Stop me if you've heard this one before, a quick glance at archives suggests that I haven't already shared this, but I could be wrong.
After the 2016 election, I was shocked enough to the point that I felt as though I had to do something more than just bitch from the sidelines. In truth, I had more faith in the American people than they probably deserve.
For all of my adult life, I had been a registered voter with no party affiliation. Like most "independents," I regarded both parties with little more than contempt. While I didn't believe they were entirely corrupt, I did believe that they were both beholden to their own special interests, and most politicians to their own self interests.
But when Trump was elected, I guess I had some kind of epiphany. Thomas Jefferson supposedly said that people usually get the kind of government they deserve; and if we deserve Trump, perhaps it's because people like me were too smart or too sophisticated to get involved in something as unsavory as "politics." I voted, but that was all, and clearly that's not enough.
So, I found out where the local Democratic Party club met and went to their first meeting after the election. You couldn't fit all of us in the room they gave us at the library. One of the oldest members said that attendance usually increased in the run-up to an election, but then dropped off precipitously after the election. This was the first time he could recall that there were more people at the first meeting after the election than the one before.
I chose to affiliate myself with the Democratic Party rather than the Republicans, because I didn't like what had become of the Republican Party. While I know that there are many good, honorable people who are Republicans, the party has chosen to appeal to white nationalists, racists, neo-nazis, xenophobes, climate change deniers, misogynists and 2nd amendment zealots. Previous to that, I understood their affinity for corporations and the wealthy, and their courtship of the religious right, and while I don't agree with much of that, it's not ugly. In their desperation to hold off the demographic tide that's turning against them, they've embraced and mobilized the worst fringes of their constituency, and they've done nothing since they've achieved power to repudiate them. They are irresponsible, and derelict in the performance of their duties as statesmen, and far from "making America great again," they are tearing it apart and down, and making the world a more dangerous place as well.
All of which is merely just more opinion, and little more than I would offer as an NPA.
But one of the members of the county Democratic Executive Committee suggested I should run for a seat on the Soil and Water Conservation District Board. My initial reaction was simultaneously, "What the hell is that?!" And, "Sure, why not?"
When I became a member of the party (I sound like a communist now.), I started getting, of course, the emails. But this turned out to be kind of useful. One of the first ones told me that our state representatives would have an open forum in January 2017, where citizens could present their issues and priorities for the state legislature. You'd get three minutes to make your pitch, then maybe get a question or two.
For me, climate change in general, and sea level rise in particular, are the two greatest challenges facing us as a civilization. If we fail to meet this challenge, we will lose this civilization and humanity will be reduced to a much smaller population leading a mostly agrarian, feudal existence. An idea that I know appeals to many people; but I'm not one of them, and the amount of human suffering that will take place in the transition is staggering beyond comprehension.
So I sent an email to get on the agenda and spent a couple of weeks trying to craft a three minute pitch. Now, you can't lay the survival of civilization at the feet of your state representative and state senator. You need something achievable in the near term that relates specifically to their constituency. I've posted the text of my remarks here.
At the event, as everyone was gathering, my state representative, Cyndi Stevenson, walked through the room introducing herself. She eventually got to me and we shook hands as she asked me what I was going to speak about. I told her I wanted to talk about sea level rise, and she actually rolled her eyes at me and excused herself. I figured I wasn't going to get much of a reception, but that surprised me.
Eventually it was my turn to speak, and I gave my pitch. There was a fairly robust round of applause following it, and there had not been much in the way of audience reaction to many of the pitches before. This event was after Hurricane Matthew, but before Hurricane Irma. My state senator, Travis Hutson asked me if sea level rise wasn't more a job for FEMA than the state legislature? We didn't have any sort of discussion, but I mentioned that the state had to take a hand in securing its future.
After I sat down, a woman came over and handed me her card and suggested we talk afterward. Turned out she was Nancy Shaver, the mayor of St. Augustine.
I met with Nancy and some of her associates shortly after that, and she's great, she gets it and she's a champion for Florida and St. Augustine in particular. She was on a local call-in show on the NPR affiliate here, and I happened to be listening so I called in and managed to get on the air, that was also a first for me.
