Eventually, all our graves go unattended.

This is going to sound grim, but eventually, all our graves go unattended.
— Conan O'Brien

That quote comes from this interview with Conan O’Brien that was just published in the New York Times this week. If you’re a Conan O’Brien fan, as I am, I invite you to go read it. It’s an interesting piece, providing a unique outlook on his ever-changing career and his thoughts about that. That quote was part of an answer to a question about whether it bothers him that the footprint of his show might get smaller and smaller as he gets older. His response was really that it ultimately doesn’t matter how big we think we are or how we go out, as eventually we’ll all be long forgotten. Even if you’re important enough to make history books, no one’s going to be thinking about you with emotional reverence after you’ve been gone a generation or two. Even then, you’ll just be factoid, a footnote. For most of us, we won’t even have that much.

This idea has been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve been thinking a lot about our obsession with publishing personal content online ever since the introduction of the web 2.0. It started with simple blogs, like this one, then advanced to social media, etc. We’re obsessed with unloading our minds onto the Internet, whether it’s sharing visual art like photography, paintings, etc.; our thoughts via blog posts or spouting opinions on social media, etc.; or increasingly posting videos of ourselves on YouTube and the like. Why? Why are we relentlessly posting rants on Twitter or Facebook, pics on Instagram or Flickr, videos on YouTube or Vimeo (or FB/IG/Twitter), blog posts on a variety of platforms, etc.?

I think it’s because we all feel a need to be heard, to be relevant. Beyond that, I think we subconsciously are seeking longevity beyond our short lifespans. Facebook now has an option for memorializing your account after you die, ostensibly so loved ones can gather on your profile and reminisce about how great you were. Your online immortality will only last so long, though, as back to my point in the first paragraph, once your close friends and family members have gotten over their grief, how often are they really going to keep coming back to your page? And once they, too, die off, no one will; so your account might still be online, but no one will be viewing it. You’re gone.

Without going too far into focusing on specific venues, though - whether they be online or physical - why do we have such a need to be externally validated anyway? Using myself as an example, both my photography and my writing have both had fairly narrow niches of people who follow and appreciate them. The amount of interaction I get on any given post - whether it’s a blog post here, a posting on Twitter, or pics to Instagram - is pretty damn small, so why do still feel the need to post them, to chase down those few likes/comments I get? For instance, here I’ve already rambled on for over four paragraphs, yet looking at the stats on my website, I know that literally no one is likely to see this. That’s right: no one. I know because my website stats show me that: even after I post fresh content, I get no visitors. Now, if I share this article to Twitter or something, I might get a few hits, but that’s it. And I do have a couple dozen RSS subscribers, so I may or may not be getting eyeballs there that don’t register on my website stats. Still, it’s a very small number and not growing, so why do I feel compelled? Why do any of us feel compelled? Because honestly, the same question really applies to the person that has a million followers as much as it does to the person that has two…

So lately I’ve found myself then thinking: if I knew for a fact that one one was going to view my photography or read my words, etc., would I still do it? What if I didn’t even share my work anywhere in the first place, so the only person that ever saw it was me? Would I still do it? If not, why not? And if so, what am I doing it for?

This then leads to the age-old question: is it art if no one sees it? I’m sure most of you have heard of Vivian Maier by now; if you haven’t, Google her and prepare to be amazed (if you appreciate street photography). Vivian was a woman who worked as a nanny for most of her adult life, but in her spare time she took countless street photographs with her trusty twin-reflex camera. However, she never developed them! So she never even saw most of her own work! The only reason we know about her today is because some guy in Chicago bought boxes full of her undeveloped rolls of film from a storage auction shortly before her death. He had them developed, printed, and exhibited, and the rest is history. She’s now regarded as one of the best street photographers of the 20th century; I have a book of her work on my photography bookshelf. She never once sought recognition for her work herself, though. She was content in the capturing of the photo; never felt a need to produce it for others to see. So what if those rolls of undeveloped film had never been discovered and shared with the world? Would it still be art? If it hadn’t been discovered and shared, we’d have no idea who Vivian Maier is today. A lifelong single and reclusive woman with no children of her own, she would have faded from memory for all but her closest charges rather quickly. Without the art, the artist is quickly forgotten, and all the much sooner that grave goes unattended.

