Resetting the World Right Again

No matter how crazy and stressful things feel in the world, or in my life, at any moment, nothing resets the world right again like going for a swim.

The beach at Cherry Grove on Fire Island. One of my favorite spots.

As a long-time lap swimmer, one of my favorite moments of each swim is the initial lap, when I transform from a clumsy, awkward land dweller to a sleek, nimble water creature. As soon as I enter a body of water, my first move is to bounce a few times and then submerge myself, swimming underwater for as long as I can, before coming up for air. Once immersed, my body begins to loosen up, my spine undulating to power me through the water. My ears relax to listen to the soft, swishing sounds around me. Even a pool, which is a lot less interesting than natural bodies of water, still provides a soothing soundscape for my workout.

I relish the time I spend gliding beneath the water’s surface. Feeling the world around me, and my own inner monologues, instantly succumb to the soft muting the water provides. I instantly sync into my water rhythm, which now feels as natural to me as breathing on land. A lot of people tell me they get bored lap swimming, but it feels meditative to me. The steady pulsing of my arms and legs coordinating together with my breath to propel me through the water feels instinctual after so many years doing it.

Swimming in the Mediterranean.

After a swim, the world is set right again, as though I’ve hit a giant reset button. Problems are magically solved, I feel calm and ready to face the latest disastrous news, a long commute, or cranky, irritable people.

I’m definitely looking forward to the day when I can safely swim with AR (augmented reality) goggles to alter the pool into whatever scenery I want. Coral reefs (as they used to be before all the bleaching and climate change), Antarctic ice bergs with penguins darting around me, the lush underwater seascape of the Galapagos Islands, or a kelp forest teeming with otters.

Kelp forest in Northern Vancouver Island.

Listicles

I first heard the term “listicle” from a writer a few years ago. According to the dictionary, a listicle is “an article consisting of a series of items presented as a list.” I guessed that was the definition from the context of the conversation with the writer, but I was amazed to learn about their popularity.

As a professional writer, he was explaining to me that listicles were the thing that got published the most. He said they were wildly popular and it was all people wanted to read anymore, an easily digestible list of summarized things. Consequently, he spent a lot of his time writing listicles rather working on more substantive articles because he needed to make a living, and that meant producing things that would get published and liked/shared by others.

When I started examining my own habits and noticing the kinds of things I sometimes clicked on, sure enough, listicles were present. There was definitely some truth to what the writer was saying. In this era of information overload, having things presented in a succinct summary in a ranked order makes it easier to digest large quantities of information, but that doesn’t mean it’s good quality content. Or substantive enough to adequately educate one about a particular topic.

Admittedly, listicles can be kind of useful sometimes. Information is laid out with bold headers and sub-headers. It’s easy to understand the main points of the content with a quick skim of the content. I often find myself clicking on listicles for reviews, especially for restaurants or technology. Occasionally I’m attracted to a listicle for a quick overview on topics related to self-help or productivity strategies. It’s just enough to satisfy my curiosity and give me a launch pad to investigate something more thoroughly if my interest is piqued.

In an effort to find ways to process the vast amounts of information thrown at us on a daily (sometimes hourly!) basis, we’ve developed a method to distill information down into digestible pieces. However, when we rely on these watered-down versions for everything, perhaps we’re also sacrificing substance and quality. I’ve blogged about this before in the “Irony of the Information Age” and “Information Distillation.”

Listicles are definitely one option for dealing with information overload, but are we compromising too much?

Iceland: More Foss and Basalt Columns

We continued our exploration of Iceland’s southern coast by visiting some very special waterfalls (“foss” in Icelandic). The first waterfall, Seljalandsfoss, offered us the opportunity to see its majestic cascade of water from two viewpoints, front and back.

I approached the waterfall, already in awe of its power and relentless motion. It was smaller than many of the other waterfalls we’d already seen (read here and here), but still magnificent. Making sure my waterproof gear was tightly sealed (pants and jacket!), I began the climb to walk behind the falls for a completely different perspective.

Instantly I was transported to a scene straight out of a fantasy film. Mist enveloped me. The sound of the fall’s gushing water was mesmerizing. The continuously changing patterns of the flow was hypnotic to watch.

The fall was the main attraction, but the scenery surrounding it was also spectacular. Lush, velvety patches of moss and other greenery clung tenaciously to the rocks, flourishing from the never ending supply of moisture.

Damp and exhilarated, we headed to the next foss on the itinerary, Skogafoss. We couldn’t walk behind this one, but we could get as close as we wanted, provided we were prepared to get wet from the fall’s powerful spray. The momentum and vigor of the water was bedazzling. Though the photo mostly shows a lot of gray, the rocks around the falls were covered in a downy layer of richly hued mosses.

We boarded the bus and drove to Reynisfjara, a black sand beach where basalt columns reached high into the sky. Basalt columns are formed when lava cools over a period of time, causing the columnar shapes to form. We had seen these columns earlier in the trip from a distance, but at the beach we could walk up and touch them.

My photos of the whole area are not that impressive, but I got one close up that shows the geometric formations and patterns of the columns. Growing out of the rocks were tufts of grasses, flowers, and other kinds of greenery. And of course all of this was set against a stunning panorama of a black sand beach. I was surprised how soft and smooth the black sand felt in my fingers, like grabbing a handful of crushed silk.

