Archive for the ‘technology’ Category

As One Luddite to Another

July 8, 2017

I took a survey on Quartz about my interactions with artificial intelligence – questions about my familiarity with its current role in various fields as well as what I would or would not want it to be doing for me in five years. The process made me both aware of how many ways AI is already affecting my life, and the ways that I very strongly object to it doing so. At the most simplistic level, I have always turned off “auto correct” in my word processing software – my knowledge of correct grammar is better than that of any language correction program I have yet encountered. I don’t mind suggestions, I abhor being summarily overruled.

All the supposedly-tailored-to-my-interests advertising and “read this” article suggestions that pop up when I’m using a search engine make it clear how pervasive AI already is; also making it clear how inadequate it is in matching my interests. Because you see, when I’m searching for something i’m only interested in that single item. All the suggestions are irritating distractions. If AI were in fact intelligent it would know I hate and ignore them.

Recently I was given a loaner car while mine had serious undercarriage repairs. The new VW provided to me as an enticement to consider an upgrade/purchase came equipped with lots of gadgets not offered when I bought my custom-ordered Golf TDI in 2004. The various improvements on seat adjustment were nice. The polite requests that I turn on trip director and let the GPS system tell me where to turn felt almost insulting. I mean please, if I need to be told how to drive from my motel to my workplace, I shouldn’t be behind the wheel at all! Perhaps I could learn to adjust to using the screen that comes on when the car is put into reverse, but the perspective was disorienting and I looked over my shoulder to back into a parking space, as I have all my life.

It’s already apparent, when there’s a power failure at the checkout counter, that business grinds to a halt, and not just because the under 30’s cashiers can’t do simple arithmetic to make change. Inventory control, all sorts of other functions are now tied to the computers inside the cash registers and without power they don’t work. Annoying when standing in a store, unable to complete my shopping. Impossible when it’s a matter of getting where I need to go.

I really don’t see the point of a device meant to move me from one place to another being designed to be totally dependent on a computer (artificial intelligence) and thereby unable to do its primary job whenever there’s a ‘glitch’ in that device. The cars (and pickups) I grew up with could be wired together, adjusted and kept running by a reasonably intelligent layman. Those vehicles kept doing their primary job year after year after year. The new vehicles being presented as superior require a whole garage of high tech equipment just to diagnose what’s not working right. That doesn’t seem to me to be particularly intelligent.

I like and appreciate computers – in their proper place. They are good at supporting communication, quickly organizing or sorting data, making huge libraries of information readily available, enabling me to have face to face visits with friends and family around the world. I suppose the AI personal assistants can be considered to be highly skilled data organizers, keeping track of appointments, reminding of laundry that is ready for pickup, providing lists of nearby restaurants that meet the … hmm, owner? master? boss? human’s preferences,

We’re already told we use only a small portion of our brains. Why are we being moved toward using ever less of them? Shouldn’t we be expanding our own mental capacities rather than giving our already limited thinking capacity over to an artificial brain?

Makes no sense to me, unless maybe that artificial brain can quickly teach me to understand how Chrome works. My brain has been so programmed by Microsoft, that it fights adapting to Chrome. I know there’s no delete key, for example, but my hand keeps reaching for one anyway. Come on, unused brain cells, kick in and take over and learn this new system. Isn’t that what you were created for? To be used?

 

New Technology

June 25, 2017

I’m learning how to use a new device, getting used to the touch and the different sort of storage process. One more step into the rapidly advancing digital age. This “book” is so light and thin it certainly doesn’t feel like a computer, and according to the salesperson, is more of an online streaming device. Everything is stored “in the cloud” rather than on the machine. Not quite sure what that will mean when I want to return to a document created and stored?

Well, I guess I’m finding out that it remains available somehow, because I’ve just opened it up again several days later, in a different physical location but one that has otherwise said I don’t have Internet access. So… I can write anywhere, which is what I was looking for (smile).

I rarely experience what I am in the midst of now – a waiting time gap between two appointments, not long enough to head home and back into town, rather long to fill by sitting over a beverage in a restaurant or coffee shop. There are a few places in town where it is acceptable to sit and write, and I’ve found one now to pass the remaining hour of my gap. I would probably not be so aware of this odd hole in my day under slightly different circumstances. If I had my cell phone with me, there would be newsletters to read, mail to check, even solitaire games to play. But my phone is with my husband, because his has crashed. We’re waiting for a new one to arrive. I have an old style slider phone given me by my employer, useful for being reached by clients, and to stay in touch with my husband, but lacking all the services of my usual cell phone menu.

