Use technology, don’t let it use you.

I am sitting in a lounge at an airport in Mexico City. My flight is in three hours, I am on my way back to Seattle, the city I call home. I visited my family in Guadalajara. I love seeing my parents, my siblings, their spouses, and the charismatic nephews and nieces.

My trip to Mexico was pleasant, and everything was organized using the internet. First, I spent a few days researching flights and my work schedule to ensure I’d maximize quality time with my family and be unobtrusive as possible with my work schedule. Then, when the day came, I got to the airport with the help of a ride-sharing app and used the airplane app to monitor my flight, the gate location, etc. Also, while I spent about an hour reading the book I brought to the trip, technology made it possible for me to watch a new movie while traversing 30,000 ft in the air.

Technology is beneficial. It can help with many things and make our lives easier and even more precise. I was introduced to technology a while ago after receiving a talking robot called 2-XL which wasn’t very technologically advanced, but it sparked my interest. I remember taking it apart one day. I wanted to know how it worked, and I did. Surprisingly, this robot was nothing more than a cassette player with a few automatic functions.

Robot 2 XL
Joe Haupt, CC BY-SA 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The robot 2 XL used a cassette containing the sounds and phrases it used in response to some buttons on the front. To use the robot, you’ll insert the cassette and turn it on via a knob which also functions as the volume control. It also had four buttons: Question, Yes, More Info, and No. After pressing the question button, 2 XL asked a question based on a theme from the cassette, and then you had the option to answer by pressing the button Yes, No, or More Info. It was a track player, but it had some educational value, and I loved it. Unfortunately, my 2 XL never worked again after taking it apart. But this action definitely sparked my interest in technology in general.

Many years later, I enrolled at a school in Mexico City to learn to code. I don’t think I learned how to program from that experience, but it definitely fed my curiosity. Some more years later, I enrolled in an Information Technology program at a community college. This time, the experience was better. In addition to programming, it helped me learn and improve my English skills, which were clumsy at the time.

Technology continued to be all around me, the commercial internet was born during this time, in the mid-nineties, and it surprised me how quick people were adopting this new medium of communication. At the time, the internet was simple, mainly text-based websites, but there were signs of potential for more. For example, search engines and directories started to appear, showing, even at this early stage, how these tools would replace phone directories and other paper-based tools.

After solidifying its potential to gather and organize information, it was a matter of time before online commerce started to show up. Also, other tools such as email, online maps, and better search engines were introduced. With this, new devices such as faster modems, better computers, and eventually a much faster internet and mobile devices were all around us.

Many of us use technology daily, and the internet is part of it, directly and indirectly. The internet is not only helpful but necessary in many areas. For example, it has helped me learn and gain skills to get better jobs. The internet has also made it possible for my family and me to have a comfortable life. With a few clicks, we can order food, clothes, and home goods, make restaurant reservations, purchase movie tickets, watch movies, and even book an entire trip from a phone or any other device connected to the internet.

Technology and the internet are also crucial ingredients in my professional life. All my work is done via a computer, writing code, designing applications, and communicating with team members and clients. Technology, and more precisely, the internet, are tools I use to make my life easier and more comfortable. Unfortunately, however, the same reason the technology and the internet are readily available and accessible to users is the same reason it makes it a target for misuse and abuse.

Technology itself is, for the most part, harmless. But many applications that use technology and the internet have created algorithms and layouts designed to make you, the user, a tool for it. Many devices, for example, have notifications enabled by default to keep you returning to them and to the applications hosted on them. Electronic notifications are addictive and disruptive, and yet, the sound, the frequency, and the visuals are all designed to make them addictive to them. As a result, most of us can’t stop looking at our phones, checking email, or browsing social media. It’s in part your fault, but the most significant percentage goes to the application and hardware designers, the technologists, which have created an ecosystem to stimulate our senses and curiosity.

I put my phone away when talking to someone, eat without any devices around me, and only check email and social media once or twice a day. I try many things, and yet, I often find myself spending too much time letting technology and the internet use me, instead of me using it.

