Going Analog: Zen and the Art of Getting Lost Without a Phone

This past week I had myself a little adventure. A lot of moving pieces in my life were coming together that required me to cross the border back into the States so I could get a number of Very Important Things done at customs and immigration on my way back into Canada… but I had to stay out of the country for at least 72 hours before returning.

My mom had recently moved near Seattle for work – and to be closer to me and my husband – so I decided to spend the 72 hours at her new place, help her unpack and organize some things, and spend some time with her. So armed with an address, I drew a basic map of how to get to her new place and set off on the 3 hour drive alone.

Little did I know, though, that the Canadian phone plan that I have wouldn’t let me do anything once I got to the south side of the border – I couldn’t even send out a text with all the associated roaming fees. Nothing. And of course I found this out the hard way… when I started second-guessing myself in a completely unfamiliar neighborhood and reached for my phone to ask for a clue.

I think most people in my situation nowadays would panic. I was driving around a suburb in a county I was completely unfamiliar with, trying to find a place I’d never been to before, and I was without any way to contact the only person that could help me. Had she given me the right address? Was I even on the right street? I weighed my options – there was a police and fire station a ways back up the road who might’ve let me use the phone, or I could avoid backtracking and pull into the first business I saw and ask for directions. I did the latter, and wound up learning something else that I hadn’t even considered before.

I pulled into the leasing office for a large apartment complex, and proceeded to tell them that I was trying to find another complex just like theirs that was somewhere along their same road. The two secretaries I spoke to were young, about my age or a couple years younger, and were willing to help me. The problem was, I quickly realized, is that they really didn’t know how to. 

They didn’t know how to gauge a location’s approximate distance by comparing address numbers, and they definitely didn’t seem to pay much attention to what else was on the street near where they worked (otherwise they would have known that the complex I was trying to find was only just another half mile down the road). They just pulled up some directions on their computer and printed me out step-by-step directions (which were MUCH more needlessly complex than necessary to get me a few blocks away), and the fact that they didn’t take a second glance at the ridiculous instructions that Google spat out before handing them off to me was another curious thing – though I don’t doubt for a second that part was just your average rudeness.

I eventually found where I was trying to get 10 minutes later, but the two millennials’ complete incompetence at trying to help someone locate a destination a few blocks down the street from where they worked stuck with me. But in hindsight, I guess it’s kind of obvious: if someone has let their navigational and spacial skills atrophy that much, of course they’re not going to be able to help anyone else in any meaningful way. And in North America, the vast majority of people are gladly letting their navigation skills wither away to nothing. A damn shame.

At any rate, I proceeded to spend the next 72 hours in a strange town without a phone. This is what I managed to get up to:

  • Get myself from Mukilteo to the Everett train station/park-n-ride
  • Meet up with friends somewhere in the parking lot there to carpool into Seattle for the afternoon
  • Find my way to the train station in Seattle that evening, and locate the correct commuter train that would take me back to Everett
  • Get myself back to Mukilteo
  • Find the mall in the next town over, as well as a nearby Target
  • Find a place to get an oil change (couldn’t call about availability, no phone!)
  • Drive back to the border after the 72 hour waiting period was up, locate reasonably priced gas and coffee along the way
  • Navigate the ridiculous labyrinth of customs and immigration offices and processing centers at the border to do all the things I needed to do once I finally got there

The part of me that’s a modern millennial looks back on all that and says “Wow, you’re a crazy son of a gun”, while the rest of me, the highly intelligent and fully capable human animal whose genetic material has spent billions of years on this planet, wants to say “Do that more often“. Your cognition needs to eat its greens too.

I’ve picked up a regular zen meditation practice at a local zendo in the past month, and there is definitely something different about people who enjoy sitting in a room together, in complete silence, doing nothing for an hour without going nuts. In a way, that’s a lot what getting lost feels like, and how you react tells a lot about you. People who commit themselves to longer meditation sits – as opposed to the ‘5 minutes a day’ crowd, or the ‘doing something that’s not meditation is actually meditation’ people – seem to have a way about them that is more readily prepared to try taking each moment as it is, instead of wishing that it were something else, or being overcome with depression and anxiety that it’s not the moment you actually wanted, or not the moment you were promised, or not the moment that you worked so hard to make happen.

That’s not to say that people who meditate on the regular are emotionless automatons. We aren’t. We just try, using one particular technique, to better sit with our thoughts and feelings as they bubble up and recognize them for what they are, so then we might choose to feel them more fully, or choose to push them aside and make room for something else. That’s really what mindfulness is, it’s that simple. But doing it is very hard.

I always wonder what people mean when they say they hate getting lost. Is it that they hate the time they feel is being wasted? Is it some kind of base, animal fear of never being found again that they hate? Is it just a simple matter of losing face, of being wrong? It all seems to boil down to a loss of control. Knowing where you’re going and how to get there is power. Suddenly being faced with not knowing is facing your own powerlessness.

When I get lost I evaluate my options. I humble myself and ask for help, because I do not have the tools to be self-sufficient enough to avoid asking anything of anyone else I encounter. I choose to do things that way. I choose to rely on others. This bothers a lot of people – a lot of people – but I see it as an a way to stay connected to people, and to remind others that there is a whole damn world out there outside of the comforting glow of a screen. That there’s a different way to do things.

To those of you who read this and got uncomfortable, thinking about what you would have done if you were in my shoes, how badly you’d have wanted to reach for your smartphone or how stupid you think I am for not having one: what the heck are you afraid of? The worst that could have happened to me happened – I stopped and asked for directions. When my friends drove around looking for me in the parking lot of the park-n-ride, I sat tight while they circled around for 10 minutes until they found me. And if for some reason I missed them entirely, I would have driven back to my mom’s place and still had the rest of the day to do whatever I wanted, and not even done so empty-handed. I’d learned how to get to the train station. That’s something.

It makes me sad that so many people are choosing to sacrifice their natural aptitude so they can gain some false digital security. They are literally selling chunks of their brains to Google so they can be spared the inconvenience of learning things and interacting with other humans and – gasp – even being wrong sometimes.

Since when did we become so allergic to making even the smallest of mistakes?

Let me know when you find out – I’ll be over here staring out the window.

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Going Analog Sidequest: Quitting Google

Email isn’t analog by any stretch of the imagination, no. But I consider more hands-on approaches to technologies, where we have to use them, as part of the same ethos. The whole Going Analog project is, at is heart, about regaining control. It’s about transparency. And it’s about removing corporate middlemen that stand between me and what I’m trying to accomplish. So I consider opting-out of one more ad-driven platform a perfectly valid thing to write about under the analog banner.

Three years ago, I was using a lot of Google products. Gmail, Office, Drive, Maps, search – even their flagship line of smartphones, which I chose for having the least amount of bloatware for a shipped Android device, and even an early Chromebook model. And then I started reading about the ethics, and subsequent gross breaches by every for-profit tech giant, of user privacy. Boy did I change my tune after that.

