A Deluge or Two

I read earlier that the last time downtown Sacramento received 4 inches of rain in a day, it was 1880. The forecast today was for almost 5 inches of rain. It’s been going hard all day without a break and I think we’re going to hit that point.

This post isn’t about the weather. It’s about getting overwhelming by a flood of unexpected stuff.

Today started with the rain knocking out my power multiple times, just before I was supposed to wake up. It set off alarms and took down my web servers. Not an ideal start to my day, but none of it was beyond what I could handle today.

After that, things were fine most of the day. Mike Baltar came over early and we attended SiWC together from my kitchen table. I made waffles for breakfast, ordered pizza for lunch, and we enjoyed the last day of the conference. As the rain continued to pour down outside, flooding my backyard and making my cat absolutely miserable, we attended classes and break-out rooms offering mostly material I’ve heard before. The deluge in this case was feelings of restlessness. By the end of the day, I started compiling the next section of Spin City to send to my critique group, and my restlessness faded. I wish I had worked on any of my stories this last week or so.

To be fair to SiWC, the restlessness is not entirely because of the content of the panels. Most of it comes from my gaming computer still being unavailable. I ordered some coolant to fill the new pump and reservoir which still hasn’t arrived. It was supposed to be here Wednesday, but it keeps getting delayed. At the start of the day, the FedEx tracking said it would be here today. In fact, the Detailed Tracking page still gives an estimate of Sunday, October 24th, even though it’s 10:35PM and there is no way a truck is pulling up to my house. Especially not with this rain.

The weekend went too fast. I really don’t feel ready to get back to work tomorrow, mostly because there’s so much to do. I’m always in high demand at my workplace, but these days, it’s too much. I can’t seem to hold it all in my head or see a light at the end of the tunnel. Part of it is because I’m not writing all the code myself. I’m helping other people write it, offering guidance and instructions on how the product can be completed.

For the most part, they listen to me, and I appreciate it, but there is always these inner demons whispering in my head. Inner demons of self-doubt, questioning why anyone should listen to me about anything. Some days it’s easier to recognize it as bullshit and ignore it, but other days there are just so many doubts that it’s exhausting just paying attention to what’s going on around me. The worst is when someone I work with says something that corresponds with the inner demons.

It feels like I’m drowning, and there really isn’t anything I can do about it. I have to keep my head up and keep trying, but there isn’t anywhere to go if I tried to take another vacation. There isn’t anyone I can talk to that isn’t already going through stuff on their own. The rain keeps coming down, a storm covering not just me, but all the people around me, and we’re all trying to stay warm and dry until it all passes.

See? I told you this wasn’t about the weather.


Feeling My Age

Lately, I’ve been feeling old. Not sore or sick or extra tired. I’m in good health. It’s just a feeling like I’ve lost some ground against time that I’m never going to get back.

During the summer, while playing airsoft with Michael and Chris, I tripped and scraped up my knee something fierce. It hurt for a couple of days, a scabbed over shallow scratch that looked angry and upset. It remained discolored until just a few days ago. I don’t seem to heal as fast as I used to which again, makes me feel old.

Also, after getting back from the cruise, I decided to grow my beard out again. It grew as quickly as ever, but there’s quite a bit of white in it. When I look in a mirror, a middle-aged man looks back.

It doesn’t seem like we should be entering the end of 2021. Heck, it doesn’t seem like we should be that far off for 2010. It’s not just the pandemic that’s messed with my perception of time.

When we’re young, it’s easy to talk in pop culture references, because pop culture targets the youth. These are like inside jokes with society itself. I guess they’re just memes, but it’s funny how often pop culture references come up in regular conversation, and how old you can feel when you accidentally say something that would have been hilarious 10 or 15 years, but now just make people tilt their head, wondering what you’re talking about. Memes almost always age like milk.

Earlier this week, I was taking apart my gaming computer to upgrade the fans. Putting it back together, I needed to plug in a cable on the motherboard which was in a really difficult position, beneath one of the radiator fans. Chris saw me struggling and said, “Do you want me to do it?”

Friends, I have never needed someone to help me with manual dexterity. I’ve been plugging in difficult cables since I was 6 years old. Chris didn’t mean to make me feel old or feeble, but I couldn’t escape the feeling. If I can’t put my computer back together after I take it apart, that’s going to close off one of my joys in life.

