Good Morning My Muse

Here’s a little update about my writing endeavors. I’m still plugging away at it. No novel in the works, but novella ideas here and there. Mostly I’m focused on blogging. Finding time is usually the roadblock, so I was driven to find a way around.


Morning

I want to write regularly, but my schedule is so regularly filled with other things that writing falls by the wayside. That’s funny, because if I’m a blogger, then writing should be the regular thing my time is filled with.

Since it’s a matter of time, it was time to take action and make a change in course. So now I get up earlier in the morning with the express purpose of just drafting stuff. Just 30 extra minutes of quiet focused solitude. And coffee, of course. There’s always coffee.

I get up early. I get my keyboard, my iPad, my coffee. I open Ulysses. By this time, 5 or so minutes after swinging the legs onto the floor and taking on the vertical challenge, my eyes are mostly open and my brain is starting to fire on all the neurons.

Then I start writing. Usually I draft. Sometimes I’m editing. I almost always have at least a few posts started. They’re ideas I’ve jotted down during random moments throughout the day.

Muse

You’ve likely heard about the thing called a muse. Like it’s some kind of imaginary magical writing fairy that floats into your subconscious and taps you on the head with a word-wand. Next thing you know, the latest New York Times best seller is flowing through your fingertips.

It’s not quite like that.

I don’t get up early in the morning to let a muse visit me for writing. The early morning is my “muse.” The simple solitude and quiet, the time and space for me and my mind to focus, relax, and get into writing mode is all it really takes.

That simply means thinking more deeply than usual. It lets you chase those rabbits all the way to the end of the trail because there’s nothing else in the woods with you, no distractions1. So you get to see where the path leads and fully develop a thought, even approaching it from different angles.

For some people, their writing time is at night. Mine happens to be in the morning, while it’s still dark outside before sunrise. So technically that’s also night I guess. The point is I’ve got to take time and make space to write.


Take Time To Have Time

So it’s kinda simple. I don’t have to be Einstein and know how time and space work. I just need to know they work and then use them to write.

This is a good change of pace. Before, I didn’t know when I’d get to write except maybe during the weekend. But now, I know I get to have 30 minutes a morning, 5 days a week, plus likely on weekends.

It’s like the french dude’s one-liner in The Matrix Reloaded about time. If you don’t take time, then you won’t have time.


When do you like to write? Comment below or message me. Thanks for reading!

  1. My iPad goes into “Do Not Disturb” mode. That’s a handy feature!

Big Guns Of Big Tech

Franklin Foer wrote a book called, World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech. I read it last week and want to share a few thoughts about it. If you use Facebook, Google, or Amazon (ok, so like everybody), then you might wanna read this.


World Without Mind is written like a long argument with lots of details. I found it to be a fairly quick and easy read. And I found it on Apple Books for only $5!

As I read, I sometimes thought, “Man, I’m glad I didn’t buy this eBook from Amazon.” But then I posted stuff about it on Goodreads, which Amazon owns, so now they still know what I was reading and can use that data in threatening ways. If you don’t see the connection or are unsure how this is a big deal, then you should read World Without Mind.

But maybe buy the paperback or borrow it from the library. Foer says returning to paper, going analog, is one of the ways in which to defang the threats the digital overlords of Big Tech.


“Big Tech” refers to the massive monopolistic money making machines we know as Google, Amazon, and Facebook. Apple and Twitter are not talked about much in the book. The main thing the first three have in common is their advertisement based revenue.

The whole book is somewhat similar to Neil Postman’s, Amusing Ourselves To Death. But where Postman’s work is about the technology of Television and how it threatens literacy and critical thinking, Foer’s work is about the technology of the Internet and how it threatens literacy, democracy, privacy, journalistic integrity, and even liberty.

Really, though, it’s less the internet and more the few companies who act as portals or gatekeepers of the internet. For many, like AOL in the 90’s, Facebook itself is the internet. So the free and open web is threatened by Big Tech as they have grown so big, they practically are the web’s walled gardens, making a closed and curated internet.

But the curation does not have the users’ best interest in mind. It is to tailor content that’s marketable, sensational, addictive, and attention grabbing, not to enrich our lives but to enrich big tech’s pocketbooks. It’s capitalism without conscience yet not without consequence.


World Without Mind is written kinda like a personal polemic, and it hammers home the threat of Big Tech against journalism in particular. There’s a few things in there about blogging too!

