Late to the party…

It turns out YouTube is for more than cat videos and an occasional source for demonstrations on how to make some minor household repair. I’d been so busy with Netflix and Hulu that I really underestimated it as a platform for actual quality content… so yes, I’m arriving late at this particular party – and I’m coming to it by way of my usual circuitous route.

After seeing some stupendous English country manor featured in a period drama I traipsed down the rabbit hole looking for a bit of information about the house itself… which led through Wikipedia to Google and ultimately through a whole series of clicks to YouTube and a fairly recent BBC documentary called The Country House Revealed. This, of course, led to a whole series of other programs built around the 18th century homes of the English aristocracy, which led to programs about renovating 400 year old houses, which led to various “reality” house hunting shows based in the UK.

The internet is a strange and wonderful place… as long as you manage to avoid the scammers, cheats, and schemes. Although I’m never quite sure if that’s better or worse than losing hours of your day with experts trying to decide if a particular pile can be traced back to Sir Christopher Wren or not. In any case, I’ll never doubt the utility of YouTube again.

Seven years, but still no itch…

Way back in January of 2010 I was casting around for a new blog platform. Having moved the original blog over from MySpace to Blogger, I was really looking for the place on the internet that could give me a permanent home – or at least a home that’s as permanent as we make anything in the electronic world. I did my homework and tried to assess all of the potential platforms, finally landing on WordPress as the one that seemed not only to offer exactly what I needed, but the one that seemed least likely to go belly up in six months.

A few credit card payments to secure domain names and for hosting fees and *poof*, WordPress became the one stop shop for whatever words felt like they needed said on any given day. Very little has changed here in the intervening seven years. In fact the page format is almost exactly as it was when I started posting here back then. Fortunately I made a point of choosing a layout that wasn’t destined to feel like a throwback to the early days of the internet and at least to my eye it’s managed to avoid looking too terribly dated.

One of the biggest reasons I selected WordPress from the competitors was that through WordPress.org it gives you the power to control nearly every possible element of your site. Despite good intentions to learn all of those under the hood management tools, I remain stubbornly fixed at the .com version of WordPress. It’s probably time I accept that I’m never going to be the nuts and bolts designer of this place and stick to what I do at least with some marginal level of skill – putting a few simple words on a blank screen and convincing a few people a day to give them a read.

As always, I’m happy to be spending one more “big day” on WordPress with any and all who stumble across my small portion of the internet. We’re seven years in and I still feel like I’m just getting warmed up.

Break…

It’s recently come to my full and complete attention that I have a problem. As usual, it’s one of my own making and I take complete responsibility for it. Increasingly I’ve found myself pulled further and further into the rabbit hole that is Facebook. Between that and dwelling far too much inside the echo chamber between my own ears, it’s not the best of times.

I feel less able to focus and driven largely to distraction – or perhaps it’s just allowed me to better focus on the wrong things. The Facebook experience has reached a point where it seems to be pulling me further afield from how I really want to spend my time, namely real reading and real writing. The shouting match of Facebook has left me with the distinct impression that it’s currently taking more from me than I’m getting in return. Under the circumstances it seems that the most reasonable thing to do might be to take a few steps back, reinforce the center, and then evaluate where things go from there.

None of this should imply I’m not curious about the day to day comings and goings of the 500 or so people I’m connected with, but I just don’t know that I’m currently curious enough to keep grinding myself down to slake that curiosity. Increasingly what I’m finding delivered into my feed are items I’d be better off, or at least happier, for not knowing. As it turns out, sometimes ignorance really is bliss. Who knew, right?

I never thought I’d find myself pondering the virtue of seeking at least partial refugee status from the social media age, but there it is. Will I do it? Can I? I have no idea. Should I do it? Yeah, that answer is resoundingly clear. What that could mean given the interconnected, but somehow less intrusive feeling platforms like Twitter and Instagram remains to be seen.

The only certainty at the moment is that nothing I do will in any way negatively impact my ongoing commitment to writing here as often as possible. Since the beginning, and even more so now, it serves as my primary check valve to vent off anger and frustration before it becomes something less manageable. You’ll never know how fortunate I count myself that I learned early on the importance of “using your words.” In a world ruled by 140 character limits, hanging on to the ability to communicate in prose feels all the more important.

Beyond all of that, I won’t even speculate about what taking a Facebook break may look like – or even if I’ll end up doing it at all. At the moment, though, it’s sounding like one of the best ideas I’ve had in years.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. The internet as everlasting know it all. I got a book recommendation from a friend earlier this week. I’m always looking for interesting reading materials so I saved the name and filed it away for my next visit to Amazon. The next morning of course, the book electro-magically shows up in my Facebook news feed as a “recommended buy from Amazon” ad. This is just all basically confirmation that the internet is a damned creepy place, even when you’re not getting catfished.