I stepped out of the way and let him try. Fortunately for me, he struggled as much as I did. In the end, I wound up removing the fan and doing it myself. But that feeling of being unable to pursue my hobbies because of age has stuck with me.

In Synthetic Dreams, one of the core concepts of the story is the main character dealing with their fear of dying. I’m not sure that’s what I’m afraid of as much as I’m afraid of becoming incapable of doing the things I enjoy, or losing some aspects my intellect and noticing it. I often define myself by what I do, or even what I’m capable of doing. How will I define myself when those old definitions are no longer true?

It makes me think of my parents. My Dad as 19 years older than my Mom, but he often seemed younger than her. My kids never got to meet my Dad, and when they knew my Mom, they knew her as the old Grandma. I want to age like my Dad, but I suspect I’m going to wind up more like my Mom.

I’m not sure what to do about any of that. Diet and exercise and hope it’s not too late to get in better shape? Maybe. Just not worry about it? It’d be easier for me to sprout wings and fly.

Today, I didn’t attend SiWC like I thought I would. I did not feel up to it. I’m waiting for a package which should have been here Wednesday, but was delayed to today, and now FedEx isn’t giving me a date at all. Between that and a couple of other things going on in my head, I haven’t felt like writing or socializing at all. I feel old and grouchy and I don’t feel like I have the energy to pretend I’m neither of those things.

Tomorrow should be better.


Attending Surrey International Writing Conference 2021

My blog post schedule states that I should be writing about my eating habits, but that’s not very interesting, so let’s talk about something else.

I was supposed to go to Tahoe with my company and party at Harvey’s. However, the Surry International Writing Conference (SiWC) started this week. I could miss part of the conference to spent a bunch of time with mask-less coworkers in a place getting snow and rain, or I can stay at home and network with other writers, building on my writing career.

Easy choice.

This is my second SiWC, and the second one that’s fully online. Last year, I attended because the Writing Excuses Cruise was canceled, and SiWC was the alternative selected by the Writing Excuses crew. We had our own time slots before SiWC where we could get together on Zoom and catch up. Then we attended the actual conference which was excellent all on its own.

SiWC 2020 was the first conference I really attended after the start of the pandemic. A few moments stand out in my memory. For one of the panels, we were allowed to submit the first few pages of a novel, which would then get selected at random and read by Mary Robinette Kowal to a group of agents and editors. The panel would then give a real-time reaction to the story read. Synthetic Dreams was selected and it received very, very positive reactions, both from the panelist and from the other people in the chat listening.

Another highlight involved a panel dedicated to the formation and running of critique groups. After receiving some instruction on how to run a group effectively, we were split into different rooms based on the genres we like to write, and given the opportunity to mingle and possibly start a critique group with other attendees. The group we started last year is still going.

There are a few other moments I can talk about regarding SiWC last year, but they involve alcohol and they’re mostly embarrassing. Suffice it to say, I had a good time last year and I’ve been looking forward to attending this year.

So far, so good. I’ve missed a couple of panels because of work, but what I’ve attended so far has been great. I’ve really enjoyed getting to hang out and chat. In fact, I’m late getting this post up because I got carried away, talking about books and roleplaying games and computer games.

That’s going to be my weekend, then. I still need to look at the schedule and plan around the panels I want to hear live, but I don’t have to fret over the ones I’ve missed because they’re all being recorded, and I have 30 days to listen.

Sunday is going to be special, because my friend Mike Baltar will come over and we’ll be able to “attend” SiWC together for a while. I first met Mike on the 2019 cruise, and he is one of the members of my critique group that I mentioned a moment ago. We got to hang out on the 2021 cruise, too. We both live in Sacramento. There’s really no reason for us not to hang out more.

From what I’ve gathered, attending SiWC in person is even better than this online version, which tells me I need to attend once Covid relinquishes its grip.

I’m excited, and really looking forward to attending.


Finding the Energy to Pursue Tasks

I recently saw someone on Twitter ask for advice on how to deal with a deficit in executive function. Executive functions are the mental skills and faculties that allows a person to focus, work, handle emotions… you know. Be “productive.”