I will keep trying to reduce the frequency and the time I spend looking at useless information, looking for endless stimulation and a false sense of doing something productive. Instead, I will continue to read more paper books, go for walks, talk to people in person or via the phone, and, if possible, continue to use technology and not let it use me.

Have a wonderful day.

Birds flying in Central Park - 2022

A strangely boring week

This is the title I wrote back on March 1, 2021. I remember opening my word editor and typing the title, a strangely boring week. Back then, we were still amid COVID-19 fears, regulations, etc. I remember thinking this has been a very boring week in the middle of the chaos.

A boring week meant to me, a good week, a very good one. Everyone around me was OK, with no stresses or fears about the things I could not change, and no pending projects I couldn’t finish. I had enough to be comfortable. I felt calm by blocking the outside noise.

One key element to my positive boredom was that I had picked up reading and writing (again), replacing the time I spent on social media sites and watching the news with reading books, writing, walking and watching my favorite movies. The activities above manifest the best version of myself, transforming my relationship with my family, myself, and everyone else around me.

I’ve had more boring weeks since then, and I can manifest them quite easily now. I understand that I have the privilege of not having to worry about basic needs such as food and shelter, and for that, I am grateful. But having the basic needs covered is often not enough for most people in the modern world. Many of us live with anxiety, spending many hours every day browsing social media, watching the news, and feeling like crap because of it. It’s like a drug, you know it will make you feel bad, but you can’t stop it. It’s stimulating, and it isn’t boring.

The younger version of myself was more like I am when I am bored. Growing up in Mexico, my worries were simple things for the most part. Of course, some things made me sad and worried, but at least these things were happening to me or around me, which meant that I could do something about it. The internet didn’t exists yet, at least not in the form that it does now, and I consider myself lucky for it. The internet is extraordinary and has helped me grow in my career and financially. But the reality is that it can potentially ruin lives, families, and even countries due to its reach and addictive attributes.

Boring is often seen as a negative thing. Constant stimulation is all around us. We can’t get enough of it. To break that habit of constantly looking at our phones, which is today the primary tool for the social media drug, you have to be aware and do what you can to avoid it. Finding a new habit that’s easy to do instead of looking at your phone is the best way to avoid social media. Having a book near me, or my journal and pen ready, makes this task much more manageable. Also, I do give myself time to use social media, but limit it to specific times of the day and only for a limited number of minutes.

Have you noticed what happens when you see someone yawn? Or when you yawn yourself? Well, the same mimicking behavior occurs when you see someone glancing at their phone, it makes you look at yours too. When people look at their mobile phones, around half the people nearby will start checking their phones within 30 seconds. This automatic response is due to people mimicking each other without realizing it – what scientists call the “chameleon effect.”

Boring is a good thing. Embrace boredom and don’t feel like you have to entertain yourself when you are feeling bored. My most focused reading and writing have been when I felt bored. Some of my best ideas have come from boredom. So seek boredom, embrace it, and allow it. When social media pulls you into the chaos of the “world,” remember that these mediums are programmed to incite fear, rage, fear of missing out (FoMO), and many other negative emotions.

It is normal to want to know what’s going on and to share a post with friends and the community. However, spending most of your time in a world beyond your reach is not OK. In social media, you absorb the negative stuff, and you rarely get to absorb the good. Boring is something that social media, the news, and the internet actively avoid. It’s not good for engagement, it doesn’t capture attention to sell their ads, so many resource to sensationalistic headlines, even when the facts aren’t all that sensational.

Stay away from social media as much as you can, seek news and articles that inform you if you have to. But make it a priority to read books and do other things that doesn’t require you to participate in social media and its continuous push to engage your emotions.

I hope you have a boring week. Cheers.

The internet is not what it promised.

Imagine seeing something wrong. It’s clear to you, and it’s there. It’s obvious. Yet, we can’t do anything about it due to all the noise and the magnetic attraction that people have towards public figures, even when some public figures are increasing the noise for even more attention and personal gain.

