I genuinely appreciated a few of you reaching out last week, both in the comments here on my dusty little website and on my purposefully neglected Facebook page, sharing your own methods on how to use social media for good. It seems that several of you have carefully crafted parameters that allow you to wield the unsettlingly awesome powers of online interaction in order to make the world a better place, and I for one would like to applaud your efforts.
In fact, I’ll do that now.
I’m back. I did it. (You can trust me.)
I did literally do it, because I try to be someone who does what he says he will do. Yes, I felt silly. Yes, I did give you a standing ovation. Why? Because, why not not? If applause is good, standing and applauding is better. We all decided that at some point back in the forgotten mists of Long Ago, and by golly, we’ve all been agreeing to it pretty much every time we go see a play or a musical or a speech that isn’t actively awful. Why should I be the one to buck centuries of storied tradition?
Now, let’s move past the part where I just stood and gave a solo standing ovation alone in my apartment.
The point is, I am sincerely gladdened to learn that many of us, in these tiringly terrible times, are endeavoring to use our smartphones to make others and ourselves more peppy, more present, and more positive, and so, here is a Part Two to last week’s essay. In it, I share with you another way I have found of making certain the time I spend in the eerily incandescent light of my smartphone’s shining screen is time well spent, and not time unprofitably, irresponsibly, and irretrievably frittered away. After all, no one knows how long one’s life will be. Let us use our time well.
[I have a lot of thoughts on this subject, so, fair warning, this will be be an ongoing series.]
We begin by abandoning the topic of social media completely. Let us consider that case closed, though there is, of course, much more we could (and may yet) say. Instead, let’s talk about how to turn our smartphones…into a library.
The world is wide, my friends, and full of wonders. And yet, it is easy to forget this. Realize that your smartphone (yes, your smartphone) is a window, a book, and a speaker system connecting you to almost any sight ever filmed, story ever typed, or sound ever recorded. We all know this, and yet we insist on wandering about like fact-starved fools, blindly accepting only the paltry offerings we find drifting down the electric rivers of our media feeds as though we are content with these soggy scraps. Know that there is a feast out there, my friends, if only we will seek it out.
Let us feast.
Allow me to introduce you to the OverDrive app. This marvelous app, free to download, connects your device to your library account. Libraries, you see, still exist in their traditional, seemingly antiquated state, offering old-fashioned books, films, and recordings; however, most now also offer, free to their members, digital collections of books, audiobooks, and (some) videos. Simply download this app and plug in the numbers on that library card you still have gathering dust in a drawer somewhere, and presto!
You can either download books straight to your phone or tablet, or you can link the system up with a Kindle, if you are the sort of person who owns a Kindle. I happen to be one of those sorts of people. I love old-fashioned books, but I travel a lot. And, books are heavy. So, why choose between the old ways or the new? Do both, I say! Pack a book and a Kindle.
I particularly love that OverDrive allows you to download audiobooks for free for the normal amount of time you would check something out from the library-- say, two weeks. This is especially useful considering the long commutes my job requires. Nothing helps pass time stuck in traffic so profitably and so enjoyably as a well-produced (free!) audiobook. Friends of mine swear by Audible, a paid service that provides audiobooks, but I say, why spend money when you don’t have to spend money?
I trust you will agree.
The only “downside” to OverDrive is that digital library collections are designed to mimic how a library only has a limited number of copies of a given work. Therefore, there are only so many “copies” of each digital book or audiobook. Often, an item will already be “checked out” and you have to go on a waiting list. Also, your local library probably doesn’t have every digital book out there, just like they don’t have a copy of every physical book ever printed. This can be an annoyance occasionally, but the app will send you an email when a book becomes available. I have found that by signing up for a lot of wait lists, books stagger in seemingly of their own happy accord.
It’s kind of like sending free gifts to Future You.
“Hey, You! I mean...Me! Here is a digital copy of that book you really liked at Barnes & Noblem, but now you can keep your 25 dollars. You’re welcome, Future Me!”
And yes, even if you are not the sort of gadget-and-gizmo-loving person who has a Kindle, know that you can download books onto your phone. Then, you can read them whenever you end up stuck waiting in a car for that late friend of yours, or when you are pointlessly standing in line, or when you just really need something good to read. Having back-up books on my phone has made me a genuinely better person, because, whilst I might otherwise waste that time scrolling and trolling, instead I now read.
I recommend it.
Reading is amazing.
And, please, feel dangerously free to join me next week for Part 3, in which I will cover several other ways to “life hack” your smartphone.
In the meantime, stay safe, everybody. My love to you all.
Hello! I’ve missed you. Have you missed me? No?
Yes, you’re right. I did entirely fail to post an entry last week on this, my allegedly weekly blog. You have my sincerest apologies. If it’s any consolation, I don’t even feel bad about it. I have been busy, running about Orange County and the Central Coast, presenting interactive historical presentations, because that’s what I do now. I present things. I am a presenter. That is my job title.
And yet, here we are again. The pair of us. Me at my keyboard. You at your variously sized screens. Here I type, and there you read.
What shall we talk about this week?
What? You find this theatrically contrived, whimsically conversational introduction unnecessary? You think I should’ve just begun this week’s essay without it?
Well, you’re probably right, but try to see things from my point of view. Regardless of your own amusement level, I am thusly amused. I dearly love theatrical contrivances, and I have never been one to use words sparingly. Why should I? Words are, after all, sensationally, even scandalously free to use. They cost me nothing!