When I’m fully focused and engaged with a task, whether it’s work, music, or writing, all of my stubbornness is brought to bear. Nothing can tear me away. It doesn’t matter if the task is boring or complicated, I latch on and start burning mental energy. Sometimes I finish what I’m working on before I exhaust my stores. Other times, I don’t, and then things get interesting for me.

Long periods of hyper-focus are not the only way I can destroy my ability to function. Sometimes reading the news can sap my will, or sometimes a combination of bad diet and lack of sleep will leave me unable to form words or make decisions. The last year and half have been full of times where I could barely bring myself to get out of bed.

Work can wait sometimes, but only for a little while. Some days, as much as I might internally resemble the ashy remains of a forest fire, I can’t take time off and I have to earn my paycheck. During those times, I’m forced to trick myself into some semblance of productivity.

The first weapon in my arsenal: lists. I write lists on a whiteboard, in Notepad, or on a scrap of paper. The items on the list are small, simple tasks. Similar to what I talked about yesterday with goals, I make sure the tasks are narrow and well defined. If the tasks are too general or broad, I’m probably not going to accomplish them, and the exercise does me no good. Every time I accomplish one of these tasks, no matter how small or minor, I put a checkmark next to the item. I don’t cross them out. Over time, I want to be able to read the tasks I completed as I watch the checkmarks grow. Every time I place a checkmark, I get a little shot of endorphins, which powersNex me into the next item on the list.

Strategy number two: music. This doesn’t work all the time, and I can’t listen to music for every task. I find it difficult to write and listen to music at the same time, for example. I can program to music, though, and I can sometimes write technical documents with music playing. The music distracts the part of my brain that is being least cooperative, the part that wants to lean back in my chair and just watch YouTube for a few hours. If the music is particularly upbeat, I often find myself bopping along or singing, and my mood improves.

Next item: find a partner. This can take different forms. Sometimes, it’s as simple as asking for help. Not every task can be passed on or handled by multiple people, but sometimes just having another person around allows me to borrow some of their mental energy. I’m not going to ask someone else to write my story for me, but I might see if some other writers want to join me for some sprints. I can’t always pass some of the programming I do onto someone else, but there are some developers I can share my screen, letting me describe the application to them and engage a different part of my brain.

Those are my main strategies for dealing with a lack of energy or motivation. It is important to know when not to push. If I’m feeling burned out because I’ve been working a lot of hours at a high level of intensity, it’s time to become a sloth for a little while and not do anything. I have pushed through burnout before and it wasn’t good for me or the people around me. The quality of the work produced during that time suffered.

As has been said many times, be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself. Sometimes you need to push. Other times you need to sit down. Getting those times mixed up can lead to damage, and longer periods where it’s really hard to do anything.

If we were talking about physical activity, and someone complained about leg cramps and shortness of breath after running a half marathon, it is unlikely you would advise them to push through and keep running. Mental burnout is similar.

I’m not sure I’ve said anything new or particular interesting about this topic. By this time I’m sure we’ve all been there, and one way another, we’ve all had to learn the lessons I just described. It helps me to type it out again, though. Sitting here tonight, after a really intense work day, I’m thinking it’s time I turned off my brain for a while and focused on recovery.


The Usefulness of Goals

The plan today is to write “something about goals.”

What do I have to say on this topic? Past Brian really set me up today because when it comes to writing blog posts, specificity is key.

Come to think of it, specificity is key with setting goals, too. You can start with a goal like “I want to buy a house some day” but if you can turn that into “I’m going to buy the house on Maple street next year,” you’re more likely to achieve what you set out to accomplish.

I have a goal to get one of my novels traditionally published. It’s not a very specific goal, though, which may be why I haven’t moved much closer to reaching this goal. I keep writing and showing up, as it were, but maybe I’ll find more success if I focus on publishing a specific novel. Narrowing the focus to Spin City or Synthetic Dreams would make it possible to set specific steps and timelines.

I’m not narrowing that goal down tonight, but it’s something I will definitely consider.

The difference between a goal and a dream is action. You can imagine how your life will change when you win the lottery, but until you actually buy a ticket, it’s a dream, not a goal.

Goals don’t always need to be practical, but they should be achievable. You should be able to make plans and take steps towards getting closer to your goal. Setting a goal to become an astronaut or a professional athlete is actionable and achievable until you age out. Until then, you can study and work out and try to make contacts with the right people. Once the window closes, however, it’s healthier to shift to more possible targets.