Search

The first thing to go was Google’s search engine, the product that made the company its first millions so many years ago. This was the easiest thing to do, obviously. I installed Chromium (the surveillance-free*, open-source version of Chrome) and set my default search to DuckDuckGo and have been perfectly happy ever since. Its algorithms are different, but the results it gives me are just as good. There are other options out there if DDG isn’t to your liking: SearX, Qwant, Ixquick, and for the truly paranoid, many of these options are usable with the Tor browser. Odds are, though, if you’re reading this blog you probably don’t know what the Tor browser is. (But you probably should.)

Nexus and Chromebook

The next thing I gave up was my Nexus smartphones. I tried rooting them, but found the process a little too esoteric (and potentially risky if you don’t know what you’re doing) for it to be worth it. It was around that same time when the batteries stopped holding good charges, the screen on my primary phone cracked into a million spiderwebs, and I was looking to get away from having a screen in my pocket 24/7 anyways, so I chucked them into the recycling bin and didn’t look back. And just like that, it was impossible for Google to track where I was and what I was doing thanks to my use of Maps, device location, and other features that most smartphone users never bother to disable. I bought an LG Xpression 2 from eBay for $40, including shipping and 2 years of insurance, and I’ve never been happier.

The Chromebook was its own set of headaches, but I liked the form factor and that the level of hardware maintenance pretty much amounted to zero. I knew I didn’t want to run such a lumbering, bloated OS like Windows on such a lightweight machine, so I started looking into and test-driving different Linux distributions. Eventually I came across Elementary OS, the smallest operating system I’ve ever used, and quickly discovered that it would deliver on everything I needed – and nothing I didn’t – and do it with a clean, stylish interface. A few more weeks of research sold me on the HP Stream 11, which I again used eBay to procure for $100. A refurbished model, of course. I then proceeded to wipe the drive and install eOS.

But what about the other big feature of the Chromebook: syncing of files to Docs and Drive (by way of your forced use of the G suite)? My workaround is below.

Office and Drive

I was never a big office suite power user, so my use of Google Docs etc. never amounted to anywhere near what other users rack up in terms of files stored on Google’s cloud servers. Most of them were simple word documents of prose fiction, job resumes, and the occasional miscellany; rarely anything important. I barely even used the calendar app. But what was important was that I be able to access these files from any of my devices quickly and easily – something that was handy when I wanted to go out on the town and settle down to lunch somewhere and chip away at a chapter or a blog post.

There weren’t many Linux-friendly options for cloud backup and file syncing. At least, not many that were multi-platform compatible. I still had a primary working machine at home that I needed to sync files to, which has to run Windows thanks to my current dependency on Adobe products. (And my refusal to get a Mac.) More research introduced me to SpiderOak’s One product, which is part backup service and part sync: it’s compatible with Win, Mac, and Ubuntu-derived Linux distros, which is exactly what I needed. (And in the end, it was better than my old Carbonite subscription anyways – SpiderOak charges not per device, but by the amount of storage needed across as many devices as you need to use. Score.)

The key part of the One service is what’s called the Hive folder: a folder that sits on your computers and functions like any other folder, but where the contents of which are instantly synced across all other copies of your Hive. It’s basically like a little Dropbox.

Honestly, the need to sync files across devices was the biggest reason I’d mostly stopped using on-board document editing software in the first place, even though I’ve been installing Open Office and Libre Office on my computers for the better part of a decade. Gone are the days of hauling flash drives with me everywhere (I had a number of them fail on me for no good reason over the years), or emailing things to myself all the time. With SpiderOak One and Hive, I could go back to doing that, and subsequently break away from my use of Google Docs, Sheets, and the rest of their badly-designed Suite.

(For distraction-free prose writing, I’ve also been using the hell out of Focus Writer. Highly recommended.)

In-Progress: Gmail

Quitting Gmail and opting for a quality, privacy-respecting alternative is easier than ever before. There are a small handful of free services like Protonmail or Lavabit, but most providers have to charge something in exchange for not bombarding you with ads or mining the contents of your emails to sell to somebody else.

Seeing that I have my own domain already, and my own email server, I figured the best thing to do would be to start using that more often. Currently, it’s bombarded with spam emails and the filter seems to have a will of its own in what it sends to the inbox and what it marks as junk, so that’s something I have to figure out how to fix. Thunderbird, my inbox software, helps a little, but the lion’s share of the issue lies with other parts of the infrastructure.

However, I plan to start using a service called StartMail, which has a business plan that will piggyback on your own domain. The company abides by Dutch privacy laws, the service has a lot of security features, it’s IMAP compatible, and I can create disposable dummy email addresses all I want… say, if I wanted to subscribe to a newsletter for a one-time contest entry or something. The service isn’t free, but you can take StartMail for a test drive for a week to see if you like it.

I’ll post more on this one as I work on it.

Maps

Unfortunately, I haven’t found a very good alternative to Google Maps yet. Maquest is clunky, and most other non-app services don’t have live traffic updates, which is something I rely on a lot to figure out whether I should leave 30 minutes before I gotta be at work… or 90 minutes.

As it is I don’t use it very often, and I’ve got my computer and privacy settings done such that it doesn’t seem to know where my computer is located, so at least there’s that. What I should probably do is get in the habit of using it only while Incognito or via some other similar tracking-lite browser space to keep Google from putting too many one and ones together.

For my 1000-mile roadtrip, though? I do plan on going to AAA to get some old school paper maps, using common sense, reading road signs, and only breaking out the smartphone (my husband’s) in the event of some kind of emergency.

So wait… this all isn’t free, is it?

No, no it’s not. But that’s the price we pay for not being spied on, emotionally manipulated by echo chamber search results, and attacked with ads everywhere we turn. But think of it this way: how much is Google making off of storing the contents of your life every year? Probably not nearly as much as I’ll be paying annually for these ad-free, privacy-respecting services, but still: what I’m paying for is peace of mind, and complete ownership of my data and content. I’m paying for transparency in a tech landscape where obfuscation is basically just legalized pick-pocketing.

So how much will my peace of mind cost me every year? Let’s break it down.

  • Google search to DuckDuckGo: free.
  • Google smartphone to LG dumbphone: +~$200/replacement cycle. Not including savings from lack of data plan.
  • Chromebook/Chrome OS to HP Stream/eOS: no difference.
  • Google Docs to Libre Office: no difference.
  • Google Drive to SpiderOak One: -$5/mo.
  • Gmail to personal domain/StartMail: -$75/yr.

All in all? It comes out to be about the same. If the cost of the dumbphone is 1/4th the cost of a used smartphone, AND the replacement cycle is, say, doubled in length, then that’s a significant savings just for the device by itself. It also more than makes up for the other $80/year I’m paying for quality email and domain services that are entirely, or almost entirely, without the corporate meddling, spying, and marketing efforts inherent to the so-called “free” services.

The end result? Google will have a damned hard time figuring out who I am and what I’m up to. And that’s what counts.

*Chromium isn’t surveillance-free, exactly: it still sends Google your IP address, which many privacy advocates still decry. But if you’ve ever used a Google product, the company already has a lot of information about you – and it would take a LOT of work to disappear from their sights entirely. So, I’ve struck a balance. And yes, I have reasons not to use FF.

