“Minimalism”

I recently decided to revive this blog as a means of holding myself accountable for this new initiative in my life.

Simplicity.

I am sitting next to two phones, two game consoles, two computers, a television and a Roku. Oh, and this is being typed on an iPad. As someone who has a tendency to get overwhelmed, I’m finally doing something about the situation.

For most of my life, “stuff” was equated with happiness. My favorite pastime as a child was going to Walmart. I ended up accumulating piles of useless stuff which I did not really want or need. However, I became really good at convincing myself that I did need it. Even to this day I hold attachments to things like old games, my rock collection, broken cameras, and the like.

Now that I live in an apartment, I understand the value of living simply. New York is an expensive city, and having to haul and store a massive hoard can get expensive. Not to mention, my Pokémon collection looks a little out of place these days.

So I’m simplifying my life in an attempt to save money, space, and a little peace of mind. I no longer need “stuff” to define me. It’s hard enough doing that without a pile of things to distract you. I don’t have a plan. There is no grand scheme or schedule yet keep me on track (yet). I have only a desire–a need–to create a little more breathing room for myself.

This is my experiment with minimalism.

The Impending “Real World”

Have you ever gotten the feeling that you are spinning hopelessly out of control toward a black pit that represents your future? That’s about what I’m feeling at the moment. I will be (most likely) graduating with my B.A. in history this December, coming in one semester shy of four years of study, and I have no idea what I want to do with my life.

Some people pick practical majors. They study subjects like computer science or accounting that almost guarantee jobs upon graduation with or without a graduate degree. I chose history. After a few years of having taken history classes, I know how to write, I know how to research, and I know how to organize thoughts in a clear and concise manner. However, that does not give me any “practical skills” like programming or auditing experience. So whereas the practical people are often handed careers, I am made to brave out into the big scary world while flooding the streets with a résumé that contains little more than a seriously fluffed work study job. I did not have the benefit of a department flush with cash and research opportunities or a career services office that flung internships my way. I am instead told that I must go out alone and try to scrape up some job in curation or teaching.

Two problems with that: 

  • 1.) Curation is absurdly boring and not the right fit for me. 
  • 2.) I hate kids. 

I do not understand how to interact with young children and to say that adolescents frustrate me would be an understatement. (Yeah, I may have been a bit of a self-loathing teen.) What other options am I given? Law school? Not only is that even more boring than curation, but a career as a lawyer would also guarantee that I hate what little I would have left of a personal life. Graduate school? Since I do not intend to continue with a career directly related to history, graduate school would only prolong the inevitable. PhD hires are dropping dramatically whereas schools are conferring more PhDs than ever. I would be better off getting a job at a restaurant than following an M.S. and PhD track.

The only option that I see left is to sharpen my tools and trek out into the urban wilderness to do battle with incompetent business school graduates for entry level positions in marketing firms and advertising agencies. The pay is mediocre but at least there would be the possibility of promotion. I would be able to write, present, and maybe even research. It would sting a little to enter corporate America (if I am able to) given that many of the papers that I have written are diatribes against consumerism and the “American Dream”, but I guess you have to do what you have to do.

It is my own fault, really. I should have abandoned history long ago in favor of something more practical. I fell on my face when I attempted computer science, but perhaps if I had started studying CS earlier in my undergraduate career things might have worked out differently. Sadly, to guess at an alternate present does no good to me now. Oh well, back to polishing and fluffing my résumé. Do you think employers would be impressed by a Bookman font?…

My Mediocre Writing

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners; I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff; it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take a while. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” -Ira Glass

I have not posted much on this blog since it was started. While I would like to think the reason behind this is that I do not have enough time to craft decent posts, I know the truth is that every time I sit down to write something, I end up hating it. It might not flow as well as I would like, the structure might end up becoming too complicated by the time I conclude a piece, or the topic might just become boring by the midpoint of a post. I end up deleting whatever I had written and I turn my attention to other things.

This needs to change. I am not a great writer but I like to write and I would like to improve. While I would love for people to read my blog and not find my writings as disgusting as I find them, I know that this blog is most likely going to be read by me and me alone. I just realized that I am okay with that. From this day forth I plan to crank out shit with little regard for whether or not it is any good. These are my testing grounds. This is where I will find my voice.

What does it mean to be informed? Is there a list of things that one needs to have memorized in order to be considered “knowledgeable”? In an intro to a book organizing a compendium of influential American essays of 2007, David Foster Wallace addressed the issue of the contemporary American’s information supersaturation. He called it “total noise”. In the past year or so, I have been trying to streamline my life. From what phone would best fit with my lifestyle to selecting the most efficient methods of information consumption, I have attempted to limit the white noise in my life that tries its best to drown out the significant information.