Goals don’t have to be life changing. I set smaller goals for myself in my writing and at work all the time. Writing a blog post every day for 31 days in a row is an achievable, actionable goal that I’m accomplishing. Writing 50,000 words in the month of November is a goal I succeeded at 3 times in the past, and plan to do again this month. But sometimes I just focus on my daily goals. Make the bed. Clean the garage. Attend all the meetings on time.

Succeeding at things we set out to do makes us feel good about ourselves, and it leads to being able to achieve larger, more complicated goals. When I have a monster project at work, I break it into smaller tasks, focusing on the easiest at first so that I can leverage the feeling of accomplishment to launch into more challenging tasks.

When you fail to achieve a goal, when something goes from possible to impossible, it is important to forgive yourself. Trying to hit a target is laudable and good, and sometimes it has to be enough that we tried, even when we fail. I have certainly become discouraged after missing the mark. I’ve been downright depressed for weeks at a time after some particularly poignant misses. As of this writing, I’m on my feet and moving forward. I might still trip, but forgiveness and perseverance are just as important in achieving goals as focus, skill, and luck.

It may help to write your goals down. Do you use daily planners? Write your goals in there, or in some other journal. Or post them in public on a blog. Just having them on a page in front of you can be beneficial, even instrumental in being able to find success.

I like to use a whiteboard to list short term goals and the tasks necessary for completing them. As I finish tasks, I put a checkmark next to the item. Every time I check something off my list, it feels good.

Give yourself time to not be goal focused. This might be hours, days, or weeks. We all have different needs and different requirements to regain our mental fortitude. I try to play computer games in the evenings. As important as I believe it to be to have goals, it’s just as important to have waking time without any structure or plans.

Anyway, I suppose I don’t have that much to say about goals. Probably nothing you haven’t heard before, but maybe someone out there could use the reminder.

Also, if you need these two things…

That thing you’ve been thinking about doing but you’re afraid to take the first step? You have my permission to go for it, if you’re looking for permission. You have my support, if you need it.

If you’re overwhelmed and overburdened, and you just need to stop and breathe for a while, you have my permission to do that, too, if you’re waiting for someone to give you a break. You also have my support, if you need it.


Missed My 30 Year Reunion

My senior year of high school was 1990-91, which meant we should probably have had a 30 year reunion in 2020 or 2021. Probably thanks to Covid, the reunion didn’t happen.

I say “probably” because I didn’t see anything about it from anyone. Before I talk more about that, let’s talk about my 10 and 20 year reunions, which I did attend.

I remember feeling a little bit nervous going into the 10 year reunion. I was not particularly popular. I’m still not, but I have better tools for dealing with that now.

My 10 year reunion was after I finished my time in the Air Force. I had an okay job at the time, had just bought a home in Sacramento, and my kids were the cutest ages, 2 and 3. I may have been nervous going in, but then I felt this swell of confidence come over me, and I was fine. I had a good time, and I genuinely enjoyed seeing a bunch of people I hadn’t talked to in a decade.

Another 10 years rolled by, and I went to my 20 year reunion. The first reunion, I went by myself. Melissa came with me for the next, and I expected it to be a really good time. I had an okay job, my kids were doing great, and the only debt we had was the rest of the mortgage.

The 20 year reunion was weird. I felt very disconnected from everyone, and it was like these adults were trying to force the same social dynamics we engaged in during high school. Maybe that’s how most reunions go, but I don’t remember feeling it at the first reunion. Melissa and I left a little bit early, and I remember feeling profoundly sad about the whole thing.

Covid probably ensured there would be no 30 year reunion. How do I feel about that?

At this point in my life, I have a great job. My house is paid off and I have no debt. My kids are adults and doing great. I’m very proud of them. I’ve succeeded in getting a short story published. I have more accomplishments to be proud of at this point in my life than any other.

I don’t need to hang out with a bunch of near-50-year-olds in order to feel validation. People that repeatedly made me feel awkward or insignificant.

It might have been nice to attend just one more reunion, just to see if time and experience might have turned us all into decent people that could get along and be happy for each other. There are still a few people from high school that I see on Facebook, and they seem like nice people.

Covid robbed many of us of wonderful opportunities. Missing my 30 year high school reunion might have been a blessing in disguise, however.

