Thursday, March 22, 2012

Brain Dump on the Information Highway

I think I'm going to write a country song called "My Brain Jackknifed on the Information Superhighway."   It will detail the life of a lovable loser who finds that his mental capacities have been destroyed by information overload.  He crashes his Macbook, his iPad runs off with another user, and his robot dog runs away.  

I've been "online" for about 26 years and on the Internet for at least 17 of those years.   As someone who loves news and information, it's seemed like a godsend.  I can get news as it happens from multiple sources. I can find articles about almost everything and get lost streaming from one idea to the next by clicking from one section to the next.  

Even with all of this time spent online and the experience with it though, the one good thing was that I was always able to "get away".    I could grab a book or magazine, or simply fire up the TV and just enjoy, without giving the computer a second thought.  

So what's so different now?  

Three things.  "Smart' devices, Social Networking, and E-books.  

Smart devices put the Internet everywhere you are.  Every "boring" moment becomes an opportunity to plug back in, read tweets, follow news, check your e-mail.   Get in an elevator at any business.   That 30 second ride is full of people who can't remember what we all used to do before smartphones.  Instead of trying not to look at everyone else, they're catching up on the latest cat picture their friend send them.  

Social networking has come to the introverted and alleged writers among us and made us feel that we have to share our opinions with everyone at every time.   The insidious "like","retweet", and follow has made us feel validated.    A retweet or favorite from that favorite celebrity or writer is a bit like crack, making you feel like somehow you're one of them.    I'm still on cloud 9 that Steve Martin replied to one of my tweets with a compliment.     And it's turned almost every TV show into something that can't be watched and enjoyed, but something that must be commented about in "real" time on social networks.    While this can make shows like award shows a great communal experience, it can also suck your attention away from the shows you once loved.  

And e-books.   Oh e-books.   We throw you on devices that collect you on a "shelf" that gives you all equal weight and importance and taunts us with everything we have undone.   And when the book gets a little boring or difficult, you're never a button or two away from a diversion that instantly takes you out of whatever you were reading.  

In the end, the problems with all three of these is that they encourage us to "multitask", which is simply another word for doing a bunch of things within a period of time, none of them well.     While we can all do two or more things at once, it is seldom that we do them well.   If you like to write while listening to music, I can bet you that the song fades mentally into the background while you're writing, and that a good song might even squash that thought you had if your mind blinks for even a second.  

So what's the solution?   You're asking me, the guy who has been wired (and wireless) for over 20 years?  

Maybe keep that device in your pocket.    Use a pomodoro app and promise yourself that you won't do more than one thing and one thing only for those 25 minutes you set the timer for.    When you're sitting down to watch TV, pick up a cat or kid for you lap and not the PC.    Grab a paper copy of that book you want to read and read it away from other distractions.    If you're writing something (or reading something on an e-reader or iPad), disconnect your wireless connection to keep you from straying.  

I'm going to try it and see how my life gains or suffers because of it.   I'll let you know.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking

I'm 41 now, more than half a life away from my high school and college years. In those years, I was never what would be considered a very social person.   I never really got invited many places, and honestly wasn't sure what the heck I'd do if I was.   I enjoyed school, where I could learn AND be sociable, but outside, I always felt like a bit of an outcast.

The truth was, I was never quite sure what my fellow students did when they hung out.    I was pretty sure it involved sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but I never really got invited, so this was just a guess.  And honestly, had I been invited, I'm not sure what the heck I would have done.   Did anyone really care about my CD collection?    Or the computer games I played?  Or that I'd seen almost every SNL ever made?    I could tell you all about The Who or the Rolling Stones, but couldn't tell you five things about me you'd have cared to hear.  

What did my classmates talk about?  How did they "party" for hours when I ran out of small talk in about 30 seconds?    I won't say these were always in my mind every Friday and Saturday as I sat home alone watching TV, reading a book, or staring at a computer screen, but they were probably somewhere in the back of my head.   At times I felt like a loser.    And at times I felt alone.

