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Monday, 15 August 2011

Information Overload

Despite successfully minimizing my physical possessions (as outlined in my first blog), I still felt weighed down by something, some form of lingering stress. I felt as if I hadn’t let go of all the unnecessary baggage in my life. It didn’t take me long to figure out what that was. You see, I was stressed out by information overload.

We live in the Age of Information and subscribe to the myth that knowing more is better. Today’s technology ensures a steady stream of information from friends, family, and also media and corporations. And we can’t get enough of it. However, society is so connected now it has become a tangled web. Information has become so abundant that it has lost its quality. E-mails were once crafted with care and length, but are now typically poorly executed bursts of loose sentences. Wholesome content on media streams such as TV and Youtube are being crowded out by mindless entertainment (dare I say Jersey shore?). I would guess that 90% of the information we receive on a daily basis is crap. The Age of Information has consequently resulted in a brain drain and made us more distracted and, in mine and many experts’ opinions, dumber.
Smartphones have played a large role in distracting and dumbing down society, particularly in youth. This is unfortunate because smartphones can be amazingly productive tools if used correctly. The problem is most people don’t. Instead, smartphone use has facilitated addiction to texting (and even sexting), neglect of grammar and spelling, and shortening of attention spans. If you are unlucky enough to get one for work purposes, you may never actually leave the office. Even after you escape the daily confines of your office cubicle, your work follows you home, uploaded to the palm of your hand, teasing you with its melodic beeps that coddle your desire to feel needed by someone, anyone out there in the virtual world.

Despite staying away from smartphones myself, the internet’s addictive toxin was already in my bloodstream and was quickly mutating me into a zombie. At home and work I was constantly checking e-mails and logging into Facebook for quick scans of the news feed looking for something, anything to fill the void in my skull cavity. I was no longer capable of independent thought, my imagination replaced by packets of data wired from a mysterious source through my laptop screen.

Fortunately I recognized my problem and decided to unplug. I unsubscribed from e-mail newsletters, cancelled extra TV channels, deactivated Facebook, and even added a “no junk mail” sticker to my mailbox. Somewhere along the way I even pried myself from the temptation of videogames, which previously granted me access to an unlimited world in which my imagination could frolic and mingle into unreasonable hours every day.

After unplugging from information overload I felt empty, unimportant, for awhile. I was under anxiety that I may have missed out on juicy bits of information, like a Lululemon sale or an invite to a Facebook event. But I eventually began to recover. Left to my own devices my brain began to tingle and twitch after years of atrophy, and over time slowly regain consciousness. I can now say I have shed my inner zombie and reawakened as a fully functioning human being again.

Nowadays I’m still not completely isolated from the Age of Information but I am striking a much better balance. I am even giving the new Google+ a try. It seems to understand the meaning of the word ‘privacy’ and tries not to bombard you with useless crap, unlike some other social networking site.

Since I’ve gone nearly information-free I’ve noticed many positive changes in my life. Most importantly, my mind is more focused and clear. There is a big difference between clear and blank. Clear is when my mind is free and at full capacity to think. Blank is when I turn off my X-box 360 and somehow simultaneously switch off my brain, leaving a big void that can only be refilled the next time I turn on the console.

Clearing my mind has enabled me to think more creatively. I find myself not wanting to spend all my time at home anymore, a big contrast to my old hermit days. Most surprisingly, I find myself busier now than when I was wasting hours on the internet and videogames. Those hours are now spent cooking, doing yoga, socializing and, yes, blogging. I have essentially replaced my zombie time with more productive time.

In the big picture, I have further achieved my goal of minimalism and being free from stuff. In this case the stuff was virtual, coming in the form of information overload.

I finally located the unnecessary baggage that was weighing me down. It was more than just the internet. It was TMI – too much information. I guess knowing less actually is more.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Blogging for the Greater Good

When I originally started blogging I had just come to Calgary and was missing home. This was the best way to share my life and stay connected with everyone back in Toronto. Now, after a short sabbatical, I have finally returned to my creative outlet, my own version of The Truman Show. I’m reinvigorated and have returned with a renewed purpose. So why am I blogging?

I had my phase of online self-glorification. Or virtual peacocking, if you will. There was nothing like a brainless Facebook blog or status update to prop myself up in the virtual arena and to flaunt my attention-inducing powers to random wandering eyes of the Home Page feed. But I soon realized that I was just keeping up with the viral pace of an information-crazed society. Quality was giving way to quantity. Social media had instigated a flood of useless information that threatened to bury anything wholesome and good-intentioned beneath it. My blogs lay squished somewhere in that pile of useless crap.

Although selfish in its practice, blogging can be an exceptionally useful tool for good. It can inform, inspire and provoke. It can give others different perspectives in life, provide meaning to it, even change their course in it. It also allows humans to feel value by sharing something of value to society without personal gain. In a society that promotes consuming goods to feel happy, blogging can be a selfless act in a selfish world. The basic tenet of blogging is this - one’s experiences are shared not for his or her own glory, but ultimately for the benefit of others.