Maybe we’ll see what comes up in 2030-31.



I want to talk about discrimination, even if though I have been fortunate enough to rarely be a target. I don’t expect to change the world. I doubt I’ll even have the opportunity to change any minds. I want to talk about it as “othering” because it weighs heavily on my mind every day, perhaps more so than any topic.

Every single day, I see examples of discrimination. From blatant, overt racism to silly blonde jokes. Fat shaming, kink shaming, ageism, ableism, sexism. Liberal versus conservative. Religious intolerance.

Discrimination manifests in ways as subtle as microaggressions to as overt as physical assault. Some people just like to pollute the air with slurs. The worst is the discrimination we don’t see, where people are denied jobs and loans and opportunities just because someone else takes offense to the way they look or the way they live their life.

Maybe it is difficult for some people to look at others and see the differences while retaining the idea that we are all the same.

Some individuals are true monsters, but not because of their cross section or identity. It’s okay to judge a person on their actions. When someone shows you who they really are, believe them. But let people show you first.

This is not simple. It takes practice and patience. But it is necessary.

I’m no saint. When I was younger, I took the messages from my church to heart, and I was not as kind as I should have been to someone that came out to me as gay. I hurt them with my disapproval. It’s one of my biggest regrets, and I’m sorry they had to suffer for me to learn the lesson.

It’s like we’re taught to Other people early on, and then we’re encouraged to practice it daily. Have you ever seen someone shout at someone for liking a different sports team? Have you been part of an organization that regularly hazes the newest members? How do you feel about patriotism? If you’re in the US, how comfortable are you with talking with someone with a thick accent? We’re trained in school, during pep rallies, to hold some other group of people in contempt, and as we get older, we continue to practice those ways every day. Reducing people to the place they’re from, or the way they look or sound.

There are worse forms of discrimination than others, and I’m not trying to diminish racism by also talking about sports fans treating each other badly. People are dying because of the color of their skin, every day. Although some sports fans tear their town apart and overturn cars based on the outcome of an event, it’s different. I’m talking about discrimination and othering broadly because I think the type of thinking involved is the same, and I want to reiterate that we are encouraged into this type of thinking in every walk of life. It’s systemic.

Is there an answer? Is this just how humans will always behave?

I want to believe things are getting better over time, but I don’t know. Individuals can certainly overcome ingrained habits and treat other people with respect and kindness, rather than reduce them to whatever cross-section is present. It takes a little bit of empathy and active listening. If enough individuals choose to overcome prejudice, then positive change can occur.

There are no easy answers. There are just people.


Am I a Technophobe?

Several of my posts this month have been down on technology, from social media to cell phones. I even suggested that technology is responsible for slowing down the evolution of media, which in turn causes pop culture to stagnate. If one didn’t know me, they might ask if I was some sort of luddite.

The short answer is no, I’m not a technophobe. Thank you for stopping by.

The long answer is nooooooooooooo.

I’m a technology enthusiast. Both my leisure and professional time is spent enjoying technology, specifically computers. I love building hardware and writing software, but I also enjoy learning electronics and aviation and physics.

There’s a reason I’m more drawn towards Sci-Fi than Fantasy.

Many years ago, when Melissa and I were looking for another school for Bryanna and Chris, we stopped by one of the more popular private school options and talked to them about their curriculum. They seemed pretty good, except for one thing: no screens. They took pride in denying kids time in front of computers, and they expected the kids to not have computer access at home. That struck me as incredibly short-sighted, because you really need good computer familiarity in order to accel in STEM programs.

Granted, I may have gone too the other way. I made sure the kids had their own computers, their own access to the internet, and their grades may have suffered a time or two because they spent more time playing games than doing their homework. Then again, they’re very comfortable with systems, with Chris going so far as to build and upgrade computers for both himself and his girlfriend. My kids turned out fine. Also, a technophobe wouldn’t have raised their kids the way I did.

I genuinely think our technology will save us in the long run. We’ll generate cleaner energy. We’ll build robots that pull plastic out of the ocean and pull carbon out of the air. If we’re lucky, we’ll design artificial intelligences that help us step back from war and division, allowing people greater opportunities to express themselves and enjoy and create art.

