The 400th Posting

Despite the craziness of the past year, I have regularly posted every Monday. Although it’s been challenging at times to make my deadline, I remain committed. It’s been a small focal point of normalcy and routine in an otherwise strange, topsy-turvy time.

These milestone posts are fun for me. They’re a chance to review what I discovered in the last year. This past year included a lot of pandemic-specific posts, social media, data privacy, mail-in voting, and what to do when your phone gets wet. Yup, I dropped my phone in water this summer. Second time this happened. It mostly recovered.

The pandemic created a lot of disruption. This ultimately led to change. Things are now different. Not necessarily good or bad, just different. Read more in “The Disruption and Promise of the Pandemic.” A highlight is “The Problem with Doing Business by Email,” a constant pain point for me. Read other pandemic posts here.

This past year was also busy for social media. Companies, such as Facebook and Twitter, were busy managing disinformation/misinformation campaigns on the pandemic and US elections. It turned into a game of “Whac-A-Mole.” However, social media likes to have it both ways. They like to market themselves as places for free speech, a “Digital Town Square.” But in reality, they often end up only “Fanning the Flames.”

I also moved, again, leading to several new posts. A personal favorite is “Moving: Panic vs. Proper Packing.” Yup, plenty of panic packing. Other insights available starting with “Moving. Ugh.” Also check out “How to Label Things Properly.”

Six new posts were added to the Human Archives series. The first one, “Tangible,” continues my internal debate on paper vs. electronic books. I love “Ferocity,” a true story of ladybugs happily clearing up an aphid infestation in my garden. Another highlight is “Taking Flight,” a chance to appreciate how we learn new skills and our instinctual drive. Read more here.

Around Halloween I added installments to my Technombie series. Mommy Three Arm, the story of a pregnant woman deciding if she wants to grow a helpful third arm. Following that is “Technombie 6,” about how Mayor Peebles did something to the election results. Or did he?

Social Media: Having it Both Ways

Social media is a strange beast. The decision to finally expel DJ Trump off of Facebook and Twitter was long overdue.

However, social media companies like to have it both ways. On the one hand, they are fond of advertising their platforms as “digital town squares.” As I wrote about last week, places where people can come together (digitally) to converse and discuss. To hear different and opposing view points.

In reality, many (if not all) social media companies use a lot of behind the scenes algorithms to customize your view. Often this customization displays things the company thinks you will like. Or things that will grab your attention. This results in you clicking on more things. The ultimate goal is to have you spend more time on the site.

However, in some cases, this means users only see more of the same. Exposure to varied or opposing viewpoints is limited, or non-existent. This means followers of groups like QAnon, for example, only see what this group posts. It also means many people “game the system” by posting sensational, catchy, and exaggerated content to make it to the top of the feed chain.

Even though social media likes to present itself as an outlet for free speech (a defender even!), communication, and a digital gathering spot, this isn’t how it works for some users. In some instances, users’ feeds only show a narrow viewpoint of the world and their interests. Narrow, as compared to the wealth of information options available just a short click away on any social media platform.

This is not by accident either. These companies invest serious money into ways to hold us captive on their sites. To ensure we become addicted and dependent on a particular site or service. Our attention is a premium.

Over the summer I listened to a great podcast from the NYTimes called “Rabbit Hole.” The podcast chronicles the transformation of a man who ends up as a right-wing enthusiast literally from watching YouTube videos. It becomes an addiction. By the end of the podcast series, he converts to the left. Somehow he discovered YouTube videos featuring a different viewpoint that seduced him to the other side.

In summary, we are still living in a man’s world. A world where white men with too much power and hubris make critical decisions. Decisions that the rest of us have to live with.

The Digital Town Square

Social media is often referred to as a “digital town square.” This expression conjures up images of a place where people can go to say anything. To discuss whatever is on their mind. To converse with others, who may or may not agree with their viewpoints.

I suppose, based on this description, that social media is meant to replicate an in-person experience where we chitchat with one another. The big problem with this image is that digital and physical communication are two vastly different mediums.

In reality, a real-life town square is physically small with a limited ability to spread beyond its boundaries. People discussing ideas in a real town square must remember what was said. It’s also highly unlikely that every snippet of conversation would be posted, shared, and distributed across the globe in seconds. And possibly with photos, or video, attached.

Social media, by contrast, spreads anything and everything. By anyone. Some of the things that make social media so amazing and successful, are also the things that make it unbearable.

The image of a digital town square is warm and fuzzy. It makes us believe that social media is inviting and welcoming. Innocent and harmless, even. Although it can be in some circumstances, the reality is different.

Over the years, issues continually emerged about how social media is used, by whom and for what purpose. For example trolling, doxxing, cyberbullying, election rigging, using automated bots for any number or reasons, etc. And of course the latest addition to the list, inciting violence and riots. Though to be fair, this last one has appeared before, but now there’s a renewed interest in it.