Enter me. I have returned to bring the internet back to its wholesome existence; to wield the power of blogging to slice and dice your philosophies and the ways that you approach life. This is not to say it’s my way or the highway. In fact, I welcome a friendly bout of intellectual fencing. Those with differing opinions have the same right to blog as I do.

This is also not to say that I am the next great prophet or celebrated philanthropist, here to turn the world on its head, like Nelson Mandela or Mother Teresa. The number of people who read my blogs will comprise but a tiny drop in the vast river of online bloggers and journalists. But as long as I make a positive difference in at least one of my reader’s lives I feel that my message has been spread and my mission accomplished.

(If you do feel that I made a positive impact, please pass my blog on to friends. Help fuel my propaganda machine! Umm, I mean, help me go viral and get famous! Ummm... what I really mean is spread the message of goodwill.)

The trait I ask of you readers is open-mindedness. I myself hope to be open-minded enough not to push my passionate (if not crazy) beliefs on you. Like a podcast on your favourite subject, or the evening news with your favourite news anchor and that hot weather lady, I simply ask that you tune in and listen. At that point you would have earned my gratitude. And if you’ve read up to this point you have earned my respect.

So come follow me on my wonderful blogging adventure that’s sure to provide curiosity, laughs, life changing catharses, and promises to take you on more twists and turns than the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. When the last word has been read hopefully I’ve left an everlasting impression, and a sugary craving for more blogs.

And if not, that’s okay too. Because it's not about me, it's about you.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Meet Andrew a.k.a. Photo-Vélo

Let me explain to you how I arrived at my cheesy blogger name. The intention of this is not a proclamation of snobbery. Nor is it an attempt to slot myself as a photographer and cyclist and nothing else. My interests are actually quite diverse and, although photography and cycling top my list of interests, I am by no means distinguished in my abilities in either pursuit.

It actually started a few years ago when I decided that instead of continuing to subscribe to the idea that consuming more, and the idealogy of consumerism, leads to happiness, I would reverse my course and subscribe to minimalism. Why? Because “you don’t own stuff, stuff owns you.”

I have read several articles that discuss the minimalist lifestyle. I have intended to read a book called “100 Things” that I saw the documentary version of, but just hadn’t read the book version yet. It is about a man and woman who were having problems both with their relationship and financially. They decided to cut the number of their possessions down to 100 items and since then they have never been happier. Another article was about a woman living in a 90 square foot apartment by Central Park in New York City. Like the 100 Things couple, she had no idea what to expect, but ended up being happier than she ever was.

These cases prove that stuff really does own us. When you buy that new iPhone, you may think you consciously decided to go to the store and buy it. The truth is that iPhone lured you in and you caught its bait. Once it latches on to you it won't let go. At least, not until a newer and flashier iPhone comes out. Why? Because buying new stuff serves as instant, yet temporary, gratification to the consumer. New stuff becomes old within months and becomes discarded in favour of even newer stuff (by the way, I still use my 4 Gb iPod Nano).

As a result, our basements are filled with old and dusty items we deem to have “sentimental value” and our garages are filled with stuff we never use. This stuff takes over our lives and robs us of adventure and valuable life experiences. Consumers are weighed down with so much useless stuff that we are like a ship that, instead of exploring our vast surroundings, remains anchored to the shore.

So how do you know if stuff owns you? If, say, you are addicted to shopping and may have a closet bursting at the walls with clothing, yet are not happy with your wardrobe. Or if you buy an expensive status-affirming car but soon take it for granted as simply a tool for getting around, and are soon stuck with a gas- and cash-guzzling boat. You will soon become unhappy with it and buy a new one.

Only those people with a true passion for their craft will take the time to foster it. Someone truly passionate about cars will buy a vehicle they love and then continue to foster that love. They will get under the hood themselves and get their hands dirty, instead of taking it to a mechanic. They will run their car to the ground before buying a new one.

One of the articles I read about minimalism also advocated that everyone has certain hobbies or possessions that they are passionate about. While minimalism involves the practice of getting rid of everything you don’t need, this article encourages designating a few categories as exceptions to the minimalist rule. These categories represent passions that make up your identity.

Having read this article I decided to start taking on the minimalist challenge with a few designated exceptions. Those exceptions were cycling (Vélo is a french term for bicycle - thanks Reh!) and photography (and possibly cooking). My Kona Marco Polo and Nikon D90 instantly became my most cherished possessions and everything else was deemed disposable.

Recently I went cycling from Banff to Canmore along its new recreational pathway, taking pictures along the way, and also creating a time lapse video. I cycled back to Calgary that day too. I plan on getting some more accessories for my bike and camera. I have never felt more passionate about these two things in my life.

At the same time I started giving old clothes away and selling useless stuff on Kijiji. Except for biking and photography gear I don’t feel the need to go shopping for things I don’t need anymore.

I have never felt lighter than before.