Text Neck

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Recently I heard a news story on CBC about the occurrence of text neck.  The article was describing how many people get it because they are always looking down at their phones.  This results in the neck remaining in an elongated position for extended periods of time.  I suppose it’s similar to other types of RSIs (repetitive strain injuries).

Shortly after hearing the story, I developed a temporary bout of text neck.  It was so painful I couldn’t even ride my bike because I couldn’t turn my head to the right.  Luckily it was short lived, but it certainly made me more aware of how and when I was using my phone.

I do hold two recent events partially responsible.  The first one was my iPod breaking, meaning I couldn’t cruise around with my head up listening to tunes and podcasts.  Since I always had my iPod, I never bothered to put music on my phone.  Around the same time, I signed up for a NYTimes subscription, replacing my iPod listening activities with reading articles.  My head was constantly down reading something on my phone.

After the text neck I started to be more mindful.  Now I try to take breaks more often, or hold the phone in different positions to avoid strain. This is part of the same problem with having one device.  Using one device for everything means I’m more often in the same position.  When I used a separate device for each activity, I was naturally moving around more.

Think about the differences between reading a paper book and an ebook.  Reading a paper book requires you to change positions often to turn pages, change hands, etc.  Whereas reading on a smartphone, the only thing that has to move is part of one finger to turn/scroll pages.

At the same time, technology offers amazing solutions and alternatives for using my smartphone in different positions.  Wearable devices and voice-activated softwares all provide new and more ergonomic ways to interact with a smartphone.

I now make more of an effort to do things more mindfully with my phone so as not to stress my neck again.  It’s amazing how many new things I see and notice since I started looking up from my phone once in a while.  And I can turn my head fully.

New Year’s Resolution: Avoid Text Neck!

Virtual Reality

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Over the holidays I had my first foray into virtual reality.  As if we haven’t already been living in an altered reality from the US presidential election and president-elect Trump rewriting nuclear arms policies in a 140-character tweet.  Now we can create a new reality, or escape from our existing one for a brief period of time, through the use of a virtual reality viewer.

Earlier this year, the NY Times sent my mother a cardboard virtual reality viewer. I assembled it and immediately downloaded the NY Times VR app to check out the options.  The viewer isn’t necessary, just a smartphone.

Cardboard viewer from the NY Times. My smartphone fits in the back and then the flap is secured with velcro holding the phone in place.

Cardboard viewer from the NY Times. My smartphone fits in the back and then the flap is secured with velcro holding the phone in place.

Fortunately, the first couple of times I used the virtual reality viewer in an open area.  That way I wasn’t hitting and bumping into things as I swiveled my head and spun around trying to see everything.  First I watched a video about detainees in England and got to walk around their tiny prison cells to “experience” their reality.  Then I switched to something more upbeat, a redwood forest meditation followed by another video of a herd of bison.

I realize that the free cardboard viewer is pretty basic compared to the more sophisticated ones available for purchase, complete with something to hold it on your head.  A quick Google search revealed a number of virtual reality viewers already available on the market.  I had to hold mine against my face which got pretty tiresome for my arms after a while.

In November I went to an exhibit called “Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures” at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO).  It was days after my LASIK surgery and I remember feeling enormous relief walking around the dimly lit exhibit area.  It was pretty amazing to see these miniatures, some of them only the size of a clementine with such intricate carvings layered inside.  I felt a bit sad that the virtual reality display, which would have allowed us to “walk” inside one of the miniatures was not fully operational when we went.  However, we saw a video of the VR experience which looked pretty neat.

It’s still early days for virtual reality, but I can already see how it will begin to be incorporated more into our everyday experiences.

Decluttering the Holiday

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Around the holidays, it’s only natural for people to think about shopping for gifts.  As The Deletist, I’m always mindful of giving people stuff.  I work hard to make sure I’m not cluttering up my home with useless stuff.  I can appreciate that my friends and family may feel the same way.  So usually in the holiday season I aim to give gifts that will be used up or cherished instead of collecting dust and guilt in someone’s closet.

Here are some tips to keep holiday junk from creeping into your possessions.

  1. Focus on an experience instead of “stuff”.  Treat your loved one to a nice dinner, a show, a class, a movie night instead of buying something.
  2. Buy your loved ones things that they will use or need.  Wool socks can make a great gift!  They’re not so fun and sexy, but super practical and useful.  Every year I typically give my neighbors a 12-pack of their favorite beer and cider.  It’s not so original, but I know they’ll drink and enjoy them.  This year I strayed slightly and invited them to dinner at a restaurant we all like instead (see #1).
  3. Regift and/or barter/trade your existing items for something new.  Last week I heard an interview on CBC’s Metro Morning program with a mom who did her holiday shopping by trading on a site called Bunz.  It didn’t cost her money, but likely took up her time (read here).  According to the website, “Bunz is a trade-based community for exchanging goods and services.”  Basically people create posts for things they want to give away and other people make offers for it. No money exchanges hands.
  4. Ask people what they want and always include a gift receipt, no questions asked!

Another peeve of mine during the holiday is the waste generated from gifts and packages.  Here are some tips for keeping the holidays greener.

  1. Reuse gift wrapping, gift bags, boxes, etc.  Or use materials already in the house (e.g. paper grocery bags can be used to wrap gifts and then decorated).
  2. Leave the packaging in the store.  Now when I buy shoes I leave the boxes behind.
  3. Send e-cards and e-invitations instead of all that paper.

