Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Intent to Vacate

I've been using Blogger as my publishing platform for the last 7 years. In tech years, this is something of an eternity. Also, I build and maintain websites for a living. So, it's a little embarrassing just how outdated and awful the look and feel of this site are. Look at the header of this site. It looks like one of the custom backgrounds the photographer offered our parents in elementary school when they were taking our yearbook photos.

Blogger's toolset hasn't evolved much since I started this. I'd like to have a blog that supports code formatting, LaTeX, and other nerdy things. It's also not lost on me that the current font is not only ugly, be extremely difficult for the eyes to read over an extended period of time.

So I have two options to improve things:

  1. Figure out how to use Blogger-specific junk in order to hack in what I want.
  2. Move all content and future blog posts to another, more developer-friendly blog framework.
Naturally, being a developer, I'm going to opt for the latter. This is unlikely to happen right away, but expect this blog to vanish in the near future. I'm pointing this out because people subscribed to the RSS feed might get no notification about a redirect to the new site.

Outside of that, I'm beginning to feel an urge to shift my focus from writing philosophical nonsense back to writing code. This hiatus and all of this composition has been wonderful, since I think it has helped heal several scars I had on my brain tissue. 

My other healing secret (aside from writing): allowing the sweltering Arizona sunshine to scorch my face for several hours per day.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Disconnected

A few years ago, before I disabled my Facebook account entirely, I turned off all notification emails, uninstalled the Facebook app, and taught myself not to automatically type in "facebook.com" in my browser's address bar whenever I got bored with the work I was doing on the computer. The latter one was the most challenging, since this was a habit that had been ingrained for several years.

I heard someone once joked that "I don't even have a Facebook account!" is the new "I don't even own a TV!" It's the mark of the self-righteous person who has chosen to liberate themselves from the technology of the lowest common denominator, and who has to derive their sense of self-worth from telling everyone else around them about how grand it is that they've liberated themselves from it, while insinuating that all other people should follow their example.

I'm not one to lecture; I'm merely one to share my own story. I learned that Facebook, like television, is something that is best consumed with portion control. Instead of eating the ice cream right out of the carton, for example, you spoon out the amount you want into a bowl and eat out of the bowl. I'm not a dietician, but knowing my own eating habits tells me that this tactic makes it far less likely that I'm going to glance down 15 minutes later, and find myself staring at an empty carton and sticky spoon, realizing that I've somehow eaten the whole carton.

As they say: moderation.

So I stopped going to the television to kill an indeterminate amount of time. Instead of looking for a new television series that would entertain me until I fell asleep, I started setting aside blocks of time in which I would watch something to mentally unwind, then step away to do something else. Of course, this works so long as the television series isn't one with dangling cliffhangers at the end of each episode that hook into your brain and pull you along into the next one.

Remember when Netflix didn't have the "auto-play the next episode" for TV shows? Remember when people used to complain about this? I remember complaining about it. Now that each TV show I put on is a slippery slope of wasted time, I have to wonder: was this really ever a problem?

Anyhoo. Where was I? Ah, so a few years ago, I disconnected my email inbox from all social networking messaging. I removed the notifications from the mobile apps I left installed. Nothing from the platform would pull me into social media, save for my own impulses. For this reason, social media was trickier to disconnect from. This was partly because I got into Facebook when I had just moved across the country to a city where I didn't know a single soul except for my girlfriend, and I didn't have the requisite social skills to walk outside and talk to strangers. Any ersatz social connection was better than none. I eventually made friends offline, but this didn't ease the difficulty of recusing myself from the social media...old habits and all that.

I even found that my habit of working with my email inbox constantly open in a browser tab was distracting. I now leave this closed most of the time. When I have it open, most of the emails I'm getting from vendors sending me marketing junk skip my inbox and go to filters I've set up. If my inbox alerts me to a new email, it's most likely a human and not a robot.

I've been living this way, mostly disconnected from the immediate demands of technology, for the last couple of years. It has been liberating, but I believe it has also been responsible for some bouts of loneliness that I felt while I was adjusting. It's not a really a huge surprise, but after years of engaging in social media, there were withdrawal symptoms. I had to face the wrath of #FOMO, and to borrow from Homer Simpson, there was no place where people could hear my various witty remarks. (Their loss, of course.)

Taking this step probably isn't for everyone. There have been long-term drawbacks. I don't keep my phone on me at all times, and even when I do, I'll often ignore it when I'm with other people, so I'll be unresponsive to text messages from my friends to what might be considered, by modern standards, a fault. Even offline, conversations tend to crop up in my social circles about things that happened online, so sometimes I'm that one person that needs to be shown the video that everyone else already saw on Facebook so I have context for the rest of some conversation.