Another piece of equipment that recently crashed is the portable, 800 hours on two AA batteries AlphaSmart writer that I’ve carried around with me for many years. I will replace it soon; meanwhile this new Chromebook is the only tool available to me. As I get to know the Chromebook better, and also to know where around town it can find the Internet, I’m hopeful I’ll find it satisfactory. Just now, I’m still adapting to the fact that it doesn’t have a delete key, nor the tabs at the top and bottom of the scroll bar I’m accustomed to using to move the page up or down.

Not so very long ago, I complained that makers of copy machines and of computer printers seemed united in their determination to frustrate users, with each machine requiring paper to be placed just a little bit differently, or fed in ever so slightly differently, to get a good quality well centered printed page output. The same sorts of differences, and some not so small ones, clearly pertain between operating systems. I get it that later arrivals believe they need to tweak the process to make themselves somehow distinct, but must they also fail to provide easily accessible explanations of how they differ? Yes, I’m being cranky. I’m entitled. I grew up using printed manuals to understand how to use machines. Now if I ask about such a thing I’m looked at askance, as if I’d asked for a free key to the bank vault and unfettered access to all of that vault’s contents.

Mostly I get impatient with myself, feeling blocked from accomplishing what I’m used to doing with my writing, because of “technical difficulties.” This will pass, I know, and before long there will be one more system I can comfortably use. It’s said when you stop learning is when you start dying. So long as computer technology continues being tweaked, and I have to keep learning new systems, I guess I can be assured that I’m very much alive!

Moving Forward

June 11, 2017

If I were required to give a theme to my present set of priorities, it would be what I’ve taken as the title of this post – moving forward. Not necessarily by conscious choice, and not without some rather bumpy road to traverse. Rather, recognizing that the bumps are jostling my state of equilibrium and pushing it towards a new place, way of perceiving/being.

Not coincidentally, this is my marriage anniversary period, and also the start of a new way, for me, of accessing the “larger world” of technology, Internet, etc. Coming from a weekend MasterPath seminar with my spiritual teacher into a dramatic challenge, on Monday, of the theft of my purse, with driver’s license, credit cards and phone necessitated an immediate implementation of the lessons reinforced on Sunday. Regaining the critical items – driver’s license and phone – by Wednesday, through the attentiveness and caring of three strangers, demonstrated to me how protected I am from any serious harm.  Experiencing also the thoughtless and even ugly corporate responses of Walmart, MVD and La Quinta has pointed me toward engagement with “speaking Truth to power” that I have avoided in recent years. Moving forward in this arena means being clear in my intention, such that there is no anger in my communication. I’m not out to force changes that somehow “put things right”, only to point out clearly the values which are being trashed by blind corporate policy. If changes result, find. If they do not, so be it. I’m not attached to the outcome, only to the truth.

Being without my phone for most of a week was enlightening. I was made tangibly aware of the extent to which I have come to rely on it for access to news, as well as for the distracting pastime of playing various solitaire game. I already knew that I needed better access to email and various internet sites – including this one – and that I would have to get some sort of replacement for the recently deceased laptop I had been using. Without really any research, I went to Best Buy and came out with a Chromebook. It fits my financial limitations, and seems to actually fit my needs well, if I can just figure out how it works! Being old school and accustomed to printed materials, I feel the lack of a manual to teach me how to use such a different device. It helps that I’ve decided it’s about half way between a smart phone and a laptop. At least I have a frame of reference for thinking my way through accomplishing necessary functions. I have not yet figured out how to print a web page, if that is even possible? Yes, I know I can access manual sections on line, and will have to do so for the time being. And I can also use my husband’s computer (when he’s not busy on it) to find and print the manual. So why do those options feel unsatisfactory? Obviously, because they represent yet another way in which I am being pushed to move forward, away from familiar methods of doing things and onward into the new world order.

Caring without being attached, trusting without fear of being misled, speaking out without anger or other negative emotions, communicating clearly but without engagement with results… all avenues for moving forward into yet another new way of being, implementing yet another level of the fascinating path of spiritual evolution.

Thanks be.

 

I Know What I Like

February 19, 2017

I sent an email to my (very understanding) supervisor recently, expressing my deep reservations about a proposed move to video visits being pushed by upper management. Not that I don’t know how to adapt my interviews to a video format, but I live in a region of limited Internet connectivity and the people with whom I am expected to conduct these visits have neither the technology nor the money to acquire the technology to participate. Most run out of minutes on flip phones before the end of each month.

