Quotes that Say Something

"Please, dad, get down and look. I think there's some kind of monster under my bed."

Life when seen in close-up often seems tragic, but in wide-angle it often seems comic. -- Charlie Chaplin

"And when the cloudbursts thunder in your ear, you shout, but no one's there to hear. And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes, I'll see you on the dark side of the moon." -- Roger Waters, "Brain Damage"

Jul 20, 2012

My Life as a Cyborg. And How Is Your OCD Problem?

     You feel lonely, anxious, somewhat depressed, maybe even (and this admittedly is not the norm) tap-dancing on the beveled edge of mental illness. You somehow sense that you have turned dumber without trying during recent weeks.

     Get ready for the bad news. Your laptop, notebook, Crackberry, EPIC smartphone, iPad, and Facebook buddies may be the main causes of your troubles. (Damn, I knew I was allowing too many FB friends in!) The source for this data blast is The Daily Beast web blog -- July 9 (2012):


     "Now . . . . the proof is starting to pile up. The first good, peer-reviewed  
     research is emerging, and the picture is much gloomier than the trumpet
     blasts of Web utopians have allowed. The current incarnation of the
     Internet  -- portable, social, accelerated, and all-pervasive -- may be
     making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious,
     prone to obsessive-compulsive and attention-deficit disorders, even
     outright psychotic. Our digitized minds can scan like those of drug addicts,
     and normal people are breaking down in sad and seemingly new ways."

Or maybe it is not.

We Are All Cyborgs Now?

      A cyborg is a merger, a blending, an interdependent connection fashioned between the human and the machine. Like in the old D,C, Comic books and the newish Superhero, Comic-Con films. It may sound strange. The term cyborg implies relationship -- and there are burgeoning numbers of relationships between the human and the non-human. This may seem a little disturbing. Or like unto an Orwellian conceit. Or pure bullpunky. It may rock some peoples' fragile worlds. But cyborgian states of life are pretty common these days.

     Now, don't judge me, but I became officially a cyborg during December 2009 as post-Christmas carold wafted around my hospital ward's floor-- with the help of a four hour surgery (which I snoozed through completely, missing all the fun) under the scalpels and bone-cutters and stapling machines and gooey superglue strips utilized by a razor-sharp team of licensed medical geeks in wintry Arizona. The goal I had was to emerge with a stainless silver, implacable, and insentient titanium elbow and shiny new fore bone planted into my left arm.  During my two hospital stays through all of this, I must have heard over 100 times in my imagination the words: 'We can rebuild him -- stronger, faster, better than before' which older readers will remember from the cyborgian fantasy TV show, from decades ago, called the Six Million Dollar Man. So, yes, I have been rebuilt. My cyborgian merger of the human and the mechanism is a permanent feature of me. Stroner, faster, better than before?

     To extend this reflection, I will go on record as saying I wouldn't want to set other features: my laptop, cell phone, Nook, TV remote, and other digitized toys aside either. We're a match unyielding, and that's the way it is and the way it's gonna be. You see, I got me a special relationship. Actually, a collection of them. Correspondingly, my brain (probably yours too) is being 're-wired' in certain ways, my gray-matter chemistry is being remixed like the ingredients of a Baskin Robbins milk shake, and this -- by implication -- will change things between us humans who are conditioned by the 'connection addiction' irrevocably.

     The piece in The Daily Beast notes:

        . . . the research is now making it clear that the Internet is not “just”   
        another delivery system. It is creating a whole new mental environment, a
        digital state of nature where the human mind becomes a spinning
        instrument panel, and few people will survive unscathed.

    Get that? The mind as 'spinning instrument panel.' Tres cyboriffic. As the really hip psychological therapists all want to know, "How does this stuff make you feel?"

Getting Past My OCD and a Nagging Chapstick Addiction

     Since I long to be an alpha adopter of as many hip, new terminologies as I possibly can, I would cautiously label myself among the new cadre of 'Ultra-Web Users.' But, please, don't call me Captain Crackberry. Another astute commentator has labeled this cyborgian, non-12th stepping condition as an iDisorder. That I like. So, I probably have an itty-bitty compulsive personality characteristic. I might have to have my smartphone lying potently nearby -- in case I get a text message or something -- for 24/7 of my time. Maybe I sense a frisson ping somewhere down deep when I am awarded a "Like" for something off the cuff on Facebook. These don't add up to mental illness. Do they? C'mon, you can tell me. We're just here, hanging in cyberspace, alone . . . together.

