The Trouble with Technology

Technology is supposed to make things easier for us, yet I continually feel that some things are a little bit harder or more time consuming. There’s a big assumption that most people have a base knowledge of how technology works and that programs, or applications, are designed to be idiot proof and intuitive. However, the base level of knowledge that one needs to effectively use and manage technology has never been established.

When I started my blog in 2013, many people told me to use WordPress to build it because it was so easy and intuitive to use. I wouldn’t consider myself a techie, but I do think I’m a tick above average. This is mostly because I had to take courses on it for my library degree. Also, I know if I have to do anything related to technology it’s going to require a lot of time and patience so I set aside several hours to work through any tasks.

Armed with only a rudimentary understanding of how to build a website, I figured with enough time and YouTube videos I could build my blog. I did eventually get the thing built, but it took me a lot of hours. I had no idea how many little steps were required before I could even start to build the blog, such as purchasing a domain name (e.g., thedeletist.com), setting it up with a hosting service, and installing everything.

I spent a lot of afternoons systematically going through all the settings on the backend of my blog and then hitting refresh on my viewing screen to see what the effect was. Although the basic design of my blog has remained the same, I’ve hired two separate techies over the years to do some things on the backend. Needless to say, I didn’t find WordPress easy and intuitive to use.

In a lot of ways, many things with technology have gotten easier and more intuitive. For example, I remember it used to be complicated to add a new network printer to my computer. Now it takes a few clicks. Some apps, like Google Docs, are incredibly easy to start using without any instruction. However, with many other things, I think it’s assumed that the average user knows more than s/he really does about using technology, leading to a lot of wasted time and frustration.

Digital Detritus

One problem with having so many options available for storing, managing, and sharing digital content is that it requires more effort to remember where everything is stored. That is, if you decide to use more than one option.

I’m always curious to try out new applications for digital content. Most of the time, I start using one because somebody recommends it or I’m required to use it for a project. If I like it, I start using it more and “move” in to customize the work space. However most of the time, I only use these apps for a short-period of time and ultimately end up abandoning them, leaving my digital detritus behind.

For example, there was the time I felt inspired to try out Evernote. People raved about it. I installed the app on my iPad and figured I would give it a trial run during a vacation a few years ago. After my vacation, I had barely used Evernote. Additionally, nobody I worked with, or shared with, used it regularly so I lost interest.

The other challenge is that not everybody uses the same applications, which also makes it complicated to manage content. As a consultant, I often have to adopt whatever tools or applications my clients use, even if it’s just for a single proejct. If I’m collaborating with other consultants, I will often use whatever s/he is using, or we’ll decide on something together.

I do my best to clean up my files at the end of a project, but most of the time I’m in a shared space. This means I can’t just delete things according to my strict standards but instead must respect the guidelines of the client or colleague. Sometimes, if I’m working with other people, we don’t all finish the project at the same time which also makes it complicated to clean up the documents. Typically if I’m going to clean up my files, I like to do it as part of my close-out process when I remember things clearly, rather than months later when I’ve already starting working on something else.

It’s easy to create anything, anywhere, anytime, but actually managing and caring for that content over time is much harder. I feel irritated leaving so many digital traces behind and dealing with duplicate content, but it’s hard to control with so many available options and rapidly changing technology.

A Pop of Pink

Each spring it’s always refreshing to see bright flashes of pink amongst the yellows, light greens, pale blues, and whites. The colors that signify the start of a new season, or at least the illusion of one I remember experiencing as a child.

At this time of the year I appreciate how my senses are reawakened to new sights, smells, and sounds. Even though this spring has been particularly cold, gray, and rainy, I feel encouraged by the force of the plants and animals. They are determined to appear even when the weather is not cooperating. 

Burst of color from the rhododendron in my mother’s backyard. If you look carefully you can see a bee.

A personal favorite are the cherry blossoms. The smell is mild and delicate, a perfect match for the soft, fluffy flowers. Even in a place like New York City, the cherry blossoms come out in force providing a colorful contrast to the concrete and brick surrounding the trees. 

Even in NYC the blossoms thrive in the spring.

Equally appreciated are the fresh sounds each spring brings. Birds chirp throughout the day, some of them even start as early as 4:30am! My ears have become attuned to the gentle, muted cooing of pigeons looking for a place to roost. Even with my windows closed and music playing, I can hear those blasted pigeons conversing about potential nesting spots on my balcony. So far I’ve managed to make my space uninviting for them, but I remain vigilant. 

Aside from the birds, the other spring sounds I look forward to hearing are the buzzing of bees and the happy chatter of people enjoying the sunshine, warm weather, and a chance to be outside after a long Canadian winter. The other day I walked through the park near my house and witnessed a group of people participating in a drum circle with singing and dancing. That’s definitely something I don’t see in winter.

The gardens near my house announce the arrival of spring by planting loads of brightly colored and sweetly scented flowers such as tulips, hyacinths, lilies, hydrangeas, and many others I can’t yet name.

The new display of spring flowers at the gardens near my home.

You may still be out these days wearing your winter parka, or warm clothing, but take a moment to appreciate the force of spring. The fresh yellow-green buds bursting from the trees, the fluffy, bright blossoms, and all the new bird songs.

