I lied. This post is not actually about Reddit. However the role Reddit plays in my life exemplifies a type of behavior I am minimizing: consuming without a goal. Reddit is my starting point and I’ll generalize from there. Please understand that I am not disparaging Reddit as a whole – I am making a statement about my own behavior when using Reddit.
When I say consuming without a goal I mean absorbing a lot of information with little to no reward besides the base stimulation that seeing lots of new comments, images, and links offers. This type of stimulation results in a lot of short-term gratification but yields little benefit in the long run.
As I write this currently the top 3 posts on Reddit (based on default subreddits without logging on) are:
- Swedish justice minister falls for Daily Currant spoof story on marijuana deaths, calling incident “stupid and sad”
- number 1 rule at a party : DON’T FALL ASLEEP FIRST!!
- What do you see on tv all the time that never actually happens in everyday life?
While there are more focused and useful subreddits (a better-known one that comes to mind is /r/AskHistorians) these three links are a good sample of what I encounter most often. There are lots of links to news articles that I am personally not involved with, random comical things happening in other people’s lives that I don’t care about, and possibly interesting discussions that don’t really make my life better.
Even when I tailor the subreddits to my tastes with subscriptions to /r/engineering, for example, the basic content does not change. /r/engineering often has the same type of content I find uninteresting except with a different coat of paint. And I would argue that the more banal, asinine, or irrelevant content is more addictive.
This sort of content and gratification-seeking behavior on Reddit is the root of this post today. I want to avoid behavior that does not lead to a happier life. Looking at memes/image macros, following pun threads in comments, and being bombarded by a seemingly random collection of information is not helping me be happier.
Other examples from my personal life would be letting myself get caught up watching a TV show that I don’t really enjoy but sit down and watch anyway because it happens to be on.
That’s not to say avoid TV altogether! There are shows that stimulate the imagination I whole-heartedly recommend and documentaries can be a good source of TV that is beneficial.
The key is to have a goal.
It doesn’t have to be a grandiose goal like changing the world. Those types of goals are usually too taxing for their own good anyway because of the scope. I prefer to work with personal, quantifiable, and achievable goals that can build momentum into a massive shift.
Spending time with friends and loved ones, for example, is a wonderful goal. I don’t suggest watching Judge Judy on your own (I use this example because it’s a guilty pleasure of mine) but if you’re sitting with friends and able to bond over it – either because you are enjoying it or because you’re making fun of it (I’ve been known to do both) then you are working on something that leads to long-term benefits.
A clearly superior use of my Reddit time is to improve my skills. I don’t mean random skills that don’t help me with anything. I can learn how to build a website but does that do anything for me as an engineer? Not immediately and without a clear reason for requiring a website that skill is just another project waiting to cause stress and disappointment by not being completed. On the other hand I can review my textbooks and hone my math skills, both of which have direct benefits to my job and to my mental well-being. Plus the better I get with engineering concepts the more likely I am to be able to innovate.
Instead of being on Reddit, even if it was only a “quick” Reddit break, I could have cleaned my apartment. I get stressed when my apartment is messy in any way so the cleaning option is obviously better but it is not instant gratification like Reddit is. But that’s my point – the extra willpower and discipline to clean is tough but improves my happiness while Reddit does not.
Just so we are perfectly clear I’m not saying Reddit is bad. I’m saying my use of Reddit is a waste of time. There are certainly plenty of folk who use Reddit productively as a tool for communication, collaboration, development, marketing, or any number of other things. (Though for every one of those people there are 100 more using Reddit for puns and image macros.) There are plenty of other behaviors for me that fall into the same waste of time: playing games on my smartphone, procrastinating, sitting around doing nothing, and more.
My point in all this is that I want to be more selective with how I spend my time so that I can be true to my personal motto: Live deliberately.
Blogging unsettles me because I associate it with narcissism. The feeling is exacerbated by the limited reach of this blog. However I have found reasons to keep blogging through introspection.
1. Contributing to the documented collective experience of humans.
The internet brought about an unprecedented level of communication between people and a lot of it is documented. Many people are unaware of the extent but it is safe to assume that anything that has been on the internet is on there forever. I find reviews particularly useful as they help me come to an informed decision about a new product I am considering purchasing. I find reading about others’ experiences helpful because it is more information for me to use in my own life. I don’t want to be only a consumer in these and other pieces of communication that benefit people. I want to contribute. Blogging is one way of doing so that balances the skills needed for entry, the time required, and the potential audience in a way that suits my circumstance.
2. Developing and maintaining skills related to writing.
There are benefits of blogging to me that provide the driving motivation to continue writing provided I set my expectations properly. I am not hoping to become famous though I certainly won’t deny that it’s nice to think about. Probably the most immediate and tangible result of blogging for me is improvements to my writing. If I don’t write I can’t continue to improve my grammar, use of vocabulary, and my voice. Rather than lament a lack of development I want to choose to be proactive and practice by writing regularly.