Going Analog part 7: Dealing with Belligerent Incredulity

If there’s one thing that not having a smartphone, barely using social media, and not keeping up with pop culture will earn you, it’s endless belligerence from incredulous screen addicts. Of course, doing much of anything outside of the norm will earn you much of the same, but in the spirit of documenting my slow journey into the world of slower technology, I’ll dedicate a blog post to it.

A while back I wrote about Shooting the Messenger, a related social phenomenon that happens when you encounter people struggling with guilt and cognitive dissonance who have nowhere to direct their anger but at you, the pointer-outer of some inconvenient truth. This sort of hostility is different, and likely to be encountered more often because it doesn’t hinge on having a conversation with you about an important topic: all it takes is for someone to notice that you’re doing something differently than them, by which they can pigeonhole you into a stereotype of some sort and make their accusations from there.

Recently I dealt with some run-of-the-mill belligerence with some family members who like to run their mouths – but who I love dearly, mind – and the subject of their ridicule this time was my vegetarianism. Being vegetarian, unless you get all your food from farmer’s markets, isn’t anywhere near an analog diet in any way, but the idea, to their mind, serves the same function: my choice to deprive myself of something that they couldn’t live without makes me holier-than-thou. Nevermind that I’m probably the chillest vegetarian they’re ever likely to meet – that I don’t proselytize, I don’t badmouth meat-eaters, and that I actually whole-heartedly condone small-scale livestock husbandry, hunting, and other related kinds of manual slaughter – but my live-and-let-live attitude probably makes me an easier target.

Vegetarianism, even done wrong, has a smaller carbon footprint than American-style meat-eating, and done right, can lighten the impact you have on the earth by many orders of magnitude. (Strict veganism, on the other hand, is pretty much a case of heavily diminished returns. Unless you live in a grass hut in the tropics, veganism is financially and environmentally expensive when all is said and done, and needs to be propped up by large subsidies of smug satisfaction to make it worth it.) Meat-eaters know this, which is what makes their derision so strangely obsessive.

Likewise, reducing screentime or eliminating them altogether can really do nothing but benefit the earth and in many cases, your mental health as well. It’s like quitting a hard drug. Except that everyone in our society is addicted to the drug, nobody wonders what life would be like without the drug, and nobody talks about the downsides of the drug. Given such a saturated environment, it’s no wonder that encountering someone who is not addicted to the drug, or who doesn’t use the drug at all, is such a jarring encounter.

The belligerence I’ve experienced from “downgrading” seems to have two other components: one, the sense that I’m withholding something others are entitled to have (voyeuristic glimpses into my personal life from using social media, and instant access to my attention using the same), and two, that I now need their “help” for things that I didn’t before.

These two notions together form a microcosm for much bigger trends in the way human social relationships are changing thanks to the ubiquitous use of mediating technologies. That is to say, we are becoming emotionally and materially estranged, while becoming more impersonal and fetishistic.

Someone recently posted a thread to the r/Collapse subreddit about the strange reactions friends and family were having toward his re-adoption of a landline in lieu of any cellphone at all:

I recently got rid of my cell phone and switched to a landline only. I also got rid of Facebook. Just to be clear, I am not asking or telling ANYONE else to follow in my footsteps, it is just a choice I made for myself for personal reasons. I don’t want to get into too much detail on my justification, but let’s just say the stuff I see on this subreddit doesn’t help, lol. Clearly I have not completely sworn off technology. Anyway, friends and family who are finding out all have different reactions. Some people are mild or just seem slightly annoyed that we can’t text anymore, but some people are SO angry about it. Their reaction is ridiculous and I swear it is as though they are defending their precious!!! Little golems just blinded by their need for it. One friend seemed mad cause he hates calling people but other than that people are defensive! I say I did it and they lash out as if I told them they are idiots for having phones. Which I didn’t.

Thoughts? Why do people behave this way? Is this deep attachment a sign of something to come?

The responses range from the humorous:

How old are your friends and family? 12??

I say, try not to make a “thing” of it. If you were poor enough not to be able to afford these things, your real friends wouldn’t blame you for being poor. You shouldn’t have to justify it to anyone.

But get used to the derision as you make other, more substantive changes.

To the piercingly observant:

  • You made it less convenient for them to get what they want from you.
  • Your actions telegraphed to them that you don’t fear (overall) losing access to what they think you should want from them.
  • Your rejection of your cell/Facebook causes them to question: ‘should I quit too?’

Someone else drew the same comparison with vegetarianism/veganism as well:

same effect as stopping eating meat and mentioning it to people. vegetarians / vegans get the same sort of backlash. its just because of cognitive dissonance etc in people who are living partially examined lives

The ‘partially examined life’ concept intrigues me, and I think it’s a pretty good explanation for most of this kind of behavior. Different ways of doing things is generally no real threat to the unexamined life – that sort of person takes everything for granted and doesn’t question what they or other people are doing. The examined life usually reacts in kind, because that person has likely done the mental legwork of putting themselves in somebody else’s shoes and come to the conclusion that there is possible a multiplicity of motivations, questions, and answers in life. What’s the partially examined life, though? To me, it seems like that sort of person had come into questioning, gone looking for answers, and then stopped when the answers threatened to upend what they held to be true. They are the most keenly reactive to the whims of their ego and identity, because they’ve caught a glimpse at the shaky foundations they’re built on and have chosen to ignore the truth. In other words, they want to have their cake and eat it too – this is cognitive dissonance. Unfortunately, making someone aware of their cognitive dissonance is almost always a dangerous, losing game.

I’m thinking also of the couple behind This Victorian Life, who have routinely received hate mail and even death threats over the years for choosing to live the way they do.

Of course its a threat response: when you see others happily choosing to do without that which you’ve deemed a bare necessity, what does that say about you? Moreover, while marketing buzzwords like “luxe”, “designer” and “chic” dominate our consumer-driven lives, nobody wants to be accused of being extravagant. It is, I suppose, the modern loophole around our culturally-learned sense of Protestant ethics, without actually having to live up to those ethics. For workers of yesteryear, for example, it was more socially acceptable to brag about how little you had to work for your high salary, but not anymore. (In spite of steadily declining rates of office worker productivity, as well.) It’s a competition to appear that everything you have has been hard-earned, well-deserved, and morally justified. Yes, even that $50 water bottle. Because you worked so hard for it, and it does its job of holding water so well, right? And besides, we all need to “treat ourselves” sometimes. Even if “sometimes” actually means “every day”.

The question, though, is simple: how to deal with others’ cognitive dissonance? In the wake of the 2016 election, it seems that all options have been rendered moot. There are no discussions now, only arguments; no arguments, only ad hominems and death threats.

My method of dealing is to just try and avoid such conversations in the first place. Just as I now avoid giving unwarranted advice (nobody wants it), and avoid pointing out major flaws in someone’s reasoning, I generally just avoid pointing out hypocrisy for the simple fact that everyone’s a hypocrite in some way, and that, again, those conversations never end well. I figure that if someone is open enough to the idea that they might be wrong about something, then they’ll find out sooner or later on their own.