     Well, the literature on this is not real encouraging. Think about these:
     The brains of Internet addicts look like the brains of drug and alcohol users
      Research in China hints that internet addiction may shrink the area of the
      brain responsible for processing of speech, memory, motor control,
      emotions, and other information

      The more the brain gets affected by internet dependency the more it shows
      signs of atrophy

      The overall increase of global technology usage may possibly be linked to
      the rise in OCD and ADHD diagnoses

       An indicator of internet dependency (accepted by some researchers) is
       spending 35 hours or more a week online. By that definition, many are
       "addicts" by Wednesday morning, even Tuesday during certain weeks

Have you tried to quit or cut down by choice on your cyber-tripping, but found that it just seems impossible? No, I never have either . . . Isn't the gift of denial just great?
My Prefrontal Cortex Is Altered Better Than Yours

      Some observers liken the experience of cyber-community, like one adopts via Facebook, to living alone in a ginormous metropolis -- with few real human connections, hectic scheduling, multiple priorities, daily pressures. Some individuals thrive, really do okay in such contexts, and some persons crack into a ncystalline etwork of whacky pathologies.

      Some cultural and digital-world observers say the internet, at best, should be encountered like life, with a healthy and balanced outlook and a penchant for thoughtfulness, good judgment, and critical reflection. That article from The Daily Beast says:

         . . . all of us, since the relationship with the Internet began, have tended to
        accept it as is, without much conscious thought about how we want it to
        be or what we want to avoid. Those days of complacency should end. The
        Internet is still ours to shape. Our minds are in the balance.

Meaningful critical reflection as a maturing human person (coupled with bouts of good judgment) is different from that pejorative and out-of-control 'new mental environment' (by dipping into the cyberzone) that was mentioned above.

     Being a cyborg -- the human blended with processors, linked to chips, conjoined with digital hardware -- may ultimately be destiny for many (most?) of us. But a self-induced mental and emotional mangling, you know -- the whacky condition of  iCraziness as a recent issue of Newsweek magazine calls it -- most certainly does not have to be.


Jul 12, 2012

Telling Your Best Stories Right? (It's Hard)

After months of reflection and work, I feel stymied still. The outcome from being existentially clunked down in a rather inflexible and otherwise uncomfortable sitting chair. Like many writers, I sometimes think this way: I have a hint of what I want to do or where I might want to go (with this story or along that character's path), but the roadway to realization (at a level that I can accept --which is the curse of absolute perfection) just will not light up, it will not disclose itself.

There are two short fictional stories that I long to complete. And I believe I will wrap them up soon. One has had the title "A Dark Star" for some months. When I tentatively admit to myself that yes -- it is (probably) done, I find that I cannot fully let go. Heigh ho, heigh ho, back to wordprocessing I go. Some mysterious force will often whisper to me almost inaudibly in shaded sunrises and sunsets that there is something I must have missed or managed to misstate, or have crazily mischaracterized. "A Dark Star" is one of the harshest, most emotional "made-up" pieces that I have worked on for a long time, maybe ever. Its theme of evil actively at work in apparently innocent and bucolic settings in medieval Western civilization, to the point that the sinisterness begins acting in a persecutorial way to get that which craves. Personally (and I am biased, biased, biased here) I think the Dark Star tale holds a thought-provoking and subversive set of symbols and metaphors layered into its texts, that will aide readers toward the ghastly slice of real life about which I decided to write. But will it all ever suitably conjoin?

The second story has long held a working title "Leaving Normal." I first thought of it about Fall 1972 or '73. Its theme centers on the struggle to do what is right, despite one's predilections, dark desires, relationships, cultural temptations and other uncontrollable outside forces, because every person has at least a spark -- if not a veritable blowtorch --  of conscience that favors doing 'the good.' The fictional resolution of "LN" today, in 2012, looks and sound so very different than I first thought it would during the initial drafts I penned about 40 years ago. I guess that's okay, isn't it? Well, it just is. Well, I can see different points of view on that main theme of the work. Perhaps I am geared up to wrestle into a resolution about  a way to "Leave Normal" (which I definitively did flee decades ago) but only in such a way that the major point and denoument will have relevance (i.e., something to say or to caution) about the viability of life in this hardscrabble culture of the early 21st century.

Now, dude. Quit gazing @ the dark stars. Roll back into that normal pattern; make a sentence for goodness sake. This means now, jack: back to work.

Jul 10, 2012

I'll Trade You 4 Tweets for 2 Txts and a PM on IM. Deal?

Life's Too Short for So Much E-Mail

Overload ... people who do not look at email regularly at work are less stressed and more productive than their colleagues.