Cheers,
R

Manufactured Crisis

The federal government shutdown, brought to you by President Trump (remember he said he’d own this on live TV before it even started), is now officially the longest in U.S. history. And why? Because the Moron-in-Chief needs a combative win to appease his racist, xenophobic base. Why do I say combative? Because he could have easily accomplished this while the Republicans still controlled both houses of Congress, but he waited until the Democrats took over the House.  He wants a spectacle, to be seen a victor, as he hasn’t been able to score many so far.

The rationale he tries to sell in order to garner support for his ridiculous wall is that there’s a “crisis at the border”, that if we don’t erect a wall immediately, we’ll be subject to an orgy of illegal crossings and subsequent crime waves like the world has never seen.  The only problem is that the data says exactly the opposite. I invite you to read this article by the New York Times, which actually delves into the numbers for the past several decades. As they state clearly in the article, illegal crossings have actually been on a steady decline for over two decades; and, in fact, arrests for illegal crossings in 2017 actually reached the lowest level since 1971.

So if you support Trump’s crusade on this wall, including keeping vital parts of our government shut down over it (in fact, our Border Patrol and TSA agents aren’t getting paid! How’s that for security?), ask yourself why. Because it surely isn’t about the illegal immigration or crime numbers... 

A Life Wasted

So I’ve decided to take a bit of a complete social media break. I’ve already had my Facebook account deactivated a while, and through December I’d been taking time away from Twitter. For January, I decided to add Instagram into the mix. I knew this was going to be a tough last step, as, being a a photographer, Instagram is the one I enjoy using the most (even despite my various gripes with the platform that I’ve blogged about recently). Essentially off social media entirely now (at least the platforms that dominated my time), I’ve come to some conclusions already in just the first handful of days…

  1. I wasted more time than I thought on social media! It’s amazing how many times I’ll pick up my phone/tablet, or login to my PC, etc., only to then discover I don’t know what I really want to do, why I got online in the first place. If it’s later in the day, especially, I’ve already gone through all my news sites, so there’s not much I have to catch up on there. That’s when I’d realize that most of the time in the past, I’d get online and just start checking Instagam, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

  2. We use our phones mostly for social media. The smartphone is truly a wonderful tool, and allows us to do a lot. What I’ve been finding, though, is that - related to #1 above - oft times we pull those things out of our pocket to just mindlessly scroll through social media whenever we’re bored. Now that I’m not using those apps all the time, once I’ve caught up on news, there’s not often a lot of use for it. As such, my battery life has skyrocketed, as I don’t have apps open, draining the battery, all the time anymore.

  3. These social media platforms truly are addicting. It’s amazing how often I have that impulse to open one of those apps/sites to start browsing, post a picture or my opinion about some nonsense, etc. It’s like a crack addict reaching for that pipe, but it’s no longer there….

Will I stay off all social media long term? I don’t know yet. Probably not. However, I definitely plan on curtailing my use and how I use it. I’m not sure what my path forward with Twitter is… I got back on for a couple days as December closed out, and I was taken aback at how negative the environment is there. It was nothing different than it’s always been, but having been away from it for a month, I really noticed it now. I promptly got back off, as I just didn’t find it enjoyable now. Maybe I’m done with it; I don’t know. Either that, or perhaps I just need to change whom I follow to craft a more positive, uplifting experience there. Being that it’s really just a time waster, though, I’m not sure if it’s really worth that effort.