All of which is not to say very much. But eventually the deadline approached for getting on the ballot for the 2018 election, including three seats on the Soil and Water Conservation District Board. Members of the club kept asking me if I still intended to run, and one of our other members was going to run as well, there were three seats up for election. I kept assuring them I was, so eventually I had to get off my dead ass and drive myself down to the Supervisor of Elections Office and turn in my paperwork.
I was fairly impressed with the operation at the Supervisor of Elections. They made the process very easy, and had a packet of information useful for any prospective candidate. The first step is to file that you intend to seek the office. I guess that's to let everyone know so that folks who may want to enter the race know who they're up against, if anyone. A couple of months later I had to go down and submit all my paperwork and a check for $25.00 and I was registered as a candidate. If no one else registered to run for the seat, I would win by default and my name wouldn't appear on the ballot in November.
As it turned out, nobody did file to run against me. So, I'm in. It's an elected office, but I wasn't elected! How's that for democracy in action?
The Soil and Water Conservation District is something left over from the Great Depression and the Dustbowl. Is it relevant today? I checked the web site and tried to look at the minutes of their most recent meetings. It didn't appear that they did very much. Most of the responsibility and authority of the Districts has been handed over to state and county government. But it does have a mission, and an office and a letterhead, and those can be leveraged to good effect, I think. I have some ideas anyway.
This post is probably long enough. There will be more to follow. I'm in the arena. Kinda.
Any idea I had of returning to some sort of disciplined use of the internet and social media pretty much failed. I've been adhering to the misguided ways of my past, surfing the web, checking Facebook and Twitter, and mostly wasting precious time.
But, try, try again. We'll try again Monday.
Got back from our little trip on Saturday and notionally planned to resume my practice of eschewing the internet again on Tuesday; Mondays being the day I would deliberately use the internet and Sunday being, for that day at least, a day of relaxation after having experienced the tribulations and innumerable minor insults that comprise the adventure of air travel in the 21st Century.
Then Tuesday happened. Decided I needed to look up something on tires, and the next thing you know, I'm liking cat videos, checking Instagram, re-tweeting... Gah! So, I just gave up and figured I'll reset on Monday and just go on a bender for the rest of the week.
It is very interesting to kind of "observe" my behavior and relationship with the internet. It does seem very "rewarding" (in the dopamine sense of the word) to interact on Facebook. Post a comment, get a "like," see someone else has replied to your comment (via that little flag in the top of page), go check out that comment.
Well, I have to go and check out if anyone's liked my picture!
Well, I broke the "fast" yesterday. It turns out that I didn't really miss anything on Facebook or the Apple II google groups I follow. I could probably get away with checking in on them once every two or three weeks and not miss much. A huge number of tweets had scrolled by in Twitter, but when I checked some of my favorite accounts, again, I hadn't missed much. Just the usual outrage and snark.
I don't know if it was significant, but as I was browsing Facebook, I began to have a headache. It went away after Facebook did. Coincidence? Probably, but I thought it was interesting.
Looked up the items I had made notes to check on. John Tierney, co-author of the Willpower book, is the John Tierney who used to do Tierney Labs for for the NY Times. He's a libertarian, and so his ideological point of view is present and a distraction, especially when it's just wrong. Baumeister doesn't seem to be particularly ideological.
I made folders for other data I was gathering for a couple of projects I hope to work on, and exported the "reader" view from Safari to PDFs for the pages I was interested in keeping. So I have some material to work with without returning to the web.
Added a few blogs to Reeder, the MacOS RSS app I have running. I'm not sure if that's the "best" one, but it's one that I have right now. I didn't go overboard, because I'm not sure how that's going to fit in this conception of how to "consume" the web. I suspect it's going to play a significant role, but I don't want to simply replace one source of distraction with another.
With Twitter, I suspect the attraction is "feeling" as though one is participating in a large conversation. Truthfully, most of my tweets, like my blog, vanish into the ether with no trace of any larger effect. The feeling is just that, a feeling; the rest of it is an illusion. I could probably drop Twitter, and probably should. Most of the "nodes" that seem to get a lot of interaction also get a lot of trolls, so what's the upside? Attention, I guess. If you're in the attention market, I suppose Twitter is potentially worthwhile. Most of us aren't, and probably shouldn't be.