Fast forward to college.   I enjoyed having deep philosophical questions about life, but again, when the party started, I simply wanted to be elsewhere.     I can remember long weekends working on student films and simply wanting to be anywhere but where I was.  I wanted to get away from people I liked, but was annoyed by.   All I could think was that my friends probably thought I was trying to avoid work.  Was I?  Why couldn't I just tough it out?  The truth was that I could spend two hours browsing the racks of Tower Records, but sometimes thirty minutes with a group would have me feeling awkward and looking for the exits.

Even as an adult in the work world, I found I had the same issues.   The constant crush of "team" work and having to put on a happy face and be sociable, as well as not having a real piece of real estate I could escape to tended to wear me down.

Why?  Perhaps it is because it was something I never realized I was, an introvert.

I just finished reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.   Susan's remarkable book deals with the way in which our American culture has turned being an introvert into a liability in many respects, as kids and adults are encouraged to be extroverted, even when their own personal makeup screams for the opposite.   As a result, many introverts find themselves underutilized, ignored, and emotionally drained.

As I read the book, I couldn't count the number of times I said "Hey, that's me."   It was eye opening to see that what for years I'd discounted as shyness or awkwardness, was partially just my own need and desire to live inside my head and not deal with all of the small talk and superficial contact that much of the day to day world brings.    All of the time I wondered what was wrong with me, the truth was actually that there really was NOTHING wrong with me.  I just wasn't like everyone else.  

So if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed in a world of extroversion, I highly recommend picking up Quiet.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Over 780 hours

Three hours a day.   Five days a week.    Over the course of the year that equals 780 hours.   

780 hours to direct whatever you want to say toward an audience of 15 million.  You have control over the final word.  There will be no fact checking.    You can do or say anything.    And nobody will complain too loudly for too long.   

You want to make fun of people because they're female, African American, handicapped, Hispanic, or any other minority you deem unworthy?   Go ahead. Nobody's going to stop you.    Call them names.  

You want to imitate that beloved actor with his ridiculously exaggerated body tics that he claims are caused by Parkinson's.   Do it.  Especially when we all know that he was faking them.   And as a Hollywood liberal elite, he probably deserved them.   

And how about those kids that get free lunches at school.  Never mind that it may be the only decent meal they get that day.  You're a successful radio host who got fat through hard work.   Let them do the same.  They can dumpster dive.   Why not?  You do it figuratively every day.   

Or the black woman that somehow got through your phone screener (or perhaps you pushed through because you thought she was easily attacked).   Why not tell her to "take the bone out of her nose"?  If someone complains, you can always say it's absurd comedy.   After all, who wouldn't think that "America's truth detector" on their local news radio station was anything but a comedian? 

Or how about attacking the President simply because he is black.  After all, he graduated with honors from Harvard Law School simply because of affirmative action and not his efforts.   Besides, everyone knows that education is for academic elites.  If it was important, you yourself would have actually received a college degree.   

Or maybe, just maybe, you dismiss half of the population with claims they're "feminazis."   It's humorous to call women trying to get ahead in this world (or simply to maintain the rights they already have) by a demeaning name.   You don't even really need a justification.    In fact, when a woman starts talking about an issue that women know nothing about, like birth control pills, why not call her a prostitute and a slut for doing so.   After all, this medication is only useful for sex, just like women. (HEY!!! NEW JOKE!!! NEED TO USE THAT FOR PART OF YOUR 15 HOURS A WEEK).   

780 hours is a lot of time to fill.    And if you're going to fill it, why not talk like this?  Hate's simple.    Hate can get you 15 million listeners if you repeat it enough.  Hate is cheap, doesn't take much thought, and like meth, isn't tough to produce and sell to uneducated rednecks, even if sometimes it blows up in your face.  

But above all, hate is easy.   And in the end, if you're a minority of one fat, deaf, drug-addicted, Viagra popping, misogynist, racist, draft dodging, loser who can't keep a wife, isn't doing the easiest thing all that matters?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Fitting In

I remember the point in my life where I suddenly realized I didn't fit in.   I was in the cafeteria in high school and "Fred", a friend I'd had since middle school and I were talking.   We'd been close and bonded over a love for "trading" video games (you'd call it pirating these days).   I don't remember if he was sitting with me, or he walked by and I stopped him to talk to him.   I asked him if he had any new games and he started laughing at me.   "I'm into girls these days.  Don't you have a life?"

