Our Connected World

(This post has very coincidentally been posted the same weekend as Sense8 premiering on Netflix.)

There is no shortage of commentary about how the Internet and technology has provided us connectivity to other people and how It is reshaping our world, allowing us to communicate with others whom we may have never met otherwise. While this has generally been a great advancement for humankind in spite of the rise of the Internet troll, I’ve been pondering about how our online and offline interactions and activities have great reach, both seen and unseen.

No matter how many times we say “it’s my life” or “why does what I do matter to anyone else?”, it still have immense value and absolutely matters! Regardless of who you are, everything you do influences someone or something else, often in ways we don’t recognize in and positive and negative ways.

Consider the following scenarios that are obvious and perhaps more subtly influential:

  • That day when you don’t apply yourself at work like you should could mean missing out on a new opportunity for a client or inspiring colleagues to do better.
  • Choosing to not pickup the phone and call your old friend to catch up means the difference between strengthening old bonds and letting them weaken just a little bit more.
  • Every book and article you read continually shapes your opinions and perspectives. It forms the basis for our knowledge, but we also must be careful not to fill it only with perspectives we agree with unless your goal is to have a narrow view of the world.
  • My choosing to run more inspired a friend to pick it up again and sign up for a race this past spring, along with others trying to improve their speed and stamina. All this was spurred on by a friend who a year and a half ago somehow convinced me over Indian food that I could train for and run a marathon.
  • Your decisions on who to date or marry (or later decide to divorce from) are some of the most obvious influencing acts we have on ourselves but also our circles. Bringing a new person in changes the relational dynamic. Thankfully, I’ve been fortunate to have friends who have found great spouses that I gladly also call friends. Their presence has frequently enhanced the existing friendship.On the flip side, I’ve seen and experienced the struggles when relationships fall apart or take a destructive route. The emotional turmoil of a divorce on children and relatives is not easily quantifiable in the short and long term. Or seeing the emotional & psychological aftermath of being in an abusive and hurtful relationship play out in how we interact with others for months and years to come.

I’m not saying anything earth shattering or revolutionary, but I’ve been struck by the ever connectedness of my own life as I continue to find parallels between “my worlds”. There’s lessons I need to apply across the board for the bettering of myself and everyone else around me. (Example: apply a better training schedule & routine to reading and writing/blogging similar to the discipline I use to train for a race.) Similarly, there’s probably something happening right around you that you should be paying attention to. What is that thing for you?

P.S. If you have Netflix, check out Sense8. As of this writing, I’m 3 episodes in and am really enjoying it.

Anything You Can Do I Can Do (Differently): A Story of Wearables

The last couple months I have seen the media stumble over themselves to talk about the latest smart wearable released by a certain company based in Cupertino, CA. All the tech news outlets could talk about was the Apple Watch and how it was going to change we would use our phones (well, as long as it’s an iPhone anyway) and live our lives. What’s crazy about this is that Apple is far from the first to bring smartphone notifications to the wrist, but everyone’s acting like it is.  But I won’t lie; I’ve been sucked into the frenzy of the news and wanting to read up on the opinions and feedback on wearable technology.

From Pebble to Sony to Motorola to even some of the fitness band manufacturers like Garmin, the industry has been trying to solve the “problem” of not letting our phones become a constant distraction and allowing us to leave them in our pockets. On top of this, everyone has their own take on additional features like voice actions, step/calorie/heart rate tracking, etc. Design across the devices available also range from pretty nerdy to futuristically stylish to “hey it’s functional” to “I want people to think I’m a regular watch.”

Attempting to be an early adopter without going broke, I’ve had 3 different smartwatch devices in the last year and a half. One was based on Sony’s previous Smartwear platform, and the last two Android Wear (Moto 360, and now the Sony Smartwatch 3 mostly for its standalone GPS tracking abilities). What I can say for now based on my experience and usage: wearable tech isn’t for everyone yet. Maybe it will never will be. The greatest “in” to get people to have something else on them that isn’t their phone is some sort of fitness band and I’ve seen this permeate further than anything else. Everything else is a distraction and, at least in my circles, this is something my friends mostly want less of. I also need to remember to stay more focused in the moment than always look down at my buzzing wrist.

