Entering 2019

This spring semester, I continue the second half of my fourth year at Syracuse University. Though the plan was to complete my dissertation and enter the final steps of the job search, things got delayed. Building from past semesters of doubt, distraction, and general health and existential issues, this past summer and fall continued to stall.

After much self reflection and the inching of self-improvement, I hope to start this semester on a better track, still mindful of lingering ghosts from the past two years. Really, since fall 2016, I have not been at my best.

But one moves on. As the Samuel Beckett line goes, “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” And in a less edgelord, sanguine sense, I feel better in certain ways. More grounded and honest. More willing to take stock and keep at it, though what “it” is remains tricky.

That leads me to goals. Some are more private and personal, so here, I want to focus on two. First, I hope to make my Internet and digital footprint more deliberate. In some cases, this means more private, but in a larger sense, I like the word deliberate more. Let me say what I mean.

The news has heightened our scrutiny of Facebook and data breaches, but these are just tips of a larger iceberg. Our digital footprint includes the under-looked data troves in Google and Internet providers. It also involves the leaky wi-fi we use and the other numbing minutia of service agreements, cookies, quick logins, tailored ads, dark patterns, JavaScript trackers, bundled apps and services, and more.

Internet use has been an easy-access menu of streamlined processes. As technology ethicist Tristan Harris puts it, platforms have decided our menus, providing our options while giving the illusion of choice. Add this with the “dark patterns” that keeps us mired in their models, the black-boxed nature of their algorithms, and the sheer weight of often under-appreciated data they collect (anonymized by degrees in most cases), and one has a perfect storm of manufactured ease concealing a pervasive, potentially exploitative system.

I am not here to argue the politics of this system, but I want to be more deliberate in my usage. I want to read the ingredients and nutrition labels before I partake and decide that I am “OK” with a particular (inter)action online, given my needs and constraints. Or at the very least, this coming year will be an experiment.

And as a related note, my second goal of this is hopefully an outgrowth: more productivity and organization. I want to get better at managing competing goals, needs, and timelines.

As I juggle teaching responsibilities, personal tasks, personal finance, professional development, research, and more–all with different values, goals, tasks, due dates, expectations, rewards, etc.–I need to find an ongoing system to not only manage but succeed. This past semester, again building on mounting issues, flooded me, constricting my vision. Fearful of the looming shadows of larger deadlines, projects, people, and pressures, I shut down. Seeing a new e-mail became a jump-scare. Staring at word documents, a lurking fear.

Where to start? What to do? What will they say? How will I (inevitably) mess this up? What am I doing here? Where do I belong? What is the next step? What is the first step?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been coming back to this comic, which I saw on Tumblr (so apologies for not finding the original source, though I’d be happy to update it):

Through humor, I think this hits at the seductive feedback loop common in depression and anxiety: avoidance leading to things piling up, the piling up leading to more depression and anxiety. Avoidance can look different for different people–and it is different from a needed, deliberate stepping away–but the overall pattern feels consistent, preferring a more comfortable, distracted, anesthetized escape than the angsty objects that lurch in from our periphery. Some avoidance can be a form of productive procrastination, the finishing of little tasks, shopping, binging Netflix, etc., or some combination.

As part of that productivity, I’ve been using Microsoft To-Do and Zotero to break up projects, creating a new personal e-mail for more streamlined in-boxes, using less social media for less noise, trying to exercise and meditate (even a little bit) each day, working to organize a functional media diet, and more. I hope to move toward better scheduling and more regular blogging next, along with other personal habits. Holistic, small, self-reflexive change. As I’ve been telling myself “do the work,” looking up now and then to restructure the strategy as the tactics prove ongoing.

Anyway, in lieu of Facebook and other outlets, I hope to post here 1-2 times per week. Some will likely just be articles or reflections, some will be more personal, some will be more scholarly. Some may be pictures of a particularly aesthetic stir-fry or an ambling podcast review.

So, hello 2019.

One thought on “Entering 2019

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