Here’s a bonus picture of Reynisfjara.

Persona vs. Person

When we connect online, it can be difficult to tell if are we connecting with a persona or a person. In an online world fraught with misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda, it can be hard to discern who, or what, is behind those posts. A genuine person, a person pretending to be another person, an artificial being?

If you were to meet the person behind the messages, would that person match their online presence? Now, we also have to contend with the possibility that we may be chatting with or following bots, an automated program that is sometimes quite successful in imitating humans.

Online resources are plentiful and come in myriad options for us to connect with one another. We can join chat rooms or discussions with other like-minded people, even participating in ones specialized on an obscure or rare topic, like an uncommon disease. These can be life-saving and life-changing for people who live in remote or rural areas and my not have opportunities to bond with others like them.

We can also participate in online dating or social networking, posting to our friends and followers to make new “friends.” I tried online dating a few times. After being surprised more than once when I met the other person IRL (in real life), who turned out to be nothing like his profile, I started pushing to meet with potential dates right away.

Of course people can also show us their personas when we meet in person. However, when we meet face-to-face, we have the opportunity to rely on non-verbal cues and use all our senses to get a better idea of who this person is that we’re dealing with. This, of course, assuming that we still retain and develop our social skills as humans to make eye contact, converse in person, and learn how to interpret body language.

Facebook has a policy that people must use their real names when creating a profile. Variations and nicknames are allowed, with some guidelines. Even if we are supposed to use our real names on Facebook, does this mean that we act the same online as we do IRL? The trend seems to be that most people only post the best and brightest FOMO-inducing moments of their life online. In other words, a persona, the role we play online.

Lurking in the Dark Web

In the news coverage for the two latest shootings in the U.S. (El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH), the web-based communication forum 8chan keeps getting mentioned as a possible connection point with one of them. 8chan has long been known as a place where people can post and discuss ideas that are controversial or not politically correct.

In a previous post about The Rules of Global Language, I briefly questioned what happens to people when they are removed, or censored, from more mainstream platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Often, these people find another platform where they can gain support and encouragement for their ideas.

The kind of language posted on social media platforms, and thoughts around how to regulate, censor, or control it, are tricky problems to address. On one side, especially in North America, we subscribe to the idea of free speech (with some restrictions in specific contexts, for example, if it’s hateful or infringing on the rights of others). In some ways, it’s healthy to have dialogues of differing opinions out in the open where hateful and discriminatory thoughts can be discussed and refuted.

In library school, a professor of mine was fond of saying that sunlight is a powerful disinfectant. What she meant was that it’s healthy to discuss our ideas openly. However, this can’t and won’t happen when people lurk in the deep recesses of the dark web, secretly gaining support and momentum for their violent, objectionable ideas until they are ready for action. Unfortunately, the president’s tweets, a public, mainstream form of communication, only serves to validate some of these violent actions fomenting in the communication forums of the dark web.

On the other side, social media companies are increasingly looking for ways to censor, or remove, objectionable and controversial content from their platforms. Real people have been harmed from disinformation and propaganda being spread through these platforms. However, as discussed earlier, people removed from the mainstream end up in the dark web building strength, where nobody knows about them until the actions are performed, resulting in more senseless and violent deaths.

So how responsible is a communication forum, like 8chan, for some of these recent shootings? It’s true that the gunmen may have committed the crimes without the support or encouragement from a web-based forum, but would their ideas have been allowed to develop so fully? Or with so much encouragement?

Anatomy of Clutter

It’s always curious to me how and why clutter accumulates. I’m envious of those people who seem to keep their surfaces clean and free of clutter effortlessly. I can attain this standard for short bursts of time, but it requires huge efforts and constant vigilance on my part. Otherwise the piles grow until I reach a tipping point.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve been attacking the accumulations of clutter and stagnant build up. The neglected piles of paper that need to be dealt with, tossed, filed, or scanned and then tossed. Random collections of stuff that I seem to gather in bags and pockets as part of my day-to-day living. Things stashed in a corner somewhere to be tackled when I have more time or more energy. Or that have to wait for something else to happen before I can take action.

When I go on one of these binges, I have a few strategies that help keep me motivated and get me over the hump.

Firstly, I’m always curious to learn more about my habits and assess why build up seems to be happening in a certain place (see Clearing Out Clutter) or with a particular type of stuff. I like to observe, without judgement or criticizing myself, as a way to understand more about the root causes of the problems so I can figure out better systems. (Read Diagnosing Bad Habits to learn more.)

Secondly, I’m always striving to increase my efficiency, especially with tasks that I don’t enjoy doing like going through piles of papers. If I can figure out how to deal with something fully the first time I touch it, that’s a big accomplishment and ultimately helps in reducing the clutter build up.

For example, paper receipts are always part of the landscape. This indicates to me that I need a better system for processing receipts quickly. I need to have set criteria about which ones to save and for how long. I also need a place to save them that is easily accessible. Once I have the guidelines established and a system for managing the receipts, I can process them faster. Now, when I go through my daily collection of receipts, I have a quick method for processing them.

For more strategies and tips, check out posts on Spring Cleaning, Productivity, or Deletion (electronic build up).