I recently got back on Facebook just briefly for the sole purpose of deleting all my past content on there. The reasons for that are beyond the scope of this post, but just let me tell you, it was a real eye opener, seeing how much crap I’ve posted on there over the years. The first year or two weren’t bad, and the last couple years weren’t too bad, as I deactivated for long periods during them, but those middle years…. Thousands upon thousands of status updates, comments, likes, etc. - it was insane! I had an automated script plugin doing a lot of the deletions for me, just leaving me to do manual clean-up on what it couldn’t catch, and it still took me about NINE days to delete it all! Just think about all that time I must have been wasting on it over the years! I think I’m pretty much done for good on that platform now. The only reason I deactivate instead of doing a full delete is so that I can keep my FB Messenger contacts, as that’s my only (or at last most convenient) contact point for some people.

Cheers,
R

"<Last Year> sucked!" (No, it didn't)

I’ve noticed a over the past several years, where at the end of every year, people like to proclaim that the past year sucked, that they can’t wait for it to be over, and they’re looking forward to a much more positive new year. But then at the end of that new year, they’ll then proclaim the same thing: this past year sucked, can’t wait for the new one.

Why? What is with this trend of focusing only on the negative things that happened over the past year, and then using that handful of negative things (often minor) to declare that the whole year was a loss? Every year, negative things will happen. Also every year, positive things will happen. No given calendar year is all good or all bad. Barring the death of a close loved one that really affected you, or an ugly divorce, etc., no single event or collection of events defines a whole year. Celebrate the good and try to forget about the bad. It seems ridiculous to castigate a whole year of life experience, though, and equally ridiculous to think the next year will always be all good.

Anyway, Happy New Year, all. Appreciate and learn from all of it.

Cheers,
R

IM in the Workplace: Tool of Productivity or Tool of Distraction?

Instant Messaging… When it first entered the online universe all those years ago, back in the early days of AOL and whatnot, it was hailed as the best thing ever. Indeed, it provided a great new way to have spontaneous, real-time conversations with friends and family across the country and even across the globe. The early IM tools would pave the way for later messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and even basic texting on cellphones. These are great tools for personal communications.

Somewhere along the line, though, the earlier modes of IM got updated and re-marketed to businesses as productivity tools in apps such as Lync, Skype, Jabber, etc. They were given new functionality such as desktop sharing, video conferencing, Exchange Server integration, etc. No more dealing with the “huge” delays of email; now you can get that coworker’s attention instantly!!

Instantly… No matter what that coworker is doing, no matter who else they might be talking to or working on, you can immediately grab their attention away to focus on YOU.

Honestly, I see both sides of this coin. At my workplace we use Skype (formerly Lync), and it is incredibly useful for collaborating with remote coworkers (and in today’s increasingly spread out and remote workforce, that ability is very important), conducting meetings, etc. I personally work with people in the Midwest, the Southwest, and the Southeast, and it really enables true collaboration.

All that said, there’s a flip side to that coin, which I alluded to in the paragraph before last: no matter what you’re doing, you can be interrupted by whomever wants your attention right now. Your concentration can be broken at any time just like that. Yes, most (if not all) of these modern messaging tools have a “do not disturb” option you can employ, but many companies frown on very much use of this, as they want you available. I find this can be very annoying! When you’re in the middle of coding a routine or writing a report, the last thing you need is someone breaking in, saying, “Ryan, I need this RIGHT NOW! Drop everything!!” Think back 10 years when they might have to rely on email instead, and perhaps you didn’t get to their request for an hour… Did our companies crumble? No! So why do we insist on this new paradigm in today’s workplace; why are we willing to pull our workers out of their most productive states? Is that really beneficial?

Now, I have to admit to being guilty of being on the flip side of that myself. Of course, I’ve also been plenty guilty of IM’ing someone to deal with a problem RIGHT NOW. It’s easy to slip into that space when it becomes the corporate culture. So what’s the solution? Maybe there isn’t one and I just need to vent… ;-) Or, perhaps we need to reserve these tools for what I consider their highest, best use: collaborative meetings. They’re definitely invaluable for that, so giving them up entirely would be foolish. Perhaps companies need to discourage the willy-nilly interruptions they’re often used for, though.

What are your thoughts? Do you use these tools in your workplace? If so, how are they used and what do you like/dislike about them?

Cheers,
Ryan