Archive for ill-effects of computers

Short-listed again!

Posted in genre fiction, lifehacking, multitasking, Science Fiction and Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2010 by katekanno

Just got word that story I’ve just workshopped again because I wasn’t happy with it has been shortlisted. And this time, even if it’s rejected I’ll get an honorable mention. I’m still waiting to hear back on the first one I mentioned back in August, and I was going to quote the line from Red Leader, but then I remembered that he not only failed to successfully blow up the Death Star, he crashed into a flamey ball on its surface. So no, not going to go there.

In other news, I had to erase my laptop’s WiFi settings. Somehow the connection, once broken, had kicked in and I was wasting time in internet La La-land again. Now I’m back at the kitchen counter hooked to the cable and oh so much more focused and productive. This is not a recommendation for others, but it works for me. I’m too easily distracted. Of course to look at dark side of this arrangement, I am closer to the food.

 

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On books and pretending to have read them.

Posted in blogging, books, education, ill effects of computers, memory, shyness, Uncategorized, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 23, 2010 by katekanno

I’ve always been inarticulate, particularly in groups when the social anxiety ramps up.  I have a tendency to lock onto some obscure, often not very meaningful detail, and wax incomprehensible. Summarizing is not a strong suit, and  I cannot, for the life of me, exude an air of mastery over anything so much as making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Yet, what baffled me when I returned to the States five years ago, was how much that skill, online or off,  has usurped genuine knowledge. There seemed to be more value placed on knowing about something, more so if that thing could be dismissed with a clever reference to theory or more appallingly,  a wikipedia link.

Before the internet we called that jousting with a trashcan and a garden hoe.

Even worse is that it now gets the nod from self-help manuals like Pierre Bayard’s “How to Talk About Books that You Haven’t Read,” which Tracy Seeley, a vanguard in the slow reading movement, sees as a more sinister sign of our fraying focus.

Agreed.

And it’s phony as all get up, too.

I’m the first to admit that I’m as insecure  as the next person, but I’d prefer to use that anxiety as a guide. What haven’t I read? Where am I woefully ignorant?  And then I’ll go out and pick up a book, try to gain at least a meager grasp over what I know I don’t know.  It’s not a very efficient system, a little too random, but more often than not the serendipity pays off in ways that I would hope are more creative than the simple art of name dropping.

Hibernation over, hopefully…

Posted in blogging, lifehacking, Tokyo, Uncategorized, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 3, 2010 by katekanno

It’s been a long three months since I’ve posted. Getting re-acquainted with Tokyo a new job, as well as a few writing projects, have been part of it.  The other has been our new internet situation.

When we moved into our apartment, we had trouble accessing our WiFi. We fussed and moaned for a few days, and then realized —  wow! — We were so much happier without it.

I’ve been more focused than I’ve been in years, and have not only completed two drafts of my first professional script, but three short stories of which I’m truly proud. I’ve sent them off, received one very hopeful rejection email, and am happily waiting for the rest to circulate back through the ether.

I’ve finally, finally reached that point where writing is a happy compulsion. I knew it was there; it just needed one tiny inconvenience to nudge it awake — in this case it meant having to carry my laptop to the kitchen and hook it up to a LAN cable.  The old stand and surf also has an added benefit of making me more focused about what I’m looking for online.

Other people have more control over their online life. I didn’t.  And when you don’t have control, particularly in cases of technology, it’s sometimes best to downgrade. Throw a shoe in the loom, replace that microwave with a conventional oven. The food’s still there. It’s just better.

Filtering distraction: how to use index cards to stay off the web

Posted in computing, lifehacking, Lists, memory, multitasking, social networking, stationery lust, writing with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 15, 2010 by katekanno

“The mind that has no fixed aim loses itself, for, as they say, to be everywhere is to be nowhere.

Michel Montaigne  (From a blogshort essay on idleness that describes internet haze brain to a T.)

This is your brain on the web.

Or mine, anyway, and for the last several months I’ve been obsessed with finding ways to curb the impulse for distraction.

For writers, this problem is exacerbated by our own insecurities, that inner voice that tells us we’ve got a fact wrong, or that we simply don’t know enough about a subject to be blathering on about it like some blowhard in the Guggenheim.

One option I’ve tried is the Freedom application. You can find a better description of it here, but basically it cuts you off the web for a designated amount of time. If you want to get back on, you have to reboot your computer.  It’s an excellent way to get started, a sort of training wheels for willpower.

Another option I’ve devised myself is the use of index cards. Many writers praise them as an immediate idea recording device, but they can also be used, I’ve found, to keep my twitchy little fingers from clicking the browser icon. Here’s how it works.

One.

Obtain index cards, one stack will do, but you’ll find you’ll need more as you go along.

Two.

