The Dead-Tree Book Dilemma

I first read the term “dead-tree book” in an article about kids’ sleep. One mother allowed her child to read “dead-tree books” before bedtime. The description sounded odd to me, I suppose because I think about books as either paper or electronic. Dead-tree books has a rather morbid ring to it and resurrected my usual debate between ebooks vs. books.

I’ve blogged about the pros and cons of each format a number of times (read Tangible, Gateway to the World, The Basics of Reading a Book, and Digital Decisions). I’m always conflicted about which one I like better. For convenience, I love the ebook. My ereader is so portable. It’s lightweight and small. Plus it’s easy to read in any position. With regular books, I often find my hands or neck in an awkward position when I’m reading on my side or sometimes laying down on my back.

I find both formats equally immersive. My ereader is only for books so there are no digital distractions. However, I find paper books are better for variety. Many books on my reading list are currently not available in an electronic format.

I’ve been reading a lot of regular books lately. Every time I go to the library they have great books on display and I can’t resist taking at least one. This is one advantage over the ebooks. There are lists of ebooks, but I find scrolling through them can get tiresome. Whereas a good book display is very easy and visually appealing to peruse.

However, hearing the term “dead-tree book” made me think about waste. When I was a kid, throwing out or recycling a book was inconceivable. Now in today’s disposable culture, people can’t even give books away for free. I’m always walking past boxes and stacks of books left out in the elements on the curb for people to take. I’ve seen books peeking through blue, recycling bags and mixed in with other kinds of recycling. I was always horrified by this, but now I’ll look at these things and think “dead tree.”

On the other hand, I can’t honestly say going electronic is any less wasteful. I’ve owned 4 ereaders in the last 10 years. Each one replaced for various reasons. Needless to say, they don’t last very long. Although I recycle them as e-waste, it’s likely they’re hanging around in a landfill somewhere.

Sweet Magnolia and Bird Song

For Mother’s Day, we went for a long walk at the Royal Botanical Garden’s Arboretum. The magnolias were in bloom. It’s only been warm and sunny for a few days, but I think we missed the fleetingly short peak of the blossoms. Even so, the air felt warm and heady with the sweet, sticky scent of the magnolias. An array of whites, pinks, and purples dotted the landscape, sticking out against the yellow-green shoots of spring and a cerulean, cloudless sky.

We ambled slowly through the blooming trees, into the woods, making our way down to the lake. Along the way we saw leafy shoots of skunk cabbage and fresh buds sprouting from all the trees. Spring is officially here and ready to be enjoyed. I kept a watch for woodpeckers, often seen, but difficult to spot flitting about pecking the trees.

On the way back I stopped for a moment on the trail to listen to the sound scape. Around me I could distinctly hear five or six different types of birds, some of which I couldn’t identify. Though different species, they were clearly having a conversation with their respective bird songs. In a flash it reminded me of the early days (weeks, months!) of the pandemic when it seemed as though the whole world had shut down. At that time, an eerie stillness and silence filled the space. There was no traffic, no airplanes, no construction. Nothing to be heard… except for bird song.

I recall going outside for part of every day to listen. Hearing the birds felt comforting, as though providing something normal and consistent to latch onto in that crazy time. With the noise pollution minimized, it was easy to hear the birds, something I hadn’t realized I’d been missing until it was suddenly there, all around me. An unexpected delight from those early, dark days.

Two years later I make it a point to stop and listen to the birds. I’ve even started learning how to identify some of them through their songs.

Sounding Board

One thing I didn’t notice I’ve been missing until recently is the public sounding board. By that I mean the ways we keep ourselves in check. How we develop our own internal scale to figure out if something is acceptable or just plain off. For example, is it okay if I “go” to work in my house only dressed from the waist up? It’s not as though we would see this particular example demonstrated in public, but there are other scenarios.

I started thinking about this more now that things are opening up and people are unmasking. All of a sudden I’m questioning things that I normally wouldn’t. My scale of what’s acceptable in public is skewed after spending so long in lockdowns and relative social isolation. Throughout the pandemic, my main form of communication was digital. It’s very easy to hide things on a tiny phone screen. Or point the angle of the camera just so…

When I meet new people, I’m not sure of the customary greeting, though I’m glad handshaking is out. It eliminates awkwardness. I always hated shaking a clammy hand, a really limp one, or one where the other person wouldn’t let go. I’ve been doing the elbow bump, but it feels strange. Is this normal? I used to take it for granted I would hug my friends hello. Now we have conversations before meeting up about covid status, rapid test results, and who wants to mask. It’s just bizarre. Hugging as a greeting is not a given.

I’ve also developed a lot of strange habits and routines during the pandemic. I wouldn’t necessarily share them publicly, but I do wonder sometimes, is this what other people do? Is it normal? Does it have to be?

Growing up, my father used to always dress nicely before taking a flight. It was a social custom. Now it’s common to see people in pajamas, or comfy sweats and flipflops, getting ready to board. My first year in college, it would’ve been unthinkable to me to attend class in my pajamas, yet I routinely saw other students casually strolling to class in their flannel pjs. This was especially bizarre to me when I worked in NYC at Columbia University. I used to see students sauntering down Broadway wearing pajamas!

Are we entering a new phase of social customs where “anything goes” now?

