Social Media Stockholm Syndrome

I logged off Facebook “because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Most of the words above aren’t mine. They belong to Henry David Thoreau who from 1845 to 1847 experimented with living a fuller, more authentic life by living in a cabin beside Walden pond. Thoreau’s Walden is hardly a rustic, wilderness survival story. Thoreau didn’t live far from town. His mom did his laundry, and he often mooched off his neighbors. Thoreau’s experiment wasn’t about self-sufficiency or living off the land. Thoreau wondered if he could live in accordance with his own best principles.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Thoreau’s experiment and wondering if I could do the same. I’m not thinking about building a cabin in the woods or cutting my own firewood or mending my clothes to suit the needs of my current enterprise. I’m contemplating a step away from social media.

Facebook has been a positive force in my life. Most of the people I love gather regularly there and share interesting bits of their daily lives. Photos of kids, dogs and weekend adventures keep us connected between visits. Facebook is how we connect and communicate. Facebook is how we stay in each other’s lives.

And yet, increasingly, for the past year Facebook has left me feeling empty, a bit sick. Since sometime last year, the persistent thought arrives while posting or scrolling down the endless feed: “We aren’t meant to live this way.” Sharing seems less an act of generosity than one of grandiose self-promotion. Liking has become a way to acknowledge someone’s thoughts or feelings without pausing for the hassle of truly taxing my own emotions or empathy. I don’t like the way I am using social media or the way social media is using me.

And so, I contemplate what it would be like to shut down my social media for a season, to retreat to my metaphorical cabin by the pond, to live by first principles with both intention and attention.

No easy feat this. Leaving Facebook, even for a season, means exporting a tremendous amount of personal data, contacts, birthdays, and emails. It means disconnecting apps and disrupting third-party services. Leaving Facebook, even for a season, means communicating with people by email or text or ***shudder*** in person. Even contemplating such an act feels like preparing to leave my country. Boarding up the windows. Turning off the plumbing. Checking, double-checking that I have the proper documents. Asking the neighbors to watch the place until I get back.

I am uncertain if this is a thing I can or will do. The irony bites me that I am even posting this to Facebook. Posting to Facebook about wanting to leave Facebook is the most Facebook thing you can do. 

Leaving Facebook would be an experiment in relationship building and maintenance. What is it like to speak to my friends in paragraphs rather than comments? What is it like to tell some specific someone something about my day rather than broadcast and wait to see who turns up in my feed? What is it like to not know so much about the smallest parts of everybody’s lives and not have them know the smallest parts of mine?

If I go, it will be so I can learn from the experience and write about it, and yet, if I go, no one will read what I have learned or written because Facebook is how readers find the blog. Hostage situation. Social media Stockholm Syndrome.

Where’s the F$&*#@^ Remote?

The television remote went missing last night. My daughter and her friend had been playing in the den all day and, somehow, no one knows exactly how, the remote vanished.

Let’s be honest. This blog is mostly about First World Problems. That’s what I write about because that’s where I live. Disappearing remotes are a significant annoyance. Disappearing remotes are maddening. They are piercingly aggravating. There is a small basket where these things are meant to go: the remote for the TV; the remote for the DVR; the remote for the DVD player and the remote for the VCR. Yes. We have four separate remotes. Please don’t judge. I know people who have more.

The point of this story is not remote control madness. This is not even a moral tale of laziness and being ruined by point-and-click convenience. The point, if there is one, is the blind fury of discovering the missing remote at 11:30pm and the obsessive worry that follows realizing the missing device might never be recovered. The mind races toward the scenario of having to purchase one of those awful universal remotes with too many itty bitty buttons and the work of reprograming all those settings by pressing all those itty bitty buttons and waiting and cursing and pressing and waiting and cursing some more.

And the point of this story is the crushing self-pity that comes at the end of a long, tiring day when all that is wanted is a few stolen moments of Netflix before bed and the disappointment that comes when you are deprived of that simple, restorative luxury.

And how the mind races around the room, seeking all the places that controller might be. Places dark and secret. Logical and profoundly illogical. And how, in the mind’s bright panic, the upsetting realization that the remote is not going to be found and that there is no other button so neatly labeled Netflix to resolve the situation and restore order to the collapsing shambles of the day. And how, gripped by fits of fear and frustration, the mind forgets how many other ways there are still to watch the thing that wants watching. How the DVR button still controls the TV. How the VCR and Wii can work together to funnel Netflix down from The Cloud. How laptops and iPads easily stream Netflix and, in a pinch, the very phone in my left front pocket can deliver everything I believe that I need.

