Category Archives: Opinion

You Won’t Believe How You Feel After Reading This

I don’t know about you, the reader, but I grow more concerned and fearful every day that our culture is falling deeper into this trap of wanting more “wow factor” out of just about everything we experience. And of course, these experiences cannot come from a longer drawn out process. No, they must be instant, emotionally touching (but only positive), and promise to change how you view the world. This has become a noteworthy characteristic of places like Upworthy and similar viral content focused sites. Social media sharing has primarily become about the feel good moment.

However, leave it to news outlets to pick up the slack on the other end of the spectrum. We all know by now how the news (perhaps a misused term these days) use outlandish titles and exaggerated terminology to describe just about everything to keep us hooked in. This is nothing new and has been a tactic used for decades.

Social media, and us as creators of most of that media, have fallen right into the same patterns that has made us hate the news and write that way in status updates. We even do it in our day to day conversation. Our stories must be dramatic, “epic”, “amazeballs”, or whatever other terms are in now. (I’m clearly showing some age now.) It hasn’t helped that we’ve been telling our kids and each other we’re all “different and unique” in our own special ways. So now we all think we have some great story to tell – and really some of us do. I have wondered before how the Internet and social media channels have increased our narcissism or simply given us an outlet for what was always there. And thanks to Facebook, we all have a mini montage of our lives with a emotion-inducing soundtrack to watch and share in case you weren’t there the first when you posted all of it.

I’m waiting to see the day when this one-upping of everything bubble will burst like the early 2000′s tech bubble or the mid 2000′s housing bubble. This can’t go on for much longer without it imploding.  In ways, I look forward to seeing where we can do next. Perhaps it’ll be a world where solid content speaks for itself and we can analyze and identify it for what it truly is instead of being told it’s the best thing we’ve ever read. No seriously – THE BEST.

When the Clouds Break

yay cloud Oh the almighty “Cloud”. How we love you and your convenient ways! You are there for us everywhere we go ready to serve us whatever we want, from social media updates to funny YouTube clips, filtered Instagram photos, and even useful stuff like email. You know what the best part about you is, Cloud? You offer so much of it for free. That makes us happy!

Yet you anger us so when you decide to take away things we loved so dearly, like Google Reader, perhaps the most well known and best RSS reader. What made it worse is you didn’t ask us first if we were done using it. How dare you. I deserve free stuff for as long as I deem it something worthwhile to me.

We’ve come to expect that whatever we currently use in the cloud will be there forever whenever we need it. The responsibility shift in computing and data storage is gradually moving from self to others. We don’t want to maintain or manage anything. Let someone else do the dirty work and figure out how to not lose my music, photos, documents, and email. Why should I have to keep track of all that? I’m clearly too important and busy to figure it out.

This trending mentality sheds light on a couple things. 1) We don’t like to take responsibility for much as people and prefer someone else be in charge of keeping those servers that hold bytes that define much of who we think we are. 2) We demand a lot on stuff that we don’t pay for.

In light of recent severe weather in the Chicago area, I was reminded that I need to create & maintain a better backup solution for my personal files. Thankfully I didn’t lose any data (or other valuable items) in my minor basement flooding. However, this has reignited my search for a solution including looking into external drives I store in the house along with cloud based options. And at the same time, I need to have a backup solution in place for all that important that’s only stored online.

As I figure out my plans for saving everything in triplicate, I’ll share those details here.

Is Talking on the Phone Really That Bad?

As I broke from some blog cleanup and preparation for an article or two, I came across a Google+ post and discussion thread about phone calls. If you read these two threads, you’ll discover a sentiment that they may in fact be the worst thing mankind has ever had to deal with. Read the threads for yourselves:

 

John's Phone - white

 

(I want this phone. Image “borrowed” of johnsphones.com)

It got me wondering: is talking on the phone really that bad? And if so, why?

Continue reading

Sabbatical flashback: Space to ponder

One of my favorite things about sabbatical life was the unmatched amount of free time I had. Schedules didn’t exist except when I needed to travel between cities. I spent a lot of time hanging out in the parks of Prague and wandering around streets like those above. It gave me such an incredible amount of time to just… be. A few of you read results of that time to think on the blog a year ago. The rest of my thoughts made their way into a written journal I kept throughout the trip, the contents which I still read over to this day.