That’s not to say that you can’t defend yourself, though. It takes having a thick skin, but so does doing anything that goes against mainstream values. Other ways to avoid heated confrontation:

  • Say your choices are purely personal and have improved the quality of your life: “I just don’t like ____.”
  • Say that your choices are financially motivated. Playing the frugality card is often a safe bet.
  • Among the somewhat-environmentally-informed, you can frame it in terms of your carbon footprint.
  • Turn the awkward moment into a joke. Play dumb, misanthropic, or elusive. I’ve done all three.

At the end of the day, dealing with incredulity at doing things differently than ‘everyone else’ is just going to be par for the course. And when it does happen, it helps to keep a level head: nobody wants to be preached at, told that they’re stupid, or hypocritical. And ultimately nothing comes of those kinds of heated discussions except a bad mood at best, or a ruined friendship at worst.

Going Analog Part 6.5

Welp, both Nexus phones are officially gone. In my last post about it my battery on the one died, but about 2 weeks after that, the screen on the second completely gave out, leaving me with nothing but cracked glass and unintelligible lines of color. They’ve both been sent for recycling (not that the whole e-waste recycling industry isn’t a scam anyways), and I’m now left with a phone that can do no more than call, text, and set my morning alarm.

really get lost now: I was driving north on the 405 the other day, missed the junction with the 134 (because it’s actually the 101), and wound up in Sylmar, a mistake that cost me 45 minutes. But I’m never going to make that mistake again, because I learned. I’m constructing maps in my head now, improving my spacial understanding of Los Angeles, exercising an ancient mental muscle for navigation we are all born with and that most of us are letting atrophy. Or should say, a muscle that most of us are happy to let atrophy.

Music is a non-issue. My Zune player is working wonderfully, and as a result of its simpler, lighter technology, I only need to charge it twice a week, even with leaving it on 24/7. I’m now orders of magnitude freer from that electronic umbilical cord that ties the rest of you to wall outlets for an hour or two every day.

My social media presence is just about altogether toast: without a smartphone, I’m not allowed to participate on Instagram, which was the last way I could keep electronically up-to-date with the goings on of friends and family. I now have to speak to them in person or hear second-hand about what’s happening in my loved ones’ lives, which is fine by me. Getting news like this has a way of drastically cutting down on the meaningless noise that we’ve come to believe is so important in communication these days. I now no longer have to read endless conversations about my friends’ Pokemon Go tribulations or look at what a baby 2000 miles away is eating for dinner tonight. I really don’t care, and I never did.

I’m still on Twitter, but I don’t really know anyone else who is. I basically use it to tweet at my husband once or twice a month, or to rant about the state of the world about as often. Nobody responds because I have hardly any followers, so there’s that.

I’m also journaling again, because I’m learning the importance of cultivating private thoughts and feelings. Having an inner life that doesn’t depend the constant chorus of approval from others to survive itself is important. I’m thinking before I speak more often now – and sometimes I don’t speak at all.

Going completely smartphoneless – or more generally, not having access to a portable internet-enabled device – has also had the curious (though unsurprising) effect of making me less interested in the internet in general. There are only about 5 websites that I check on a daily basis, and most of them only need checking once. So aside from writing or making art, I don’t actually need to be on the computer for longer than 30 minutes a day. As someone who spent most of my spare time on computers from the age of 11, and then on the internet from the age of 13, this is a strange thing to be doing. I have feelings about it. But they’re good feelings.

A last, and related, side-effect is that I am more deeply invested in my time spent with other people now. I’m not regurgitating memes with my friends, or turning to other distractions to make up for the fact that we have nothing to talk about because we talked about it all already before meeting up; I’m engaging in conversations now. Real ones. I’m asking how people are doing, what they’ve been up to, and not only am I getting answers I haven’t heard before, but I’m getting answers from the source, without that cloying showmanship inherent to all information broadcasted on social media.

Have I thought about going back? Am I ever tempted by the conveniences of having the world at my fingertips, in my pocket?

Not at all. Every time someone complains about their short battery life, or their cracked screen, or the $800 they’ve had to part with to pay for a new device, or every time I see someone partake in the vapid forms of communication that occupies most of their social life, or every time I see yet another headline talking about hacked phones, government and corporate surveillance, and the increasing un-freedoms associated with owning a smartphone, I’m reminded that I made the right damn choice.

Going Analog Part 6: Goodbye, Nexus

Goodbye.

My first few smartphones were second-hand iPhones; my favorite was the iPhone 3, which was built, as far as smartphones go, like a tank. I had it for about 3 years, I believe, before an “update” killed the wifi antenna and all but bricked it. (Apple is into the planned obsolescence thing to the point of belligerence.) It wasn’t a slow death marked by intermittent hardware failure; it was working one day, then my phone forced an update, and it stopped working thence. A lot of other 3 users experienced the same “update”, which appeared to be rolling out in waves. After all, Apple couldn’t just remotely disable the wifi on all iPhone 3s at the same time, could they? It would have been easy pickings for a good lawyer and a class action suit, and terrible press. But disable one mostly vital piece of hardware for a user here and there, and tell them their only option is to upgrade? At a glance, the strings being pulled are invisible. Either way, Apple really wanted us stubborn iPhone 3 users to hurry up and shell out for the iPhone 6 already. Our preference for tech that works and works well was getting in the way of their profit margins. Fortunately, with smartphones, carriers and OS developers can pretty much do whatever they damn well please with your devices – without their continuous, second-by-second permission, you don’t have a device.

I didn’t really think that deeply about it at the time; I knew that Apple was an obsolescence plannin’ fool, and that Android was greener pastures in the user autonomy department. So I switched platforms. I really prefer platforms that are transparent; platforms that let me know exactly what’s going on at any given moment, and platforms where I can diagnose and fix my own problems. That’s why I bought the car that I did, and it’s why I’m typing this up on a Linux netbook. (Unfortunately, I’m still forced to run a Windoze machine for the sake of Photoshop – GIMP and Krita have not, after months of forcing myself to use them, been suitable substitutes for my rather meager needs. I will sooner move to traditional media than use them to continue making digital art with their maddening and poorly designed interfaces. Anyways, that’ll be a later development in my long and slow Going Analog series.)

So, after much research, I found the Google Nexus phone. Specifically, the Nexus 5, which gave me everything I wanted in a smaller package; I bought one gently used out of pocket for a reasonable price (how many people can even say they own their phones outright anymore?) and it even came rooted. Over the next few years I wound up with two, and swapped parts between them as each of their performance slowly started to decline from regular use. Eventually, I cracked the glass on my then-better one, and once the screen started to discolor, I switched their batteries and set it aside to be used for Skype calls, using the other as my daily. More recently, the glass finally cracked on the other – I dropped it at such an angle that the screen underneath my Gorilla Glass protector shattered – and the body dented in just the right way to keep the back plate from ever being securely snapped in place again. About a week later, and the thing began to shut off at random, no matter how much battery life was left. It’s dead, Jim.

While I still technically have a backup smartphone, I’ll never use it for such. I have exactly three apps on it – a music player, Slack, and Skype – and the battery lasts me for days because it only ever gets used for a single daily Skype call. The screen is just too broken and battery drain for typical use too rapid for anything else. I’ll probably install a single other app, though: Uber, for when I need to take the train.  (My town is so pathetic that it doesn’t even have a bus stop at our lightrail station, and on weekdays, the parking lot is full by 7am.)