More importantly, to my mind, is a concern for the disappearance of meaningful interpersonal connections. Too many of us now live in isolated bubbles, glued to smart phones and tablets, Googling for answers to test questions instead of reading and learning and thinking things through for ourselves. Too many of us can be seen sitting with others, everyone with his or her head down staring at a screen. Too many of us spend too much time “connected” only with those who visit the same websites, think the same thoughts, agree with whatever we say, and take righteous offense if anyone contradicts the group’s predetermined set of beliefs.

I’m not originating these thoughts – some of them I read in an analysis by Eric Francis, astrologer and writer and producer of PlanetWaves. Some I heard during an interview with a journalist scorned by his liberal peers for writing a biographical piece on Milo Yiannopoulos. The journalist’s original position was a sort of “know thine enemy” belief that one cannot effectively implement programs or persuade others who hold different views, if one hasn’t heard enough of those views to discover where there may be common ground upon which to build a successful compromise, or a persuasive argument for a different outcome.

I’m reminded of a speaker brought to my college campus in the early 1960s. Once a week the entire campus was gathered for Collection, to hear a presentation meant to give us food for reflection. Attendance was mandatory. One spring morning, the speaker was a South African government official who presented a defense of apartheid to an audience almost entirely composed of supporters of the civil rights movement then actively unfolding in the United States. Some students made an initial effort to block the speech, primarily because of the mandated attendance. The school administrators insisted that we hear the official’s viewpoint “in order to understand how best to argue against and counter it.” The speaker presented a closely reasoned and very persuasive argument in support of separation of races that could only be countered, I realized, by catching – and taking apart – his implicit assumption that people are more comfortable “with their own kind” and that race is a necessary and sufficient condition for dividing kinds of people. He only verbalized the comfortable with one’s own part of the premise; the racial implications corollary was never stated. In case you didn’t take logic in school, the speaker implied but never stated that in and of itself skin color creates an unbridgeable gap between people such that I as a Caucasian can never be the same kind of person as anyone with a Negroid complexion.

Had I not heard the South African speaker, I might never have been able to pinpoint the unstated assumptions on which so many people base their objections to the sort of social integration that has been experienced in the past 40 years in the US. And had I not heard that speaker, I probably would not have grown in my own ability to reach across very real differences, to find common ground with people whose views are significantly different from my own. I have friends, good and caring people, who support the newly elected Congress and President. I don’t agree with their political views, but I also cannot fault their day to day treatment of neighbors, nor their commitment to good education, appropriate care for the needy, and fair treatment for all.

The devil is in the details, as they say, and one of the details seems to be that we as a nation have lost the capacity to relate to anyone different from ourselves. How many people, now, would object to the statement that “people are more comfortable surrounded by those like themselves”? How many of us choose to go outside our “comfort zones” or our technologically reinforced personal bubbles to listen to, interact with, care about those whom we perceive as different from ourselves?

The journalist who was scorned for writing about Yiannopoulos had called himself a liberal, but reacted to their scorn by redefining himself as a “new conservative.” Not that he changed his own values, but that he perceives today’s “strident” liberals as unable to listen, unable to discuss, unable to tolerate different viewpoints from their own. They have become, he claims, just like the alt-right in that both sides are equally intolerant.

A Quaker friend (a Friend friend) of mine recently raised the question of how to reach out to those whose views differ from our own, in order to better understand steps to take to heal the growing divide which he sees as threatening to tear our democracy apart. I found myself wanting to answer “shut down the social media sites, turn off the Net, create an environment, at least for a week, that will force people to actually see and talk to and listen to one another. Don’t replace in person visits with video visits, don’t require doctors to focus on data entry into a computer when they should be listening to their patients. Don’t allow objectors to prevent a speech, however unpleasant the views of the speaker. And don’t let implicit assumptions about similarity and difference slip by unquestioned.

It may be true that we are generally most comfortable with those like ourselves. What matters is how we define the phrase, like ourselves. I remember that I used to say the only thing about which I am intolerant is intolerance. I suspect that is still true. Intolerance, to me, means lack of respect for the humanity of another. I need to ask myself whether I can respect the humanity of a bigot. Can I find that of God in a hater? I found it in killers who were my students when I taught in the NM Penitentiary. I have certainly found it in those friends referred to earlier, whose political views are so different from my own. If I can do so, it does NOT mean I accept anyone’s right to act on bigotry and hatred. But if I can do so, I think I’ll have a better chance of diverting the haters from implementing their bigoted agenda.

