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Living at the speed of Doh!

I know this is a bit of a longish blog posting for me, but please try to stick with me here.  Major changes are coming to my social media stream and my friends ought to know about them.  Plus, you may see some opportunity here to make a change for the better.

I am disturbed.  No, not like that… errr.. at least I hope not!  My feelings of consternation stem from frustrations that have been germinating within my cranium for years.  These feelings have grown over time and finally penetrated the surface into my conscience mind earlier this year.  I am finally facing the truth.  I’ve broken my brain.

No shit; I mean it.  This grey matter does *not* function the way the engineers envisioned.  I can’t blame it on anyone but myself.  I broke it.

Okay, what the heck am I talking about?  I have noticed some tendencies within my thought processes that are departures from the way my brain worked a decade or so ago.  As a car gets older we expect have performance issues.  I expect nothing different from a human brain.  Neural pathways die or get rerouted, morals and ethics may alter one’s perception of situations and events, the societal and cultural norms transform over time leading many of our thought processes.  I understand these potential changes and accept them.  What I have noticed is different.  In this context: “I’ve broken my brain” = “I can’t think anymore”

The changes that I have noticed are:

1)       Inability to focus on problems for long periods of time (project management)

2)      Easily distractible – shiny things are everywhere (FB, Twitter)

3)      React to most situations with immediate actions rather than thinking through the appropriate course of actions (shotgun method of troubleshooting )

4)      Reading or writing anything longer than a paragraph is tiresome or difficult – (hence Reddit)

Why has my brain undergone this metamorphosis into a shallower, more surface like method of interacting with the world around me?  I have a theory that isn’t going to win me any popularity contests.  In fact, most people who read this (my friends) are likely to scoff or deny my assumptions.  It is the Interwebz.

Not really.  Not the Internet in its entirety, just the parts that we use.  Just as I have theories on why the youth of ‘Merica (those under 30ish) have significant cognitive differences from their older countrymen due to changes in production techniques and usage of television programming over the past 40 years, I think our use of many online resources have done similar things to myself and others.

Thinking about any average minute of the day, I am within a foot of a keyboard.  I will always have a browser open with my core tabs loaded and constantly refreshing (gMail, Twitter, FB) as well as a dozen or so tabs of pages that, while they were too long to hold my attention when I discovered them, I intend to read.  Embarrassing as it is, those dozen ‘extra’ tabs are different on each of the three computers that I use daily, therefore I have a lot of catching up to do.

At least 20 times an hour I will spend 10-15 seconds (total) scanning those three core tabs for updates.  Not a huge chunk of time, but that means that I rarely engage in any other thought processes for more than 1-3 minutes at a time.   I have been doing this since working on my undergrad IT degree – for seven years.   When not in front of a PC (the other 20% of my waking time) I am checking AND updating all of the same information sources, but via smartphone, whether driving, walking, outside in a park or in a social setting with others.  When it comes to constant partial attention, I have trained myself to be a super swapper.

The unintended side effect of this is that I have cut off my own ability to think deeply about things.  I no longer have the ability to take part in some of my favorite pastimes from growing up:

1)       Reading books – I used to read a book a week and loved it. Now, I am lucky to make it halfway through a magazine article.

2)      Political debates escape me now – There was a time when I had strong feelings about cultural and societal good.  Now I only take time to know about things within my immediate bubble.

3)      Philosophical musings – In my 20’s I had cultivated theories on how to save the word from itself.  Now I find it rare to think more deeply about the world than what events are affecting me at any given moment.

This past February I attended a conference in Las Vegas (http://www.pinkelephant.com/pink12/) that I see as a pivotal point in my life.  Each of the keynote speakers touched on a similar vein of thought, and one dedicated her whole talk to it: CyberOverload.  Dr Joanne Cantor’s talk really struck home for me and made me do some critical thinking about my life and ways that I can improve it.  You can read some of her works here: http://yourmindonmedia.com/blog/

So, I have taken that proverbial first step and recognized that I have a problem.  What the heck is next?  For five days after the conference I drove a rental car through rural Nevada and California with sporadic or non-existent cellular or terrestrial radio signals.  This extended time with no auditory input gave me an opportunity to think, cogitate, examine, and tear apart each aspect of my current lifestyle and identify possible contributing factors to my malady.  I formed a plan.  A series of behavior changes that would hopefully lead to remediation of my long lost cognitive abilities.

Let me take a moment here to thank you for making it this far into this posting – the good stuff is coming up next, I promise.

Beginning on Monday June 11, 2012 (as good a date as any) I will be changing a significant portion of my daily habits to better reflect the person that I want to be.   The items that I have identified thus far are:

  • Social Networking:
    • Turn off FB & Twitter for 90 days
      • No kidding – any automated apps may still post, but I will not be checking them and I will delete from any mobile devices.
      • I feel this will be the biggest paradigm change and hardest to accomplish, but likely to have the greatest payoff.
  • While at work:
    • Only check personal mail during off-work hours – i.e. at lunch or maybe at 10, 12, 2
    • Turn off Skype/IM/chat (except Communicator) @ work
    • Turn off gMail desktop notifications
    • Go back to getting to work <0700 for productivity time
  • Home Life:
    • Walk or jog without iPod/media for 30 minutes a day- Although I don’t want to burden myself with auditory input, I will carry a voice recorder as these are the times that I tend to have my epiphanies.
    • Dedicate 3 hours a week minimum to reading cellulose based media- Yes.  Real books.
    • Television viewing:
      • Limit live TV viewing to primetime (8-11PM) only for shows that I am already ingrained and are new episodes
      • Casual viewing of movies, shows or documentaries are fine, but must be an intentional effort, not just to fill time.
  • Personal fulfillment:
    • Only classical or techno music while working on other tasks – no vocals to distract
    • Buy some nice personalized stationary and thank you cards.  Use them.
    • No more artificial sweeteners – not necessary
    • Connectivity:
      • Turn off one of my cell phones
      • Test a transition from smartphone back to old-school flip phone
        • If transition fails – use an Andriod to force myself to learn new OS and different ways to do things
    • Make list of all pending projects that are hanging over my head and cause daily stress – assign deadlines
      • eBay
      • Finances – automate flow and payments
      • Shed > workshop – clean and organize
      • Scanning of 10K+ pics, slides, & negatives
      • Raised bed garden plot in side yard
    • No more multitasking while driving (txt, twitter, surfing, etc)
I have identified a lot of changes to make, and I feel enacting them all at once, much like ripping off a Band-Aid, is my best chance of success.  While the social media blackout is only 90 days, I hope many of the the changes will have more permanence and lead to a higher quality of life.
I look forward to input from friends and family.  Tell me where you think I may be on -v- off the mark.  Let me know if you think I’m just plain nuts for trying this.