As soon as I find a place to recycle the Nexus, I will. Though I’ll probably still keep the battery as a backup.

While I’ve talked about ditching the smartphone before, it wasn’t all told, a complete transition. I still had the devices in my possession, and they still had wifi capability, so I’d use them like tiny tablets here and there. Mostly to read articles I’d saved to Pocket, or to check traffic, or to call that Uber ride. I also used it extensively as a music player. So what the heck do I do now?

At the end of the day, the Nexus allowed me to do three important things that I need to work out other arrangements for. In my previous Going Analog post, I talked about overcoming the fear of having to navigate without the use of GPS, and I’m improving my navigation abilities by leaps and bounds by no longer relying on technology to do that kind of thinking for me. I’ve since done dozens of drive-by comp shoots for my father, who’s a residential appraiser, with nothing more than a printed map and a list of address numbers. I’m confident that I could find my way anywhere without GPS at this point.

The first problem though, the music player, is not really that much of a problem at all – or rather, it was, until I remembered that I still have my old Zune MP3 player from circa 2008. Microsoft discontinued the Zune product line many moons ago, even though it was an arguably better product than the iPod, had better internet browsing capabilities than most of other pre-iPhone smartphones of the time, and its touchscreen keyboard was better designed than that of the early iPhones as well. I’m currently waiting for my new sync cable to arrive in the mail, at which point I’ll fire up the Zune for the first time in at least 6 years. (And then see about stocking up on spare batteries from ebay.) And when I’m in the car, I’ll probably be listening to my growing CD collection (though CDs are hardly “analog”; however, they are not ephemeral like digital files are). So that’s one problem dealt with.

The secondproblem is Uber, though I rarely use it. In the past few months I’ve learned that it is illegal to hail cabs in Los Angeles, and that in order to get a ride, you have to call a central dispatch to schedule a pickup. My research has left me a little skeptical of LA’s cab industry; no company seems to have more than a 3-star rating, and many of them only have 2. On yelp I’ve read a lot of horror stories about taxis arriving an hour late, or not showing up at all, and drivers trying to inflate their fare by not taking the fastest route. If I’m taking Uber to the train station and need to make it to work on time, I need to know that my cab ride will arrive when its supposed to arrive. Likewise, if I’m stranded someplace late at night, then I don’t want to wait around for an hour then either.

Of course, these fears are a little overblown – the telltale mark of a convenience being taken away from somebody who’s long since taken it for granted. Being a car-owner now, I don’t take the train as often as I used to, and therefore I don’t often find myself needing an Uber much at all. My fears about getting stranded too, that typical “what if” scenario that is never likely to happen, are also needless: there’s nowhere I’d be where I could call an Uber but not be able to have a family member to come get me. In in truly exceptional situations, like my last year’s solo trip to Olypmia, WA, which left me stuck at the train station after the last bus had come and gone, I could always call somebody and have them arrange a ride for me.

The final problem is photos. I will probably get a point-and-shoot to solve that problem. Remember point-and-shoots? Battery lasted forever, they could more or less withstand being dropped, and they took great photos to boot. Smartphones have completely gutted the low-end market, though, so most of the worthwhile ones nowadays cost at least several hundred dollars. Thankfully, I bought my husband and I a pair just before the aforementioned gutting happened, and he is more than happy to give me his. (I, of course, managed to smash mine a year after I bought it. And I mean smash: accidentally positioned a chair leg on it and proceeded to sit down.) Point-and-shoots require more diligence than the ubiquitous smartphone, though. They require more planning, more thinking, more process than simply pushing a button and uploading the thing to Instagram. A while ago I realized that I no longer wanted to take pictures of things willy-nilly like everyone else; we are drowning in cheap images, and I didn’t really want to contribute to that cognitive fog. And I definitely didn’t want to take selfies anymore. (Especially knowing what Facebook was doing with them without my permission.) So now, every time I want to share a photo with the world, I’ll have to take it with a disconnected, specialized device, upload it to the computer later, sort through them, and then decide if any of them are worth sharing. Just my kind of tedious.

More broadly, though, there’s still a finality to all this. I had the emotional support of at least wifi-powered devices that could fit in my pocket, but that too is on the way out. I’m channeling a frame of mind I had for the first 22 years of my life: being disconnected is natural. And, arguably, it’s good.

The whole smartphone thing seemed like such an amazing leap forward. Internet communication and digital entertainment wherever there was a cell signal. It promised an end to boredom, to inefficiency, to loneliness, but it really did nothing but make us allergic to spare time, addicted to mindless “productivity”, and terrified of solitude. In reality, all we got was that famous line from the chorus of an Eagles’ song: Everything, all the time.

My other problem is that I read too much now. I go through a book a week, it seems like, what with all these extra little moments I find myself with these days. But there’s an old school cure for that too: a library card.

Going Analog Part 5: Navigation

Since ditching the smartphone, I’ve only put my sim card back in for the purpose of using GPS navigation on one single occasion. This was a multi-legged, complex series of trips in a part of town I was completely unfamiliar with, and my timing was important.

I went from the San Gabriel Valley to Irvine to pick my dad up from the train station – whose location I didn’t know – and then we drove to where I was checking out a Cherokee I saw on Craigslist near the beach. The Jeep was in abysmal condition, so I passed on it, and we found ourselves at a used car lot about a mile up the road, where I wound up buying my current Cherokee. My dad, who was also in the area to test drive a used car, needed to make his appointment a few miles away while they put a fresh battery in the Jeep at the used dealer. An hour later, and the two of us suddenly had three vehicles in our possession. So, with the Jeep still at the dealer, we dropped the car I drove over with at the nearest Amtrak station, which I felt comfortable leaving overnight, and drove back to pick up the Jeep. From there my dad and I parted ways, each of us in a “new” car. I promptly took off and headed for a birthday dinner in Long Beach, deciding to take side streets since the Saturday afternoon traffic had all but turned the local freeways into parking lots. After dinner, we drove someplace else for drinks, and at the end of the evening, someone decided to help me get both cars back that night instead of me taking the train to pick it up the following day.

Whew, I’m tired just from remembering all that!

Situations like aren’t regular occurrences for most people. For me, that kind of logistical nightmare happens only once or twice a year, at best. Without addresses for any of my destinations, I would have been almost completely lost. (Though drive in a straight line long enough in this town, and you’re bound to run into something you’re familiar with.) If I’d had an hour to prepare and plot my trips on paper, I probably could have done it. But the fact of the matter was that I hadn’t quite built up my psychological tolerance to getting lost as much as I have now.

I have gotten lost since then, and somewhat majorly. Only a couple weeks after that, I was supposed to meet a friend in another (albeit closer) part of town I wasn’t so familiar with. The freeways around the border between Glendale and Los Angeles get pretty messy also, and apparently major streets change names when you’re not expecting them to: for instance, the northbound offramp for the street I wanted went by a different name than the southbound! My neatly memorized planogram of what sequence of freeways I needed, the offramp to look out for, and the general direction to make my way in after that went out the window when I realized that I was no longer in Glendale at all. To make matters worse, due to all the junctions in that area, getting off the freeway to get back on in the other direction was more complicated than I was expecting. Two more things added insult to injury: not only was I running the heater in that 90F weather to help the shot radiator do its job, but I was running on fumes to boot!