 

Passing

July 4, 2016

One aspect of the current inter-connectivity of social life that I’ve noticed, without being able to integrate it into my sense of place in the world, is how the absence of someone from that ethereal network can become a prominent feature of daily existence. Over the past 18 months I developed a relationship with Cheryl, following her blog at Artzzle, as she followed mine here. Through comments on postings, we got to know each other a bit – certainly as well as I know some of my coworkers in my day job, given that we all work from our respective home offices and only meet in person on a quarterly basis for training events. Cheryl has been “offline” for several months now; one of her last posts mentioned awaiting the results of pending medical tests, without specifying whether they were her own or for a family member. I can only suppose the news was not good, and that there is now no room for blogging in Cheryl’s life. I don’t know if she still reads my posts – or if she is totally off line and not able to know that I would offer support if I could reach her.

Upon reflection, the tenuousness of this sort of online link is not greater than that I have with face to face (or at least phone call to phone call) friends who live in distant places and whom I only see a few times a year, if that. When we do get together, or have a long phone conversation, the friendship seems not to have suffered any interruption. And I think we take for granted that it will continue as well into the future. Only rarely, as some years ago, have I been brought up short by the discovery, after the fact, that the other person is gone. Not just out of touch, but out of this world, moved on to another plane of existence without my having an opportunity to say goodbye, or even to know that a transition was impending.

It has been the pattern of my life that my closest friends are not usually found in my physical proximity. Partially, perhaps, because for the first half of my life I moved around so often. Although I’ve now lived many years in one location, the majority of my close friendships continue to be with people who live elsewhere. Not sure why, not sure that why matters.

What does matter is that all these relationships – physical or online – have inherent within them the risk of an ending occurring without my knowing about it. My discomfort is not that there is an ending – that is inevitable – but that the other person can cease to be and I not know it for months or even years.

When my father died, some thirty years ago, I knew that – like me – he had friends all around the world with whom he stayed in contact by letter and phone. I didn’t know who those people were, but I projected from my own sense of ‘wanting to know’ that they would also care to be told he had passed away. With no other guide, I turned to his Roladex and sent a death announcement to every address I found there. I received a heart-warming number of replies. The expressions of sympathy were equaled by the appreciations of my effort to inform.

Most of my dearest distant friends have family members whom I trust will inform me if there is a change in status affecting our ability to interact. A few do not. My main communication with these individuals is email. Will anyone trouble to go through a record of email exchanges to send me the sort of notice I mailed out about my father?

With social network links as the primary basis for many friendship interactions (no comment at this time on the “reality” of those friendships), won’t someone please invent – or make me aware of – a mechanism for informing “in the ether” friends of a death or serious restriction on ability to communicate?

Or am I one of too few for whom out of sight is NOT out of mind? No matter – if money can be made out of creating a social network death notification system, someone will set up the site. In the meantime, perhaps I should attempt to develop a sufficient psychic sensitivity to be directly aware when there is a hole in my net of linked relationships.

What I know I can do is assure that someone close to me knows to post an announcement on my blog, should I cease to be able to be here to do so. Do not worry, therefore, if I seem to disappear from sight for a time, as I did when my day job overwhelmed my time. I’m fine, and will be back, unless/until you hear otherwise, here.

And thank you, all, for liking and for following 1eclecticwriter.

Returning to Reading

November 15, 2015

I’ve started reading again.
Or, more accurately, I’ve resumed reading for pleasure at what used to be my normal rate of 2-3 books a week. For most of the past two years, until a couple weeks ago, I haven’t achieved more than two books a month. Knowing the why of the drop off did not make the dearth of reading any more acceptable to my impatient mind. It’s certainly mind that is now celebrating evenings spent on the couch with a book as a return to “normal”.

Mind had best not get too comfortable with this normal, as it’s a new one, with frequent interruptions to discuss medical terminology questions with my husband and sister-in-law as they work on their respective anatomy and pharmacology studies. I had better not get too comfortable with this new normal either, since it derives primarily from a lessening of my work caseload, and I don’t trust that this easing will endure. It should – my client list is now, after two years of numbers circling ninety, reduced to where it is “supposed” to be, around sixty-five. That’s a full third reduction, bringing my work week down from 60 hours to 45 and freeing time to read for relaxation.

In this past week I’ve been with Rei Shimura back to Japan, and accompanying an itinerant weaver to solve a string of murders in a Shaker community. It’s pleasant to go traveling again, without the stress of packing, driving (I do so much of that for my daily work) and sleeping away from loved ones, in seldom fully comfortable and always unfamiliar beds.

Being markedly less engaged with books these past eighteen months has made me noticeably more sensitive to them now that I’ve returned my attention to reading. In particular, I’m aware of the too frequent typos, words missed out of sentences and similar flaws of production which seem to be a different type of new normal for print publications. Or is this perhaps the new normal for the comparatively inexpensive, remaindered reprints available from discount supply houses, where I frequently shop?