This is outrageously off-topic, but I am suddenly reminded of my favorite correctional note that I ever received back on a collegiate essay. The year was 2011. I was taking a senior level history course on the decline of the British Empire that semester, just for kicks and giggles, because the professor, Dr. Smith, was himself British, and when you attend a small school in rural Indiana that just seems cool as hell. I had handed in an essay on something or other, having worked fairly hard on the thing, history being my hobby then, and not my job, as it now is (somewhat ironically), and I received the essay back with a grade far higher than I dare say the silly thing deserved. But there, on the front page, which was almost completely covered in correctional marks done in blood-red ink, was a sentence now burned into my brain. Dr. Smith had sliced into my verbose, overly dramatic opening paragraph as with a scalpel, circling my topic sentence and scrawling next to it, “An excellent point lost in a sea of waffle.”
I memorized that, because I want it to be the title for my eventual, inevitable memoir.
An Excellent Point Lost In a Sea of Waffle:
The Life Story of Philip David Black
Take that, Dr. Smith! Incidentally, I hope you are well. You were an awesome professor.
Where were we?
We were deciding what to talk about this week. Next time, please cut me off before I prattle on about nothing like that.
Let’s talk a bit about technology. If I am to be completely honest, dear readers, I have actually started this essay twice already. It began as a rant about the pointlessness of social media. From there, it morphed dramatically into a strange essay in which I compared the smartphone we all now carry with a sword.
Weird, right? It made sense to me at the time. I think I was trying to make the point that the handheld technology we all now wield with wild abandon can in fact be dangerous if it is untempered by wisdom. I hoped to encourage us all to treat our smartphones with the proper respect.
But, I think I will spare you both that absurdly forced metaphor and its accompanying stench of self-righteous self examination.
Instead, I will simply share with you a few positive changes I have made to the way I use my own smartphone. As we have discussed often before on this blog, I am a pessimist, but I try not to be. It seems to me that our smartphones, our computers, and the internet in general offers us innumerable chances to do truly remarkable things. I have a suggestion. Let us consciously seek to use these super powers for good. The world is bleak enough these days.
Where to begin? I have already rambled long, so let us stick to a single subject for the rest of this entry-- the subject of social media. For starters, I have removed social media apps from my phone. Twitter and Facebook have been completely purged from it. I keep Instagram installed, because pictures are nice, but I took it off my home screen, so I can’t just mindlessly click on it and lose myself to the endless scroll.
Let me clarify. I have not deleted my accounts on these services. I still have them. I check Facebook occasionally (Twitter hardly ever), and I keep all my information on Facebook (and even Twitter) current. But, I no longer live there. I have removed my mental energies from these sites.
I have done this for two reasons. Firstly, I am blessed to have friends from many diverse walks of life and of many various beliefs, fields, and orientations. And, frankly, it made me sick to see these many friends, acquaintances, relatives, and co-workers all screaming at each other in comment fields, following the political typhoon that has engulfed us all. I am not, may it emphatically be said, unplugging from politics. More than ever, I am attempting to stay informed and communicate with people of differing views, but I have stopped imagining that internet commenting and fire-breathing, left-right turf warring on these apps has anything to do with the real business of citizenship. If you want to discuss politics with me, please do so. Just meet with me, or call me when you want to do it. I am earnestly seeking what it means to be a compassionate, principled citizen of this wonderful country in 2017. I just don’t do it on apps.
The second reason I removed these apps was because I was starting to feel like a harried intern at a media conglomerate. I celebrate the magnificent connectivity that these social media apps foster. I think it is marvelous that we can all now, at the press of a few buttons, know instantaneously what seemingly anyone we have ever known is doing this weekend. In many ways this is a delight. But, we are all of us only humans in the end. We only have so much time. And, in a world where we are increasingly aware (immediately) of every single scandal, disaster, tragedy, and happenstance that occurs anywhere in the world, the strange pressure we are all now under to promptly rush to our message boards and trumpet out our own personal stance and viewpoint on the subject of EVERYTHING is mind numbing, soul destroying, and, ultimately, physically impossible. It simply cannot be done. It is foolish to try.
Dear friends, I resolutely reject the modern notion that if you (yes, you!) fail to use social media to decry evil, you are yourself evil; although, yes, I have seen several people I know, love, and respect recently make this very claim. If you choose to use social media for that, then that is your decision. As your friend, I applaud you for seeking to make the world a better place in this way. However, I do not choose that route. What is more, I find it morally questionable to demand that everyone use their personal platforms as soapboxes. I do agree that we each have a moral responsibility to care for our communities in whatever way we are able. I believe we will each one day be judged for the choices we make in this life. But, just because we all now have a smartphone does not magically transform us each into a one-person Public Relations firm. We don’t need to each issue a personal statement after every single public tragedy. That is unrealistic and an impossible burden for a person to put upon themselves. If you see someone struggling in the room where you physically are, help them. If you see evil in your environment, and you can do something about it, do it. Simply screaming about the world and its evils does little. Let’s all get out and do our best to do actual helpful stuff.
Let’s stop there for now. I have rambled long enough. If you have another perspective on a how to use social media for good, feel free to comment below. I am always open for new angles on positivity. These are simply changes that I have made that have worked for me. Next week, we will cover a few other upbeat ways to use your smartphone.
Stay safe, everyone. My love to you all.