But you’ve probably heard of the popularity and ubiquity of 4 or 5 big tech companies that run or ruin our lives: Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft. There have been many articles written about their big size and control and dangers. Something they have in common is the commodity of our personal data.

Here’s a few articles for example:

Tech’s Frightful Five: They’ve Got Us

I Cut The ‘Big Five’ Tech Giants From My Life. It Was Hell.


For what it’s worth, I’m not good at reviewing books. But I hope the few things I shared about World Without Mind piqued your interest. If you follow technology at all, then you’ll likely find this book intriguing. So I recommend you pick it up today for your next read!


Of the big tech companies, which one do you use or rely on the most? Facebook, Amazon, Google? Leave me a comment. Or send me some eMail. Thanks for your time!

Let Facebook Age Out

Facebook is ubiquitous. If you need to find someone, chances are they’re on Facebook. And most people are so hooked on it that they’d never delete their account. Would you? If not, can we keep the next generation off it? I think that’s a key part of ending Facebook’s ubiquity.


This Gen On

Current generations (Boomers, Gen X, Millennials) use social media a lot – for better or for worse. And it’s hard to stop the train or jump off while it’s moving! Maybe you have tried to reduce your Facebook usage or know someone who has.

I kind of hate to admit that I still have a Facebook account (I’ve been considering deletion or deactivation). I opt for what Cal Newport terms Controlled Use. The Facebook app has been off my phone since last December; I rarely check the site on my PC. I unfollowed almost everyone, so my Newsfeed is mostly blank. This keeps me from getting sucked in. You probably know what I’m talking about.


Next Gen Off

But what about the next generation (Gen Y, Gen Z, Post-Millennials)? Current Facebook rules require you to be age 13 to get an account. But does a kid really need an account? Aren’t they still learning how to socialize face to face? Why complicate their growth with an addictive social media profile and a distracting Newsfeed where even adults fail to exercise self-control over their time spent mindlessly scrolling?

I’ve often wondered what it would take for Facebook’s dominance to dwindle. In order for Facebook to die out, it must age out. And you and I can keep the next generation from gravitating towards its black hole. It is our responsibility to do just that.


Caution Children Playing

One of the founders of Facebook, Sean Parker, admitted that the company intentionally or knowingly exploited human psychological vulnerabilities to cause people to use the site more and more. And he expressed deep concern over kids using social media,

“God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.” – Sean Parker

Our kids should be warned of Facebook’s problems (addiction, anti-privacy, lack of security, surveillance, misinformation, fake-news, etc) and be discouraged from getting onboard.

My oldest son turns 13 this year. I don’t want him to ever get on Facebook. So in my house, that’s the deal. No Facebook for you, kids! Like many restrictions, this one applies until they’re 18 years old or they move out.

This, of course, brings up a point. What about my own use of Facebook, and my wife’s account, for example? If I tell my kids they shouldn’t be on Facebook yet they see me on it, doesn’t that send a mixed message? Isn’t that hypocritical? Good point!

Yes and no. I see the mixed message. I get it. But it’s like a lot of things in life: some stuff is for mature adults only: cigarettes, alcohol, R-rated movies, etc. As parents, we shield or restrict our kids from these types of things. Facebook (social media and YouTube), falls in this category.

Facebook is also like sugar: sweet at fleeting moments yet detrimental if not used in moderation. It is not good for your health. Children lack the discretion and self-control to consume it responsibly. And as a parent of 5 young boys, I know the fall-out from letting kids have even a little sugar beyond the occasional snack.


Pressed Against A Facebook Wall

My opinion on these matters isn’t alone of course. Social media (Facebook) is very problematic for teenagers. Take this statement for example:

“Social-networking sites like Facebook promise to connect us to friends. But the portrait of iGen teens emerging from the data is one of a lonely, dislocated generation.” – Jean M. Twenge

The Atlantic article with the above statement talks about the deleterious effects of smartphones and social media on the next generation. They’re the ones, like my kids, we must protect.

There are also books written and studies done about this. One related article is found here: You Are The Product. Here’s one more: The End of Facebook’s Ubiquity. And a related book hot off the press: Zucked: Waking up to the Facebook catastrophe. The Zucked website front page has some simple guidelines for protecting kids from Facebook.

Let’s do our kids a favor and keep them off Facebook. Let Facebook age out.


