A quest to tame technology-driven interruptions and distractions in my daily life.

Archive for March, 2014

Trolling for a pissing match

I’ve come to the conclusion that constant access to devices, the internet, and social media is not making us stupider… it’s making our stupidity more readily evident. Certainly, many are losing the mental agility to reason or to summon up things from their memory, but I’m talking more about fundamental world views, ideas about fellow man, etc.

How many times since the rise of Facebook, for instance, have you had a face-palm moment about a childhood friend or family member espousing an abhorrent religious-based or politically charged opinion? It’s so disappointing to discover that loved ones we assume are enlightened or at least tolerant are actually not only harboring hateful or self-serving/righteous views, but they are unashamed to proclaim them online.

I do think it is worth considering the merits of our lives and the internet reflections of our lives not becoming too silo’d. It is for that reason that I have put off unfriending or hiding the feeds of Facebook friends that “love the sinner, hate the sin” for instance or who border on racism with a vitriolic hatred of Barack Obama.

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This came to a head for me a few months back, when a cousin who lives a decidedly more country life than I, posted a photo of that Duck Dynasty fellow saying that she supported him. I was in bed sick, and not thinking all that clearly, but I was hurt and angered nonetheless. I commented, that I loved her and her family but that I supported both my brothers and my brother’s 20+ year partner, her sister, her sister’s longtime partner, our late aunt, and on and on – tagging them all. It was immature and punitive. I was pissed and wanted to call her out.

By the morning, she’d deleted the whole post with my comments, unfriended me and my brother’s partner, and posted a string of “marriage is one man and one woman” crap. I was incredulous as were many others in the family. I was called upon to make up and to make sure my aunt wasn’t angry. I just waited.

Before social media, texting, or even email, how would this have played out? I would have had to call or write her a letter to express my displeasure. My tone would have been much softer, if I had even spoken up at all. But of course, I would have likely never been privy to her views on the subject. Not only that, but she probably developed a lot of her views on Mr. Duck Dynasty and the idea that he was “expressing his faith” on social media.

I thought on this a lot. Especially as another cousin posted something vaguely bigoty a month or so later. While I do think it is important to speak up on the big issues that affect social views and our society, I also weigh this against the pointlessness of alienating those we wish to influence or enlighten. Had I not used Facebook to lob a flaming bag of shit into her post comments, she wouldn’t have shut down. What I should have done was to pick up the phone and told her that I loved her and that I know she loved our gay family members. Then we could have had a conversation rather than a pissing match.

About 4 months later, I emailed her an apology – not for disagreeing with her but for hiding behind the internet to embarrass her. She accepted my apology and her reasoning for the post was very telling and I am still trying to process it. She said that she was just trying to raise her kids according to the teaching of the bible. I am no biblical scholar, but I wonder where it says to forsake half a dozen family members in favor of a reality TV personality looking to drum up publicity.

She’ll probably never read this post, but if she does, I hope she knows that I respect her instinct to protect her family. And while I disagree with her viewpoint and hate that the Duck Dynasty post drove a wedge between us, I am thankful that it caused me to reflect on my own lazy habits. Trolling the internet and bullying people is just as ugly no matter what your agenda.

Lesson: sleep on it then pick up the phone. It might just change a mind and save a relationship.


Lost Offline

This post goes out to Caroline Giegerich over at Daily Marauder, who like many of us is trying to live her life while sticking to her sense of propriety about values, autonomy, tech, and human decency.

We were recently commiserating about the professional and personal challenges of limiting one’s gadget usage, and the ability to access maps on the go was a shared complaint. While not looking at social media, internet searches, etc. are easy enough to do without, weaning oneself off of GPS is a bitch.

That said, this weekend in Dallas, I remembered a trick that I thought worth sharing. Without getting into the technical mumbo jumbo behind it, which would require me to Google the answer anyhow, the GPS location services on our phones use a combination of the (normally) always-on data plans and the wireless signals – the latter which uses triangulation of nearby cell towers.

In any case, as it turns out, the built-in Maps program (and perhaps others… I haven’t checked) work well enough with no data plan. Your mileage may vary, but here’s how it works for me:

The key is that you can’t interrupt the Maps app when you are en route. Under Settings, set the Auto-Lock to 5 minutes. Then make sure you touch your screen every few minutes so it doesn’t lock. Start your trip when you have an available wireless signal. If you are lost, find a library or coffee shop or someplace with free wi-fi and then open the app. Search for what you are looking for and then tap on Directions.

Now, just leave the app open and you can even zoom in to see roads you need to reference or turn on. Works like a charm provided you don’t try to search for a new spot or take a call or something.

Happy navigating!


South by So Tempting

Every year in the middle of March, something interesting happens that is going on right now. Amidst my life and work and attempts to balance tech and real life, the South by Southwest (SXSW) 10+ day mega conference happens. And in the middle of that, my birthday happens.

If you are unfamiliar or have not experienced it, SXSW is like somebody kicked a huge ant-hill in central Austin, bringing out nearly 100,000 industry-players, innovators, marketers, artists, developers, free-gans, and wannabes for a seemingly never-ending churn of panels, parties, lounges, showcases, screenings, impromptu cafes and markets, and lots of activity in general.


Except three years in high school, I’ve lived in Austin since 1980. The city has changed in innumerable ways, and SXSW is no exception. In the 25+ years since it started it has grown from a indie music festival with unsigned, unknown acts to what it is today: [insert your personal opinion here]. A lot of people have deep-rooted opinions about SXSW, but I see it as inevitable as change itself.

For a few years, I played in SXSW then began to avoid it… that is before we started our agency and clients near and far started hiring us specifically to help them make the most of the conference. Then I had to participate and I started to get into it. It’s an important source of springtime revenue for us and there are lots of fun ways to flex our creative muscles as well. This year, we have 6 clients participating in SXSW in dozens of shows and panels and booths.

However, in the context of The Off Switch, it can be tricky. With events and announcements happening day and night all over the city, there’s no plausible way to just disconnect for my own personal sense of balance. So I tend to bend or break the rules to participate in the requisite tweeting and email work that needs doing.

The funny thing about this sort of tech binging is that it inevitably reminds me of what can be so stimulating and fun about the constant connectedness. The big media coverage proliferates for the clients, the social media mentions multiply, inquiries and issues are coming in day and night and it gives me “yummies” for a lack of a better term. And inevitably, I’ll have to consciously pry myself away, even in the weeks following.

I wouldn’t call it a relapse exactly. It’s not as though I quit technology or something. But it is a fruitful exercise to remember the slippery slope. Technology is always there, always beeping and flashing and ready to appease me.

Which brings me to today: my birthday. I always take most of the day off and just sort of go where the wind takes me. It’s in the middle of mayhem and is very impractical, but I do it anyway. It’s a good reminder of how when we step out of the noise, things don’t implode and neither do we. Even though jumping into the fray is so easy. So tempting…