Choosing how to consume information is not necessarily as easy as it may seem…

Not Actually Me

 

I have recently revisited twitter as a source of information bleeding into recreation (a topic for a future blog post). I fire up the twitter app on my iPhone and what do I see? Nothing. Lots and lots of nothing. I see the same jokes, some witty comments, and many of the same news articles either retweeted or reworded from major news outlets and the “popular” tweeters.

What about my email inbox? There must be something of worth in there, right? Yes… if I am willing to wade through the oceans of crap in order to get there. Personal emails from professors in reference to vital questions about classes are hidden amongst newsletters, generic university announcements that do not concern me, and messages from my mother containing links to the now thoroughly stale video from a bygone era of Star Wars Kid.

Television? Nothing there either. Well, perhaps I am not being fair. There is plenty of information on television. From the popular science and history of the Discovery and History channels to the 24 hour news services like CNN and MSNBC just looking to kill time, there is too much. For me, television has become something to turn on in the background while I have better things to do. Thus leading me into my next source…

The Internet-vast stores of knowledge all shared by the peoples of the world. A series of servers all rigged together in a network allowing the free exchange of ideas. Except the majority of network traffic is taken up mostly by Google searches for inane answers to inane questions, porn, and youtube videos of cats. Don’t get me wrong; I love cats. But when I am browsing news sites and end up staring at an adorable cat playing an adorable keyboard, I cant help but think that perhaps something is a little off. Don’t believe me?

Click it, you won’t.

Ahh, newspapers! In olden times, the preferred method of information consumption was to read stories about the goings on of the world “printed” on “paper” using “ink”.  They still exist, right? Believe it or not, they do! In fact, in my ambition, I managed to find one outside of my apartment building and scanned the first few pages to see what I might be able to glean. The front page looked remarkably like the web version of the news organization albeit with all of the blank spaces courtesy of my adblocking extension replaced with pulpy advertisements. While there is something decidedly satisfying about managing to properly turn and fold a broadsheet, the inky residue that I get all over my fingers afterwards is decidedly not-so-satisfying.

You might say, “newspapers have always been like this! They are even smaller now than they used to be!” You would be correct. However, pulpy newspaper is now usually a ripoff of the publication’s internet newspaper. The articles on said version are generally bristling with hyperlinks waiting to take you elsewhere and distract you further. It’s an overload. When you used to have just a newspaper, it was manageable. You could read from the front page to the back page and feel full of information. Now, it is possible for me to get the same information in an email, on the television, in a tweet, via Facebook, as an email alert, or even (if I am willing to wait another day) from the newspaper. The question then becomes an issue of how long I am willing to wait for my news.

The problem of total noise is the issue of redundancy. The redundancy is incredible. (I hope you appreciate the irony of that sentence’s redundancy.) With everyone talking and adding their own perspectives to an issue, information has become more muddled than ever, even if the methods of delivery are getting faster. Information is now being merely repackaged and reused with different adjectives but the same basic buzzwords as articles become updated and expanded when new details emerge. I am tired of having my connected life constantly shouting at me, telling me things that I ought to know lest I run the risk of being considered ignorant or unknowledgeable. But then I consider a life without the internet, television, or a mobile phone and I shudder. I realize that the curse of progress is that we keep telling ourselves that “new” and “more” are equal to “better” and that there can be no turning back now. Could that possibly be true?

Oh you want some info? There’s an app for that.

 

What would David Foster Wallace have to say about the increasingly hectic pace with which information is published and consumed? We are in such a rush to be increasingly informed, but if the information comes out muddled and we only end up understanding snippets, are we really informed?

This curmudgeon post is in honor of the late Andy Rooney, truly an inspiraton to bloggers everywhere. Now please excuse me as it’s been more than 20 minutes since I last refreshed my twitter stream.

The Long and Winding iRoad

I never wanted an iPhone. Every iteration of the iPhone that escaped from Cupertino has seemed more gaudy than the last. iPhones are beautiful. The designs are brilliant and the overall user experience is polished. However, Apple marketing often aims them squarely at an enormous userbase that frankly does not care to push the boundaries of what technology can do to advance our lives. These are the people who marvel at the iPhone and use words such as “magical” and “perfect”. They do not dream larger because they are content to fool themselves into thinking that there is not better than an iPhone. This is the ideal Apple customer.

A giddy middle aged man and something else each holding a new iPhone 3G.

