The 550th Posting

After last year’s three-month break, I jumped back into an exciting time. It was hard to stop myself from blogging with so many things happening. But I needed the time off to regenerate.

First and foremost, the pandemic lessened. I resumed some of my activities. However, the new pace reminded me of an old trick “Making Things Modular.” This strategy maximizes time by minimizing effort.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) made incredible leaps towards the end of 2022. The rapid pace of change continues, disrupting and changing everything. In particular, generative AI (e.g., ChatGPT), has made it easy for AI to, well, generate new stories, art, images, etc. based on what it learns from existing sources, and more. Lots more.

This led to some interesting questions, such as “Is AI-generated Art, Still Art?” Are we now living in “The Era of Beethoven’s 10th?” As a fan of Beethoven’s 9th, I certainly hope not! There’s something sacred about people creating art. Hopefully gen AI will not be “The End of Originality.” And “The Ethics of Big Data” remain part of the story.

Although, new AI advancements demonstrate many noteworthy benefits, especially in the medical profession. Who wouldn’t want to get test results sooner? AI can work 24/7, doesn’t get fatigued, and has proven to be highly accurate in some scenarios.

The heavy emphasis on technology in the past year left me with a hankering for “The Glory of the Analog Days.” In one post, I reminisced about “The Independent Act of Playing Records” as a young child. I was completely in control of what I listened to, when I wanted to. In another post, I speculated on the non-age related reasons my memory doesn’t work as well as it once did in “Things We Used to Remember.” Now the technology is so prominent that parents register for email accounts in utero!

On a personal note, a new player entered my ongoing internal debate of paper vs ebooks. Somebody in my new book club introduced me to Audiobooks.

And finally, last year we celebrated my father’s 20th deathday. A sad milestone, but I had some help getting through it by “Discovering Joni.” Right around that time, Joni Mitchell resurfaced with a live show. She was one my father’s favorite musicians. A few months later, the start of the school year provided me with another powerful memory of my father “Grading Homework.

Age Appropriate Cell Phones

Now that nobody has landlines anymore, I often wonder how kids communicate. Or stay in touch with relatives or family members if they don’t have their own cell phone. When I was growing up, my sibling and I came home by ourselves when we were in elementary school. We had a landline available to call out, for emergencies, but also for incoming calls to check up on us. Then again, we didn’t have any other form of communication available either. It was the phone or nothing. I think we had some battery-operated walkie talkies, but the range was pretty limited on those.

Now, if kids are maybe too young to have their own cell phone, they have other methods of communication available. Computers and tablets all offer ways to get in touch electronically. That may work for parents getting in touch with kids, but that may not always translate for kids to communicate with other kids.

Growing up, the phone was a pretty simple device to operate. Not to sound ancient, but my first phone had rotary dial. Even so, I recall being able to answer the phone and make calls from a young age. This was an important life skill. It connected me to loved ones, but also provided a way for me to have some independence. I learned conversation etiquette and how to handle myself with adults calling for my parents. The phone was a central part of our lives. It was a landline and a lifeline of sorts.

For all of my childhood, the phone, though common, held a place of importance in the household. Every advance of it somehow making things a little bit easier. First we had longer phone cords making it possible to move around while talking. Then came answering machines, so you didn’t have to wait around at home for that important call to come in. You could even call some of the newer machines to access messages remotely. Then there were push button phones followed by cordless ones. Each advance making things more comfortable for the individual but separating us more from each other. Now, we hold everything in our hands, portable, individual, customized, and solitary, to a certain extent. And where does that leave people too young for cell phones, or others not able to use them?

Things We Used to Remember

Ever since I started using my smartphone, I’ve noticed a decline in my memory. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m constantly inundated with information. Or maybe because my phone distracts me, so I don’t focus as carefully as before. Or it might be because my brain decided it doesn’t have to waste precious energy remembering stuff that’s always, and instantly, a few swipes away.

After writing my blog about Grandmother wisdom a few weeks ago, it reminded me of the analog days. The times when we memorized phone numbers. I used to remember all kinds of things such as addresses, recipes, birthdays, and other important events. My brain was teeming with useless trivial facts and odd bits of information. I even knew how to get places without GPS and narrated directions. The first time I drove to the airport in Toronto, I had to navigate using road signs, plus a few key pointers committed to memory. Now I routinely plug the destination into my navigation system, even though I’ve been there enough times to know the way. But with narrated directions, I can rely on something else to help me navigate.

I memorized recipes I made regularly. Now, I can barely remember which link I used the last time, especially if I didn’t favorite it. However, with so many options available, I also have the opportunity to discover new things and techniques. This is a definite advantage, but sometimes slows me down reviewing multiple choices. Or trying to remember which recipe I used the last time. Other times I rely on my patchy memory of a recipe and cobble something together, hoping for a good outcome.

In an effort to keep my memory muscle strong, I now try to challenge myself to get places without GPS. Or type in phone numbers instead of relying on contact information to autofill what I need. I can’t really explain the link between my smartphone and memory decline, but I know it’s happening. It would be easy to blame it on the aging process, but something else is going on. And who are we without our memories, even if they only amount to a few phone numbers, some amazing recipes, and the assurance of knowing how to get from A to B without narrated directions.

Working Through the Pain of Paper Clean ups

Last week’s post focused on the potential pain of cleaning up old, orphaned, and abandoned paper files. This week, I’ll break down some strategies to work through the process.