I wish I could afford the $25-30 per book of a bookstore hard cover, but I can’t. I feed my … I started to say addiction to reading, but maybe it’s no longer an addiction?… pleasant habit of reading with acquisitions from second hand stores, and from remaindered and discount house catalogs. Books from these catalogs, in particular, seem to contain frequent composition errors. Sloppy workmanship? Or the results of computer-based typesetting that doesn’t recognize when a word is missing, or a cognate replaces the word that should be in the sentence.

I don’t read e-books. I spend too much time already in front of a computer screen. So I don’t know if e-books are similarly flawed in composition and construction. And I’m not sure whether to hope they are, or that they are not. If they are, then an entire profession that once prided itself on accuracy has fallen into slackness and error. If e-books are error free, then it would seem that a serious disregard for paper books is being made manifest by compositors who used to be in competition for the most perfect, flawless output.

Is my cranky complainer side showing? Am I sounding like a stereotypical older person ranting that standards are falling and are so far from what they were in my younger days? That complaint has been with us at least as long as the works of Homer and Cicero, and probably longer. I choose not to generalize, merely to observe that in my resumption of reading I am encountering more proof-reader errors than I have noticed before.

I will try not to make my own such errors. Now that reading for pleasure is once again part of my days, perhaps writing posts will also pick up a former pace? Please do call my attention to any proof-reading errors you find. I want to keep my own standards high.

Not One Ding-a-ling

July 26, 2015

One of the blogs I follow, Musings from a Tangled Mind, is occasionally a rant against some stupidity of daily life – usually on a subject I agree deserves a tongue lashing. I’ve not seen, there, my target today.

I am rarely able to nap during the day, no matter how tired I feel. This afternoon, I succeeded to drop off – and scarcely half an hour later my phone rang with an automated call from Walgreen’s Pharmacy, a reminder about refilling a prescription that:
1) doesn’t have refills on it, and
2) I never signed up to have reminders about.

I grew up in an environment which functioned largely without telephones at all. My recollection is that we were on a multi-party line in Washington DC, before my father entered the Foreign Service and we decamped to Vietnam in 1956. There – and later in Paris – there was a phone in our home, but it was solely for my parents and for official use only. I did occasionally use the Paris phone to arrange to meet a friend, but tying up the line to chat was forbidden, the cost considered prohibitive.

Returned to the U.S. for college, I lived in a dorm with one phone for the entire floor, or pay phones in the lobby for calling home. Again no habit of phone conversation developed. By the time I was out of school, married and living in my own space, the telephone had become a tool for necessary contact and nothing more. Thus, when I moved to New Mexico and into an area with no phone lines available, I was not disconcerted. In the one instance when my parents urgently needed to get hold of me, they had me located by the State Police, who came out to my house to deliver the message that I needed to call back East.

With time, I moved to a more developed area and met phone lines in place. I was still on a system that was small enough for us to give out our numbers with only 5 digits (Santa Fe was either 982 or 983 prefix, so my phone number was 33474, although one had to dial the initial 98). By the time I moved to the Las Vegas area, Santa Fe had 988 and 471 also in place, but Las Vegas had only 425 or 454. Five digit numbers remained the norm until the late 1990s.

Over the past 15 years the entire state has “upgraded” its land lines and sprouted a plethora of different cell company connections. In order to have service in my “second” house (the land line only goes to the main dwelling) I’ve signed up for T-Mobile, upgraded to a “smart” phone and now get calls via WiFi.

None of which justifies Walgreen’s disrupting my nap with an automated call to alert me it is time to refill a prescription!

Especially when I did NOT ask for that service. In fact, I’ve opted out of it twice already. Apparently, each time I fill a new prescription, the refill reminder is set for thirty days out, no matter what the content of the prescription says – and each new prescription requires a new opt out.

Lesson learned – no new prescriptions will be filled at Walgreen’s unless/until their system allows me to put a block on unwanted calls.

Which brings me to the true topic of this rant – the presumption that we all want/need to be connected all the time, that if we miss a call we are expected to return it immediately, that it is okay to repeatedly troll for business even after being told not to call again and even when the number dialed is on a national do not call list. We have to opt out of everything we don’t want, rather than being invited in and allowed to not participate unless we request inclusion.

A similar presumption underlies online tracking of preferences, of sites visited, etc. so that “ads can be tailored to meet your needs.” Except that no ad ever meets my needs, because I’ve learned to ignore them. They are an intrusion into my time and space, or into my spam folder. I do not have TV reception and, though I do miss the occasional drama series and a few PBS programs, the amount of advertising I thus avoid more than balances the small amount of worthwhile content that I forgo.