Place one of them next to your computer, and write the name of whatever writing project you’re working on across the top.

Three.

Close your browser, bring up word ( or whatever program you use), and start writing. Fend off the evil voice when it’s simply throwing rocks at you — especially do this when it sounds like your mother. However, if it asks a legitimate question such as “Is that really how internal combustion engines work?” or nags you that “you really need to elaborate more on cuttlefish anatomy,” you pick up that card and write it down. Now I usually number the questions, simply because I know I’ll need the order later, but now you are free from the urge to click your browser and thereby instantly forget what it was you were looking up in the first place.


Four.

Gather up your used index cards. You have a mission. Open your browser or go to a library. Find the answers to your questions — or decide that some of them weren’t really as relevant as you first thought — and write them down.

Five.

Return and revise your manuscript with your newfound information, and as a side benefit, a new sense of security because this time you have a better idea of what it is you’re talking about.  The really interesting thing that you’ll discover is that very often, your uninformed instincts about particular topics were more on target than you thought. For example, one of my characters was a 1940s Western director who had trouble finding extras who could actually ride horses. I’d worried that this wasn’t a legitimate plot device for getting another character hired on his film, but when I went to do my research, I discovered that this was indeed a common hurdle for directors of big budget Westerns; furthermore, they were even more frustrated by hiring limits set by the Screen Actor’s guild during the time. I was not only better informed, I was psychic!

This system has worked very well so far. If you’re in need of an extra boost of willpower you can use the index cards while Freedom is on. That should keep you away from the facebook/twitter vortex for at least a little while.

Cloudy with a Chance of Chicken Heart

Posted in Atheism, books, computing, eco anxiety, education, ghost stories, literature, old time radio, religion, science fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2010 by katekanno

I love it when two books I’m reading unexpectedly connect. I’ve been (slowly) making my way through Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not A Gadget, a book that I really wish had been around when I was suffering through a ludicrous “ed tech” class last summer that was pushing the cloud computing orthodoxy Lanier discusses. As an atheist with a weakness for Catholic British authors, i.e. Evelyn Waugh and Muriel Spark, I also happened to have just read G.K. Chesterton’s Man Who Was Thursday. I didn’t like it much; it’s a sort of Monty Python meets Trinity Broadcasting, with Chesterton providing lots of tree fort warm fuzzies for white Christian males. But, I will say that Chesterton’s opening verse resonates with Lanier’s arguments.

A cloud was on the mind of men

And wailing went the weather,

Yea, a sick cloud upon the soul,

When we were boys together.

Science announced non-entity

And art admired decay

The world was old and ended 

But you and I were gay

Okay, except the whining about science forcing a meaningless life upon us, to which I say why read a Bible when you have the Hubble, the verse does seem to fit our current environmental, creative, and digital malaise; if you suspect, as Lanier does, that such a malaise exists. 

Lanier brings up some frightening observations. One that really got to me was his ongoing survey of young people who can’t place any music recorded in the past fifteen years to a specific point, or that google’s uploading millions of books may result in a free for all cherry picking that makes the often bigoted trolling of Bible verse seem puny in comparison.  

Well, in honor of the hive mind, and because I haven’t been doing my part on the horror stories links front, here is Arch Oboler’s famous “Chicken Heart” story, where a you-guessed-it and not a digital cloud rises to engulf the world. 

Now someone pass me a wing.

Social Networking: Playing Sidekick to our Shadows

Posted in blogging, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2009 by katekanno

I was listening to an excerpt of Patricia Bray’s workshop lecture on the protagonist. Bray is the author of The Chronicles of Josan and the Sword of Change series. Although she actually spent more time (at least in the clip) talking about the sidekick, she made some very interesting points that immediately pushed me into a few wild speculations on how social networking and the use of technology might be shifting the way we perceive ourselves and others.

Sidekicks, Bray states, are useful as they can stimulate audience interest in the first person while still acting as chronicler. She uses the Watson/Holmes model as an example: Watson narrates the story, taking care of all of the workaday details, while remaining in first person and thereby creating a gateway for reader identification.

Yet the sidekick narrator, she adds, also allows the reader the cushy position of superiority to Watson. We may identify with the good Dr, but we can imagine ourselves to be more like Holmes, the old “If I were like Watson, I like totally would have figured that out by this point.” And last and most obvious, the appeal in creating creating a sidekick , Bray states, is because multiple characters pick up a larger audience/readership.

So, where am I going with all of this?

Social networking applications also allow us to present a “real” version of ourselves that takes on the dual role of first person chronicler. Take the status update in which we can switch back from first or third person. “I am not happy that my cat has lobbed a hair ball on my lap,” or “Ryan is not happy that her cat has gobbed a hair ball on her lap.” This is both an act of chronicling and a call for identification.