Hopefully these tips will help you focus on the things that make the holidays special, like spending time with your loved ones, instead of racing around in a frenzy to purchase useless baubles.


Making More Time with Less Stuff

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Time is one of the things I value most in my life.  During the holiday seasons, my time feels even more restricted than usual.  However, I am always striving to spend my time in ways that feel meaningful and productive to me.  By gradually paring down my belongings and making do with less, I’ve also gained time.  When I have less things, I have less to think about, consider, and cleanup.  This even includes things in the digital world such as social media or email accounts, Facebook “friends”, and digital photos.

Over the summer I watched a movie called Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.  One segment that really resonated me was about a woman who started Project 333.  The project is to select 33 items to wear in rotation over a period of 3 months.  The 33 items include shoes, accessories, and outerwear!  Read more about it here.

I can see the good points of this kind of system and often lament how much time I waste getting ready on some days.  Sometimes I’m just having one of those days where nothing seems to feel, or look, good on me.  On those days I often promise myself that I will try Project 333, if for no other reason than to save time in the morning by limiting my clothing options.

Then I start to feel envious of people like Steve Jobs, who wore a black turtleneck, jeans, and sneakers every day while he was still living.  I understand now that he decided to wear the same thing everyday not to be a minimalist, but rather to conserve brain power in making so many decisions in the morning.  One of these days, I will get around to trying Project 333 and limit my wardrobe to just 33 items, something I don’t even do when I go on vacation for week!

Although I still waste precious time and brain power on deciding which clothes to wear each day, there are plenty of other areas where I have managed to reduce my options, thereby saving myself time and energy.  I often find myself overwhelmed and pressured by the abundance of stuff and options around me non-stop this time of the year.  My best strategy is to maintain my priorities, remain focused and not be distracted by all the glitzy, shiny objects around me.  I remind myself that less is really more.

Computers Don’t Do Nuance

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I’ve noticed that as a species, we seem to give a lot of credit to computers and technology for all of their marvelous capabilities.  Often we do this without realizing that humans are responsible for all the design, development, and programming.

In reality, computers really only do what we tell them to do.  And even more importantly, computers don’t do nuance.  Basically, a computers can do anything, as long as it’s able to be translated into the computer’s language.  Essentially, everything must be distilled down to a binary decision: Yes/No, True/False, 0/1, A/B, black/white, etc.

I consider this factor often when doing backend system design for clients.  In order for technology to take over for a human (e.g. by automating a process), all of the decision points must be simplified to computer language.  This can be tricky when a particular process contains too many factors, or “gray areas”, to result in a binary decision point.  For example, consider a college application.  The computer would be able to make decisions based on GPA and test scores, but evaluating the candidate based on other, more nuanced factors, such as extracurricular activities or the essay portion, must be handled by a human.

Another area where computers lag behind humans is in facial recognition.  Overall humans are able to identify the same person in photos or video more reliably and accurately than computers can.  Although computers have improved in this area and can accomplish some pretty amazing things in terms of auto-classifying photos, they still have a long way to go.  The other day a friend of mine was showing me some of his childhood pictures.  I’ve only known him for less than a year, but I was immediately able to pick him out of his primary school class photos.  I doubt a computer would be able to do that yet.

A lot of advances have been made in AI (Artificial Intelligence) lately that may one day allow computers to think outside of their programming and to better anticipate our needs.  However, based on how poorly the prediction and auto correct works with my text messages, I’d say they still have a long way to go.  So while we’re eager to give computers (and technology) a lot of credit for all the amazing things they can, and will, do, there’s still a place for human brains.


Aural Discrimination

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During the pre-op for my LASIK surgery, one of my only questions was when would I be getting the valium.  The technician laughed and told me that nobody acted brave for this surgery.  He then said if it was a choice between his ears and his eyes, it was a no brainer.  Eyes for sure.

I paused for a moment.  No music?  No ocean waves or sounds of laughter? Of course I love having both senses, but I would miss sound too much if something happened to my ears.

I’m convinced that ears are one of the most neglected organs, right after things like skin, gall bladders, and the appendix.  Did you ever notice how rapidly the technology for cameras advanced in mobile devices?  When I got my iPad in 2013 I was amazed at the clarity and quality of the pictures.  The functionality was more limited than a real digital camera, but it still took terrific photos.

However, speakers, sound quality, and default noises have all lagged miserably behind the more ocular-centric features.  Each time I upgrade my smartphone, the ringtones that come with the phone get worse.  The first few phones I had, even the “dumb” versions, all offered ringtones that were soothing and soft-toned.  Everything now is shrill and tinny sounding.  Of course, that could also be the inferior speakers.

In the same way that mobile devices offer us the capability to take high quality, digital photos, they could also offer us better sounding ringtones, notifications, and alerts.  By default most noises feel jarring and disruptive.  I suppose that’s because they’re designed to alert us of every new tiny update of information, no matter how small and inconsequential it might be. Even the vibrate option is loud and rattling.

Wouldn’t it be nice if the ringtone was something soothing and calming?  I fondly remember my two favorite ringtones, a frog croaking and the sound of waves crashing with sea gull noises. Most people who heard them thought they were funny or weren’t bothered.  I could download these special ringtones onto my new phone, but I feel like the manufacturers could do a better job with the default options.

It would also be nice if the quality of the speakers improved to something comparable to the level of the camera.  Why is this always one of the last things to be considered for improvement?