Iceland: Dark City to Goðafoss

After leaving the Tectonic Plates, we finally enjoyed slices of the geothermal-baked bread, slathered with slabs of fresh Icelandic butter. The bread was dense with a slighty sweet flavor to it. Fortified, we headed out to trek through Dimmuborgir, loosely translated as the Dark City. A mass of oddly shaped lava formations towered high above the trail.

Descending into the Dark City

As we descended into the Dark City, we were told to be on the lookout for elves, huldúfolk (hidden people), and trolls. Snow covered many of the rising structures which only enhanced the shapes and shadows. Faces, figures, animals, and other familiar shapes appeared before us with each turn we took, further into the Dark City. Our imaginations ran wild. I could’ve stayed all day in Dimmuborgir exploring, but sadly we only got an hour to look around.

Two lovers kissing or someone raising a fist

Following Dimmuborgir, we headed to another other-worldly site on Iceland, pseudo-craters. The only places one can find pseudo-craters are Iceland, Hawaii, and Mars! Pseudo-craters are formed when water gets trapped beneath lava and creates a crater-like structure from the steam and pressure building up.

A panorama vista of a lake appeared showcasing deep indentations in the earth blanketed in grass and mosses. In certain places, fuzzy white sheep dotted landscape. Most of them were happy to graze as we traipsed by taking our pictures.

It had already been a full day, filled with marvels, but one stop remained on the way back, the majestic Goðafoss, or Waterfall of the Gods. The waterfall was given the name around 1000 A.D. Bending under pressure to convert to Christianity, the community leader at the time threw symbols of the pagan gods the Icelandic people were worshipping into the waterfall. This was to symbolize their intent to start following the new religion.

The majestic Goðafoss

After a full day, we returned to the hotel, freshened up and got ready for a home-hosted meal prepared by a local Icelandic family in Akureyri. Along with a delicious meal, we got to chat with our hosts and learn about Iceland from a resident’s perspective.

The following day we headed out early for a whale watching tour and fishing. Stay tuned!

Read more about the trip to Iceland here.

Piling System

Often when I get overwhelmed with clutter, my first line of defense is a piling system. To clarify, my definition of a “piling system” means that I organize my things contextually, or based on function (i.e., what they are doing), rather than putting things that look the same all together.

Some years ago I started using an old shoe box to aggregate all the items I wanted quick access to for decorating and repairing my apartment. The box contains a hammer, screwdriver, exacto knives, three different kinds of tape (electrical, duct, and painter’s), tape measurer and a box of hooks and nails for hanging things on the wall, among other things.

It may not seem like these things go “together” because I have wall paper/fabric samples, exacto knives, different kinds of tape and some tools. If you went to a hardware store you would likely find all of these things in their own aisle. However, for my purposes it made perfect sense to “pile” them together. Usually when I’m fixing something around the house, I need more than one of the things in my quick access box. Before I created the pile I spent a lot of time locating each item.

There were a couple of reasons contributing to this:
1. I hadn’t figured out my system yet, so a few things were still “homeless.”
2. I was using these things constantly and it was taking too much time to put everything away, wherever it was being stashed at the moment, and then retrieve it again. Consequently, things were left in random places resulting in time wasted to find them.

Having the quick access box made it easy to find the things I needed instantly and put them away when I was finished.

Other times with paperwork, electronic documents or emails, I create piles (or folders) based on actions. For example, I set up folders in all of my email addresses to collect tax-related documents. Then when I’m ready to list my expenses, or assemble my documents, they’re easy to locate. I have a similar system set up on my computer to manage tax-related documents.  As a small business owner, and someone who has to file cross-border taxes, it amounts to a lot of paperwork!

The piles may not look neat, but I know where everything is. Finding things and putting them away is quick and effortless.

Rise of Self-Care Apps

Everywhere I turn it seems more and more people are using things like watches, fit bits, and other devices to help them with self-monitoring. Devices and apps that prompt us when to breathe deeply or stretch to reduce stress levels. Apps that monitor how much sleep we get each night and the quality of it.

For women, there are apps to monitor menstrual cycles and ovulation or to help plan for egg freezing. I remember speaking to one woman who said her app knew when she was getting her period before she did. Several days before her cycle began, she would start receiving ads for products. Maybe some of you are reading this and thinking such a reminder might actually be kind of useful. But there are bigger things to consider. In order for those ads to be sent means that your personal health information about your monthly cycle is being shared with corporations.

Last month I was listening to a webinar on “The Legal Implications of Collecting Data” by Montaña & Associates. I was horrified to learn that certain apps used to monitor heart rate information were automatically transmitting the collected data to Facebook!  Without the user’s consent or knowledge that this was happening! The data was being transmitted to Facebook even when the user wasn’t on Facebook.

I think many of these tracking apps can be amazing and really useful. I’ve tracked a lot of these kinds of things manually but I’m sure it could be a lot more precise with technology. However,  I’m terrified to use them specifically because I’m nervous about the privacy implications. I don’t want corporations or Facebook knowing how many hours of sleep I got, when my period is coming, or my average heart rate. I don’t feel this way because I’m trying to hide something or because I feel like I’m doing something wrong. I feel this way because these are private and personal things about me.

I can’t help but think that if we turned off our devices more often, we probably wouldn’t need to rely on them for things like self-care and tracking. The irony of using self-care apps to get back what we gave away, or lost, by using our devices so much in the first place. What’s wrong with paying attention to our own body to monitor it?