All this to say that I think we – and media – need to be very careful to not so blindly fall for every product or service certain companies provide and take them to be the most amazing thing ever made. Each offering brought to market is providing a different perspective and feature that probably makes sense to someone out there. And competition and diversity in ideas is good for all of us.

It’s been said often in tech circles in the last few years it’s not always about being first to market, but executing it the best. While that is true, just because a company claims that when they aren’t first (Apple), it’s not healthy to blindly follow along. It’s still a very subjective world out there; be sure to evaluate with your own mind and come to your own conclusions.

Finding Purpose in the Wilderness

I wrote about some of this in my “secret” journal during the trip (see featured image above), but there is a magical transformation that occurs when you are in the presence of creation in its purest forms where the hands of men have not yet or are unable to claim mastery over it for his own personal gains. You are immediately brought down to size and realize you are but a tiny part of a much bigger, grander world.

Going to a new place always provides space to figure out what’s important in my life. It’s like a big filter in the shape of plane tickets, breathtaking landscapes, new (but sometimes very old) city streets to walk down, and new cultures where I don’t speak the native language.

I read that Iceland is one of the most educated countries in the world with greater than 99% literacy rate. Creativity and art are strongly encouraged and engrained into the culture, so there is a lot of writing and art being created on a regular basis. I was impressed and humbled by how many books I saw everywhere we visited from coffee shops to more sit-down style restaurants even. Designs on sides of buildings even had huge books on them. It’s clear this country like to read and write. I very much respect it and desire for a similar thing to happen back in the United States. It also reminded me to read and write more.

Yet one of the things I was curious about is how much of the backdrop of their lives has fueled their way of thinking and their desire and ability to create so much. Even within the Keflavik airport, there were wonderful quotes from various authors that speak in such poetic language I was moved to stop and reflect in a place that is usually filled with angst and tension of running late for anywhere but where you’re at.

I hoped to find that magic while I visited to spark a new level of creativity in thoughts and in writing. Even months after visiting, that desire to create has seasoned much of my day to day thinking and actions. To allow for this, it will mean that I need to balance out my time between being inundated in an information, media rich, distraction filled world and find my wilderness space to compile my thoughts and to craft a blog post, edit that photo just so, to reimagine that work project. So while I still (and will likely continue to) consume an inordinate amount of media content, my goal is to be more producer than consumer.

The wilderness gives us room to evaluate everything that matters – and that which doesn’t. Though I wonder if we need to be careful not to spend too much time there lest we go crazy….

Just Tell Me What To Do

“Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it. ”

This phrase encompasses a trending and disturbing mindset. I’ve seen it manifested in various forms, whether direct or indirect. Whether it’s in a more indirect way like not raising your voice when political figures go about making decisions that don’t properly reflect their constituents (sorry, social media rants don’t count here) or sitting idly by while your job role isn’t fulfilling the potential it has, too many of us have taken a back seat driver approach to life. We want to be heard and maybe even claim to want responsibility and control, but should things go off course or a wrong decision be made, we’re  the first to take a step back or point the finger at someone else. “Hey, I didn’t vote for that guy. Not my problem.” “I’m pretty sure it was her choice to move forward this way on the project. I knew it wasn’t good, but why should I say anything to anyone else? ”

The problem is it is still your problem because things doesn’t go away because you don’t claim responsibility.  There’s a strange lack of ownership wave I’ve seen where people want to be part of something, but only as long as there’s guarantee of success. Chance of failure? I’ll go ahead and wait by the sidelines and let someone else get tackled thank you very much.

However, then you’re missing out on being part of that play that changes the energy of the game or even wins that championship. Of course there’s risk when you stick your neck out or stretch yourself beyond what you’re comfortable normally doing. That’s always the case when you venture into new waters; failure is always a possibility. But do we want to live in a way where that isn’t the case? Sounds way too safe and stagnant.