I hated iPhones. When I moved to New York, I was greeted by an ocean of iDevices. I stole peeks at their homescreens and was generally horrified by what I saw. There were generally two scenarios. There was the iPhone user that did not know how to install an “App” and the user that needed to install every “App” that looked remotely appealing, thus filling homescreen after homescreen with visual noise that would most likely never be used more than once or twice to demonstrate some gimmick or another.

Then my Blackberry died.

It was March 2011. Being a Verizon customer, I had been waiting for the first slew of 4G android phones to hit the market. A week shy of the Thunderbolt, my Blackberry decided to take a swim and I was up for a new phone. Determined to overcome my hatred for something as stupid as a mobile phone and keeping in mind that I could return exchange it a week later if I was unsatisfied, I bit the bullet and pulled the trigger.

I hated it.

A week after making my purchase, the Thunderbolt hit the streets to thoroughly mediocre reviews. Battery life was dismal. Seeing as battery life was vitally important to me and the iPhone 4 was already disappointing in that department coming from a Blackberry, I stuck it out with the iPhone knowing that I could get a decent return on my investment if eBay became too tempting.

I went about my life and occasionally tried to “improve” my iPhone in various ways. A firmware update here, a new case there, a jailbreak when needed, and eventually I decided that I was sick of spending so much time customizing my phone. I backed everything up and wiped the slate clean, never looking back.

I didn’t hate it quite so much.

The day following the announcement of the iPhone 4S, I received a text message from my father asking me if I was going to sell my iPhone 4 before demand receded. I suddenly realized that I actually liked-no, loved-my iPhone. It went on adventures with me in Paris. It saw the inside of my pocket all summer as I toiled in a machine shop. It became a part of my life and ever since I had given up telling Apple engineers that they were doing it wrong and accepted the vision, I became a happier person.

My flirtation with iPhoning

I still haunt android forums and drool over hardware specs, but I have a sneaking suspicion that it would take less than three months for me to regret any decision to jump ship. In no time I would be consumed by gadget envy and striving to make my phone more efficient, a better tool, a sexier piece of hardware. I’ve realized that sometimes there is no problem with drinking the Kool-Aid and that white robes can be surprisingly comfortable. So while I am not going to be lining up to ride the comet home any time soon, I can comfortably say that I love my iPhone. My iPhone 4 might not have the fastest processor out there or the most storage space, or a user replaceable battery, but it is mine and for the time being it works for me.

Last weekend I went to Zuccotti Park to investigate the Occupy Wall Street movement, perhaps something that I will write about when I have more time, and I noticed a few things. I noticed an ocean of hemp shirts, dreadlocks, cardboard signs, and… iPhones. Apple has more cash than the US Treasury. It is worth more money than Microsoft and Intel combined, and has greater value than all of the gold in the New York Federal Reserve. Apple grabbed the hippies. It grabbed the college students. It grabbed the “hip” middle aged parents. It grabbed me. I posted a Facebook status from my iPhone. And I realized that Apple had won.

Zuccotti Park. Occupy Wall Street Protest.

 

59th St. Apple Store. iPhone 3G release.

Irene, What A Bitch.

I, like the rest of NYC that was not evacuated, spent the evening barricaded in my apartment with a stock of food and water, a charged cell phone, and the expectation that come daylight everything outside of my little apartment would be completely and utterly decimated, leaving my little corner of the world magically untouched. Well, all I can say is that Hurricane Irene was truly a bitch.

When I looked out my window this morning, I found… everything exactly as it was the night before. If I squint hard enough I can find a stray leaf or small branch laying on the ground forlorn and broken, but other than that, nothing. According to the news outlets, we were all supposed to expect something along the magnitude of the Snowmageddon that was The Day After Tomorrow mixed with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (albeit with a speedier cleanup and better government relief because, let’s face it, the “danger zone” of NYC was for the most part filled with moderately well off white folk). Cuomo told us to expect Mega-Hurricane-Mageddon. Bloomberg told us to evacuate and to expect the apocalypse. Even NJ governor Chris Christie told us to expect the end of days… Yes, the MetroNorth is pretty screwed at the moment and public transit is still not yet back up and running. However, despite the fact that I am still being told to keep my windows shut and not leave the building, I just saw two young women jogging leisurely past my window.

Yes, Irene was a bitch, but not in the sense that she was nature’s equivalent to a menopause-stricken soccer mom with nothing to lose. No, Irene was more like that girl who was a horrible tease but had no idea she was doing. Oh well. With a little earthquake and this little tease behind us, I actually find myself hoping that mother nature really screws us over this winter. Yes it would be maddeningly annoying to trudge through snow and ice every day for a few months, but at least then we would finally be justified in bitching about the weather…