The internet didn’t democratize communication as it promised. It didn’t give everyone a voice. Instead, it gave a few selected people a direct way to communicate to their large number of fans or followers to help them continue growing their brands and influence. Ev Williams, one of Twitter’s founders said that everyone should have a voice on the Internet, but the problem today is that while most people have a voice, all the attention is given to those with a megaphone.

Most people are still on the sidelines, scraping for attention via comments, replies, and, if you are lucky, the random viral post. We are still on the bench, just watching the game and not playing. You can try playing, not one stops you, but most popular online sites and communities will make it very hard for your message to be visible. Unfortunately, the internet, or at least the modern internet, is designed to do just that.

There are indeed people who created a brand and accumulated a large number of followers on the internet, and that is great. But it is a challenging thing to do. Platforms prioritize the message and visibility of famous people, and their message is less important than their fame and the number of followers. But do they have the best content or the best message to share? Maybe, but not always, not by far. There are many people out there who are incredibly talented and don’t get any attention due to how these platforms are designed.

I understand that giving everyone attention is not possible. Still, it would be ideal if the internet helped relevant and good content to surface and be more visible to all, regardless of who’s sharing it or creating it.

Many public figures complain about a small percentage of humans having a ridiculous amount of wealth but fail to look at themselves in the mirror and realize that it is also just a tiny percentage of humans like them, having a ridiculous amount of attention and influence.

The first version of the internet was a good idea, but the current social media platforms are not. They are similar to a TV show. We are here watching, pretending that we have a voice or any meaningful participation in it, while we are being told by a tiny percentage of humans what’s good and bad, how we should feel, and increasingly causing just madness and conflict among all of us.

Paying $8 per month for Twitter Blue

I remember when I first heard about Twitter, it was already the way it is today, not just a short messaging system (SMS) to share quick updates as it was initially. So I joined late by geek standards. The name was already Twitter and not Twttr, as Noah Glass originally named it. The idea for the short messaging app to share updates was Jack Dorsey’s idea, an engineer at Odeo’s at the time. Ev Williams, Biz Stone, and Noah Glass founded Odeo in 2004, but along with Jack Dorsey, Ev and Biz bought out Odeo in 2006 and started Obvious Corp. to develop the idea behind Twttr further.

Below is an image of A sketch, c. 2006, by Jack Dorsey, envisioning an SMS-based social network

Jack Dorsey, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Twitter as we know it debuted in July 2006, and I joined Twitter on September 2008. I remember working at a small software consulting firm when I discovered Twitter, and my feeling about Twitter was very different at the time. It was fun, a lot smaller, but also a bit naive. The top users at the time were people who were inventing schemes to grow their number of followers. People will offer to follow you if you follow them. It was like a game.

Many years later, Twitter has become a news source and an important communication platform for journalists, writers, politicians, etc. However, the average Joe gets lost in a sea of messages, replies, retweets, and long threads, mostly from people with blue checkmarks, a verification badge given to journalists, people with a public identity, and a few others. The idea behind this verification badge is that it protects them from scammers trying to impersonate them.

My first Tweet!

The reality is the blue checkmark has become a status symbol. It is a fact. The idea that only people who are journalists, influencers, or public figures can have a verified identity by having a blue checkmark to confirm it makes no sense to me. If Twitter allows everyone to go through a verification process to verify that they are a human and not a bot or a fake account, that will help alleviate some of the issues around fake accounts, bots, etc. What it will not be anymore is a symbol of status, which might be why many people do not want to see that. There will be no symbol that separate them from the rest of us.

If you use Twitter, you know what I am talking about, and you probably are also aware of all the drama and upcoming changes due to Twitter’s change in ownership. However, I still need to find out whether or not what is being talked about on Twitter about the new changes is accurate.

What has been confirmed is that Twitter will start charging $8 per month for a feature called Twitter Blue, which already exists and currently costs $5 per month and includes advanced organizing features for your notifications, top articles discovery, and a better reading experience + the new verification option, it is not a bad deal. In addition, Twitter will likely continue adding new features for Twitter Blue subscribers.