At what point did we cease of be people with brains, worthy of respect and entitled to be asked our preferences? How did I miss the turning point where personal space, rights to solitude and to privacy disappeared from everyday interactions?

I am not so “old fashioned” as to devalue the benefits of having a cell phone. I do appreciate being able to text and to email and reach out to people more quickly and easily than when I had to walk from my home in Lamy to the train depot to make that call to my parents, using the only pay phone in the village. I am so old fashioned as to mind that, with the advent of easy connection, has come a culture of disregard of – nay disrespect for – those who are on the other end of the connection.

Yes I realize there were people, shortly after Mr. Bell made his revolutionary invention, who said then what I’m saying now. They had it right, to some extent. Cultural norms do need to be adapted to changes in technology but not to the point of eliminating basic respect for individuals’ privacy and control of their home environments.

Just because you want to contact me does not mean I am obliged to be available to you!

There is a time and a place for communication. During church service in the morning, and again when I am napping on a Sunday afternoon is neither the time nor the place for Walgreen’s to pester me about a prescription refill for which I am not even eligible!

What’s that old parting line after a job interview? Don’t call us, we’ll call you?

If I want information I’ll seek it out. If I need a refill I’ll ask for it. If I intend to purchase an item, I’ll find the stores or the online sites with the items I’m interested in. I know my own mind, what I want and when I want it.

If you want my business, show me the simple respect of allowing me to initiate the contact, and to choose what reminders or new information I desire.

There but for the Grace…

March 7, 2015

Several of the blogs I follow have focused of late on technology – whether changing TV viewing habits because of a change in connectivity or lamenting the lost memory of a lost phone. And then there’s my friend who told his story of being at the gathering following a family funeral, and wanting to talk to some of the younger generation he had not been able to know, only to observe them quite incapable of simple conversation. They instead spent their time with busy thumbs, texting.

Meanwhile, I’ve been helping my new sister-in-law in Cameroon with an on-line course she is taking, by summarizing some of the articles on technology in the classroom that are related to her thesis topic. One of them refers to the physical changes in brain development which can be observed when children engage in a lot of “screen” time (TV and computers). Another addresses psychological issues which arise for children who, already uncomfortable with social interactions, choose to spend their time on social media sites and substitute Net “friends” for real life ones. A third spoke of the addictive nature of our relationship with computers and technological tools.

My first thought regarding the brain changes was – aha, perhaps that’s why there appears to be so much more ADHD Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) in children these days. More on that later. My second thought was of the boys at the funeral dinner, unable to have a conversation with my friend. My third, albeit more reluctant, thought was of my own changes in behavior noted since I acquired a “smart” phone about six months ago. Also, I see that I am affected by the fact that I work from home and am much more reliant than ever before on email for communicating with my coworkers.

I remember sitting in my office working on projects, able to have a receptionist answer my calls and a “do not disturb” sign on my door. In theory I can do the same now, by letting the phone take messages and resolutely not checking email… but it is remarkably hard to do that. Something about the isolation of working from a home office makes being available and responsive by phone and email seem more critical. Do I think my supervisor or manager will doubt my commitment to work, if she cannot get to me promptly? I know with my rational faculty that that’s not the case… but what about my emotional mind?

Pre-smartphone, I checked personal email only at the end of the day. Now I check it in ‘down’ moments throughout the day, moments that used to be spent on…? Thinking, reflecting, just being still within myself. Now it takes a conscious act of will to not pull the phone out in those small gaps in my busy day. I’m aware that I’ve lost an important sense of pacing, of quiet time. I’ve already begun making a conscious effort to ignore the existence of the ever-connected-to-the-Net phone, even to turn it off on occasion.

Given that I grew up without even a land line phone, and that I’ve lived for periods of my adult life without one, I am vividly aware of how one’s perspective changes with changes in connectivity. Not having a means to know when a partner’s change of plans would mean he would be 2-3 or more hours later coming home than expected was, once, just part of my mind set. I would not start to worry unless the time delay became excessive – 5 hours or more. Contrast that with now, when I may find myself feeling irritated if my call to my husband goes to voice mail, even though he is very good about replying to the indication of a missed call. I don’t actually need (or want?) instant connectivity, but I do see how addictive the concept can be.