What do you think, is Facebook something we should protect our kids from? Can social media be used for good? Is the negative press of Facebook overblown? Comment below or email me. Love to hear from ya!

Single Versus Multi Purpose Tech

A Swiss Army knife is known for being this one thing you can stick in your pocket and have all the tools you need at your disposal. Knife? Of course. Scissors? You bet. Toothpick? Radical! But is a multi-purpose device always best?

Likewise, an iPhone is known for being the one digital device you can pocket and do all the cool things with. Phone? Obviously. iPod? Now you’re talking. Wireless internet communicator? Yes! These three things were shown to be one device when Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone in a 2007 keynote. 3-in-1; what could be better?

That question comes to my mind sometimes, especially now reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. Being into tech, a sorta gadget geek, I tend to welcome shiny whiz-bang devices into my life. Maybe too many. So why have multiple devices when you can have one multi-purpose device to rule them all?

The smartphone, for many, has replaced several single-purpose devices: the Flip video camera, the flip-phone, the point-n-shoot camera, the Garmin or Tom-Tom GPS, the MP3 player, the pocket calculator, the modern PC, hand-held game console, ereader, and more.

But I often think that a single function gizmo, while an extra thing to carry around, is the best tool for the job. A smartphone may be all you really need these days, but in some cases the old cliche may apply: jack of all trades but master of none.

So I want to explore just three specific ways the smartphone may not be as good as some dedicated devices it has replaced.

Camera

I really like photography, and my iPhone is the only camera I use anymore. But I can say there are still ways a dedicated camera is better, especially when it comes to creative picture making.

One advantage is the long zoom range of most cameras. Another is the ergonomic grip built into the camera body. Even the neck strap can be a big plus. Also, dedicated physical buttons and dials for quick easy access to features such as switching modes or setting exposure.

These are real benefits to creative photography that the beloved iPhone still can’t replace. But for casual use, and given the unique advantages of advanced smartphone photography, there is not a clear winner. You must pick the best tool for the job.

Hand-Held Game Machine

Remember the Gameboy? Now the cool new hotness is the Nintendo 3DS XL, or maybe a PS Vita. For me, Nintendo’s dedicated portable game gadgets are still the best in some regards for good’ol gaming on the go.

For this category of device, both hardware and software are key pros over the smartphone. Nintendo makes some good games now for Android and iOS. But they’re casual games, more-or-less. For full-fledged Nintendo goodness, you still need their machine. Like Apple, Nintendo still makes the “whole widget” when it comes to video gaming.

In other words, if you want a real Mario game or Zelda, you won’t find it on iPhone.

And Nintendo has always been great at innovating and implementing game play mechanics via physical hardware buttons, which the iPhone eschews. Like dedicated cameras with a myriad of control knobs, the latest 2DS XL is loaded like a pro game controller with a built-in screen.

You can see the game on-screen without fat fingers in the way, there’s no oil from your skin fogging the view, and also omitted is the thumb-slippage that’s prone on glass touch screens that try to mimic fake analog control sticks. Smartphones just don’t have enough tactile feedback for hardcore or long-form gaming.

Ereader

I once read Steve Jobs’ entire biography on my iPad. And I’ve read an entire fiction novel on my iPod touch back in the day. But when it comes to ereading, while tablets can get the job done, nothing beats the experience of a dedicated ereader. And of course I mean the kindle.

I love my kindle paperwhite. It’s front-light is better than a tablet’s backlight which fatigues your eyes. It’s eink screen has just about zero glare in full sun, but a tablet looks like a mirror. And being able to go days to weeks without charging your ereader, unlike a smartphone or tablet, is a bigger benefit than you might think. You can always count on reading your ebook very much like a paper book.

The kindle ereader becomes the very book you’re currently reading, while the smartphone is just a fancy distracting device that happens to also let you read words on a screen. Pick it up to read a book and you’re way more likely to check Facebook or text someone instead.

I also like the fact that when my face is glued to my kindle screen, my kids at least know instantly that I’m reading a book, not just scrolling some feed.

Hands down, ereaders for the win.


As much as I like certain single-purpose gadgets over my iPhone, there is still that elusive allure of The One Device to rule all.

Years ago, before I could afford an iPhone, I carried to work everyday my flip-phone and my iPod touch. These two devices sat on my desk doing their things. One was for texting. One was for music and apps. But I longed for the time when the two could merge. Then I would be done keeping up with two things. (Note- I still carry two devices to work everyday: iPhone and iPad. So, yeah…)

So simplicity…having just one device is attractive. But since it’s really multiple devices in one, it’s not that simple. That small blank rectangle of glass without buttons is many gadgets in disguise. It does so much that it becomes all-encompassing and engrossing. It can be distracting or overwhelming.