But I kept my cool. In fact, keeping your cool is probably the most important thing about using analog navigation tools – or in my case, an imperfect mental snapshot of Google maps and a 12-year-old memory of that one time I visited somebody who used to live there I think?

I got there, I didn’t run out of gas, and I learned a lot about getting around the Atwater Village area, which I am never, ever going to forget now. Did I wish I had a GPS to help me navigate that fiasco? No. It was kind of fun actually, in the way that taking something apart and putting it back together as you figure out how its works is fun. Because that’s what navigation is, really: mentally taking apart a roadmap, street by street, turn by turn, and figuring out how a neighborhood or a landscape works. Navigation is a skill; if you do this enough, it’ll soon become intuitive, and the muscle memory you develop, the resilience to irrational anxiety, will help you navigate places you’ve never even been to. Or places that don’t even have roads.

Getting lost doesn’t happen nearly as often as it used to even just a few years ago, and I fear what this is doing to our collective tolerance for spontaneity, our fortitude in the face of the unknown, and our own propensity to fear the worst. If we can’t handle not knowing where we are in a grid full of people whom we can ask directions from, then how will we be able to get ourselves out of stickier situations? What happens when the car breaks down in an area with no cell service? Or when you get turned around on the hiking trail? How we respond when the familiar suddenly becomes unfamiliar is important, and being able to assess the situation while keeping calm is no less than a life skill.

I once saw a 70 year old man on a forum complaining about young people being too dependent on complex technology to save them from bad situations, and said that if a person didn’t know how to read a map and compass, then they deserved to get lost. I’m inclined to agree, to be honest. Or rather, that they ought to get lost, and get lost repeatedly, until they realize that there’s nothing to be scared of, and nothing to be inconvenienced by if you’re worth your salt.

Remember Thomas Guides? Let’s bring those back. They’re sure as hell cheaper than a data plan.

Going Analog Part 4: Reclaiming Real Literacy

About a month or two ago, I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to start lettering my comics by hand when I’d originally planned on doing so at the start of the next volume. I finished my page with some time to spare, so I gave it a go.

Lettering comics isn’t like writing at all – professional letterers, who are about as often seen these days as Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster – say that proper comic letters must be drawn: each letterform must be treated as its own tiny picture that must be composed, started and finished, just-so.

I did hand lettering in college, but only because we generally had to when turning in pen-and-paper cartooning assignments. I didn’t take a lettering class, so I wasn’t really graded on my pretty sub-par, albeit perfectly legible, letters, but I wasn’t interested in getting good. I wanted my comics to look like the stuff put out by the big name publishers and big name titles. I wanted my work to look “legit”, and achieving that perfectly sterile, flat, and lifeless quality through the use of Adobe Illustrator was the only way to go about it, I though. Deep down, though, I always hated digital lettering.

Compare this:

With this:

Analog, hand-lettering is a living, breathing thing. It’s a creature that responds to the page, the environment it lives in, rather than just blasted over on top of it like a transposed caption from somewhere else. The latter is a fully composed, united piece of art. The former is a Frankenstein’s monster of dead, disparate ingredients forced to life with a jolt of electricity.

The problem with hand-lettering is that it’s slow, and it takes years to master – in short, the problem is that it’s a craft. And the comics industry, for all its noise and production, is actually pretty threadbare. An emperor without clothes, even. Most of the craft involved in making comics back in the 60’s and 70’s (and underground talent of the 80’s) is long gone now, because it’s simply too inefficient a method of producing flashy, colorful stories. Most comic work these days is a digital assembly line set to a ruthless pace and fueled by artistic compromise. I said on twitter recently that most comic creators these days aren’t cartoonists, but rather would-be animators settling for a poor man’s substitute. The things that make comics a unique and beautiful medium are being forgotten in the streaming age.

Lettering is one of those things, and I’m finding that I like the look of a fully inked comic page complete with word balloons and letters too much to ever go back. It’s how a comic pages were meant to look.

But I’m also doing a lot of thinking about writing in general – the analog art of putting words to paper. Penmanship became a lost art a long time ago, and cursive writing too, but it seems that all writing is in danger of becoming a niche skill. When was the last time you wrote something important by hand? Don’t remember?

There’s something about fountain pens that make you want to hold them and write. I plan on taking up scripting my comics by hand at some point in the near future, the idea of which was entirely inspired by my buying my pair of Kaweco pens. There’s a practical reason for this too, though. John Michael Greer and even The Atlantic both acknowledge the negative effects of word processors on writing. Not only do distractions reign on the digital device, but on a more fundamental level, it mashes together the writing and editing processes into one homonculus of seemingly increased efficiency. Turns out, it’s not actually a boon to productivity at all, because each aspect of writing requires a different part of the brain, and trying to do both at once results in a mental gridlock we know as “writer’s block”. And that’s after you’ve managed to stop compulsively checking Facebook for the umpteenth time.

This whole endeavor has made me question the concept of literacy, though. Can we really be said to be a literate culture if we’ve lost the ability to write longhand, or decipher a broad array of writing styles? Has “literacy” quietly come to encapsulate only being able to read letters formed by typefaces, and writing by punching with our fingertips at chiclet keys?

By removing the craft from these basics of daily life, from these art forms, we relegate them to the chronically underappreciated realm of mere utility, where they are eventually starved of passion and meaning until they’re either forgotten or picked up as hobbies by the rich and made even more inaccessible than they would be if they’d just been unceremoniously left behind.

2017 is the year I begin lettering all of my comics by hand, on paper. It’s also the year I start writing more in general. Grocery lists, notes, correspondence. It’s also going to be the year that I start scripting my comics longhand, too. I’ll buy a notebook specifically for this purpose, divide it into two columns – one for a messy first draft, the second for notes, a final draft, or a complete rewrite altogether – and hammer out pages of script just the same as I do on the computer. And unlike a digital text document, I’ll be able to leaf through the pages; dog-ear them; color-code or otherwise index scenes and important dialogue that I’ll need to consult later. I’ll be able to have a spatial understanding of the work I’ve done, intuitively understand where in the story I am just by feeling how thick the left side of the notebook is compared to the right. I will be engaging the whole of my body and senses in the writing process.

Because I’ve forgotten what that’s like.

And so, probably, have you too.

Going Analog Sidequest: Ditching the Smartphone Part 2: Dumbphone’d and Data-Free

phone

I’ve had my “dumbphone” for about week, week and a half, and already I’m noticing big differences in my day-to-day. And not in the way that folks like this talk about going smartphoneless for a few days and then document their existential crisis about it for pageviews.

I have an LG Xpression 2 – a dumbphone with a QWERTY keyboard and extremely rudimentary browser, so it could be dumber. A number of the apps, like mobile email and GPS navigation, don’t work for some reason (the phone is only 2 years old, so they should still be supported) but I’m OK with this because it means that it’s only really good for a few things: calling, texting, and alarms.