But I cannot rest. I cannot relax. The remote is lost. How are people sleeping? How are their dreams not curdled with existential fear?

I search and search in the way I have of not really searching. I have stopped looking about twenty minutes ago and now it is just a parade of frustration and inventive imprecations toward the wayward slackers who don’t place remote controls back in the remote control basket. The proper place where such things belong.

Another Google Tool Gone: Google Reader

Twitter is abuzz right now with the news that Google will deactivate Google Reader on July 1. I haven’t sifted through all the conspiracy theories, hand-wringing and lamentations yet. I will. There will be blood. Nothing gets nerds more bestirred than the loss of free tools that work so well and with such single purpose that they disappear into the background like plumbing.

Come to think of it, that’s pretty much what this feels like. Google just told me that they are coming to my house on July 1 and removing all my plumbing. Sorry. We just áren’t doing plumbing anymore.

Okay, not exactly, but this isn’t the first time Google has taken away a tool that I found essential, useful and brilliant in its simplicity. A few months ago, I lost Google Desktop, which for several years had been the easiest way to find anything in my work computer files. I file things pretty well but Google Desktop was a master tool because it indexed the fulltext of every document and every email on my hard drive. Major power. When I received a new laptop from work, I tried to reinstall the application only to learn that it had been discontinued months before. I have been limping along ever since with the Windows 7 native search feature. Useful but weak in comparison.

More recently, the migration from Google Docs to Google Drive broke some of my documents and made it hard to edit documents that started out as Word files. It took a while to realize that you can still save those documents as editable and shareable Google docs files. They just don’t make it obvious. I have since caught on. No big deal.

The loss of Google Reader is a bigger deal. I have been using Google Reader as my RSS aggregator for years. I particularly like the way it integrates with third party iOS apps like FeedlerPro. I’ve got a few months to research options. Lifehacker offers a few suggestions.

In the meantime, enjoy the firestorm on Twitter. The nerds are bestirred. Long live the nerds.

A Thoughtless Gift, More Personal than Cash

My friend Daryl turned 40 yesterday. I gave him an Amazon gift card. My mother turned <redacted> last week. I gave her an Amazon gift card. I gave my youngest brother and my dad Amazon gift cards for Christmas. I am pretty sure I also gave my dad an Amazon gift card for his birthday in October.

I admire people who possess the talent for gift-giving. Some people have an eye for the perfect token of admiration, that small, specific little something that stands as evidence of attention to the friendship. I am not one of those people.

I’m not lazy. I want to give the right gift. I want the gift to be meaningful. I want the gift to be interesting and valued and evoke some special memory in the recipient years later. I want the gift I give to do all these things, but, most of all, I want my gift to be useful.

I used to think that giving gift cards was the least thoughtful gift a person could give. A gift card was an admission of failure, an acknowledgment that I could not find anything suitable in the amount of time I gave myself to look for that special token. Just barely more personal than giving someone cash, which, back in the day, meant you hadn’t even bothered to leave your house.

Of course, these days, if I gave someone cash, it means I made a special trip to the credit union or ATM since I never carry cash.

I often give Amazon gift cards but feel a bit conflicted every time. I like Amazon gift cards. They are useful and valued and allow purchase of interesting things. I give Amazon gift cards because they allow a person to get whatever they want and not have to suffer covert trips through the Walmart return line in the middle of night. I give Amazon gift cards because I like getting them. I like having credit in my Amazon and iTunes accounts which can be used at a moment’s notice.

Still, I often worry that others might feel I am devaluing the relationship, that somehow the Amazon card represents a shortcut in our friendship that bespeaks a laxness or lazy inattention.

I worry too much it turns out. My friend Daryl got at least 5 other Amazon gift cards. Every single card he opened had a card from Amazon. It was like opening a treasure chest of virtual goods. He was happy. I was happy. If my gift was the lazy fruit of thoughtlessness, then everyone else was lazy and thoughtless too.

Instead, I realized an important truth. Amazon and iTunes gift cards are the new social currency. We don’t give gifts as much anymore. People don’t really need or want stuff. So, instead, we give them little pieces of plastic that represent a kind of pretend money which they can use, if they want, to purchase invisible goods.

