In a recent email newsletter, David Byrne summed it up well:

I also have a funny feeling that, like much of our world that is disappearing onto servers and clouds, eBooks will become ephemeral. I have a sneaking feeling that like lost languages and manuscripts, most digital information will be lost to random glitches and changing formats. Much of our world will become unretrievable—like the wooden houses, music, and knowledge of our ancient predecessors. I have a few physical books that are 100 years old. Will we be able to read our eBooks in 100 years? Really?

Restored Radios exhibit

Durham is growing its own crop of local businesses -- not just local artists and boutique eateries, but also a love of handmade crafts and the pleasure of both making and admiring objects that, as William Morris might say, are both useful and beautiful. The Horse & Buggy Press, a local letterpress, has some wonderful pictures for its Restored Radios exhibit, displaying American radios from the 1930s-50s restored by Asheboro resident Bob Gordon, age 81.

I know these radios were probably mass-manufactured, but damn -- just look at them and marvel at their decoration, their style, their solidity.

Forty years after Alvin Toffler popularised the term “information overload”, we might as well admit this: our efforts to fight it have failed. Unless you’re willing to be radical – to give up the internet completely, say – the recommended cures don’t work.

Resolve to check your email twice daily, and you’ll find many more messages waiting when you do. Go on an “information diet”, and it’s likely to end like any other diet: you’ll succumb and consume the bad stuff, with extra guilt.

So maybe we need to reframe things. The real problem isn’t too much information: it’s the feeling of being out of control. Why not focus, then, on finding ways to feel more in control – even if that’s based, in part, on self-deception?

You can’t change anything by fighting or resisting it. You change something by making it obsolete through superior methods.

Buckminster Fuller

Unpacking my library - FT.com

James Wood: “I deface nearly all my books, with both annotations in ink, and lots of dog-earing. I also write to-do lists in the endpapers, or telephone numbers, or names of people I must email. These latter often prove more interesting than any of my literary comments: years later, I stare at them, trying to work out who these people were.”


Unpacking my library - FT.com

When my grandmother—whose reading was limited to the Bible and Guideposts, and whose life was circumscribed by the tiny yard around her tiny house in tiny Colorado City, Texas—died 20 years ago, I was pierced, not simply by grief and the loss of her presence, but by a sense that some very particular and hard-won kind of consciousness had gone out of the world. Hers was the kind of consciousness that is not consciousness as intellectuals define it, but is passive rather than active. It allows the world to stream through you rather than you always reaching out to take hold of it. It is the consciousness of the work of art and not necessarily of the artist who made it. People, occasionally, can be such works, creation streaming through them like the inspiration that, in truth, all of creation is.

Do you accept the love people have for you? Do you celebrate your successes and see yourself in your divinity? Do you accept all the gifts the universe wishes to provide for you? Because you see, Dear Ones, you are always in charge and the universe has much it wishes to offer you, but you must be willing to receive. Are you still stuck in worthiness issues that keep you small and uncomfortable? Open your heart, open your life expression to all the gifts that are your birthright! Remember, you must accept the invitation to become a dance partner with the universe. ~Archangel Gabriel

On hitting 50 (blog posts, that is)

Inspired by Shannon’s example, I decided to forge ahead and write M-F blog posts for 10 weeks. And rather remarkably, to me, I hit that goal without missing a day or calling for a do-over. Last Friday I posted my 50th entry.

What surprised me about the experience:

  • I thought I would exhaust my list of 20 or so ideas. I now have about twice that many on my list, plus about 15 draft posts in various stages of completion. Which proves what I said in my first post: the more I write, the more I can write.
  • The time between me getting an idea and then creating a decently readable post shrank. I experimented with ways to plan out long posts so they weren’t so exhausting to write, though with mixed success.
  • I can pretty much tell within about 20 minutes of writing whether I can finish a post in a sitting or whether it needs more time.
  • I thought I would need fancy software but the WordPress setup has served me quite well and it gets better all the time. I still like starting some drafts in nvAlt, but I tend now to keep my drafts in the WP Dashboard.
  • I tend to prefer the longform essays.
  • Continuing to discover little idiosyncrasies in my style (such as my love of parenthetical asides or constantly adding “and” clauses to sentences) and occasionally surprising myself with a felicitously turned phrase or metaphor.

