually creating stuff. And far less satisfying . . .

I plan on re-engaging for that month as a creator. I have a denim jacket I got for Christmas that I'm going to sew over with patches I've bought. I will write more. I will read more. I will practice guitar more. I will RPG more. I will, in essence, live more. I will have to, in order to avoid boredom. Or, rather, to engage with and tackle boredom again. Then I'll come back and reassess my relationship with social media. You know, in some ways I really, really miss boredom. I need to go get into more trouble.

Again, Goodreads friends need not worry. I will be here. And for the few people who actually read my blog, there will be posts. Many more posts. I've got to fill all that extra time up.

Speaking of which, I need to do a few blog posts about my trip to Europe. I took lots of pictures . . . with my phone. See? I told you I wasn't a luddite!

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