Spring Cleaning, Sanitizers, and Sanity

As so many of us are now in social isolation in an attempt to “flatten the curve” of Covid-19, being cooped up in the same home all day can feel a bit stifling. I always feel especially antsy to get outside and socialize when the sun shines and the weather warms up. But this year is different and requires a new approach.

Once the novelty of binge watching and procrastibaking wears off, this could be a good opportunity to do some spring cleaning and sanitizing. Start chipping away at all those annoying, nagging piles of stuff. Go through your closets, weed out the books you know you will never read, and assess your junk drawer(s). (Note: I love a good junk drawer or three, but it’s a good idea to go through them every once in a while. Read more here.)

I find purging can be a great way to work through many emotions that might be bottled up such as anger, angst, frustration, loneliness, depression, etc. Cleaning after a purge can be a very fruitful and productive way to use up all the anxious energy generated worrying about the virus and the impacts.

Plus, once you purge some stuff, it’ll be easier to establish a quick and easy sanitizing process for the few times you venture out of your house.

All of these things can help you stay sane when you’re in the same place for extended periods of time. If nothing else, you can feel some satisfaction by crossing a few annoying “to-dos” off your list. Or maybe even purge enough stuff that drawers close again. Or find it easier to locate what you need, when you need it.

Use the time now to make space for all the things you want once we can go out again. This applies to electronic spaces, too.

As always, The Deletist has some tips to get started.

  1. Start with something easy – go for the quick wins to build confidence and maintain motivation.
  2. Be elite and delete, save strategically. Define your criteria for what to save/keep and use that to guide you through your purging projects.
  3. If you’re a procrastibaker, make something delicious to munch on while you work.

For more tips and tricks, see my other blogs posts on Spring Cleaning, Productivity, or Deletion. Or order The Art of Making Space: Choosing Quality Over Quantity.

Social Distancing in the Digital Age

Across the globe people are being encouraged to practice social distancing to slow down the spread of Covid-19. In the digital age, this should be easier than ever with so many technological options available. However, a lack of planning, education/training, and glitchy software exposes the flaws in this system. In my experience, this applies to both personal and professional interactions.

I’m a big fan of telecommuting. It can be wonderful for productivity, plus it reduces commute time meaning I’m more rested. When working on contracts as a consult, I was accustomed to working remotely and connecting with clients on an as-needed basis. Some clients, who were not technologically savvy, or more old fashioned, would sometimes require me to appear onsite for meetings. One time I was even flown across the country to present a final report to the Board, which lasted a total of 20 minutes. It was a waste of my time and a lot of money for something that could have easily been accomplished with video conferencing.

Other challenges with working remotely have included things like the technology failing on one side or the other. The issue that always bugged me the most was when employees had the technology installed to connect remotely, but were not trained how to use it. Some months ago I had to call in for a meeting that required screensharing. One of the attendees had never used Skype before and was unable to launch it in time for our meeting.

In general, I find it much easier to connect with people remotely on a personal level, but not as enjoyable. I don’t think it’s because the technology is any easier to use, but perhaps people are more motivated to learn how to use something for personal gain.

While I prefer connecting remotely for work by calling in for meetings, I would rather socialize in person. I’m appreciative for all the ways that technology has enabled me to stay in touch with loved ones who live far away, but it’s not the same as seeing them in person. And I’m not even sure some of my social activities can be replicated digitally, such as playing in an orchestra. And what about people who play team sports?

At least for the next few weeks, we’ll have to adjust to having “virtual visits.”

The Spread of Contagion

As the spread of Covid-19 inches closer towards being declared a pandemic, it’s fascinating to watch the communications. The phrase “going viral” is literally being played out in real time with the threat of an actual virus.

Before people travelled so routinely and often, or through many different available modes, viruses likely spread more slowly. And they were probably easier to contain. Now, it’s easy to see how quickly a virus can spread, similar to how fast something can go viral on social media. People are moving around the globe, traveling faster and more frequently than in previous times. The same is true of information, and its cousins misinformation and disinformation, shooting around the globe in seconds.

In one article I read that each person infected with Covid-19 will pass it to something like 2.2 other people. When I thought about how information is communicated, it seems to me the “viral” spread of messages could be transmitted more generously. Each tweet, post, meme, photo, etc. can be shared with dozens, hundreds, thousands, or even millions of others in a matter of seconds. Imagine if a real virus was this virulent and fast moving. We would be wiped out in no time.

In some ways, it’s impossible to separate the viral aspects of communications from the threat of the real virus, any virus, not just Covid-19. In times of crises, the communications and reporting of such events is critical. It’s imperative for people to understand what is going on, how to prepare or react, etc. from credible and up-to-date resources. However, in the age of social media, it’s easy for the wrong information to be disseminated broadly and accepted as truth. This can make the situation much worse, or give it the appearance of being better than it actually is.

When a crises occurs, it’s common for people to consult sources like the media, credible organizations, or governments for instructions. It’s challenging to know who to trust or follow with so many different messages flying around, trying to keep up with a virus that is likely still under tested and under reported. This is combined with other factors like world leaders who make inaccurate and/or misleading statements. Or governments who try to suppress or censor social media messaging from their citizens and control what gets printed where and by whom. This is the other side of what it means to “go viral.”