Post-pandemic: Dealing with the Information Fire Hose

For the last year or so I haven’t been able to keep my email inbox clean. It seems emails pile up by the dozens each time I check. Though imperfect, I’d always managed to keep my inbox under control. I answered or actioned emails. Then either filed, saved, or deleted. I wouldn’t say I’ve given up, but I do notice I rely on the search box to find things more often.

It’s not just my email inbox that is drowning from a persistent influx of content and volume. My text messages are out of control. Messaging chains are long and sometimes very detailed. Every channel possible contains shared photos and videos. Everything is everywhere, all the time.

Until recently, I hadn’t really thought about why all my usual systems for keeping my digital life organized started failing. Suddenly, two main reasons for the system breakdown occurred to me.

  1. Since the pandemic started, we’ve all been relying heavily on digital communications. Some conversations that might have happened in person now take place over emails, messages, shared photos, posts, etc. Pre-pandemic messages with friends likely would have centered around making plans to meet, i.e., messages that could be easily deleted and cleaned up. With in-person socializing restricted for so long, many messages are more substantive. This makes it more complicated to just delete them without losing context for future conversations.
  2. Burnout and information fatigue. This is related to the first reason. Since I now receive nearly every communication or interaction digitally, I’m constantly inundated with a variety and volume of content. This is part of the reason I’ve been unable to stay on top of my systems to keep me organized and my volume of content manageable.

All of this to say, I’ve fallen behind. For example, my inbox contains over 400 emails. Over the last two years, I slowly watched this number grow. Occasionally I made a feeble attempt to clear out a page or two.

I face a similar struggle with my professional life, too. Since we work remotely, many casual or quick conversations take place over email or messaging. Before, these kinds of exchanges would be in person without anything to file or process after.

Hopefully, now that many of us are resuming in-person activities, that will help to reduce the volume so I can get back on track.

Making Photo Memories

On my iPad, I recently reacquainted myself with the “For You” feature. The Photo app automatically creates curated memories. The memories are based on a combination of dates, locations, and identified people. Each memory is like watching a mini slide show of a particular event, person, or time period (e.g., 2021).

Each time I opened Photos, the memories displayed, by default. Naturally, I selected one to watch. Then another and another. In some the music is bad. In others, I couldn’t quite figure out how or why certain photos were selected over others in a collection. However, watching these memories, I marveled at how easy it made photo organization seem. Admittedly, this is something I struggle to keep under control, probably like most people.

I create and receive volumes of photos. Sometimes I don’t have time to go through them all. Other times, it’s difficult to decide which ones to keep or delete. Before my photo collection grew to unmanageable proportions, I enjoyed making photo albums. It’s a time consuming activity, but one I find rewarding. However, this feature made me question if the auto-created memories could be just as good as ones I would create myself.

The answer to that is no, but they offer a good starting point. They also provide a new way to review my photos. Each memory can be edited and customized. There is also an option to create new memories from scratch. In reviewing past posts, I noticed I felt very differently about this feature four years ago. I blogged about it in “Memories For You or Just Another Invasion of Privacy.” Looking back at my previous blog, I wondered, what changed?

I’m more comfortable with some automated organizing now that I can see it’s useful. The improved facial recognition makes it easy to identify key people. Like most people, I’m busy and inundated with photos. Having an app produce something useful that I like is appealing. Even better if it does it automatically, or it can be customized. The “For You” feature is a much better way to organize photos than by date.

I’ll still create my own photo albums. I love having them, even though they are a lot of work. But I also find I’m not as offended by the “For You” option as I had been initially. Who knows, it might even surprise me with some good memories.

Navigating In-Person Meetings, Post-Pandemic

Right before wave six of the pandemic started to crest, all of the restrictions were lifted. This also included my office requiring us to go back to the office two days per week. Along with adjusting to commuting, packed lunches, and wearing work clothes, comes in-person meetings.

For almost a year I’ve grown used to the pros and cons of virtual meetings. One of my big challenges with off-camera virtual meetings is you can’t tell what anyone is thinking or doing. I recently facilitated a virtual meeting with about 10 attendees. It was a live demonstration of a process. If this had been in person I could have read body language and made eye contact. It would have been easier to determine if people were following along. Maybe even more people would have been following along. Point being, it’s almost impossible to tell when all I see is a row of colored circles with initials and muted microphones.

However, the flip side of this is reading body language and making eye contact. Admittedly, this is something with which I need practice. I haven’t attended an in-person meeting in over two years. In that time, I also haven’t attended a lot of gatherings, social events, or even casual meet ups with friends for lunch or drinks. My non-verbal skills are weak and lacking.

Our office tried to open in November, but ultimately closed again because of Omicron. I remember last fall feeling some trepidation about navigating meetings. However, back then, we were still required to mask in meeting rooms. I also anticipated most meetings would still be hybrids, much like now, so counted on being able to attend from the semi-privacy of my cubicle.

This time feels different, as though we’re opening for real, even though wave six is still raging. We can remove masks in meeting rooms, if distancing is possible. Though we still need to wear them in common areas. Sooner or later, I’ll have to attend a meeting in person, without a mask. I’m sure it will feel awkward at first. I won’t be able to roll my eyes freely. Or quietly munch on a snack with the microphone muted. However, as we re-adjust to our post-pandemic normal, I suppose this will just be one more thing we need to navigate. Or re-acquaint ourselves with.