While teaching high school kids programming in an after school program, the Curiosity rover landed on Mars, and I could not stop thinking about it. I told the kids about it, how automated systems flew into the atmosphere, lowered the rover via a sky crane, then flew off so that it wouldn’t crash on the newly deployed robot. It happened on another planet, far enough away that humans couldn’t help even if they wanted to. And it worked.

I love technology. Science is experimenting and learning. Technology is doing. We need both.

With that in mind, when I look back on my recent posts where I disparage some of our technical achievements, it’s not the technology I have a problem with. It’s the people. Social media as a technology is fantastic, offering people the ability to connect in ways no one else could connect at any other point in history. And we use it to bully each other and elevate people that do not deserve to be elevated.

Cell phones are incredible pieces of technology that can give us access to information in a moment’s notice. We can talk to them, and for the most part, they’re able to interpret what we say and answer our questions or act on our requests. I don’t dislike cell phones because of the technology. I dislike them because other parts of my life have turned cell phones into an obligation. I want to love cell phones. I just can’t.

I am not a technophobe, but I like writing about characters that are afraid of technology. I think I can understand their perspective, even if I don’t share it.


Cell Phones – Less is More

My first cellphone was a Nokia in 1999. I don’t remember the model name or number, but it was the little brick-like thing that basically everyone had back then. I just got out of the Air Force and not only were Melissa and I looking for a home, I was looking for a job. If prospective employers were going to be able to call me back, I needed a phone number, so a cell phone made sense. I still have that original number.

I kept that brick for a really long time. I don’t remember what the phone was after that, but I think it was Windows CE based. I think it had a stylus? I really don’t remember. I liked it for a really long time, and then I didn’t, just like all of the phones I’ve ever had.

In 2008, I picked up the iPhone 3gs. I kept that until I started working for Trimark, then jumped on the Nokia Lumia 920. I really loved that phone. Unfortunately, the world conspired to kill Windows Phone, and Microsoft finally complied with their wishes. Then I switched to the Galaxy S7, and now I’m on the Galaxy Note 9. Both of the last two phone updates were somewhat hostile.

I’m not sure what happened, but with the Galaxy S7, I reached the point where I legitimately started to resent having to have a phone at all. It’s supposed to be this powerful device that puts the sum of human knowledge in the palm of my hand, simultaneously connecting me with friends and family at a moments notice. It feels more like obligation in physical form, and a way for government and corporate organizations to track and spy on me, if they wanted to.

With the proliferation of 2 factor authentication, I cannot do without a cell phone. I don’t really have a choice. If I want to be able to do my job or log into my bank account, I have to have a cell phone. It’s an indelible part of my life experience now. Not having a choice in the matter is probably a good part of why I do not care for cell phones anymore.

Apparently, AT&T thought I was still using the old Lumia, and since that device is 3G only, they decided I needed a new phone. I knew the S7 used LTE, so I knew that when the 3G network stops in a few months, my phone would be fine. AT&T sent me emails stating that my phone wouldn’t work when 3G went away, and I ignored those emails. I barely noticed when the emails switched from warnings to “We are going to send you a new phone.”

They selected the Galaxy Note 9. There’s some letters after the 9, but I don’t remember what they are. It supports 5G, and it has a stylus, and it’s a little bit larger than the S7. Large enough that it doesn’t really go in my front pocket very well anymore. Other than the size, it’s a fine phone, and a suitable replacement for the S7.

I thought when I received the new phone, I would transfer my hate from the S7 to the Note directly. I knew I was going to hate transferring apps and credentials and all the 2 factor stuff. I was right, in that was very inconvenient. I’ve had the new phone for a while now, and even tonight, I had to bust out the old phone in order to log into my Steam account.

A funny thing happened, though. I intentionally chose to remove a bunch of apps from the Note. I didn’t install Wordscapes, or Pokemon Go, or Twitter. I tried to uninstall Facebook, but the phone itself doesn’t allow for that, which is pretty scary. I allowed myself 1010! for games, and I installed Discord and Spotify and a few other apps I deemed essential.

Now… I kind of like my phone, again.

It helps that it’s new, and I don’t have to charge it every night. I’ve been getting away with charging it every 3 days.

The big quality of life improvement, though, is that I’ve reduced my access to social media, which was bumming me out at all hours of the day. I also reduced the games I was playing, because ultimately, those games weren’t as much fun as they were secondary jobs. I reduced some of my daily obligations just by not installing a handful of apps. It has improved my quality of life.