First step is getting your supplies ready so there won’t be delays, or barriers, when you process the paper. If you plan on keeping some, or all, of the paper, prepare for that. Assemble file folders, labels, pens, stapler, paper clips, etc. Make sure you have a box, or file cabinet ready, to store the folders. If you plan on destroying some, or all, of the paper, have a shredder, or fireplace, handy.

I always like to start the process by sorting “like with like.” Before sorting, I set up bags for shred, garbage, and recycling. The keep stuff usually ends up in separate piles for filing. For example, all household bills go in piles, sorted by service type and dates. All health-related stuff in another pile. Even with something as straight forward as this, I still end up with a pile of stuff that remains homeless. Weird odds and ends that just don’t seem to fit anywhere, that I can’t part with.

One tricky part about paper is knowing if you already have an electronic version. I’m confident any tax documents I find from 2017 on are electronic. I submit everything electronically to my accountant, so I know it’s been scanned. These I put in the shred pile.

Many common household bills are now only available electronically. However, some online accounts won’t retain household bills older than 1-2 years. In some cases, it may be useful to retain older ones, either in paper, or electronically, for tax purposes or analysis. This is up to you to decide how far back the information is relevant.

Set realistic limits for yourself. Aim to work in short sprints, such as 10 – 20 minutes daily. Or challenge yourself to get through a certain amount of the pile (e.g., 5 file folders, half a drawer, 2 inches of loose paper). The point is, if doing the whole thing in one sitting is a barrier, find ways to chunk it up into something that feels more manageable. Acknowledging your effort and rewarding yourself is important, too.

And if all this is too much, accept the risks and invest in a good quality shredder. Or (safely) start a small fire.

Painful Paper Clean ups

The instant change to virtual workplaces, accompanying the pandemic’s early days, left many abandoned, full filing cabinets. As the “stay home” order turned from months and eventually years, people discovered other paper-free ways of working. Methods to electronically sign documents became the norm. Often business cases for these products got expedited and prioritized.

After a slow, start and stop return to the office, people started working in person again. Often the new work arrangement was hybrid, some combination of in-person days and virtual. Many people stopped relying on paper and printouts, mostly because they had learned to work a different way out of necessity. The pandemic was a giant and instant disrupter. It impacted habits and changed them, seemingly overnight.

People returned to the offices, but the filing cabinets stuck around, unused. Relics of a former workplace, recent, but still wildly outdated. Encapsulated time bombs of a previous era, frozen in time. Work resumed in a new way, carried out electronically almost 100% of the time. And yet, the cabinets remained, an afterthought, a burden to sort through and deal with, fading into the background as part of scenery. Until the time arrives to clean them up. This is where the challenges begin.

Whenever this scenario arises, I find most people are resistant to sorting through the records properly to action them. Rather, most people would prefer to make the “mess” go away by either throwing everything in the shred bin, or placing it in a box to ship somewhere else. This way it can be “cleaned up” all while conveniently becoming somebody else’s problem to deal with later. I always liken this scenario to people moving.

When people move, I think we all have a high aspiration of only moving what we need. We don’t want to take junk with us. Yet, we somehow end up with boxes (bags, drawers, etc.) filled with things that we don’t really need and will “get to later.” This is the stuff that ends up piled up in garages, inaccessible shelves in closets, attics, etc. Basically, we always choose storage places where the stuff ends up with damage such as mold, vermin, drying out, etc. This may be subconsciously intentional, but it makes the future decision easier.

However, with records the risk is different. Taking the time to clean them up right the first time is the best strategy to avoid future problems.

The Fragility of Ereaders

The debate between paper books and ereaders continues! Every time I think I’m swaying one way, I get a pull in the other direction. Most recently, a weird update and some slight ereader malfunctions created a fresh longing for paper books.

Some time ago the Overdrive option disappeared from my ereader Settings options. The Overdrive option is what allows me to login to my public library and borrow ebooks. This wasn’t a big deal because somehow my home library login remained. I was still able to borrow and download books for this system without issue. However, sometimes I borrow an ebook from a partner library that I would also like to access on my ereader. This is when troubles arise. Since the option wasn’t showing up on my ereader, my alternative is to read on my phone, which I don’t enjoy very much.

I finally contacted the company for some assistance. Turns out I needed to update my credit card information before the option to borrow books from the public library would appear. It seemed strange, some kind of weird arrangement that only after the commitment to pay was sealed would the option to borrow be released. To date, since I started using ereaders around 2010, I’ve purchased exactly one book. I only purchased it because I needed to read it right away and it wasn’t available in the libraries yet.

With the Overdrive option reappearing, I logged in to the partner library and got the new book. Shortly after, the ereader started acting funky. The screen had a wonky display, the book cover with text appearing under it. Then it got dropped on the floor. Incidentally, this is how one of my previous ereaders died. After some tense moments of restarting, powering down, recharging, and hard wishing, the ereader started working again. However, it left me feeling a bit irritated with the technology. Paper books just don’t experience these kinds of failures.

I’ve never had a problem opening a book, unless it was super old and fragile. Turning pages is easy, no accidentally skipping ahead or back random pages, or not being able to turn them at all. More importantly, paper books are always “on.” They don’t require charging or restarting. All you need is some light and a comfy seat.

I still like the ereader, but I’m glad to have paper books around as a permanent backup option.