Which brings me back around to hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder. If brains are altered by computer interaction, are they also altered by the immediacy of response inherent to those interactions? Might this alteration account for the impatience, the jumping of attention from item to item that are the descriptors of ADHD?
Meditation is known to slow heart rate, improve concentration and provide a number of other health benefits. Meditation is the polar opposite of the connectivity inherent in current technology. It is a wise and talented individual who can achieve a balance between these two diverse tendencies.

Pre-smartphone, I read in the evenings. Lately I’ve been playing Scrabble against the computer, or Free Cell instead. I was shocked to realize recently that a lifelong habit of consuming at least a novel a week had come to a near standstill, replaced by engagement with games. My Scrabble skills have certainly improved, as I consistently beat the computer even when it is set on advanced or hard mode. Do I want to so far outstrip my Scrabble playing friends, that I’m not longer fun to engage with?

Fortunately my regular spiritual practice involves contemplation, so that I’m not totally bereft of the quiet, the relaxed mind, the disengaged and soothing energies which not only heal but inform, infuse with love and acceptance, and enable me to function in my daily life. Not so fortunately, I recognize that even well-armed with knowledge of the addictiveness of technological connectivity, I can succumb to that addiction. With lots of good reasons justifying my behavior, of course.

Except that nothing justifies losing the sense of peace and flow, the ease and pleasure of the only connection necessary for all others to be fulfilled. So I am taking back my quiet moments in the day, setting a schedule for checking work emails, and turning off the phone when I want to read. And I am thanking my Master for the insight, the instruction and the rescue, which seems to have come barely in time to save me from the pain and physical repercussions of severe addiction. All things in their proper time and place. By His Grace.

Wisdom of my Teacher

Wisdom of my Teacher

Stepping Forward with a Different Foot

December 31, 2014

How does one go about finding motivation to continue working at an impossible job? What enabled Sisyphus to continue pushing that boulder up the mountain?

Now How Do I Do This?

Now How Do I Do This?

Vacations are meant to provide rest and relaxation, a break in routine which allows one to return to work refreshed and with new energy and purpose. So far, completing the middle of three days of work between two four-day weekends, I am only seeing a great reluctance to return to my too-full-time job in January.

Not because I don’t like most of the work. Not even because the computer data base we must use is so extremely user unfriendly. My reluctance comes from knowledge that the caseload is too large for me to meet my own expectations of performance. Working ten hours a day, seven days a week, I would not get all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. Working an average of 55 hours a week I most certainly do not do so. More importantly, just keeping track of everything I should be doing is virtually impossible. The size of the job is beyond control.

I’ve tried telling myself that doing my best on the cases I reach is all that I should expect. I’ve attempted to focus on the successes I’ve achieved, the clients who are happy with what I’ve been able to do for and with them. Just today I had a call from one of these, a woman who wanted me to hear the latest challenge she faced and overcame. She wasn’t looking for validation or approval, just for a listening ear so she could hear for herself what she was accomplishing.

But now another day has passed without needed services for a client who lost them due to the mistake of a state agency. I’ve spent time every day for the past eight weeks, first trying to prevent the termination of services, then trying to push someone in authority to recognize and correct the error. I did hear, today, that steps are finally being taken to right the wrong – but I’m typing with crossed fingers. After two months of no one hearing or caring, I’ve moved to Missouri. I’ll believe the situation is corrected when I see it fixed and my client is once more getting services.

Also today I dealt with the case of a client who is having difficulty accessing services from the only provider in the state who can care for her – because my employer (an MCO) does not contract with the provider’s employer (a hospital complex). Procedures needed to get her services include access to levels of review in the MCO that I am not familiar with. I do know whom to ask, and have already been given suggestions on what steps to take next. Teamwork and support are positives in my workplace.

I’ve tried to set myself a standard of doing a complete and to-my-best-ability job for each client with whom I have contact, and not worrying about the ones I’m supposed to check in on, but do not reach. Whenever a client’s needs raise issues with which I’m unfamiliar, I require more hours to meet that standard. More time means more clients I don’t contact, more items on the not-done list, and another trip up the mountain, pushing my boulder.

I, like most people, need to feel some control over my work and some sense of completion. The size of the caseload and the imposed expectations of performance erase control and eliminate completion. Sisyphus and a restaurant dishwasher and I share an unending task that is never done. I can’t ask Sisyphus how he persuaded himself to keep on keeping on. Maybe I should inquire of a few local dishwashers?

Management is trying to hire more staff, to bring the caseloads down. They are also going to replace our nightmare software system – in another year (2016). I’m hardly the only person trudging endlessly up the hill. Too large a number of my coworkers have transferred, not out of the company because it is quite a good employer, but to different departments where the work expectations are achievable.