I’ve had to make a few adjustments in how I do things. Once, when I missed my bus and needed to call an Uber to make it to work on time, I had to hoof it over to a Starbucks for their wifi and use the old smartphone to do it. (I use it like a tiny tablet now.) When I didn’t see where the Uber driver had parked, I couldn’t call or text him from the device that I booked him with! It was a reminder not of what I’d given up, but how fragile our reliance on smartphone technology really is. What if my smartphone had simply been dead, and it was 11 at night instead of 8 in the morning, and I’d found myself stranded in an unfamiliar part of town? You can borrow someone else’s phone to make a call or send a text, but you can’t yet borrow their phone to schedule an Uber pickup – their account is tied in with their credit card, and I doubt a stranger is going to let you do anything on their phone besides make an emergency call anyways.

So when I caught the bus on the way home, I grabbed a folded paper schedule from behind the driver, and stuck it in my bag. The first step to dealing with a missed bus is to not miss the bus. I also made a mental note to keep the number of a yellow cab company in my phone, as well as written down in my traveler’s notebook. Not that I have to worry about the dumbphone ever dying when I need it most (the thing lasts about 2.5 days on a single charge), but if I lose it, or something else happens, I don’t want to be left stranded.

Another thing that I’ve noticed is how much better at casual conversation with strangers I am – or maybe I was previously pretty good at it, but never created space for it to happen because I always had my nose buried in a screen. The fact that a mere phone could have prevented me from realizing this latent ability just proves my point about the asininity of smartphones’ ubiquity even more.

I’ve had several very pleasant conversations with strangers since this development. One of them was with a young man about the election while at the bus stop; I found out that he’d just gotten into a car accident recently, that he preferred pot to alcohol, and was looking for a job, especially now that he had to pay for a mechanic. He found out that I recently started working at Whole Foods, that my partner worked in a Walmart distribution warehouse once upon a time (which did a number on his body), that I was a conscientious objector to the entire presidential election, and that I’d missed my bus.

There are a lot more very small moments like that in my life now. I’m starting to call it “breathing room”, because it really is. I’m giving myself permission to sit and look at things – to constantly reattune myself with my sensory environment, to familiarize myself with the minutiae of its patterns and magical little details – instead of feel the need to disappear the instant my attention grows the slightest bit diffuse.

In this way I’m reclaiming my time. My days seem to last just a little bit longer than they used to, which has always been one of my biggest gripes about the encroachment of technology on our lives. Moreover, as we’re encouraged to share every little facet of our day (for what? likes and followers?), we become less active participants in our own lives and more passive spectators, like paparazzi always on the lookout for a juicy story, and our online “presences” become more like our very own curated tabloid magazines. It’s all a kind of social rat race.

So for those of you interested in ditching the smartphone, a few things I’ve re-learned in my short time using one:

  • Make plans, make contingency plans, and have necessary documentation with you. This includes written directions to where you’re going, phone numbers for things like yellow cab companies, bus maps and schedules, and so on.
  • Check the weather before you leave.
  • Carry a book with you.
  • Carry a pen and pad with you.
  • Leave early and don’t be afraid to get a little turned around.
  • Have patience.

Going Analog: The Fear of Missing Out

fomo

This drawing right here is mine, and I’ve resolved to make a drawing for every one of my original posts from here on out instead of hunting for a digital photo or image. It’s to keep in the spirit of my analog aspirations, and to make this blog more “mine”. So from here on out, there’ll be no more photos of my stuff if I can avoid it – if I want to show you my takeout gear, or the farmer’s market, I’ll be drawing it instead.


OK, so the Fear of Missing Out (or FoMO for short, because of course it needed an acronym) is something I’ve never experienced much of, either now or my pre- social media days. It’s a form of anxiety that I’ve never had much sympathy for, and neither for its close cousin, Oversharing. It’s sad that we live in a world where I have to explicitly voice my complete and utter disinterest in the minutiae of people’s generally boring lives, even that of some of my closest friends, wherein years past, it was more often than not assumed that this kind of useless conversation filler was just that, and not to be confused with genuine bonding.

I think it helps that I have played the role of outcast my entire life – I occupied the lowest caste in every school grade from K-8, and when I went to a specialized arts high school that didn’t have much of an hierarchy, I was more often than not simply forgotten about. On the rare occasion where somebody asked what I did that weekend, I wouldn’t have too much to say. I was a homebody who drew and wrote and read a lot, and who spent much more time with extended family than friends. I was, for all intents and purposes, the very picture of uninteresting. Which was fine, because I felt that everyone else was just as uninteresting (even though they didn’t seem to think so). But even then, this sharing was in-person, it was a real conversation between people, and less a mere exchange of information via words on a screen. I developed social anxiety at some point along the way, and living in NYC beat that out of me: it only takes a short while walking the streets of Manhattan for you to realize that no one is paying one whit of attention to you, because they’re all focused on themselves and whether or not anyone’s paying one whit of attention to them. And to me, social media is a lot like walking around Manhattan: it’s fast-paced, alienating, appearances are over-emphasized, and there are ads everywhere.

But let me back up a moment to talk about just what “FoMO” is.

The Fear of Missing out is, apparently, now a “mental health syndrome” wherein “sufferers” are worried that they won’t be able to keep up with what their friends are doing at every moment of every day, are worried that their lives aren’t exciting enough to talk about at every moment of every day, and that everyone else is having more exciting, more shareable experiences than they are at any given moment of any given day.

While results are mixed, depending on the organization funding the research, the Journal of Behavioral Addictions and Computers in Human Behavior both found strong correlations between social media use and low life satisfaction, as well as increased incidents of depression and anxiety. (It also contributed toward risky behaviors like smart phone use while driving.)

FoMO goes hand in hand with other things: the fear of failure being a big one, probably some kind of fear of being “uncool”, and another (super screwed up) thing called “surveillance gratification”, a term coined by the authors of the study published in the Journal. Other behaviorists have noted that “internet addiction” shares a lot of similarity with gambling addiction as well.

So when I said, in reference to getting rid of the smart phone, that it was like any other good drug? I wasn’t actually being hyperbolic.

Many pieces have already been written about FoMO and how to conquer it, but they all start from the assumption that technology is categorically good and social media isn’t a horrible addiction-making machine that alienates people and transforms humans into consumable brands.  Or they operate from the assumption that everyone likes everybody. None of which is true for me. I believe that if there is some societal ill that social media has claimed to remedy, then it is a case of the cure being worse than the disease.