I suppose that’s the point, and it is almost certainly applicable in other areas. Less can be more. I don’t need the shiniest, newest cell phone, because the newest devices exceed my needs. That excess turns into a kind of weight on my mind, where I feel like I need to do more with the device in order to justify the cost and its existence.

If any of what I’ve just described resonates with you, perhaps you can do what I’ve done and simplify. Take a look at the apps on your phone that you’re using, and ask yourself if you need them. If you don’t need them, ask yourself if they’re making you happy. If they’re not making you happy and you don’t need them, uninstall them. Don’t fall into the sunk cost fallacy. It’s not worth it.


Social Media: The Great Mistake

In 2007, a handful of coworkers talked me into joining Facebook. I liked the prospect of reconnecting with old friends and family, but in the beginning, I joined for the games. I recall enjoying Mafia Wars, Heroes, and a little bit of Farmville.

Not long after that, one of my coworkers was talking about Twitter and how much fun they were having following some celebrities, but micro-blogging sounded lame to me. I didn’t join Twitter until 2011.

I remember thinking Google+ would be cool and played with it until it shut down. I never really had a lot of interest in Instagram, and I wound up creating an account there by accident a few years ago. I still haven’t posted any pictures. I even remember joining one a few years ago that was trying to be a Twitter replacement. It had an elephant for a logo, or something like that.

It’s fair to say my entrances into social media platforms have all been reluctant. With that in mind, you can take the following criticisms about social media with as much salt as you like.

In short, I think social media is the Internet’s biggest mistake, and it’s never going away. This is not a controversial opinion, which is weird considering how many of us are still using Twitter, Facebook, and the rest.

They Make Money Selling Our Data

You can create an account on these platforms and post information for free, but this is not a free service. As you upload your personal data, you go into a database, and algorithms using the pages you view and the words you post extract specific and detailed information about you. This information is then sold primarily to marketers, but it can wind up with anyone with enough capital to buy this information.

Facebook went so far as to buy a company that specialized in spyware and made it part of their mobile application. We have Apple to thank for cracking down on that, but Facebook continues to use unscrupulous methods to attain information about you. The Facebook app came installed on my brand new Galaxy Note 9, and unlike other applications, there is no option to uninstall it, which I find fascinating.

When the company you’re dealing with is making money off of you by selling your data to a third party, you’re not really a customer. At best, you’re a product. At worst, you’re a victim.

We Engage with the Worst Aspects of Humanity

If we only clicked on cat videos and harmless memes, social media wouldn’t be as much of a problem. I think some people actually do manage to avoid the worst of it, so all of my criticism of these platforms must seem out of place. Melissa sticks mostly with recipes and funny videos on Facebook, and so by avoiding Twitter, she’s not in constant danger of having her day ruined.

For example, earlier today, one of the trending subjects was “Bean Dad.” Do you know what Bean Dad refers to? If not, consider yourself lucky. In fact… if you’re unaware of the problems with social media and you don’t know anything about Bean Dad or why I’m bringing this up, click away and enjoy your day. I am not interested in bumming you out.

If Bean Dad sounds familiar, though, and you’re curious, it refers to a man that had a hungry 9 year old daughter. This little girls asked the Dad for lunch, but the Dad was busy putting together a puzzle, and told his 9 year old daughter to make some beans. The girl asked how, and the Dad said open a can of baked beans and put them in a pot. The girl didn’t know how to open the can and asked her Dad to do it. He told her to do it herself. She struggled to get the can open for 6 hours. She finally figured out how to get the can opener to work.

Maybe it was a good opportunity to teach the little girl how to make baked beans. But this little girls was hungry, and struggled for hours. Obviously the Dad is a tremendous asshole, and did his daughter no favors that day. She probably learned how to open the can on her own, but what she learned about her Dad is going to stay with her.

This happened in January of this year. Why is it trending today? Because some woman on Twitter said today that in order to force her 7 year old son to eat, she burns the boys Pokemon cards. Twitter became obsessed with this, and compared this woman to Bean Dad from 9 months ago.

I just talked about 2 extraordinarily bad people, but the behavior of the parents isn’t the point. The unfortunate truth is that there are lots of bad parents in the world we don’t know about. My Mom was inappropriately mean to me in a similar way, threatening to cut off my fingers in order to try and motivate me to clean my room when I was 4 or 5. Bad parents hurt their children, and those children grow up with scars, both physical and mental.