What pleased me:

  • I restarted the blog in response to creative constipation; I had stuff backed up I wanted to write about but didn’t know how. The regular writing unblocked whatever was jammed and the words and ideas simply gushed out for the last two months. (Here endeth the metaphor unsavourie.)
  • Whenever I’ve felt blue, it’s usually because I’ve not been exercising my creativity muscles. Shortly after restarting the blog, the dark cloud lifted and I began enjoying the process of planning, experimenting, and publishing. Writing is mood-altering!
  • I like going back and reviewing the stuff I’ve written. I often forget what I’ve written about, and it’s like finding lost treasure.
  • I suppose because it was the last week of mandatory posting, I pushed out several posts that I had started in Spring 2011 but had never had enough reason to actually finish. The Davies and prospective memory posts had waited a long time to be given their due and each flew near the 2000-word mark. The satisfaction I felt in finally publishing those ideas and opinions – really committing to them and then marking them as done – felt so good.
  • I really like being able to go back and fix a typo or rephrase some clumsy sentence. A blog post is never finished, only abandoned.
  • Instead of my evenings being spent watching cat videos on YouTube or moving all the icons on my desktop 2cm to the left, I’ve spent them creating and producing things. What I always thought of as my distractible nature never bothered me while I wrote. And I felt much better about how I spent my time.

What I wish I could have done:

  • I would have liked establishing a routine for writing every day at the same time. But since I typically wrote in the evenings, then perhaps that was my routine time.
  • I wish I could have written shorter posts. The longer posts took a lot out of me and I sometimes felt kind of stunned the next day. I just like to blather on. I guess.
  • I wish I could have found better graphics and maybe more multimedia. I like illustrations or pictures with blog posts and while Zemanta can find some interesting stuff, I sometimes just settled for what I could find in a hurry.

What I won’t miss:

  • Spending almost every Monday through Friday evening staring at a computer screen! There was one period where I successfully stayed one day ahead of schedule, and I remember one glorious patch where I had three short posts all lined up and scheduled for publishing through the end of the week. I was never able to repeat that.

What I still want to play with and figure out:

  • I want to invest in the Thesis theme or something similar and more plugins. I would like to play around more with the site’s look and feel. It’s a rather bland looking site.
  • My friend Mike Uhl, who writes two very focused blogs, continues to urge me to commit to a theme. Not for this site, which will remain a repository of jottings and fancies, but perhaps my next one.
  • A Creative Commons notice and how to attach it to the end of every post.

A few remaining points:

  • I will continue to write posts, but not to a schedule. I look forward to a break. One of the great things about this project is that I now have a new hobby. If I’m ever at loose ends and wonder whatsoever shall I do – writing a blog post is the activity that will leap to mind.
  • I have purposely not promoted the blog. I haven’t advertised my posts on either my Twitter or Facebook accounts. This blog has been my private lab where I could try things out, play around, and generally make lots of pots while letting the process work its magic on me. When I start a more focused blog, it will be to support my side-business and then I will be more interested in the social media side.
  • It’s not the goal that’s important, after all, it’s who you have to become to achieve the goal. In the past 10 weeks, I’ve become someone who spends his free time writing, getting better at writing, and sharing what he knows (or thinks he knows). And it’s been great.
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Remembering to remember (practice)

The previous post talked about prospective memory (PM) research. Today’s post is about learning to work with your prospective memory so you don’t forget to remember what you want to do. (God, do we writers love playing with phrases like “don’t forget to remember.” Annoying.) Post-It Note Art Collage (PINAP)

PM requires you to plan ahead so that the retrieval cue will be spontaneously triggered. If you don’t plan ahead, then your brain must spend precious cycles monitoring the environment for the retrieval cue. The human cognitive system can’t keep up a prolonged task like that, so you have to keep a few things in mind (heh – this stuff just writes itself) when establishing the PM task.

The following tips are explained in more detail below, but be prepared: you’re going to hear stuff you’ve heard a zillion times before. Also annoying, I’m sure. If there’s a theme tying these separate tips together, it’s also the oldest theme in the book: mindfulness.

  • Remove the delay in delayed intentions: do it or lose it
  • Use good external cues
  • Anticipate the triggering cues: use implementation intentions
  • Beware of busy and demanding conditions
  • Address the special problems of habitual PM tasks

Remove the delay in delayed intentions: do it or lose it

A PM task is a delayed intention; the longer the delay, the likelihood increases that you will forget the cue. The delay can be more hazardous if you successfully retrieve the cue yet cannot execute the task for some reason – just as you begin to do the PM task someone walks in and interrupts you, for example.

Thoughts fade from consciousness after only about 2 seconds without refreshment or rehearsal. If you’re in a hectic or pressured situation, then it’s even more likely you’re going to forget what you intended to do. Therefore, if you can do the task now, then do it now. Don’t delay.