The Zero Waste Millennial Guide to Conquering the Fear of Missing Out

  1. Realize that most people are mostly boring, yourself included.
  2. Aspire to be less exciting, while also eliminating the learned social behavior of boredom.
  3. Kill the impulse to overshare – without a world of over-sharers, social media feeds become far less tantalizing to look at.
  4. Leave your gadgets at home more often. Start small, like trips to the grocery store, and work your way up to entire weekends of turning your data off. (I went almost a year without a smartphone while I was in Canada, effectively. I had no calling plan, and no data the entire time I was there, and could only use the internet at home or places that had free wifi. It was pure bliss, and that was the experience that inspired me to ditch the smart phone in the first place.)
  5. Think of all the money you’ll save on things that – be honest with yourself – you mostly only do to keep up with the Joneses: eat at fancy restaurants, drink fancy beers, go to fancy events, and so on. Simplicity is often just as, if not more than, gratifying as luxury.
  6. Learn, really learn, that the most spectacular moments in your life weren’t because you got 100 likes on your documentation of them, and that those moments won’t be diminished if the whole world isn’t there to “experience” them with you. On that note…
  7. Relearn how to have quiet, solitary moments. Relearn how to enjoy those moments. Relearn how to hold onto their specialness without feeling the need to tell anybody.
  8. Remember how to just stop interacting with people you don’t like. And stop getting surveillance gratification from them, too. You’re better than that.
  9. Know that validation is cheap, and that a little doesn’t go a long way anymore.
  10. In the words of Ran Prieur, “cultivate a more robust inner life”. Or at least in this case, private life.

As someone who once briefly experienced FoMO after getting a smart phone, realized that it was all a racket a couple years later, and then promptly quit Facebook among other things, take it from me – your brain and your spare time will thank you.

Going Analog Side Quest: Ditching the Smartphone Part 1

IMG_20161026_125336_20161026135229246.jpg

Behold, ye olde smart paper.

Another goal I haven’t talked about in terms of going analog is that I eventually want to get rid of my smart phone.

It is, quite possibly, one of the greenest things the average person can do, up there with swearing off air travel: the digital and physical infrastructure required to keep the behemoth mobile market afloat is inexcusably enormous. Three years ago it was estimated that 48 million tons of electronic gadgetry is thrown out annually, and of that, about 155 million cell phones every year. (And who knows what that number is now.)

And that’s just the physical products themselves. What about all the throwaway technology required to build, market, and house the apps that make smart phones what they are? The throwaway peripherals: the plastic cases, the dongles, the portable batteries, the bluetooth products? What about the planned obsolescence involved in pushing a new model every 12-18 months, with making phones harder and harder to take apart and fix, and by sheer complexity alone, making them more fragile pieces of hardware overall? What about the infrastructure required to bring you all that stuff “in the cloud”?

Our phones are the very tip-top of an iceberg of gross unsustainability, runaway “progress”, and human suffering. (Yes, human suffering – if you’ve ever found yourself nodding in agreement at the damning assessments of the diamond industry, then you’ve no leg to stand on here. Especially since this sort of digital infrastructure is also contributing to orders of magnitude more ecosystem destruction than the diamond trade. But of course, it’s easier to hate something you can’t afford and don’t think you need.)

Are basic mobile phones an ideal solution? Of course not – but their comparative simplicity makes them more durable, their battery life much longer, and by virtue of not being every single piece of entertainment and tool we’re likely to use in our day-to-day, they’re not out of our bags or pockets nearly as often, and therefore the opportunities to break them even slimmer. They’re also not money-makers for the companies that produce them, so there’s no pusher man trying to get you to upgrade at every chance he gets.

Unfortunately, my Android phone is a major set-piece in my life right now, and like with any good drug, it’s going to take some time to wean myself off of it.


First, it might be a useful exercise to remember how I used to do things before smart phones. And it wasn’t that long ago that I started using them: in fact, I was using a regular mobile phone when I graduated college 5 years ago.

How did I navigate NYC without Google Maps? I wrote down addresses and got good at drawing tiny maps the size of post-it notes that told me everything I needed to know (and nothing more) about my destination’s location. I also didn’t worry about getting lost. Besides, it turns out that using maps is actually better for your brain than using GPS.

How did I find out good places to eat on the fly? Most of the time, I didn’t – I took more chances, asked around, or left my apartment with a plan, and had every bit as much of a good time as I do now, and discovered many little gems along the way.

How did I use social media? Well, I didn’t. Or barely did, and barely do. Personally, I’m of the opinion that most social media acts more like metastasized cancer than not, and I’m not fond of it. I avoid Twitter whenever possible, abandoned Facebook years ago, use Pinterest once in a blue moon as a Google image search substitute, and rarely directly interact with other people on Tumblr, and won’t miss it should it disappear. The only one I would miss is Instagram, but I can browse that on my computer anyway. Almost all of the meaningful connections I’ve ever made online were via forums, or other early Internet 2.0-style social websites. Instantaneous online interaction with strangers does to me what a ride in the Vomit Comet does to folks with no aptitude for space travel.

How did I keep myself entertained during long trips, or while sitting in waiting rooms? First of all, I don’t need to be “entertained” every minute of every day, and if I feel the itch to do so, then I nip it in the bud, because that’s a one-way ticket to misery. So, I take a note from the generations of playbooks that came before me: sit patiently, look at my surroundings, read a book, draw a picture, people-watch, grab a drink, strike up a conversation, listen to music, daydream, meditate, take notes, look at my calendar…

Hey, speaking of calendars, the point of this post was really to talk about ways in which I’m keeping organized without the use of any calendar or memo app:

It’s this radical new thing called an organizer.

Or technically, a traveler’s notebook.

The traveler’s notebook is an increasingly popular format of notebook, as it’s 100% customizable, and due to it’s extremely simple binding system, you’re not limited to proprietary inserts. All you need to make your own is a pair of scissors.

In fact, why not just made the whole darned thing? (Which is tempting; the only frustrating thing about mine is that it does not accomidate 8.5×11″ paper folded in half; pre-made notebooks take 210x110mm size paper, which… doesn’t correspond to any western paper sizes, no matter how you fold them.)

I’ve only had mine for a few months, and I already don’t go anywhere without it. It carries all of my drawing supplies, an insert of blank pages which I use for note-taking and as a monthly calendar, and I have another booklet in there of grid paper which I use to thumbnail comic pages. It’s not meant to go in a notebook system like this at all so it was a little awkward at first, but I can’t imagine carrying a bunch of smaller books now. Also, I tried making my own insert of grid paper, but the ends chafed at the band a lot so I’ll need to put it with a cover that’s made from a tougher paper or cardstock next time. My current booklet should last me… years, though.

As for the calendar, I’m able to fit an entire month on a single side of paper, with each day getting its own row. It looks like this:

O01F:
O02S:
O03S:
O04M:

And so on. Seeing as how most of what I need to mark down is repetitive in nature, I’ve got a lot of little codes that makes it easy to fit several tasks for a single day on one of those little rows. So, for example, Nov 1st might look like this:

N01T: C4080 PI4081, ITS | 10-4

That means on Tuesday, November 1st, I need to color (and finish) page 4080 of my comic, pencil and ink page 4080, finish a chapter of my story, of which ITS is the abbreviation, and work from 10am to 4pm at my new job. Of course that’s all way too much for me to do in one day, but it’s an example of how much information I can cram into so little real estate.

What about calendar reminders, you might be asking? Well, how about glancing at my calendar in those empty, entertainment-less moments throughout the day instead of compulsively looking at my (nonexistent) Twitter feed or checking my email?

Up next: an everyday carry post! Because I haven’t done one yet at ALL, which amazes me, seeing as how I was doing “systems” posts for a while there, and this would definitely fall under that umbrella.

Also next: probably a post on the Fear of Missing Out.