I don’t easily have that option. So I need to learn to love pushing my boulder endlessly up my hill – and I don’t know how to go about that challenge.

Wisdom of my Teacher

Wisdom of my Teacher

What I do know is that everything that comes into my life can be a source of learning. Maybe my question should therefore be, what will I gain from a stint as Sisyphus? Is this whole experience just about me learning to let go of the need for control, on yet another level of existence?

If the details of such an enormous load are too much for mind to manage, perhaps I need to learn how to set my priorities, move through my days, meet my clients and complete my work based on the dictates of some other part of my persona. I’ve had some of my most satisfying work days when my schedule is totally overturned, and I end up just doing what’s brought to my attention, item after item, into the evening. My more frustrating days usually involve trying persistently to accomplish something I’ve determined as a priority, despite computer glitches and multiple petty distractions.

Sounds like maybe the lesson is, once more as so often, Thy Will not mine, Lord.

In which case I don’t need to figure out how to push my boulder up the hill. I only need to be ready to put out whatever effort each day calls for, perhaps to find myself riding a roller coaster, or sliding downhill on skis, and only occasionally carrying a small pack up a mountain trail.

I can do that. Yes I can. Happy 2015.

Moving Ahead

Moving Ahead

As Above

July 6, 2014

I took a short vacation last week, only three days. Enough to slow down, relax in a comfortable motel, watch World Cup matches and go for walks. Not enough to get the rest I need, but at least a taste of what it will be like soon, when the greatest press of work eases and I can once again have weekends.

It’s almost harder to resume intense work now than it would have been to just keep going. My body is telling me it likes being lazy but physically active. My mind informs me there are other things it wants to consider than the myriad aspects of my demanding job. My spirit…? It seeks constantly for the Source, drawing energy to support what my other components find it necessary to do.

As above, so below is a phrase used by my spiritual teacher, to help us channel our attention in the most beneficial direction. With the proper attitude, and the correct placement of attention, we are able to let Divine energy flow in, showing us our undue attachments and the ways that we divert and misuse that energy.

Attachments are essentially misplaced attention. Have you noticed that when you dislike something, it seems to keep popping up before you until you let go of the dislike, becoming neutral on the subject? Only then, with attention directed somewhere else, can the object/experience/attitude fade from prominence in your life.

On the flip side, I can say that I am now enjoying in my daily outer life a delightful reflection of the companionship, caring, fun, accomplishment, ease and peace that twenty years of patient spiritual pursuit has achieved for me with my Inner Beloved. Not looking for anything more than the gifts already given, I am astounded to find my mundane world such a perfect reflection of the promises of my spiritual one. Not that there aren’t challenges, large and small. How could there not be, since I am far from a perfected spiritual being.

What I understand, though, is that when issues do arise I need give these outer manifestations only passing analysis. The majority of my attention needs to go within, to determine what subtle (sometimes not so subtle) concern or attachment I have neglected to clear from my being.

Today, my reliable, hardworking, much appreciated and well-traveled (220,000 miles) VW gave out as I was driving into town. Rolling along just fine, then a popping sort of bang, a huge puff of smoke, and clearly something was very wrong. Coasting to a stop, calling AAA for a tow, figuring out where to have the car taken so a mechanic can assess the problem – these steps followed in a fairly routine way. I called a friend to take me home, where I collected my second car to return to town and continue with the day’s projects.

Now I am considering what I will do if the repair bill approaches the down payment for a new vehicle. And I’m asking myself what inner, reliable and established habit is also due for a revamp or upgrade? Am I due for a change in my attitude toward spending and debt? Have I been taking the presence of some skill or energy too much for granted? Or is my reliance on the care and attention of my Divine Teacher being put to the test?

My Internet service also failed today – with a 24-48 hour restoration time frame the best that can be promised me by the repair people. And just now, our electric power went off. So three basics of outer daily function have all quit on me at once. For sure, I will be looking to see what I’ve been taking for granted on the inner, and attending to repairs and maintenance of any areas where I find my attentiveness has been lacking!

Thank Thee, Beloved, for serving me up this fine example of “as above so below” – or perhaps I should say “as within, so without”. I deeply appreciate that the lesson is being offered on a weekend day, when nothing is so pressing as to prevent me from taking this matter into contemplation.

Baraka Bashad. May these Blessings Be.

Eyes on the Sparrow

Eyes on the Sparrow

Postscript
The car blew out at 10:00 AM. The Internet quit by 1:30 PM, the electricity died at 3:00 PM.
As of 8:00 PM both electricity and Internet have resumed function.
I await the morning, to see what happens with the car.


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