I also found myself noticing everything around me from old architecture to how people interacted with each other in parks or restaurants to chalk sidewalk artwork (seen below). My lack of understanding the Czech language basically allowed me to watch everything around me without distraction of unavoidable eavesdropping. It was fun to watch life happen around me, at least for a while.

I also thought I went over there waiting for the epic grand adventure one may assume you have when you travel overseas. I think the fact that I’m still processing ideas from a year ago and thinking about what I saw and how a month of travel alone opened up my eyes to who I am is part of that adventure. There’s still more to go… but that’s for another post.

Look at the Pretty Pictures!

GOTCHA!

This post will not be filled with pictures, pretty, cute, or otherwise. Instead, I will be throwing words at your eyes.

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a growing trend that pictures are the way to go when you want to share just about anything online. From weekend party updates to jokes to that inspirational quote by the Dali Lama in a picture next to a picture of the Dali Lama (did that quote really become more powerful because it’s in JPEG format?), it’s quickly becoming the de facto method of information sharing on social networks. However, the trend cannot be overlooked by the fact that entire social networks like Instagram and Pinterest have been built around photo sharing. Sites and mobile applications are putting increasing focus and efforts into viewing beautiful photos. Everything we do must be photographed and shared with all the world. Right?

Words are a distant second place to our eyes and minds. But why?

Perhaps it is true that a picture is worth a thousand words. Yet for every image we share, I highly doubt it’s replacing 1000 words we would’ve written out instead. So why the enhanced focus on photo sharing in culture? Are words losing their power? Do photos better convey our message?  I’ve wondered if we’ve become too “busy” to mentally process sentences and ideas. A better way to say it is we’re becoming lazy. I fear we’re becoming dumber combined with laziness when it comes to how we process information. Are we unwilling to put in the time to understand the written word, especially when it’s longer than a few paragraphs? Will we (continue to) lose our ability to think critically if all we ever present ourselves with are images and short phrases overlayed on said images? Not all ideas can be expressed in short sentences and photos.

I will confess part of my questioning and challenge of the Pretty Picture/Shiny Things Syndrome comes out of a time when the Internet was about sharing information in a textual format and when bandwidth was scarce and something to be used cautiously lest you sit and wait minutes or hours for your content to download (and you liked it!) I was raised to take in information in word format. Pictures and graphs were exciting things you found in your copy of Microsoft Encarta when you wrote high school papers.

It is no secret the proliferation of higher speed Internet everywhere we go makes photo sharing more enticing that quick text status updates. It has also given us the ability to share images of whatever we’re eating whenever we want (guilty!) But do they tell a better story, particularly in the long term? Moreover, will the original message still be there years later? Maybe this is a small part of why I got back into more book reading in the past year and a half.

Admittedly, I struggled with this whole topic and whether or not there’s any reason to argue against it. My enjoyment of humorous pics will not lessen anytime soon, nor will I likely slow down my own photo sharing. Sometimes words truly can’t capture the essence of nachos all over your car at 3AM on a Saturday night. However, trying to share your opinion through some political or inspirational image with a quote on it will not be telling me much about your own thoughts unless you provide it in your own words.

 

I Complain, but Only Socially

There may be some irony in writing about my issues with people who complain online, much like those people who are online for the days leading up to Lent broadcasting their giving up of Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest/something online. My hope is to share my reflections on all the complaining I read online.

What is your purpose in sharing with everyone that you can’t stand your boss or how tired you are because you stayed out too late last night? Attention? Advice? (Hint: Probably the former in almost all situations.)The ability to share has become so easy and readily available that we often fail to filter our thoughts properly – or at all. It’s one thing to vent to a couple friends over a drink at a bar. It’s more private. It’s conversational. Your friends can corroborate with you in real time. You can banter back and forth. But most of all, your friends can speak (or smack) sense into you if you sound like an idiot.

When you examine someone’s stream of consciousness on Facebook or Twitter, for example, take note of overall themes of content. Is the content focused on a certain topic? Or is it completely random? But perhaps most interestingly, what vibe does it give off? I have a few friends on Facebook and some I follow on Twitter who seem to find it difficult to find positive things to say. I often wonder why they choose to share the things they do on such a consistent basis. After a while, it gets really old and nobody wants to hear it anymore.

I also wonder if those who do complain about themselves or everything else in the world really think it’s so terrible that all that’s left to try and feel better is vent about everything online. By the way, this also works well in the “I can’t sleep so I’m here on Facebook” or “should be doing something else more important than Facebook, but am on Facebook” situations. Pro-tip: Facebook friends will not help you sleep or get back on task. Ever.