So, for now, I'm thinking I'll be regarding the web as a kind of public library that I'll visit once a week, with intention. Previously, I'd been regarding it, unconsciously perhaps, as a source of diversion, or entertainment, and it works far too well as that.The trap is that you have the impression you're staying informed about something, that you're not just "zoning out," but it's really just distraction.
I've got to finish packing and head to the airport. Just wanted to check in here and try to maintain this practice.
Well, I should be drawing some insights from this experience. I'm definitely feeling something. I don't know if it's "fear of missing out," or that I'm lacking my minimum daily adult requirement of snark and cynicism, but I'm definitely feeling out of sorts. I launched and immediately quit Safari a bunch of times yesterday. So far, I've maintained my resolve, but it's definitely affecting me.
I decided that reading the NY Times on the app didn't violate the fast, but it did make it harder. I saw that Harlan Ellison had died, and my first reaction was to tweet something about it. Same thing with a couple of other articles I read, I wanted to "share" them, with some pithy commentary. I suppose it says something that I can only recall the Ellison obit, not the articles I wanted to tweet.
I remembered I had an RSS app on my iPhone, so I found that and checked it. It had a bunch of news sites on it, like Ars Technica, Wired and so on. I decided that they would be too much like the rabbit hole, after looking at Ars. I had subscribed to a couple of blogs as well, The Online Photographer and Dr. Drang. I had read Dr. Drang's latest post because he had tweeted it before I started the fast; but I hadn't read The Online Photographer in some time, so I did catch up with his posts (while avoiding clicking the links).
Whether my experience may be typical, or if I'm a bit of an outlier because I'm retired and have much more time on my hands, and spend too much of it on the web, I can't say. I suspect it's at least partly the latter, but I also think that most people undertaking a similar "fast" would probably find it a somewhat uncomfortable experience.
It was hard to focus on other activities, and I didn't make any more progress on Willpower, but I did read a couple of essays in John Gray's Heresies. I think I've found my true "soul brother," (Well, besides Heraclitus.) if I may be forgiven for a minor act of cultural appropriation. I'm not familiar with his writing, but it's very resonant to me. He believes our notions of "progress" are little more than articles of faith, not grounded in anything provable. That we've sublimated the Christian notion of salvation through Christ to the salvific power of science and technology. Gray seems favorably disposed to the cyclic view of history, that events don't inexorably tend toward "progress." I suppose the jury is still out, if one takes the long view; but I don't think there is a "long view" left to this civilization.
I tried to watch a movie last night, but found myself oppressed by the tyranny of choice. I settled for an episode of Nova about last year's hurricane season. I believe it was The Coming of the Superstorms or something like that. It was nothing new to me, and I don't care for the delivery of Nova's narrator, it's a bit too "breathless" for me, but it was a well produced documentary and I recommend it to anyone who may be interested in what the future holds.
As uncomfortable as this experience has become, I think it has been very worthwhile. I have recovered significant amounts of time formerly "lost" chasing links. The discomfort I'm experiencing suggests strongly that there is something of an addictive quality to web, which is perhaps intensified by social media. I can't say that I've truly been deprived of anything by remaining off the web, so it seems clear that there is more to be gained than lost by rationing my time there. There were several moments when I reached for my phone to "look something up," but I checked the impulse and again, I can't say I was in any way really diminished by it.
I think, for now, I'm going to continue to restrict my use of the web. Tomorrow, I'll subscribe to a few blogs that I enjoy. There are a few specific topics I want to look into, and some people I'd like to catch up with on Twitter.
The remaining challenge will be to find enjoyable, productive things to do with the time I've recovered. That shouldn't be too difficult. The stack of books is still here. I'm writing more in this space. I have a number of Apple II projects in various stages of incompletion. What will be necessary, though, will be for this feeling of unease, or desire, or whatever it is, to be extinguished. I'm confident that it will, with time; but until then, it makes it difficult to focus.