But if you have to delay, then…

Use good external cues

The best way to ensure the PM cue will be triggered is to externalize your intention, put it in the environment where you’ll be sure to either literally or figuratively trip over it. Assume, in other words, that you will forget and plan how you will work around that forgetting.

Hence the age-old advice: if you need to take your moss-covered three-handled family gredunza to work the next day, then put it by the front door where you’ll see it before you leave.

You can extend that advice by associating a task or intention with any convenient object. If I wake up in the night and think of a task I want to do in the morning, then I’ll take the box of tissues by my bed and stand it upright on the floor. If I’m working in my office and want to remember to check that the back door is locked before I go to bed, then I’ll pull the trashcan out from under the desk and put it in front of the door. Once I’ve set the object in place, I can safely send the PM task to the background and continue with my foreground task. When I see the tissue box or trashcan, my first thought is usually, “What’s that doing there?” quickly followed by, “Oh yeah! I wanted to …” and the miracle of life goes on.

Other advice along these lines is to use a tickler file or leave yourself a voicemail or a Post-It note on the bathroom mirror. The goal is to get your attention by having the cue stand out from the quotidian.

Anticipate the triggering cues: use implementation intentions

I wrote a bit about implementation intentions here:

An implementation intention basically says. “I will do behavior x when y happens so that I can achieve z.” The objective is to have your environment deliver the cue for the behavior you want to encourage.

So avoid saying, “I need to remember to send Scott that email.” Instead, say “I will send Scott an email immediately after I sit down at my desk so that he can order the tickets.” These simple when-then directives can also support goals and encourage better habits. This method has proven effective across numerous populations: drug addicts going through withdrawal, schizophrenics, frontal lobe patients, and older adults.

To make the intention even more memorable, say it out loud and pat yourself on the head (laugh, but the subjects had to do that in a study where there were no other retrieval cues available).

A disadvantage of this method is that it requires time and mental energy to think of and then phrase an appropriate intention. If you are in a demanding environment, this may not be useful. So, if at all possible …

Beware of busy and demanding conditions

We are poor multitaskers and in the middle of a swirling, hectic day you are not likely to remember any promises quickly made as you’re walking to the printer or just before the phone rings. Even if you try setting implementation intentions, you need to clear some mental space by shutting out the noise and distraction surrounding you; that effort can simply overtax your cognitive processes too much.

Interruptions also take their toll; if you’re interrupted just as you’re about to execute a PM task, then it’s important for you to set a new, strong cue as quickly as possible. Writing things down or setting reliable external cues, like alarms or reminders built into your email or calendar systems, can help you to remember to execute future tasks.

One of my practices, if someone asks me to do something while I’m in transit or can’t write anything down, is to ask the person to send me an email. I am good about turning email into tasks, and that way I can simply track that task in my productivity systems. And if the other person forgets to send the email? Not my problem! I win!

Another underrated tool: the humble checklist, a standby of airline crews and, if they listen to Atul Gawande, medical teams and physicians. You can’t think and do at the same time; you can do one or the other, but not both. In a stressed environment – even life or death environments – doing is easier if the steps are already laid out for you.

Side note: I have found that creating a checklist for certain procedures or workflows is a great way to capture long-term knowledge or experience, either my own or someone else’s.

Address the special problems of habitual PM tasks

Habitual PM tasks are things like taking medication, closing the chimney flue, turning off the oven, making sure the door is locked. With such actions, you may repeat the task because you can’t remember you performed it or you may think you performed it when you actually didn’t. Again, using external aids – like pill organizers or alarms or homemade checklists – can help keep you on track.

Again, the challenge is to make yourself pay attention to what you’re doing. You can manipulate some part of the environment to flag that you have or have not done the task. For example, I have sets of exercises to do when I practice my banjo. I use a sticky note to flag the set of exercises I do in the current practice session. The next time I sit down to practice, I can quickly see the exercises I practiced last time and the set I need to practice this time. Again, it’s so simple as to sound almost trivial, yet it’s those little tricks that often enable older adults to perform better in some prospective memory studies than young college students.

Other things you can try:

  • If possible, block out all other distractions and focus exclusively on the task. Don’t think about anything else. In fact, describe aloud what you’re doing as you’re doing it. Engaging the vocal and aural areas of the brain will make the task more lively and memorable.
  • Try to increase the complexity of the task or execute it in an unusual or different way. Cross your arms as you take your pill, turn around three times and say “three-handled moss-covered family gredunza” as you close the flue – anything you can do to make the task more memorable.
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