I want to be useful, not a user

I still like Twitter. I don’t like subtweets and trending topics.

It’s not hard to add context to a tweet. But, particularly with trending topics, you wind up searching out why people are bothering to talk about The Thing or The Person in the first place. All the tweets complaining about not knowing why x is trending become part of the noise to sort through.

It makes me think about the difference between being heard and being seen.

To be seen talking about something is to want others to know you’re aware of something that’s going on.

Being heard is about wanting people to care about the substance of what you have to add to the conversation.

If you only care about being seen talking about something, you’re only speaking to the audience that already understands the context.

If you value being heard, you also value being understood. That means including context, links, or other helpful cues to fill people in.

Some ways I like to add context.

  • Link to a primary source: It’s direct and simple. And links don’t count against how many characters you have left.
  • Use something like Linky: This is an iOS app that lets you highlight relevant text from a link and attach it as a screenshot.
  • Action over reaction: To take a page from Mister Rogers, be a helper. When it makes sense, show people something they can do about the issue. Push for the solution to trend instead of just the problem.
  • Share somewhere else: Do you want to briefly scream into the void, or do you want more room? Is it a blog post? A text to someone who wants to know? A letter to an elected official?

Right speech and respecting time

I try to think about the consequences of jumping on the bandwagon and adding my voice to the already noisy chorus.

If I tweet something vague and snarky about something, I’ve not only wasted time, but other people’s.

I took time to share something with limited value on its own that may direct others to use their time to search for what I was referring to in the first place.

Time and attention are precious resources.

If I want to use Twitter to spend time connecting with others , I need to respect the time and attention of others.

If I respect people’s support, I should also respect their time.

And if I respect my time, I need to make choices about what I must have an opinion about, and what isn’t worth my attention.

Kicking With Intention

I saved one great image from The Bullet Journal Method that illustrates using tools intentionally:

It suggests without space between a stimulus and an action, we’re going to react with snap judgement based on instincts like fear or anxiety.

Inserting a pause allows the chance to come up with a more constructive action.

Responding rather than reacting. Choosing to kick rather than twitching your leg when the doctor’s hammer strikes.

I wrestle with the easy reactions allowed by social media; the buttons where one click signals you’ve seen something or want others to see it.

Or the mental math about a Quote Tweet where you decide if you have anything constructive to add, whether your framing is necessary, or if the thing that you’re sharing deserves more eyeballs (because sometimes you’re reacting negatively to something).

These features ask you “How should I react?” instead of “What should I do?” or “What do I have to say?”

Social media content gets called a feed, as if it were just another blog or a rapidly updating news site, but the tools provided to interact with it treat it like an inbox.

Reply. Reply All (with tagging). Forward (share). Flag.

The design and prompts are there to make it feel like it’s your responsibility to wade through it all.

But there’s too much, because it’s not actually intended just for you.

That’s a thing about social media that’s hard to deal with right now while many of us crave social contact: It’s not all about you.

Your feed isn’t just for you. It’s a bunch of people screaming into the void, and you’ve chosen to stand nearby.

That’s why your email inbox lets you clear things out and social media doesn’t. Email is (supposedly) intended for you. You can’t delete or sort other people’s social media posts because they’re not your job.

It’s never too late for resolutions, and right now seems like a good time to reevaluate how (and if) to use social media.

I don’t intend to chuck it all, but I do want to make sure I remember what is and isn’t my job, and what tools are best for the work I must do.

Hopefully I can spend more time kicking at things that need to be kicked instead of twitching into space.

Teaching My Daughter About YouTube

In today’s hectic world, it is important to distinguish between distractions that are incidental and unintended and those which are designed to be distractions and are intentional.

Execupundit.com: Distractions

Our daughter’s elementary school assigned Chromebooks to all their students for use while classes are virtual. Because the school acts as the laptop’s administrator, and because YouTube clips are often part of her assignments, we’re not able to add on as many filters or blockers as my wife and I would like.

YouTube is designed to be an infinite rabbit hole that keeps you watching the next videos it serves you. For a six-year-old with developing impulse control, giving her access to that site is like setting her in a room full of cookie jars.

And anyone whose response is, “Make sure to be with her and monitor what she does every time she needs to use the computer,” needs to remember that:

  • We’re in a global pandemic where parents are also working from home.
  • If you have more than one child, you’re already in a daily whack-a-mole style freefall.
  • It’s neither possible nor helpful to their developing independence to always be hovering over your child’s shoulder.

So I’ve started doing what I do: Trying to teach her about how sites like YouTube work.

I explain to her that while her teachers and her parents want to make sure that she can see things that are helpful to her, the people who built YouTube aren’t thinking about her as the person they want to help.

They want her to watch as many videos as they can. They want her to spend as much time on YouTube as they can. Because that’s how they can show her ads, and showing her ads is how they make money.

It can get a little abstract at that point for a six-year-old, but that’s why I try to stress the difference between her teachers and the site itself. Her teachers want to help her be able to do other things. YouTube wants her to sit and watch more YouTube.

It’s not the kind of message that clicks the first time, or the third time, but we’re consistent. We remind her. And little by little, she’s paying attention to the idea. She’s asking if she can watch YouTube less. While she’s on break, she’s finding other ways to occupy her time.