3. A combination of keeping in touch with friends, journaling, and learning.
I want to keep in touch with everybody in my life but that can become temporally prohibitive. There may also be cases where I have the time but my friend does not. These are cases where having a blog can be useful. Especially with useful titles and headers a friend can understand if a blog post is useful or not. My prior flirtations with search engine optimization also indicate that this is good for building a wider audience as well. Mysterious titles may be useful for self-aggrandizing but serve no further purpose. Additionally some thoughts come out better when written than when spoken in a conversation. There are benefits and drawbacks to both forms of communication and maintaining both lines can be helpful.
In the process of revealing various details of my life from my thoughts to mundane details like a new purchase I am also journaling. A quick Google search for “benefits of journaling” finds sources (many of them blogs!) that claim benefits of journaling. Anecdotally speaking I find that I am better able to process my thoughts and feelings, I have some sort of record I can look back on for future reference, and seeing my thoughts in writing often provokes further inquiry and insight.
I think that practically reasons 2 and 3 are what drive me to rationalize blogging as useful via reason 1. Still I think that the thought process is valid so I have no problem with crafting an experience that benefits me if it also serves to benefit others.
Now comes the difficult period of forming a habit so that I can reap the benefits.
It occurred to me as I attempted to organize my bookmarks that over time I’ve accumulated several hundred bookmarks. I’m sure it pales in comparison to others out there but I think there’re interesting insights to be had in the midst of all these links.
I find that the links that stay on my bookmarks list are bookmarks that resonate most with my being. Take for example the following image I saved in my set of bookmarks (it’s a bit long, but I think it’s real good):
For me there exists a somber sense to this image, this comic, this snippet. This and other links with a similar feel make it while other things I’d saved on a whim get culled.
Other topics of note in my set of bookmarks includes engineering and programming links.
The introspective insights were unexpected here. My bookmarks reveal a man drawn to sadness, enthralled by the possibilities of engineering, and excited by everything he encounters.
What do yours reveal?
It’s not foreign for me to contemplate the role blogging plays in my life. The allure of gaining Internet fame is ever-present but as a man understanding probabilities and likelihood I’m not going to quit my day job.
Maintaining a blog has become meditation. Like maintaining a journal I can take thoughts and parse them through writing. I’ve often sat down with a vague idea in my mind and as I write, the quest for the precise set of words to convey an idea with its subtleties acts as a sieve to remove the chaff from my thoughts, leaving a focused idea that I can develop further.
The hunt for wording is exciting. As an aspiring poet of (hopefully) above-average skill I’m drawn to the feeling of discovering the perfect word, not unlike the feeling of placing the correct puzzle piece in its rightful home. I reach back well into the recesses of my mind to access words I haven’t thought of in years sometimes and it sends waves of warmth down my spine as if I’ve found an old game I loved to play. My voice as a writer develops in tandem, and as cross-training helps in the physical realm, pursuing multiple forms of writing serves to improve my core strengths, benefitting everything I do.
I challenge myself to express ideas more concisely, to use metaphors that are uncommon or perhaps even brand new. I challenge myself to grow as a writer and to speak my ideas with the same intensity I have in thought.
Here’s an example. Just a few paragraphs ago I said, “…I can take thoughts and parse them…” That section of the sentence initially said, “…thoughts in my head…” rather than just “thoughts.” Reviewing it I wondered, “Where else am I going to have thoughts?” It hit me that unless I was expressing a specific way the thoughts are behaving in my head, such as a whirlwind of thoughts, it is assumed that the thoughts are in my head.
Revelations like that fascinate me, and as I write I have many kinds. Recently I looked at Gunslinger Girl critically and reviewed it. In the process I managed to distill my enjoyment into its component parts. With that information in hand I could then apply it to other things I enjoy and compare, or better yet I can predict more accurately if I will like something in the future.
Getting to know myself, whether learning about my preferences or developing my voice, is a reward for writing unparalleled short of winning the lottery and a lifetime supply of chocolate.
I’ve spent considerable amounts of time deciding what I wanted to get out of blogging. The thought process lead me to ask questions like “What exactly is the role of blogging in my life and the lives of others?” and “Does my voice even matter?” After much thought I think I’ve settled on some answers that work for me.
What is the role of blogging in my life?
To be honest I have delusions of grandeur about blogging. There are a number of resources that cultivate the idea that any blogger can become an internet phenomenon, achieving fame and fortune in one fell swoop. The truth is mundane, however, and without joining the circle jerk that is blog optimization I either have to be famous outside of the blog originally or have insight into a niche that relatively few others have access to for sharing. It takes time and effort and nothing can fully develop overnight.
Neither describe me very well.
For me, blogging has come to be an avenue of self-development and introspection. Through writing content I learn, grow, and use words that I don’t get to use frequently as an engineer. When I sit down and write about games I am playing, such as my impressions of Warhammer 40k: Space Marine or my experiences with choice in games, I am taking a passive enjoyment of video games and making it active. Through this process I have teased out what I like and dislike about video games, allowing me to do things like focus on the aspects I do like while being able to determine if any flaws in a game are deal-breakers for me. I engage myself with my passion of gaming by criticizing the industry, analyzing games, and looking to the future. There’s never a stale day as a result.