When I unpacked my father’s Faulkner collection I couldn’t help but notice how enjoyable it was to touch the old books. Books that he had also held in his hands. Or maybe that he read in special places, or in special ways. I enjoy reading and eating, one scenario when an ereader has a distinct advantage over paper because it can be propped up or held with one hand. It’s also much easier to wipe off crumbs. Another favorite of mine is to read  curled up in a comfy chair.

I mostly saw my father reading upright in a chair, often with a fat hardcover book spread across his lap. Or sometimes in bed before falling asleep. I also enjoy reading in bed, but usually when I first wake up. This is one of those times when I prefer paper or the flat screen of an ereader to any other type of screen. 

Although I no longer remember, or think about it, I suspect I probably enjoy reading so much because it was something I did with my parents. A friend of my father’s once told me a story of how I “learned” to read. According to the friend, my father was about to read me a bedtime story. I grabbed the book from him and said, “I’ll read it, Daddy.” He was never sure if I was actually reading or retelling the story from memory, but he was pleased. 

Sharing and reading books with people, especially babies and children, is a wonderfully rewarding experience. A benefit of sharing physical books with little ones is that the books are durable. Even if a book does get destroyed, the damage is limited to one item. If an ereader gets wrecked, the whole library is gone. This is one scenario when paper has an advantage over digital. 

When I was cleaning out my childhood bedroom, I saved a few very beaten up children’s books. The ones with which I had the strongest attachments. When I could still hear my father’s funny voices and comments just by looking at the covers. Yet another advantage of paper books is that they can be owned and opened decades later without anything special, qualities that can’t be replicated so easily in the digital world. Most importantly, they can awaken fond memories, to be be relived or passed on to the next generation. 

Big Dog… Little Dog was one of my father’s favorites. He was still reminding me of its message when I was in my 20’s!

Searching Troubles with a Virtual Assistant

So far my experiences with virtual assistants (VA) have been pretty limited. By virtual assistant I mean something like Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa, rather than a person helping remotely. However, I know a lot of people who use them. They often tell me about their favorable experiences.

The hands-free, voice commands are tempting to me, but I can’t seem to get past the creep factor. Or my paranoia that the VA is always listening (and secretly recording) whatever I’m saying. And my strong suspicion that whatever is recorded never gets deleted.

Even if I could get past all of that, I have serious issues with the searching. If I pose a question to my VA, how can I be assured that the answer is good quality, or credible. Sites like Wikipedia, or those owned by private companies, often show up as the top search results. Are these the kinds of resources a VA will be using to reply to my queries?

As a trained information professional (i.e., librarian), I’m skilled at validating resources. I would never rely on something like Wikipedia for an answer, without confirming it in another source.

Using a VA to get answers keeps me in the dark about where they came from. I’m unable to confirm the source or make my own selection as to which one looks the most trustworthy. It’s healthy to question sites that could have proprietary interests or bias. But if the answer is verbally communicated to me, I have no way of knowing what other options were available.

I also have questions about how the search history is maintained. For example, what if I wanted to refer back to one of the responses, where would this information be stored? If I look it up on my own, I can always bookmark a site, take a screencap, or download the information.

I’m sure for certain kinds of generic, common knowledge questions (i.e., weather forecast, specific dates, etc.), the VA could be useful and accurate. I think the key to getting a credible, valid response from a VA is being selective about which questions to ask it in the first place.

Liking No “Likes” on Instagram

Sometime last year, Instagram decided to start experimenting with removing the “likes” on posts. This means the person who posted the image/video could see how many likes s/he received, but the number would not be available to others. The idea is to eliminate the competitive nature of instagram and get users to focus on content, rather than posting sensational items purely to acquire “likes.”

Instagram, a social media app owned by Facebook, is a platform for people to share images and videos. It includes features such as filters or using “Stories” to help brands and individuals promote themselves or connect with others. Another prominent part of Instagram, similar to almost every other social media app, is the ability to “like” something and to see how many likes a certain post has obtained.

For a long time I’ve been following the different social media apps in the news, always curious to see what the impact is on the people who use them. In 2015, I posted about the use of Rinsta and Finsta Instagram accounts in a blog, “Hiding in Plain Sight.” Rinsta is for the “real” public-facing Instagram account. Finsta, the “fake” Instagram account is ironically the one used for posting unedited and spontaneous content to a select group of intimates.

What’s always been interesting to me about social media apps, is how much effort and time is spent in curating the perfect illusion and posting it at the optimal time to acquire the maximum number of views. There’s nothing wrong with wanting your content to get noticed and seen, in some ways that’s the point of using social media. However, a minor obsession has evolved around obtaining “likes.” It has become a status symbol used to gauge value, popularity, and quality. The more likes, the better (i.e., more viral) the content is, which for many is the ultimate goal.

As I learned more about this aspect of social media, the visibility of the “likes,” I often thought that removing this number from view would change the entire landscape for the better. Lots of likes may entice people to click on a post, simply because it seems popular. And I’m sure the number of likes influences the ranking and visibility of posts in newsfeeds and search results.

I’m curious to learn how Instagram’s experiment of removing visible “likes,” will change this social media’s landscape and influence. Stay tuned!