Daryl probably has a long list of nifty things he plans to buy. Some of them are probably visible. He is a great collector of books, games and other interesting things. As for me, I collect invisible things — music, eBooks, apps. On birthdays and holidays, I hope for the little envelope with the Amazon or iTunes card inside. It saves me a trip to the store to convert my cash into single-store credit. This is the new economy. I don’t want money unless it is the kind I can spend easily at Amazon or Apple.

What do you think? Are gift cards a cop out or a super-thoughtful way to say you care?

I don’t do boredom.

My 5 year old daughter is growing up ridiculously well-entertained. She has shelves of books, puzzles and games. She deftly navigates Netflix and DirectTV menus.  She loves Temple Run, Sims and Angry Birds Star Wars on the iPad. She has become a MarioKart master.

Over the recent Christmas break, we fell into some bad habits. We watched too much TV, played too much MarioKart and washed it all down with iPad. We also read books, made up stories, played outside and did other stuff, but Netflix and MarioKart were central features in our three weeks off together.

She got in trouble yesterday — bedtime defiance issues — and lost her Wii privileges. Loss of Wii is a double-hit because it means no Netflix as well as no MarioKart. Losing Wii access is the surest way to capture my daughter’s attention.

Today, a day spent Wii-free, she complained once of boredom. “I’m bored,” she told me. I don’t think this was strictly true. In fact, I think her boredom was feigned to provoke me. It works.

I hate hearing my daughter say she is bored. I hate hearing adults say they are bored. I don’t really understand what boredom feels like. I don’t do boredom. I do frustration, confusion, laziness, tiredness and exhaustion all the time, but I don’t do boredom.

Boredom  happens when a person is utterly uncomfortable or unfamiliar with their own mind. Boredom happens when the room is quiet and a person runs out of thoughts to fill the silence.

Boredom, as it happens, is also a gift. Boredom forces the mind to pay attention. Boredom is a an empty state. Boredom is often a clever disguise for creative resistance. Boredom is the time our mind takes to assimilate new ideas in the absense of incoming stimuli.

My daughter is only five. Maybe she is bored. Maybe she is not. Impossible to say. I know I cannot tolerate willful boredom. Read a book. Make up a story. Sing a song. The mind is always moving. There is no such thing as actually sitting still.

Hyperbole kills: Tech advertising limits ability to solve problems

Random juxtaposition of ideas is often, for me, the Web’s most useful gift. Consider this: last night I watched this satirical video about Apple’s iPad mini:

and then 20 minutes later read this really insightful article from MIT Technology Review about “Why We Can’t Solve Big Problems”.

You should enjoy both for yourself. The idea that sparked for me was the false expectation that each generation of Apple stuff be revolutionary, innovative or game-changing. We should place a moratorium on these words when talking about technology.

A faster processor is not revolutionary unless it allows us to do something we couldn’t even think about before.

Better screen resolution isn’t innovative unless it makes things visible that were not visible before. It just makes things look prettier. Prettier is good. Prettier is worth paying for. Prettier isn’t necessarily innovative.

If I were a person who carried things in a purse, I might be tempted to consider a smaller iPad as being game-changing. But only if it meant I could use my iPad in novel situations where I could not previously use it.

I love my iStuff. Desperately and truly. I just happen to believe that Apple is guilty of the kind of advertising hyperbole that diminishes our collective ability to imagine the ways great technology might help actually solve huge, intractable problems.

I’m am so glad to have smartphones, Twitter and streaming video service enriching my daily life. Where are we with world hunger, climate change and space exploration?

Facebook is failing me

I don’t Facebook as much as I used to. My apologies to my Facebook friends. I still love you. I just don’t love the Facebook experience as much as I once did. I still check in many times throughout the day. I still post status updates, share pictures and video of my daughter and links to interesting articles. I check-in at places and share new blog posts, books I’m reading and, occassionally, the music I’m listening to. I still enjoy that part of everything.

But I am finding it very difficult to keep up with other people. The people I most want to see are getting buried beneath the Other Stuff. At the moment, I use Facebook much like a publishing platform. I’d like to use it as a way to keep in touch with friends.

I think there are two main reasons this is happening: 1) Facebook isn’t mobile friendly and 2) I forget to use the curated feeds.