When you use a single-purpose device for a single task, you are focused and your device is focused. This lets you concentrate on your task at hand. And instead of being consumed by your device, you’re engrossed in the one thing you’re doing. There’s something to be said about the mental overhead that comes with a multi-device like an iPhone versus the mental clarity and simplicity in a gadget that just does one thing. Call it focused functionality.

Yet the coin can be flipped again. There’s also something about a dedicated gadget festering with buttons and dials that scares people off. They don’t want to grapple with a camera’s numerous controls, for example.

That’s what was so cool about the iPhone. When Steve Jobs announced it, he expressed disgust with feature-phones of the time, littered with so many buttons. He even deplored a simple stylus, saying your finger was best.


There must be some balance. A plethora of devices, one for every single task you have, is too much. One single device that claims to do it all is not always best or realistic.

I guess you must, as always, pick the best tool or tools for the job(s).

There are several other categories of devices that the smartphone replaced. For you, what has it replaced, or what single-function gadgets do you still tenaciously cling to?

Thoughts On Digital Minimalism

Two months ago to the day, I posted thoughts on social media. It was a general look at my social media use at the time and a point of scaling back from Facebook in particular. My conclusion was apt:

“Minimalism is a good final point on my current thoughts on Social Media. I don’t want to delete altogether but minimize use or exposure, and thereby mitigate any negative effects. I hope the net results will be positive!”

I also shared that I had pre-ordered Cal Newport’s new book Digital Minimalism. It finally came out a few days ago and appeared on my kindle immediately!

So far, Cal’s new book is great! I’m about half-way through reading it; here are some of my thoughts.


This is the first book I’ve read by Mr. Newport. I’m kinda jealous because, man, he can write well! His ability to clearly present arguments and definitions of concepts with real-world examples is noteworthy. The writing is concise, and the logical flow from one thought to the next is silky smooth. Regardless of the content, the reading is a pleasure.

But of course, I love the content! My expectation leading up to the book’s release was that Cal’s Digital Declutter (not so much detox) was going to be too challenging for me personally, like when I was young and had to eat my broccoli. Good, but hard, to do.

Does decluttering mean I will have to give up my smartphone? No, not necessarily. In fact, Cal presents surprising findings from a close look at the Amish and Mennonite cultures known, inaccurately, for eschewing technology altogether.

Yet I’m finding, through Cal’s simple and compelling reasoning, backed by much research, studies, life-examples, and works by others, that the Digital Declutter is so necessary and valuable that I’d be somewhat of a fool to not jump in headlong with conviction of a good outcome. Like I can’t wait to benefit from it! It’s better than broccoli smothered in cheddar cheese!

I’m carefully considering the weight of Cal’s words and his own life as a testimony to living a better life more in control of technology than being controlled by tech.

Our smartphones, for example, promised to give us new capabilities, to enable us. Instead, they enslave us, exploiting our vulnerabilities.

Digital Minimalism begins by defining what it is and why it’s important. I was generally convinced of this matter beforehand, but after reading Cal’s first few chapters, my understanding is better and, if locked-in before, the key has now been tossed into the abyss.

The book’s outset also explains the value and method of the Digital Declutter. While I’ve not yet embarked on this 30-day task, I have already begun to pare down my phone’s apps plus online services I use.

Some of the most valuable stuff I’ve gained so far is the in-depth promotion of solitude, walking, and other practical ways to declutter from device domination.

I also appreciated that Cal expounded on a distinction between connection and conversation and applied it to what he terms conversation-centric communication. Basically, the argument is well made that real-life face-to-face socializing can never be replaced by social media and digital “likes.”

The reason this is worth reading is because, even though many people would agree that the argument’s conclusion is common sense, Cal reasons how and why and shows that our common sense can be undermined by the technology and our own psychological weaknesses.

For now, I’ll end with a quote that I loved enough to, ironically, share on Twitter (needing to turn on my kindle’s wi-fi to do so):


“…humans are not wired to be constantly wired.”

Cal Newport – Digital Minimalism

I’m still soaking up this good read, but I’ll go ahead and highly recommend you buy it and consume it for yourself!