With the new Twitter Blue pricing, this company will have a new revenue stream, or at least increases an existing one, while allowing more people to verify that they are real people and not bots.

If Twitter is an important application for you, then paying $8 per month is okay. However, some people pushing back on having to pay this amount every month are often the same people who have suggested that some of their success has been due to their presence in this app. Others have mentioned that they’ve found jobs and advanced in their careers because of Twitter, yet they push back on paying $8 per month. It’s hard to pay for something you were getting for free. I understand.

Twitter will evolve and be a better application in the future. But only time will tell. It does have a lot of potential.

Would you pay $8 for Twitter Blue + a verified blue checkmark?

Happy tweeting.

Does anyone still work?

The day-in-the-life trend has taken over social media apps like YouTube and TikTok. This is nothing new. People sharing their day-in-the-life videos often show a very relaxed day in which they wake up, have a nice breakfast, have an easy commute to work, get some elaborated caffeinated drink before sitting at their desks, work for a few minutes, and then walk around campus, chatting with other people, getting what appears a free lunch, snacks, etc.

Then they show themselves back at their desks, going for a walk, a run, a yoga class, getting juice, another coffee, etc. The whole thing is extraordinary, and it is not what most people think of as work and not the work experience most people have, especially those watching these videos. But in reality, the work they are doing is the video itself, the content is the result of that work, it’s entertainment, and that is someone’s work.

While many people continue to admire and probably feel jealous about these videos, there are also many people now who are cynic and are calling them out, saying things like “does anyone work anymore?”, “We deserve a recession,” etc.

I have always seen these videos as entertainment, nothing more than just people oversharing and exaggerating their work experience or even faking it a bit. Many companies, especially tech companies, offer food, snacks, plush work environments, etc. But it is also true that there is a lot of work to do, and a day-in-the-life video of a regular day wouldn’t look like what you see in these videos. It’s entertainment, and we all should see it as such.

But these videos show us, once again, how people are eager to be liked, recognized, and even envied by other people, mostly strangers. Also, many people who watch these videos believe that this is real life and that those people’s lives are perfect. Trust me; no one has a perfect life.

It’s entertainment, but too many people see it as real life, which is the problem. Please think of this, when you are enjoying a moment or an entire day in your life, the last thing you’ll think of doing is recording it. You’d be so into the things you are doing, the people you are with, and the food or drinks you enjoy that there is no time to pick up a camera and record a video for TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, etc.

Now, capturing moments and even your day with a camera is fine. Nothing wrong with that. But people believe these videos are examples of people’s everyday lives, which can be a problem.

Who’s here to blame? I don’t know. People could enjoy these videos for what they are, entertainment, and not let themselves compare their everyday life with the ones portrayed in these videos. Just like we don’t compare ourselves with those superheroes from Marvel movies – I hope no one is.

We all have interesting things in our lives, interesting people, and interesting things that we do. We need to understand that. So let’s open our eyes and enjoy ourselves as much as possible. A day-in-the-life video is that person’s vision of a perfect day from their perspective.

It’s even possible that the best part of the day for the person who posted the video is not what they showed, but the time after they post the video and wait for views and likes to arrive.

So, does anyone work anymore? Yes, most people still do—even that girl from the video in the screenshot above. We do work to get what we want, such as money, status, followers, credibility, fame, etc. We work to achieve our goals, whatever they might be. But, our work shouldn’t be what others want it to be or their idea of what work is.

Do we deserve another recession? No, we don’t. What we deserve is a decent government that works for its citizens.

Regardless of whether or not you like these videos, the truth is that work will continue to evolve, and more people will continue to explore getting paid to do their own thing, using the tools available to them, like social media, our smartphones, etc.

The idea of working at an office, looking down at a computer for hours on end, that’s disappearing. And we need to accept that. Of course, the future of work is different, but that’s a conversation for another day.

I hope you have a pleasant day.