Facebook isn’t mobile friendly. Both the iPhone and iPad apps are wretched. This is a problem since I do most of my Facebooking on my phone and tablet. To be fair, both are actually great in allowing me to post statuses, share pictures and video directly from my phone’s camera roll and check-in places. I get real-time notifications when people like, comment, message or post to my Wall. This is all terrific, which is why I do these things a lot. What I don’t do a lot is visit other people’s news feeds. They don’t render well on either the iPhone or iPad. The feeds are cumbersome to explore and can be difficult to comment on. I usually scroll a few screens, hit “like” a dozen times and move on to something else. Not good friend behavior.

I have tried using Facebook in Safari, which is somewhat better than the app interface but still isn’t fully functional. The Timeline UI renders rather poorly and it takes  a while for things down the page to load. Not good.

From time to time, I try to adjust to these problems by using a third party platform like HootSuite or Flipboard. Both help me see posts I would otherwise miss but neither feel like real Facebook experiences. I am open to suggestions here.

The problem with other people’s feeds became most pronounced about a year ago when Facebook changed the way they ranked news feeds. I started getting a lot more random posts than posts from the friends with whom I was most engaged. Not sure what they changed in the news feed algorithm, but it made my Facebook experience less coherent, not more. At the same time, they made Facebook less friendly by adding the javascript real-time crawler in the upper right-hand corner. This does not display at all on the mobile browser versions. Confusing.

Tonight, I rediscovered the smart lists on the left that allow me to customize feeds to lift friends into focused group categories that hopefully make them more manageable. Not sure how I missed that fact. I’m going to give list making another try. Hopefully, I will begin seeing more posts and engaging with friends more meaningfully. Until then, Facebook peeps, know that I love you and wish you the best, even if I haven’t liked your posts in a while.

How do you use Facebook? Do you curate lists? Visit specific friends’ Walls directly? Visit all friends’ Walls regularly? I’m looking for practical advice here. I’m not sure how Facebook became strange to me. I need help becoming a better friend.

 

 

Does the iPhone kill creativity?

It feels good to be writing again. Earlier today, I was wondering why I ever stopped. The iPhone and iPad crossed my mind but I wasn’t quite sure how they related to my decreased creative impulse. I haven’t been lazy. Quite the opposite, I’ve been productivity obsessed. In the two years since I got my first iPhone and iPad, I’ve been busier, more productive and better informed that ever before.

In my small amount of free-time I have been Facebooking, tweeting, following RSS news feeds, setting up search builder alerts in library databases, blogging, and sharing links of interest to colleagues across the state. I have become ridiculously well-informed through the miracles of Twitter, Google Reader, Flipboard, Zite, Vodio and Instapaper. I’ve been gathering weblinks like a manic squirrel and stashing them in Evernote, Google Bookmarks, and various other digital hidey holes.

The trouble is, I haven’t been taking the time to process all of this information or wonder exactly what it is for.

The universe is often kind. I was pondering all of these things earlier today, wondering how they fit together and then I read Jay Fields’ LifeHacker post “Is Productivity Killing Your Creativity?”

Creativity requires downtime. Insights are created in the space between activities where seemingly unrelated events are casually examined and relationships are found. Fields, like me, loves his iPhone. The trouble is, the iPhone destroys downtime. The mind is hungry for information and the hand so easily reaches for the iPhone when standing in line, waiting for the bus, waiting for the kid to get dressed, whatever. The idea is that these moments between things used to be filled with free-ranging thoughts, which created the building blocks required to make new ideas. When the mind is always engaged in taking in new information, there is no time left to make anything happen with this information.

Fields writes:

I’m convinced that my iPhone was the root of my creativity issues. Life is full of ‘waiting time’ – waiting for the subway, waiting to see your doctor, waiting in the elevator, waiting in line at airport/grocery store/coffee shop, and waiting at the bar to meet your friends. Pre-iPhone I would spend this waiting time pondering anything that was troubling me. Now, I open Safari on my iPhone to see who is the latest injury on the FSU, or who’s tweeting about what (seems like it’s mostly sponsorship requests these days). I don’t spend that time thinking about anything, I spend that time reading – reading about things that have very little impact on my life, but seem to always more than fill my waiting time.