Even if we do fail, you’ll learn how to do it better and differently the next time. Better yet, you may be personally changed for the better just for going through the process and taking that journey.

We’re told by media and culture that the power to shape our futures is within our grasp; why aren’t more of us willing to take more chances and not just follow? If you’re not in a position of leadership or authority at work or even within your social circle, each of us is still able to effect change in some way. All it takes it a little bit of paying attention of your surroundings, raising your voice, and taking action. Be part of the game on the field, not just making comments from the sidelines on how the plays should go.

Mental Barriers

The winter months can bring with them more than their fair share of hibernation side effects. A bit more lethargy in our physical and even mental activity levels can settle in.( Can’t we just sleep through these cold months like bears do?) And as the warmer spring-like weather seeps into the Midwest, I can’t help but feel the effects of winter still slowing all my movements.

I was motivated and challenged to sign up for a race this year, but for now I’m focusing on doing a half marathon scheduled in late May (the North Shore Classic on May 31, 2015). In preparation, I mapped out a training schedule which officially started on the 9th of March. These first few weeks aren’t bad. Weekday runs are all 3 miles and weekend long runs *only* get up to 6 miles this month. Tiny obstacles are trying to thwart me like slight twinges of asthma or unexpected snow after the first official day of spring. Frustrating as it all can be, I’m fighting something else entirely more cunning:

My mind.

It’s trying to tell me running is boring, that there’s something more entertaining to do, like watch The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix (which is awesome by the way), or to go eat a double cheeseburger, or just lay on the couch as the world goes by. But when I overcome these elements one by one and I make it outside on a trail or onto a treadmill, my mind is still trying to convince me it’s bored silly and that I should stop and go be complacent instead. I even have a good podcast or two to entertain and encourage me to keep going. The physical act of running isn’t actually that terrible, though my dry spell through the winter isn’t helping, but it’s the head space that’s keeping me from literally wanting to go the distance.

I’m hitting mental barriers. My body can do it, but my head is trying to say “You’re good right where you’re at.” My heart knows this isn’t true. I need to get out there and put one foot in front of the other. Part of me knows it can be done; the other part wants me to just be OK with where I’m at.

The barriers are in the way in other parts of my life too, but that’s for another post. Excuse me while I go work through some ideas as I run.

 

Memoirs of a Glacier

I learned a lot about glaciers and how life in Iceland is very directly shaped and influenced on a regular basis by the earth and weather patterns that surround people there. And I will be the first to say that I do not remember everything I heard or saw on this trip, but some elements do stand out from our day trip to [actual name of national park] and the Ice Caves tour.

Glaciers are big. I mean really, really big. So much so that you cannot fathom the size of it as you stand at the edge of one it becomes more awe inspiring to know that this huge “sheet” of ice holds within it not just frozen water, but parts of mountains, trees, likely animal remains, volcanish ash (maybe exclusive to Icelandic glaciers), and other parts of the earth that couldn’t get out of its way.

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Glaciers are affecting the world around it while it appears to sit there like a big, frozen glacier-shaped log.  As they move and/or melt, what remains after are what many area of the world now live on. They have flattened out vast spaces in their melted wake. But they also hold down the earth under it, even pulling nearby hills and small mountains physically down with its incredible weight. (Don’t try finding a scale. Glaciers don’t like to talk about their weight.) So as it melts and loses even small fractions of its mass, Iceland itself is actually rising from the relief of the cold burden at a rate of up to 1.5cm/year. Insane!

Glaciers affect weather patterns around the world acting as a stingy bank who would prefer not to let us withdraw from its deposits. And yet here we are marketing glacier water as a great drinking source. I suddenly feel just the smallest tinge to yell “save the glaciers, save the world.”

Glaciers are really pretty from far away and up close.

Iceland - the edge of the glacier
The edge of the glacier!

 

Ice Caves
The ice caves at the edge of the glacier. So. Beautiful.