We on social media are also behaving badly, because we reward these bad parents with attention they have not earned and do not deserve. They get nicknamed things like Bean Dad, and for better or worse, they get their 15 minutes of fame. For some people, it ruins their lives. Other people somehow turn that attention into profit. This is how we end up with Ben Shapiros, Glen Becks, and Ann Coulters — monstrous people saying monstrous things and retaining a following by remaining in the public eye.

Perhaps you think I’m making a big, politically motivated stretch by mentioning those three after talking about the first 2 terrible parents. I haven’t given you the final bit of information that brings this all home. The woman that said she was burning her son’s Pokemon cards? It’s fake. She said it specifically to get attention. She’s a political communications strategist that’s worked for people like Rand Paul.

To summarize this point, we engage with the sensational, so the algorithms show us the most sensational news. Media outlets are encouraged by our behavior to post clickbait titles and slanted stories, because that’s what gets people to click their links. If people land on their stories, they get ad revenue. The way we engage with social media encourages the growth and prosperity of “fake news.”

Dirty Political Money and Lies

There is monetary incentive to sell ad space to Russians and foreign agencies that want to influence our election. These are sensational messages that get clicks. Facebook continues to spread a lot of propaganda, and there is no reason for them to question it, let along stop.

With the way social media works, we group ourselves into comfortable corners, sheltered from reasonable, opposing views. We’re continuously fed information from extreme perspectives, and we’re actively discouraged from trying to find any sort of common ground to work from. This results in greater polarization and widening gaps over topics that should not even be political.

In the middle of a pandemic, masks, social distancing, and the use of vaccines has become a political issue. Social media is a large part of why these matters remain political, because it acts as a megaphone for people with exceedingly narrow and extreme views.

It is reasonable to be concerned with injecting a virus into your system that is new and untested. It is reasonable to want to have a conversation about the vaccines, in order to assess that the cure isn’t going to be worse than the disease. 98% of people survive Covid, right? What if the virus has some long term effect that’s worse?

I can appreciate these concerns, and I can even address some of these in a reasonable fashion, with empathy. The truth is that these mRNA viruses are not new. They were started in the 80s as a way of fighting HIV. We have long term data, and Covid can actually be worse than the vaccine, because we know how the vaccine works, and we know that even if you survive Covid, you may have severe health problems for the rest of your life. Also, every time Covid spreads, we increase the likelihood of a new variant that will be more deadly, more resistant to treatment. Getting vaccinated is safe, and it is the kind thing to do because it reduces the chance of other people dying.

Matters of health and science should not be subject to sensationalism or political messaging, and yet the way we engage with social media encourages politicizing these subjects. For that matter, law shouldn’t be sensational, either.

Social Media is a Mixed Bag

For every good aspect of social media, there is one or more downsides. I like that I can use these platforms to stay in contact with friends and family that are socially and geographically distant. I like that I can connect with other people that have shared interests. I have enjoyed meeting other writers through Twitter. Some of these connections have turned into genuine friendships.

On the other hand, a lot can be lost in translation when we’re conveying our thoughts through text. Context can be lost. Emotions misread, which can lead to hurt feelings and unnecessary conflict. This is true in other mediums as well, but for all of the reasons I have already listed, social media magnifies and rebroadcasts simple conflicts, because nothing draws a crowd like an online fight. In fact, because of the kind of attention it draws, we’re sort of encouraged to pick fights online.

In addition to everything else I’ve described, I just don’t think social media is healthy. One moment, I’m reading about the passing of an old friend’s father. I’m filled with grief for my friend and their loss. I scroll down, and I’m immediately presented with a legitimately funny joke. The context switches are too fast. I’m not given a chance for my emotions to catch up. I read the joke and I laugh, and I feel like a monster for so quickly shifting from the grief my friend is going through.

There’s more I could talk say on this subject, but it’s all so exhausting. If we were wise, we would not engage with the extreme views, and focus on the things that matter. We would stop scrolling after finding out our friend lost their father. Or, we would skip over the individual that’s posting vile behavior to garner attention.

As a whole, we’re not wise enough to do these things, and so things will continue as they are until something finally breaks.