Second, in creating these personas on Facebook or Twitter, its often the case that we try to project someone who is more Holmes than Watson — and this is a very loose comparison, by which I mean the role of a main protagonist — but the irony is that through our labors our real selves play sidekick to our own projection.

Third, no matter how little glamor or mystique our own profiles actually present, our voyeuristic tendencies mixed in with our ability to haze over reality, allow us, like the reader, to feel superior to those other personas that our “friends” project on the web. Think about how many times you’ve curled your lip ever so slightly at seeing your friends misspell a word or hearing that their movie plans include a second viewing of New Moon? That we rarely reflect on how asinine we may in fact look to others, insures that we remain busy pumping air into that puffed up and ultimately phony profile.

And as for attracting a larger audience through multiple characters, can you think of a better example than Twitter, where retweets from our collection of followees spawn an even greater of followers and so on until we can barely make out why we signed up in the first place.

There are arguments that social networking is in fact thinning out our personalities, making us hollower, flatter, and ultimately less interesting. I definitely agree that there’s something to that. But it’s even more unsettling when we remember that it wasn’t Watson who was performing all of those amazing mental feats. It was Holmes who kept his eyes and his mind trained firmly on the world, while we, pale shadows to that series of sparsely worded one liners, fabricate a weak reflection of what was once ourselves.

On Lists

Posted in blogging, books, lifehacking, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2009 by katekanno

This week’s Der Spiegel has an interview with Umberto Eco on the subject of lists. Eco states that lists are stabs at immortality, an attempt to take control of the infinite through categorization:”We have a limit, a very discouraging, humiliating limit: death. That’s why we like all the things that we assume have no limits and, therefore, no end. We like lists because we don’t want to die.”

I’ve always attributed it to something less grandiose, the desire not to squander whatever limited time we have, or to just plain get organized.

Of course there’s always the old saw about cultural insecurity, particularly among Americans. Lists of cultural artifacts, books, paintings, films,  have often been a quick way to stack ourselves up against others — “At least I’ve read Proust. Sniff.” I’ve seen evidence of this;  a few months back, in fact, I was appalled when a social networking friend humorlessly posted the Booker list, and then checked off each one he had read, even adding the number of times read in parentheses. But we’ll leave him to his demons, and as long as one uses them playfully, lists can be good references, to safely shake us out of our habits, show us something new.

A few weeks back though, when jotting down ideas for a list-based project, I was suddenly overtaken by a severe, albeit brief spell of depression, not about mortality as Eco argues, but the recent prevalence of list-making in popular culture.

“The list doesn’t destroy culture; it creates it.” Eco says. “Wherever you look in cultural history, you will find lists.”

But if the list creates culture, what in fact is behind the creation of the lists?

I began to wonder about the increasing presence of the list, and not just those numbered sets of bullet points, but graphic organizers, Powerpoints, and so many creative works gleefully basing their form on the dumbed down worksheet absurdities of K-12 education. Take Sufjan Stephen’s grandiose plan to record an album for each of the 50 states, or the graphs albeit tongue-in-cheek in the Believer. This reverie then glommed onto NaNoWriMo, Edmo, Drunkmo, all of these attempts to impose creativity through organized allotments of time or space.

I’m not out to bash these things. I’m a participant in this year’s NaNoWriMo and believe me, it’s good to be writing rather than fretting over where my life is going. Besides, when you’re looking to brainstorm fiction ideas, lists are an insanely effective way to tap memories and ideas you had no clue were there.

But I also wonder if this recent surge in list making might not also be the result of our waning ability to organize our own thoughts.

Take research on multitasking, the implications of which are ignored in inverse proportion to the frightening results. According to an August article in Wired, Dr. Clifford Nass found that multitaskers do poorly on cognitive tests, showing an inability to ignore “irrelevant” information.“Whether people with a predisposition to multitask happen to be mentally disorganized, or if multitasking feeds the condition — “that’s the million dollar question.”

To add a ten-dollar question of my own, is this mental disorganization being fed by the computer, and is that in turn stoking our desire for order; is the smog build up in our gray matter behind our recent, and often misguided attempts to assign rank to novels, works of art, or experience itself? As much as I enjoy checking them off, you’ve got to admit that the 1001 Books/Places/Painting/Records to Read/Visit/See/Hear Before You Die series is not the end all and be all of taste.

As Nass states, acts of multitasking involve exploration, the act of gathering up as much information as possible over exploitation, focused concentration on what we’ve gathered. All of these lists seem provide the promise of exploitation, or a false sense of mastery over that information. But more importantly, I think they attract us because we can sense something is wrong. Lists provide a simplified route to exploitation, a cognitive lifeline to those flailing about in a morass of often irrelevant information.