 

I thought there may be some good life lesson to be found here. Perhaps there is a lesson about some big things do change us, but in very small ways and steps that aren’t immediately apparent if we stand back and take stock of who we were and who we are now. Maybe there’s a glacier in your life now that you want to rid yourself of because you feel like it’s holding you down, but in reality it’s providing a stable environment we don’t appreciate until it’s gone and things go haywire.

Or maybe this post will just be about glaciers and how cool they are. [See what I did there? That’s some solid wordplay. Because glaciers are cool. And solid. OK, I’m stopping now.]

Reset-uary

Every January, the world stops to reflect and celebrate another completed trip around the sun. And we’re always so proud of it too! (Yay, most of us didn’t fall off the planet, thanks to gravity.) Inevitably, this month also marks the time when we also feel like it’s time to start something new, make healthier decisions, get going on all those projects that we’ve been promising ourselves for the last 3 years, and just be a better person. This month should be relabeled “Reset-uary” on all calendars. Also, it would be the first month to officially have a hyphen in the name.

While I don’t have any specific issue with the idea of starting fresh and taking on the world with new perspective and energy, what I haven’t understood is why we so often wait for significant events like the new year to reboot ourselves. Imagine if we waited a whole year to reboot our computers or phones! Windows can barely go a day or two before acting erratically. See what happens to us when we let ourselves run for too long without shutting down once in a while? We should be taking a more proactive approach to life and evaluating and adjusting more frequently and not just at major milestones the calendar – and society – dictates.

Reset-uary does not need to be a one time a year occasion on our calendars. Schedule your own mini-resets into your routine. Take time to logout to clear your mind and gain new insights. Evaluate and adjust in small increments instead of trying to upend everything at once.  The worst thing that happens in this renamed month is we try to change too much at once and by February almost everything goes back to how it was and little of what you hoped to change doesn’t.

Don’t let February turn into “Same-uary”. Or I may keep making up new names for months of the year.

Six Squared

Birthday Cake
Cake for one. At Weber Grill.

November has become a difficult month for me. Not only does it mean Thanksgiving and the entire holiday season that follows it, it also means my birthday “season” has arrived and turning another year older. However, it doesn’t mean I need to look any older. Yet in the last couple years, that usually also means a very quiet, introspective, and solitary season.

Birthdays, much like everything else in America, has turned into an affair that calls to be celebrated for far longer than what the calendar shows – one day. People have “birthday weeks”, “birthday months”, or “birthday seasons” to keep the party going. I don’t get it. Why do people want so much attention for just being themselves? I don’t really want it, but I don’t want to be completely forgotten either. The last few years, the days leading up to and my actual birthday are internally dark. Who will remember? Will anyone (parents and best friend excluded)?

I’ve had a few particularly emotional birthday-days that have brought intense feelings of loneliness and disconnect in my time because I felt people weren’t there in any real capacity. I’ve never been one to plan my own party. Nor do I want to be the center of attention. If friends want to coordinate a party, I’ll probably do it. As years go by though, people have other life commitments like spouses, kids, jobs, etc. I get it. I assume they’re all too busy for me so I make due on my own. In my head, I’ve figured this must be part of being single when most of your community isn’t.  My last two actual birthdays I’ve had dinner alone. While not altogether the worst, perhaps it wasn’t the best either.

Why are my birthdays such internally difficult affairs? Why do I feel such loss at the thought of people forgetting about it and simultaneously cringe when I get a “Happy birthday!” greeting or Facebook wall post? A birthday greeting isn’t something that’s earned, but a simple acknowledgement of my existence and nothing else. not wanting any focus on me for me?

Maybe that’s (a small) part of the problem.  Throughout the year, I constantly feel like I’m having to prove my worth wherever I go and with whatever I do.  Then when my birthday comes, it requires nothing of me and it partially freaks me out. I’m just supposed to “be” and that’s enough for a day. Maybe that’s supposed to be enough every day.

So goes another year and another birthday, partially unscathed. I hope with this new year brings more wisdom and being more OK with getting older and celebrating life.

*This post is not intended to invoke any belated happy birthdays or anything similar.