Though perhaps I take the biggest issue with those who complain merely to complain. Don’t mistake me for someone who think you should bottle up everything that bothers you. The problem comes in when venting or complaining is happening strictly for the sake of itself. Have a problem with your workout schedule or lack thereof? Start going to the gym, running outside, or otherwise get off your butt. Spending too much time on social networks? Spend less time on them! Got a beef with something the government is doing? Sure we can talk about it, but if you want to try and be part of the solution, contact your representative and make your voice heard. Besides, I’m pretty sure those pictures you share on Facebook that have some slam or inspirational quote about how government should be something it currently isn’t has little to no effect on the actual government.

My main point is this: if you’re going to point out flaws in something, at least put the energy into finding or being part of the solution. Otherwise, I’m not really sure what your point is in making a big fuss over it. It’s a waste of energy and time that could be better spent doing something else.

 

 

 

Planning Isn’t So Bad Once You Get Used To It

It’s always interesting to me how a theme can find its way into every part of my life all at the same time. Right now, that theme is planning. As a natural INFP, planning isn’t something that comes naturally to me. In a lot of ways, I prefer to go with the flow of the situation and see where life takes me. Yet at the same time, I’ve been thrust into roles in my life that require it of me. I also find age and “adulthood” forces me to think a few steps ahead and figure out what I need to do before it happens.

One area this is showing itself more than ever is in my job. Now, as an IT Director, planning has always been part of my job and working on timelines and considering what if scenarios isn’t anything new. Though in the last few months I’ve learned I need to do better with it, especially when it comes to teaching it to those I supervise. While it’s become more natural to me over the years from my work experience, that doesn’t mean it always does for others. So often a good plan makes the job so much better. I can recall thinking early on after college that having all these meetings and talking about stuff vs. just doing whatever needed to be done was a waste of time. Only after years of real life experience do I now see that spending some time up front can really save you a lot of grief later.

The other came to me as I met with a personal trainer last week to discuss what I should be doing to prepare for events like the Shamrock Shuffle in late March. What he continued to drill into my head the whole hour we met was that once you determined your goal, whether it’s running a 5K or 50 mile ultra marathon is that you have to lay out a plan for yourself and stick to it. You can’t expect yourself to be ready for an ultra marathon without putting in some serious prep work. As he talked (and I ran on the treadmill), this is seemed so obvious. Yet why hadn’t I put the pieces together before?

Goals, whether successful completion of a project at work or running a race, requires forethought, planning, and hard work. I daresay one of my 2012 themes will be planning. I’ll be doing more of it at work. I’m already planning an 8K (the aforementioned Shamrock Shuffle). Perhaps the most fun thing so far this year? Planning my best friend’s bachelor party! See, this planning thing isn’t so bad all the time.

Taking Time to Create Something Good: Go Slow

(Can someone find the level to check this? Eh, it’s good enough.)

As someone who found his calling early on in childhood coming up with new structures and objects out of Legos or Lincoln Logs to build thriving cities in games like Sim City 2000. 3000, and 4, I still find myself enjoying that creative process as an adult but in different outlets. Sadly, the days of playing with Legos is in the past. Though if the opportunity of time and space to build was available, I’d jump at the chance without a second thought and the spend the day coming up with something amazing.

I continue to create, but at a slower pace and with greater focus and an intentional purpose behind it. I am very aware that my time, energy, and attention are all limited resources. Even the time I spend writing here on the blog is less frequent but purposeful when posted. It’s important to me to be picky in what I invest in, so that I give my best.

Living in the programming/tech world, part of my job is to create and support things and help my team do the same. Websites, networks, phone systems, databases, whatever is deemed necessary or requested by a paying client. The goal is to plan projects out carefully and build properly the first time around so that whatever we make will last and stands up to scrutiny and a good beating from end users. If you don’t invest some time and effort in up front, that type of project doesn’t hold up too well in the long run and you end up looking bad in the process for not making a better product in the first place.

Recent events combined with shifts in culture surrounding the idea of creating things has consumed my thoughts for some time. I will expand on this in future posts, but the theme remains the same: slow down. In many ways, this theme has been permeating my life starting some months ago leading up to my sabbatical trip then planting deep roots while I traveled. It’s clear there’s something to this I need to dig into. Who wants to grab a shovel and join me to see what we find?