But overall, comparing the two, I'd say that living without social media having its claws in my mind is much more enjoyable. I'd suggest that anyone who's wired in all the time take the 30 minutes or so right now, and set up disconnection from social media or technology, as much as your vocation might comfortably permit.

Don't put this off...try it right now. Try it for a day or, better yet, a week. If you can't bear the pain of #fomo, rest assured that social media will happily welcome you back with open arms. It's the place where everybody knows your name.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Impact

If there were one single thing I wish I could accomplish with my writing, it would be to make the reader more conscious and considerate of the emotional impact they're having on the people around them.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Bottom of the Pyramid

We like to tell ourselves stories. As we make sense of our lives, we cast ourselves as the protagonist in an ongoing narrative, surrounded by supporting characters.

The structure of fiction almost certainly proceeds from our tendency to do this. Even in large stories with several characters that are all given equal weight in the storyline, there always needs to be a central character for the audience to latch onto, who is elevated above all the others. We need this, because we are most comfortable with stories that match the one we're constantly telling ourselves: that there is one central character around whom everything revolves.

The problem with this story structure is that real life is almost never like this. We spend our lives trying to write our own story, imagining that we're the the lead, even in situations in which we do not lead. Anything worth accomplishing in this world is never the effort of a single person, but of a group of people acting in concert. People don't coalesce around a single goal well when everyone thinks they are, or should be, in the lead role.

Our stories are real. Since they often define us, they are extremely important to our sense of self. The world in which I imagine living, the one in which I'd like to live, is one where more people are willing to cast themselves in supporting roles.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Acceptance Versus Encouragement

Here's a tricky question I've been struggling with as of late: when you're deal with another person, what is the correct balance between saying, "As a human being, you are already good enough" and saying, "You have the potential to become much more than you already are"? There's a pernicious insinuation in the latter that, while it may be encouraging, can also be seen as insulting, if it's offered in the wrong situation.

When in doubt, I favor acceptance over encouragement. In my experience, people are naturally inclined to grow, to become more than they are, without encouragement. But most people struggle to accept themselves as they are, and you have to start from a place of acceptance before you understand how you can grow.

Can Men Be Feminists?

Oddly, I see this question come up quite frequently. My initial gut reaction is: who cares? I would say that if a man wants to be supportive of a particular cause, why suggest that he cannot? I'm not stricken with cancer, nor has any member of my family ever been, but I don't think the American Cancer Society would turn down my offer of support in helping fight the issue because of this reason. Perhaps feminism is distinct in a way that I'm failing to identify.

Naturally, there is the risk that a man calling himself a feminist might do so for the wrong reasons, or he might misrepresent the movement itself. Many men tend to be sexist inadvertently, in ways of which they are not aware. A squadron of men running around with shirts reading "This is what a feminist looks like" while perpetuating rape culture could do more harm than good in their community. Making a movement completely inclusive allows it to spread to more people, but the median amount of passion and understanding of the core mission will most likely decrease.

Perhaps most importantly, if you use the measure of how much a person "gets it" in order to determine how worthy they are of being a card-carrying feminist, there are certainly women who call themselves feminists who would fail the litmus test as well. (Whatever such a test might entail.)

It's not a terrible question to ask if there should be a standard to which all feminists should hold themselves. Like any cause for social justice, I'd believe this is something you should commit to over time, not only in word, but in deed. It shouldn't be enough to apply the label to yourself one day, then simply coast on whatever knowledge brought you to apply the label. Culture changes, as does the body of knowledge with which one must be familiar to understand the mechanics of oppression.

This is especially true, I believe, if you are a man. Women live the understanding of their oppression in our society every day...though they may not be automatically or intuitively aware of how they should modify their actions in order to effect social change. As men we must continually seek this understanding, make an ongoing effort to scrutinize our own actions, and change them to not only avoid doing harm, but in an effort to do good.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Refractory Index

People often ask me what I chose to start studying religious scripture. There's an old, possibly apocryphal tale about someone walking into W.C. Fields' dressing room and catching him reading a Bible. In an effort to cover it up, he quickly said, "I'm looking for loopholes." In casual conversation, this is usually the answer I offer.

We understand a great deal about the structure of matter due to the field of crystallography. A certain part of the electromagnetic spectrum is sent as a beam into a solid and, based on its diffraction pattern or angle of the refracted rays, you can make a determination about the internal structure of the atoms of that solid. This requires that you first understand the properties of the beam of electromagnetic particles you sent into the solid.

I started studying the scriptures of the major religions, therefore, because I wanted to understand people better. The ideas that come from any given religion is the beam of electromagnetic particles that goes into us. No one has ever explained to me what their religion is; they have merely explained to me what their religion means to them.