We can’t calm the storm, but we can ignore it

[This is part four of a series reevaluating some propositions that I perceived as crucial and important in my early thirties.]

Proposition: I have about 112 hours of con­scious life to live each week: wis­dom dic­tates invest­ing at least one of these hours to med­i­tate on how I will use the remain­ing 111 hours.

First of all, why does getting eight hours of sleep a night seem to get harder with age? It might be time to recalculate my math here. But I digress…

Like most people, my commitment to grand declarations of personal self-discipline ebb and flow with time. Laser-focus intentionality is great: I just have a hard time controlling it consistently. As much as I like the idea that a calm mind — detached from the pressure points of deadlines and expectations — can transcend the temptation to feel overwhelmed, I fall victim to the tyranny of the urgent as much as the next person. Some weeks, devoting 1 full hour to contemplate the usage of 111 hours seems far more anxiety provoking than grounding.

However, in the fits and starts of life, I think I am slowly getting better at realizing that the feeling of pending implosion should be a trigger to slow down, not speed up. Thinking that I will alleviate the pressure by accomplishing more has proven, on many occasions, to be counterproductive. The days when the to-do list feels the least conducive to going for a walk or eating lunch in the park are the most important times to prioritize fresh air and clear headspace. Stress feeds its own momentum. The only way out is to break the cycle, not kick at it harder.

Leaving my laptop at the office and my phone in its home basket has done wonders for helping me appreciate that finding ‘the calm in the storm’ means leaving the storm behind, regardless of how loudly it is thrashing about. There is always a storm. Or at least an opportunity to fight a storm. Serenity only lives in parallel to the storm, not in place of it. The storm is only absent in some other magical realm, where divine management gurus receive book contracts to write about it the rest of us might imagine transcendence.

Those of us stuck in this dimension need to figure out how to strategically ignore the tornadoes trying to send us notifications.

I suppose the ‘problem’ with my initial proposition is that producing a week of organized calm is a lot to ask of one hour. Sure, I know that a weekly review of my projects, commitments, and calendar goes a long way to helping me make better decisions about how I leverage the hours at my disposal. This remains a valuable commitment to pursue, yes. But I also know those other 111 hours can throw plenty of curve balls of their own. Today, I think I’m less concerned with cleverly averting the tumultuousness of life in one fell swoop. There appears to be an infinite amount of chaos and only one me. The older I become, the more interested I am in learning how to just quit worrying about as much as I can altogether.

Farewell Social Media

I recently purged the data from my Facebook account. This effort was shockingly labour intensive: it took a browser script all weekend to crunch, and still many aspects of the process required manual execution. Torching years and years of old Facebook activity felt so liberating that I found another script to do the same thing to my Twitter account.

Going in, I had no idea just how difficult it would be to remove so much data. There is zero commercial incentivize for Facebook or Twitter to provide a “Delete all my posted data but let me keep my contact network” option. These platforms make it monstrously tedious to remove one’s content short of deleting one’s entire account. These systems are apparently designed to make personal ‘data purges’ extremely cumbersome for users.

As Tom Peters observed, “The sole concern of Google and Facebook is to convert the most intimate details in your life into revenue.” But many of us have been using these platforms for so many years that we fail to appreciate just how much data we have donated to them along the way. Try scrolling to the very bottom of your Facebook activity log or Google search history to see what I mean. Dylan Curran’s recent piece in the Guardian demonstrates the scale and magnitude of our complacency. If you want to become acutely aware of how valuable your data is to these companies, try jumping through the hoops required to take your data off their systems. Even if you decide to award the contract for chronicling your life to these companies, you need to be precisely aware of how much you are giving away. As soon as you try to do something as ‘simple’ as remove your past posts, you suddenly realize how soothingly you’ve been lulled into shovelling your personal life into corporate data mines.

At present, I have no plans to post to Facebook, Twitter, or Google again anytime soon. The sole function of my now ‘dormant’ accounts is to allow me to utilize these networks as ‘living directories’ when they present themselves as the only available tools to make contact with certain individuals. Other than that, I’m signing off, at least for the time being. I will leave this post as final ‘breadcrumb’ on Facebook and Twitter.

My focus remains on writing. I will continue posting regularly here on my blog, with a greater emphasis on engaging in the discussions and debates that emerge. If you would like to follow my writing moving ahead, you are welcome to subscribe to weekly email updates. You can also subscribe to this site’s RSS feed with a service like Feedly, Feedbin, Inoreader, or Feed Wrangler. I highly recommend Reeder as a feed reader client.

I will not be syndicating links to new blog posts on social media. I am not interested in supporting our increased dependency on algorithms to determine what we see and read… and, ultimately, think. I do not want to spend my time tweaking or ‘gaming’ algorithms. I am just not interested in the race anymore. The more I play the algorithm game, the more the algorithm game plays me.

I’m out. There are many things I hope to do while I am alive… trying to convince somebody’s advertising algorithm to pay attention to me is not one of those things. Multiply this conviction by the sense that spending time on social media is a suboptimal use of time that comes at the expense of things I truly care about and leaving seems evermore desirable. Just one life to live: I refuse to be a collateral pawn in someone else’s attention war.

Moving ahead, I will use email as my principal means of communicating and organizing personal endeavours, initiatives, and projects. If we have not already corresponded by email, please send me a note at contact [at] jamesshelley.com and say hi. Why? Email is peer-to-peer, distributed, non-proprietary, and adaptable. It is, as far as I can tell right now, the best ‘social platform’ presently at our disposal.

(I will also be maintaining my presence on micro.blog, which is a fascinating, experimental platform. Micro.blog is like a ‘social layer’ that maps over open and independent web sites.)

If you are thinking about purging or deleting your social media accounts, I’d love to hear what you are thinking. What are the considerations that you are weighing? What are your primary concerns? I am curious about your story. Looking back, it’s interesting how many different factors played into this decision for me. How do other paths unfold?

I can’t quite describe how ‘lightening’ it feels to start over again. It is our data that we are giving away here, and it is entirely within our prerogative to take it back. To each their own, but I, for one, am moving on. In the final analysis, it is simply about exercising my choice: Facebook and Twitter are not working for me, so I will focus my energies in other directions. This is about more time and space for connection, community, and conversation. Saying no to the algorithmic data miners really means saying yes to something else.

After some reflection, I’ve concluded that even posting to Twitter is just providing content to a platform for hate and anger. I can’t fix that problem, but I can stop contributing to the platform. And so I will. — Curtis Clifton

I wonder

I wonder how many net hours of productivity are lost every time the whole world has to stop and wrap its head around another presidential tweet?