Maybe it connected with her sense of how to be kind. Her teachers and parents want to help her through the resources and content we share with her, but YouTube isn’t doing what they do out of kindness.

Or maybe our cord-cutting has helped her develop a distaste for ads. When we were stuck watching the ad-supported Disney Now app to keep up with new episodes of The Owl House, we saw the same ads over and over (and over and over and over). It irritated her more than it did the adults in the room.

Whatever the thing is that’s clicking with her, it’s a good time for the adults in her life to take stock of the same things.

Apps and websites are tools designed for a purpose.

Some of these tools are designed to help the end user solve a problem or perform a task that’s important to them. And some tools are designed as a snare for attention; providing a solution to a problem that didn’t exist, or they address a problem in a way that only feels like a solution.

An illusion of a solution only perpetuates the problem, like a person stranded on the ocean desperately gulping down salt water.

We need to regularly ask ourselves the question: Is this designed to help me, or to feel like it’s helping me?

What gets done first gets done.

Since the stay at home order started in my state, the first thing I do after my alarm goes off is come downstairs before everyone else is awake, pour myself a cup of coffee, and sit down to meditate.

It’s not starting out with the most urgent or overdue task on my list, setting me up to think about the pile of deadlines hanging over my shoulder. It’s not just faffing about, using the time to “just wake up.”

It’s a choice to remind myself that I can greet the day with intention.

I’ve noticed that since I’ve adjusted my mornings to start this way, I’m less likely to do those “just checks” on my phone first thing. Or second thing.

It’s not necessarily a concrete form of habit stacking, but it does set the tone for the rest of the day. I’m more likely to move from meditation to something else that feels important, instead of getting sucked in to an endless scroll on the internet.

It’s a choice to remind myself to greet what comes during the day on its terms instead of mine.

I don’t have complete control over how (or when) my kids wake up, or what mood they wake up in, but I can choose to accept it without feeling like they’re supposed to behave in some predetermined way that lets me keep powering through my to-do list.

That’s a feeling that I’ve had to fight with since being required to do all my work from home. They’re not my co-workers. They’re not in my office. I’m trying to do work in their home, and I need to respect that difference.

And it’s a choice that helps me feel confident in my priorities.

I’m choosing to start the day focused on what’s going on directly around me and inside me. Instead of steeping my brain in fresh memes or outrage fuel from the moment I wake up, I’m taking stock of what I have direct influence over at this moment.

And I can see results from this.

I can do more good in a day if I start focused on what I have influence over instead of reminding myself about all the things that feel overwhelming, or create a sense of powerlessness.

Because while those bigger picture things can’t be ignored, that doesn’t mean they need my full attention before I’ve put on real pants or finished a cup of coffee.

I don’t always know how much I can do in a day, but I know that if I wake up on time and get started on one thing, that one thing is 99.9% likely to get done.

Starting my day with meditation isn’t just empty navel gazing. It’s a way to try and get in touch with things as they are, separate from my thoughts or feelings about them. It’s a way to make sure that the first thing that gets done in the morning is something that helps me focus on what I value most and what I have influence over.

Don’t burn your bagel

We have a finicky toaster oven. The done-ness indicators on the dial are basically meaningless. I have a suspicion it’s collecting data on our use and reactions for a psychological experiment.

So when I put a bagel in the other morning, I knew I had to keep an eye on it. It’s also the moment Sprout decided she needed a refill on her Rice Krispies. And more banana.

And we had the radio on, which I was semi-paying attention to, since they were doing a news update.

Then Button decided to drop his teething chew thingamajig. This displeased him.

With these competing demands and draws for my attention, it would be very easy to forget the need to watch my bagel. The more I paid attention to these other inputs, the more likely it was that I’d be spreading cream cheese on a charcoal-tinged disc.

I won’t belabor the metaphor: This is all about avoiding burnout.

The repeated mantra somebody sent me that I’m keeping close to heart right now is “You’re not working from home. You’re at home trying to work.”

My job teaching at a university is not one designed to be done from the corner of my house over a webcam. Even if it was, the added complications of schools being closed, needing to be socially distant from our primary child care providers (aka, Sprout & Button’s grandparents), and losing just about every pressure release valve getting out of the house can provide… It can be easy to take your eye off the bagel.

Honestly, it got to the point where I wasn’t even sure where the bagel was, or what the bagel was.

P.S. “The Trip” is one I’m rewatching as mental comfort food right now.

But in this case, the bagel is what sustains you. It keeps you going. It gives you energy and pleasure and a reason to get up in the morning.

And right now, that bagel is jammed in an unpredictable toaster oven of a world. There’s no telling from moment-to-moment what the day or the week will try to do to that bagel.

You’ll miss the signs that something is going wrong if you get distracted.

And right now, it is very easy to get distracted.

Maybe it can help to use a timer, like the one on the toaster oven. To tell yourself that for X amount of minutes, this next thing is your bagel, and it’s going to have your complete attention. It’s one step I’m trying.

For me, it feels like my focus is an important tool to sharpen right now. Maybe you feel it, too.