David Blogs on Social Media

You will pleased to note I’ve created a new blog: Social Media Rabbi. The reason you should be pleased to note this is that it means I won’t subject you, here, to all my theories about social media and technology. You can choose to be subjected to them if you wish. http://somerabbi.wordpress.com

Blogging as Sanity Restoration Technique

I’ve spent the last half hour wrangling with a computer. Not my primary computer (thankfully), but one that I was setting up to use as a local web development environment. I had the operating system up and running, the web server up and running, and had downloaded the content managment system (CMS) I wanted to play with, but there was one little barrier: at about 20 minute intervals the computer would spontaneously shut down. 

It’s a laptop, so at first my assumption was that the battery was inoperable, and every time the power cord jiggled loose or something, it was losing power. After the third time it happened, I tested that theory by unplugging the power cord. No dice…battery worked fine. So, for some reason, the computer was randomly choosing to shut down, as though it were losing power, every 20 minutes or so. Taking what is left of my sanity, I have beat a strategic retreat. 

Now, I like computers, and technology, and bashing my head against computers and technology as well as the next person (and looking to my right, a great deal more than the next person in this case). I like the challenge, I like the sense of working on a soluble puzzle. I like expanding what I can force these machines to do. However, I have my limits. My limit, it turns out, is working on a machine that won’t let me make enough progress between reboots to figure out if I’m getting anywhere. 

Laptops are the ultimate in black box technology. They are often literally, a black box, with limited indicators of what is going on inside. Sure there’s the data on the screen…but how much can you really tell from that. When things go wrong, they rarely tell you why…they just implode on you. And you can bring them in for repair, but repair people just aren’t that interested/capable in working on laptops. They are too miniaturized and specialized by manufacturer. So when they stop working, all too often, the right answer is to give up on them. 

Today, however, I am taking a slightly saner path. Instead of simply writing off that machine which was deliberately causing me to lose my mind and moving onto the next machine–which tends to stay on, but needs an external mouse and keyboard because, left to its own devices has decided that silent x is the most common letter in the English language–I am calling a time out and blogging instead. 

Ah WordPress (which, incidentally, was the app I was trying to install when everything went kaput), you work so reliably. I type, you give me the output I’ve typed. I may type the wrong thing, but at least it is an accurate representation of where my fingers went on the keyboard. 

This afternoon, this is what I need.  Simple, transparent technology I don’t have to think about. Thank you WordPress for restoring my confidence in computers. And thank you, my little laptop, for continuing to work while computers around die.

My Brain’s Not What it Once Was

I use gmail, firefox, and lots of other web 2.0 type goodies. Gmail, conveniently enough, lists keyboard shortcuts you can use to navigate. So I started trying to use them. But for some reason, they didn’t sink into my brain.

A little background is necessary here: when I was in college and just after, I used Macs and then Windows 3.1, or Windows 95. And I knew ALL the keyboard shortcuts. The mouse was okay for those tasks you had to do once a day, or once every few days, but that’s it. All navigation, all routine tasks, I relied on the keyboard for. It was faster, easier and simpler.

Over the years, I’ve kept the keyboard shortcuts I used to use, but more and more tasks seem to require the mouse. Or at least, I was using the mouse more and more. I thought it was the nature of technology, until I started hanging out with some programmers, and watched them flying around windows, never touching their mouses. They would hit the start button, followed by three other buttons pushed so quickly in succession that I couldn’t tell what they were, and they’d opened a new application. They’d use the little menu button…to reach all the “right click” controls. They fly!

So it’s not the technology, which means. . .it’s me. I’ve started thinking about how it used to annoy me that older users would use the mouse so much, eschewing keyboard shortcuts. Didn’t they know they were faster? Now, as I’ve reached that age, I realize something is different. It’s harder to learn keyboard shortcuts. They don’t stick in my brain they way they used to.

It used to be that someone would tell me about a keyboard shortcut once, and I had it. Now, I read about it, use it and I still won’t remember what it is (or even that it exists). My brain just isn’t storing new information as efficiently as it used to.

There is an upside: my brain may not be as efficient as it used to be, but it has more experience to draw on. Some call this wisdom, though I prefer to avoid that turn. I’m afraid it might set people’s expectations too high. I prefer to refer to it as “reality testing.” With more experience of reality, I am better able to evaluate ideas against the real world, with less need to compare it to some platonic ideal which exists only in my head.

Nonetheless, I do mourn the loss of efficiency my brain has suffered. I miss the ability to learn things quickly and surely. To hear something once, and remember it. To be able to remember whether I’m not remembering something because I’ve forgotten it, or because I never knew about it in the first place.

I know this isn’t a new complaint. People have been complaining about their declining mental agility for a very long time. Nonetheless, I discover I never really expected it to happen to me. And as it does, I learn a new form of humility, wondering what else I think of as integral to myself, which will one day disappear.