The hurt stung.  I enjoyed games.  I also enjoyed girls... looking at them anyway.  Who had the nerve to talk to them?    Games were an escape from not thinking too much about girls I was convinced had no interest.  And of course, games were also a great reason girls would have no interest.   

My friend's reaction hurt me though.  When did he become cool?  And why was he leaving me behind?  If he wasn't interested in what I had to talk about, was anyone?   I didn't want to be a geek, but I had no idea how to be otherwise.  

In the 25 years since that day, the realization that I'm socially awkward has always been there. From my attempts to fit in and have a discussion with cool kids, to my attempts to speak to any girl that I considered to be someone I wanted to date.  And those that I could talk to, I was always convinced were humoring me.   

The odd thing is that there ultimately was something empowering about this view of life.   When you're not that close, you always desire an attachment that others have, but you also find that you have a bit more confidence in being alone than others do.   

Of course, none of that really matters in those times in your life when you feel like you just don't fit in anywhere.   

I have been reading a book recently called Quiet: The Power of Introverts In A World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.   Susan talks about society's push toward promoting extroversion and in viewing introverted people as damaged goods somehow.   Reading the book has made me realize that perhaps my problem with people is my own introversion.   I get along swimmingly with myself.  It's others that begin to drain me after awhile. Small talk and talking on the phone gets on my nerves.  Communicating via e-mail and social networking where I can respond or wait is much easier to me.  

In fact, social networking has enabled me to be social for really the first time in my life.    Using Facebook I helped organize my 20 year reunion.   I had meaningful conversations (via chat) with people I couldn't say 1 word to in high school and developed friendships with people that 20 years ago I never would have imagined back then.   

I wonder how many of the people I felt awkward around felt the same way.   How many people that I encountered at parties in college were like me and content to sit and observe, looking for the best way to escape and get back to a book, or a great show you loved.  

The truth is that I am who I am and who I always was.  I wasn't meant to be the life of the party, and there are reasons why too much small talk makes me nervous.    Simply knowing that I'm okay and that there are others out there just like me is a great lesson, even if it took me 41 years to learn it.   

Now get off my blog.   I'm getting antsy.   

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Andrew Breitbart -- Why I'm Not Celebrating

If you're a liberal and on Twitter, chances are you read or reacted to something Andrew Breitbart said.  And maybe you commented.  And chances are you gave him all the bile you could muster.   And chances are, he deserved it.

But the funny thing about Andrew is that he seemed to have at least a bit of humor about the criticism hurled his way.  He didn't just retweet the ones written by the intellectually challenged, but the ones that were spot on funny against him.   For me, he was maddening, infuriating, but still in his own way, more respectable than those who wall themselves off from all criticism, including Rush Limbaugh, and even Keith Olbermann (who blocked me after I criticized him for daring to tell him his defense of Alec Baldwin criticizing a flight attendant was over the top).   And was his journalistic dishonesty any more odious than that of Michael Moore, whose politics may match mine, but whose approach makes me ill.  

What was upsetting to me today was seeing the glee with which many of my fellow liberals seemed to be celebrating his death.   His comments about Ted Kennedy were disgusting, to be sure.   But how much of it was part of the typical Republican theatrics?   It doesn't excuse it, but at the very least, shouldn't we aim to be better than those we dislike? 

And in the end, when I read that Andrew had four children, slamming him was that much harder.   Losing a parent at any age is tough.  Losing one when you're not even an adult destroys a part of you.   I don't know what kind of dad Andrew was.  I like to think that he kept his professional life separate from his family life, and I will hope that he was a great dad.  In the end, no matter what we thought of him, he had friends and family who knew a different side of him.  And he had kids who lost a dad. So I'll not participate in hurling more mud at the dead, even if he'd be hurling at me or someone I admire on their death.  

RIP Andrew.   And thanks for laughing at my tweet.