Social media companies, and legislators, have tried desperately to keep up. But they can’t. Algorithms to facilitate automated searching and monitoring, moderators, and new policies are examples of their efforts. However, social media is too widely spread, too diverse, and too rooted in everyday life for a simple fix.

The image of a digital town square dissolved a long time ago. Yet, I still hear this phrase repeated often. Even after this past week’s violent attacks on the US Capitol, some of which originated on various social media platforms.

Isn’t it time to redefine what social media is and how we use it?

Flow

At long last 2020 is over, but the pandemic continues. I can’t decide if it feels better or worse to be in another lockdown. The third one, by my count. It’s not as shocking as the first time. This time around I know how to plan for it and get groceries. I have strategies to deal with the loneliness and lack of physical interaction. But at the same time, we’re still dealing with it.

This past year has reinforced the need to accept how things are. The lockdowns, restrictions, and constant need to socially distance have served as reminders for what I can and can’t control. It helps that everybody is dealing with the same thing. It’s a collective experience.

When the pandemic first started, I steeled myself for the long term. I set my expectations that it would go on for more than a year. The thought wasn’t based on anything more than reading about past pandemics. Typically there are multiple waves.

Back in March, when I started preparing myself mentally for the long term, I figured if the pandemic was shorter than I was planning for, I would be pleasantly surprised. If not, then I would have my contingency plans in place.

Even though I had my contingency plan, what has really helped is to remind myself to go along with the movement. At this time, the only thing I can really do is try to stay safe. Listen to the recommended guidelines like mask wearing, hand washing, restricted movement. Beyond that, I can’t control what other people do or how long this blasted thing will last.

I will be very glad when I no longer hear “stop the spread” and “in these unprecedented times.” Hopefully these horrible phrases can be left in 2020.

Running stream at Wulaia Bay.

Forgiveness in the Time of the Pandemic

This year has been tough. The holidays, especially the new year, is often a time of reflection. It’s a moment when we can look back at the past year and think of how we want to do things differently, or better, going forward. Some of us may even make resolutions. Personally, I can’t be bothered making them anymore.

I decided the end of this long, tumultuous year might be well served by practicing the act of forgiveness. The pandemic has challenged and stretched a lot of us in ways we never imagined. It’s been an exceptional year and perhaps that means a new approach.

I’m celebrating the end of this year, and cheering the start of the next one, with forgiveness. Forgiveness for things I did that I wished I hadn’t, it’s a long list. Forgiveness for things I didn’t do that I wished I had. Long ago I discovered that I can forgive others more easily than myself, but this year I’m giving myself a pass.

Loved ones are included for their actions, or lack of actions. With so many weird and stressful things about this year, everyone is getting a free pass from me. I like to think that we’ve all been doing our best to survive and just make it through another day.

Pretending the last year (or at least the last 9 months) didn’t happen isn’t an option. The best I can do is plod along free of grudges and resentments towards others and myself.

In tough times I like to remind myself that things are constantly changing. That they can, and will be, different. I do this without qualifying the change as something better or worse, simply different.

Happy New Year!

Moving: Panic vs. Proper Packing

No matter how organized you think you are, or how good your intentions are, at some point every packing job devolves into panic packing. This point probably happens earlier for some of us. Likely most packing experiences include a combination of both proper and panic packing.

Panic vs. Proper Packing Explained

Panic packing is when any bag, box, or other becomes an attractive and suitable option for transporting your stuff. Things end up packed haphazardly and randomly. All in an effort to move things from point A to point B. It’s messy. And not always faster than proper packing, especially at the other end.

Proper packing, by contrast, is when you take your time. You thoughtfully consider the contents of each box, making sure to pack “like with like.” Or at least have some kind of system and order with the contents. Glass and fragile items are wrapped appropriately. Accurate labels are on the boxes. This sometimes takes longer to plan out, but usually results in an easier time unpacking, mostly because it’s obvious what’s in which box.

For my latest move, I had every intention of proper packing, though I knew some panic would set in. As events played out, the panic set in early in the process. The whole week was a jumbled affair of stuffing things in boxes. I started packing the kitchen at 11 pm the night before the movers came. I understood it would be messy.

As I hurriedly wrapped things, I questioned my absurd fondness for tiny ramekins. I had second thoughts about my obsession for lidded pyrex dishes. The real kind of pyrex that your grandparents had with glass lids, funky designs, and outdated colors.

I labeled each of the 12 boxes, “Kitchen.” My tired and deluded thinking led me to believe if I could get the box placed in the right room on moving day, we could find things. We did find everything eventually, but it took days. Even after emptying all the boxes, my coffee remained missing. After days of drinking instant coffee, I finally discovered it tucked into the refrigerator.

Possible Remedy to Panic Packing

Panic packing is an inevitable part of the process, but detailed labeling makes a huge difference. For some of the more jumbled, chaotic boxes, I wrote long descriptions for the labels. It helped a lot to find what I needed quickly in the aftermath.