I’m not planning to surrender my iPhone, but I like Fields’ rather modest solution. He moved the attention-suckers to the second screen of his iPhone so that when he instinctively reached for the device, he had time to remind himself that he needs time to think. Fields also schedules “stare out the window time” into his day. Both of these are doable solutions.

I want to sustain habits that foster greater creativity. I still want to be ridiculously well-informed, but I need time to figure out how this information involves my life. I need time to do things with the stuff I learn.

Funny how the answers we need often arrive just when we need them. Or maybe, I’ve just slowed my mind down enough to create a relationship between two entirely unrelated events. Either way, I am feeling grateful.

Vacation envy

I haven’t traveled anywhere for vacation since 2003. I won’t bore you with the reasons why. Let’s just agree that I’m a bit overdue for non-work-related travel.

For the past week, I can’t log into Facebook without seeing tons of pictures of happy friends smiling on beaches. Friends toasting at nice restaurants and checking in from exotic locales. I don’t begrudge them their happiness. They are my friends. I am glad for them, but I think I liked it better in the old days when I didn’t get to travel vicariously along with all my globe-trotting friends in more or less real-time. The twinge of vacation envy wasn’t so sharp hearing about it after the fact, looking at a few dozen photographs and getting the distilled 10 minute travelogue.

I want my friends to keep having a great time. I want them to keep posting their pictures. What I want is a software solution so I can opt out of their happiness temporarily until I have steeled myself for the uncharitable thoughts and feelings that arise from involuntary vacation envy.

I want Facebook to install a photo filter that will automatically screen beach pictures from showing up in my news feed from the months of May through August. After that, I’m fine.

But, if Facebook is too busy dealing with its IPO fall-out and figuring out how to monetize the mobile Facebook experience, then I would settle for a third party solution. I’m picturing some sort of Facebook API that guarantees a vacation photo free user experience when I need it. Just something until the nerves settle and I resign myself to another year of not being at the beach and not being the smiling person toasting at some fantastic restaurant locale.

That shouldn’t be too much to ask.

I can’t be the only person who could use this.

Small ironies from my TLA 2012 conference presentation

I had the privilege of presenting yesterday afternoon at the Tennessee Library Association’s 2012 conference in Knoxville. The topic was “TBR Libraries on Any Screen: Creating Mobile Libraries”.

I co-presented with Sally Robertson from Nashville State Community College. The main focus of our presentation was that Tennessee Board of Regents Libraries should build an infrastructure to share progress and problems with our various, individual mobile library projects so that we can all build our pilots faster, learn from each other and avoid repeating the same mistakes.

Two major elements of any presentation on mobile libraries: availability of wireless internet access and eBooks.

So here’s the irony part. The hotel conference wireless worked really well in every room except for the one room in which we were presenting. Sally discovered this the day before when her presentation was crippled a bit by the lack of internet access. Our work around for her was to find someone willing to let her tether the laptop to their phone wireless. It worked well. Object lesson: be creative and ask people for help.

He wouldn’t tell us exactly how much that particular act of kindness would cost him. We knew we couldn’t ask that same person to allow us to tether two days in a row.

Much of my yesterday morning was spent testing my laptop’s antenna, borrowing laptops from friends to test their access in the same room. It all came to nought. And then we had the fortune of meeting Rusty, who isn’t exactly the hotel IT guy since the hotel doesn’t exactly have an IT guy. Rusty is the friendly person at the hotel who helps set things up for conferences, knows where they keep the ethernet cables and is willing to help. If anybody needs to come up with a name for their next child, please consider Rusty.

Irony #1: we presented about the importance of strong, reliable wireless internet access in our libraries by using a laptop physically wired to the ethernet.

By the way, a side observation: despite all our fannish raving about the miraculous iPad as a teaching/learning device, you cannot plug an iPad directly into the ethernet cable. If we had been presenting with iPad only, as we considered doing, we would have been DOA.

Okay. So, no real problem. You roll with things and people help you figure them out.

Irony #2: We wanted an easy way to give attendees the URLs to our project website. Being good librarians, we created bookmarks. While handing them out, it occurred to me that anyone who reads primarily on an eReader has absolutely no use for a bookmark. We can keep giving them out, but at some point we might consider not calling them bookmarks and just call them long, skinny handouts and let the people who need a bookmark make the leap.

It was a fun presentation. I learned more from giving the presentation than people listening likely learned from me. That’s why I agree to present.