Blogging also provides new perspectives. Because the nature of the beast is to be public I take time to consider what other people might think of what I blog. This takes me out of my shoes and into others’ shoes, seeing my thoughts with an angle I personally may not have. On top of that I have people who leave comments with thoughts that may not have crossed my mind at all. Taken together my ability to mature myself improves every time I go through the experience of blogging.
What is the role of blogging in the lives of others?
Does my voice even matter?
I think the simplest answer for both questions is that readers will answer this for me. If people find my words to be appealing they will come to the blog and seek more. If they do not, they will not. That’s all there is to it.
As long as I am benefiting from this endeavor it will hold value for me and I can continue without feeling as if I’m wasting my time.
What does this mean for this blog?
I have thoughts occasionally of halting this blog and doing something else. What kept the blog alive was the uncertainty in the “something else” I’d be doing. Now, with some thinking behind it, I can say the blog has positive value to me and I will continue writing for it.
Interestingly, in this re-imagining of blogging as something very personal I find that a lot of successful blogging tips still apply. For example, one of the most popular tips for blogs that I’ve seen is to write often. I think that’s also useful for me because when I go long stretches of time without blogging I find I’ve spent less time processing what’s been happening in my life. Like keeping a journal for some, blogging slows things down and helps me deal with things in life.
You’ll definitely see more from me and I hope it’s entertaining and useful for you.
If you’re a blogger, what are your answers to these questions? If you’re not a blogger, is there anything else in your life that plays this part in your life?
I’ve recently been trying several things to try and calm me down. I’ve been dealing with a lot of motivational issues and part of the problem was being unable to focus. In theory white noise is supposed to help calm the mind whether it is to go to sleep or focus on an assignment or just be distraction free. I’ve found three sources of soothing noise that are useful, so check them out! They’ve been pretty effective so far in drowning out distractions such as footsteps outside my room and the occasional vibrational whine from the air vent above me.
This is a simple website. If you like the sound of rain, go to the website and you will hear the soothing sound of rain. There are occasional quiet thunders too. Rainy Mood is straightforward in that all it has is a big button to pause the sound and then to play it again.
2. White Noise (by Speech Privacy Systems)
This noise generator offers several features for the basic user. There is a premium option available but I find the free features sufficient. In this tool the Main Volume and Main Balance options are straightforward. The next option is the Volume Variation – this creates an amplitude of variation for the volume. The frequency cannot be changed as far as I can tell.
Now for the main feature – the noises! This site offers waterfall, wind, static, rainfall, and beach. You can adjust the volume of all of these independently to create a pleasing sound for you. You can also save what you get as a preset, though I can’t vouch for the permanency of it.
This is a more featured white noise generator if you don’t particularly like rain or need something a bit more.
3. Simply Noise
Simply Noise is different from RainyMood and the previous White Noise site because it deals in abstracts. You can choose from white noise, pink noise, and brown noise which all have a definition that you can look up on Wikipedia. These are not as intuitive in that “pink noise” does not evoke something from nature or experience. However these abstract noises can be soothing and Simply Noise claims to be useful for applications like a sleep aid, making tinnitus, and pacifying children and pets.
These are three aids I’ve found to help calm the brain down so that I can focus. If they help you out as well, let me know! And you can also let me know if you have other noise generators that are helpful to you.
For another tool that can help your productivity, take a look at my review of StayFocusd.
Previously I questioned the value of my posts. Even more fundamental is my reason for blogging. There are a lot of reasons for people to blog. I don’t have any delusions of being relevant to millions of people but if several people benefit I would not complain.
However, my first and foremost reason for beginning to start this particular blog is to create a small but sure revenue stream.
There was a time when I had “pure” reasons for blogging. I had a blog with xanga and this served as a vessel for sharing my thoughts to primarily my high school friends. Back then I had no ideas of making money or even internet stardom with the blog.
My ambitions have changed since then. Currently I definitely would enjoy making some money off this blog. I would also not mind getting a decent readership who I communicate with.
Is that a bad thing? It doesn’t seem like it as along as I’m putting out decent content and not trying to game the system. Time will tell if it works out as intended though.
Every time I set out to write a blog post I run into a problem. What is my post worth?
Sometimes I find something interesting and want to share it. Would it be worthwhile though? Won’t my readers just get it from somewhere else? Who am I to think that my little blog is the one that’ll introduce a reader to something interesting when they have so many other resources?
Then there are the times I have the inspiration to create a post entirely of my own thought and I question the value people would get from it. Perhaps my epitomes are old news for my readers. Perhaps it’s not relevant to them.
What’s the point in blogging then? What role do I play when I share something I’ve found, and what role do I play when I write my own thoughts down?
Oddly enough I think this post began with simply considering the option of concocting an original post or sharing something interesting I’ve found. The process of writing transformed the idea from something mundane to philosophical questioning of my own worth as a blogger.
Either way I think it’s interesting – and I’ll continue to post things I find as well as my own thoughts because whatever the meta-blog-ical value is, I’d still like to create a successful blog that I can eventually make some money off of.