2. Picking your friends. Once again, the tide of “if you vote for Candidate X, just unfriend me” is upon us. Let the record show that I don’t determine my friendships based solely on an individual’s politics, orientation, gender, ethnicity, or any other single factor. Funny thing is, I don’t think of my friends as a group of one-dimensional elements so much as I do the sum of their parts. That means I can both enjoy their company and disagree with them on political philosophy all at the same time. Maybe it’s just me. With that said, the chances of me changing my mind on most of the issues I find important are slim to none. I will continue to post occasionally about those issues, but certainly not to the exclusion of all other aspects of life. Come to think of it, if my politics are the only reason you’re hanging on to me, maybe it’s best to just let go after all. There just can’t be much value added to friendships based on just one slim sliver of what makes a person who they are.

3. Rain. Seriously. I know I put down sod and the fact that I’ve had a good soaking rain fall on it 5 out of the last 7 days is like mana from heaven, but we’ve reached the point where I’d dearly love to see maybe an hour or two of actual sunshine. Preferably not when I’m buried in the back corner of a concrete building where exterior weather conditions are well-nigh unknowable. I know it’s a big ask – one the forecast says could be out of reach for the next week at least. I’m happy as a clam not to have to drag hoses all over the yard, but a few minutes of sun on top of my dome would more than make up for half an hour of watering duty on the afternoon of nature’s choice.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Selling online. There are a few pieces of lawn equipment and other odds and ends I don’t have use of anymore. For ease of listing and in hopes of not dealing with too many crackpots, I opted to post them on the local neighborhood website instead of Craigslist. In retrospect I would have been far better off just loading everything in the truck and hauling it over to the dump. I know I’ve spent at least $150 worth of time answering questions about a $25 item. Lesson learned. From here on out I’ll just throw stuff away. It’s not worth the aggravation for so little return on investment.

2. Walking and talking. If you’re on your phone and wander into the street without paying the least bit of attention I should be within my rights to hit you with the truck. I’m not talking about flattening anyone, but it feels like giving these dipshits a glancing blow with the side mirror should be accepted if not encouraged.

3. Connectivity. Having access to email and the Internet are pretty much my only real job enablers. I’m sure I could do at least some of the work without those tools, but everything would take days longer than it should. Some of it I can get done by phone but the “must have a signature” stuff not so much. If you’re a knowledge worker access to a function network isn’t a convenience or a perk, it’s a necessity. If you the employer can’t provide that then you’d best not look at me cross eyed when I start telling you there are things I can’t do. Like it or not, without connectivity there’s no path between Point A and Point B that doesn’t involve hand written letters and a book of stamps.

Don’t be lame…

Sitting on each and every desk in my vast office complex is a magic box. When the electricity is on and all the pipes are clear it allows everyone to connect to a magical place called the internet. The internet is a wild place, ruled by porn, social media, and pictures of cats, but it’s also a place to go when you need information. It’s almost like someone went to the bother of making the sum total of human knowledge available for just the cost of a few keystrokes.

Unless you’re trying to read an article posted on the Wall Street Journal, information in this magical land of the internet is almost always free for the taking. If you type your question or even just a few major key words into Google, who I think is probably a wizard or maybe some kind of minor heathen deity, it will spit back all manner of interesting factoids. It’s like having a magic 8-ball right on your desk without worrying that it’s going to start dripping purple-tinted water. Neat!

I’m encouraging each and every one of you to take full advantage of this magic information-sharing box on your desk before giving in to the temptation of blasting out an email asking someone to provide information that’s already sitting there for the taking. Let’s face it, gang, asking someone else to Google something for you is just lame and I know you don’t want to be lame, right?

Mother f%#@ing autoplay…

Whoever it was that came up with the idea of autoplaying a video as a website opens should rot in hell right next to the guy who invented the pop up ad. For most sites I’m fully understanding that generating income from ads is how you make your money. Running a website and keeping up content isn’t an inexpensive proposition. I spend $50 a year out of pocket to keep the lights on here in my little sector of the web. I could be ad driven and defray some of that cost, but I’m determined that it’s just not worth it. Ad free content is, in my opinion, better for the reader as well as for the writer.

Usually this is something that would wait for the weekly roundup of WAJTW, but it doesn’t feel right to pile it into a list with three other things when it is so patently obnoxious. I’ve steadfastly avoided downloading ad blocking software because I know that even on the internet everyone has bills to pay, but with the ever increasing intrusiveness of your ads, I’m only another few bad experiences away from giving up my scruples and loading up some software to kill off as many of these ads as possible.

Site owners need to find a better model. No matter how good your content is, if I have to deal with an advertisers video yelling at me with no apparent off switch or pop ups that take up two thirds of the screen space, I’m not interested enough in what you’re saying to wade through the mess to look at it. Maybe it’s too much to ask, but if advertisers designed spots that were somehow compelling instead of just being annoying maybe I’d actually click over and have a look. As it is, I’ll just close the screen and go find my content elsewhere.