Looking to be less stressed and more productive? If you listen to certain work-product and workplace satisfaction experts, they'll tell you to dump the E-Mail habit in your life. Or, at least, learn coping mechanisms to control the e-mail problem that you probably have. No doubt you are affected by the e-onslaught. Some analysts claim that 107 trillion electronic messages (e-mails) were generated in the material world during 2010. That's 107 trillion. I personally feel responsible (regarding the sending and/or receiving end) of about 250 billion or so of those e-messages -- it could be many more, but I eat and sleep regularly and take a real vacation now and then.

On average, corporate employees send and receive 105 emails per work day.

If you could keep only one of the following: E-Mail, Facebook, Twitter, Blogging, Instant Messaging (a.k.a. PM), Texting, or the Old-School Office Telephone -- which would it be?

If each of these social media tools were to disappear suddenly which, if any (of them all), would you miss?

For me, it would be easy to discern. Goodbye to you, Marconi and Alexander Graham Bell. Howdy and hello to Mark Zuckerberg. Facebook feels now like my interpersonal communication drug of choice. The phone still feels like too much (work and) effort, after all these decades of occasional dating.

Does the fact that I have never been attracted to the boxed-up "discipline" and restrictions of Twitter-ing (the keep it terse messaging done via 140 lonely characters max. and a cloud of dust), like some random pop culture haiku, make me some kind of Smartphone-toting pariah? Too bad. My die be already cast, mate.

Any way you look at the overall subject of communicating to/with others via social media, the concept of overload on one's already taxed to the max system is bound to rear up. Overload is the key theme in all of this banter wbout life being too short for . . . . (you fill in the blank). This constant facor got me interested in the blog post below. It appeared on the internet (I found it on Facebook as a Share item) just a few days ago.

A Blog Comment by Nick Bilson

Overload . . . . people who do not look at e-mail regularly at work
appear to be less stressed and more productive than their colleagues

Just thinking about my e-mail in-box makes me sad.

This month alone, I received more than 6000 emails. That doesn't include spam, notifications or daily deals, either. With all those messages, I have no desire to respond to even a fraction of them. I can just picture my tombstone: Here lies Nick Bilton, who responded to thousands of emails a month. May he rest in peace.
It's not that I'm so popular.

Last year, Royal Pingdom, which monitors internet usage, said that in 2010, 107 trillion emails were sent. A report this year from the Radicati Group, a market research firm, found that in 2011, there were 3.1 billion active email accounts in the world. The report noted that, on average, corporate employees sent and received 105 emails a day.

Sure, some of those emails are important. But 105 a day?

All of this has led me to believe that something is terribly wrong with email. What's more, I don't believe it can be fixed.

I've tried everything. Priority mail, filters, more filters, filters within filters, away messages, third-party email tools. None of these supposed solutions work.

Last year, I decided to try to reach In-box Zero, the Zen-like state of a consistently empty in-box. I spent countless hours one evening replying to neglected messages. I woke up the next morning to find that most of my replies had received replies, and so, once again, my in-box was brimming. It all felt like one big practical joke.

Meanwhile, all of this e-mail could be increasing our stress.

A research report issued this year by the University of California, Irvine, found that people who did not look at e-mail regularly at work were less stressed and more productive than others.

Gloria Mark, an informatics professor who studies the effects of email and multitasking in the workplace and is a co-author of the study, said, "One person in our email study told us after: I let the sound of the bell and pop-ups rule my life."

A Main Problem with E-Mail: No Off Switch.

Mark says one of the main problems with email is that there isn't an off switch.

"Email is an asynchronous technology, so you don't need to be on it to receive a message," she said. "Synchronous technologies, like instant messenger, depend on people being present."Although some people allow their instant messenger services to save offline messages, most cannot receive messages if they are not logged on. With email, it is different. If you go away, emails pile up waiting for your return.

Avoiding new messages is as impossible as trying to play a game of hide-and-seek in an empty studio apartment. There is nowhere to hide.

Is e-mail simply a social media tool for old people?

I recently sent an email to a teenage cousin who responded with a text message. I responded again through email, and this time she answered with Facebook Messenger. She was obviously seeing the emails but kept choosing a more concise way to reply. Our conversation moved to Twitter's direct messages, where it was ended quickly by the 140-character limit.

Later, we talked about the exchanges, and she explained that she saw email as something for "old people"." It's too slow for her, and the messages too long. Sometimes, she said, as with a Facebook status update, you don't even need to respond at all.

Since technology hasn't solved the problem it has created with email, it looks as if some younger people might come up with their own answer — not to use email at all.

So I'm taking a cue from them.

I'll look at my email as it comes in. Maybe I'll respond with a text, Google Chat, Twitter or Facebook message. But chances are, as with many messages sent via Facebook or Twitter, I won't need to respond at all.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/lifes-too-short-for-so-much-email-20120709-21qkn.html#ixzz20DyBD9MV