So This Is The New Year

I didn’t start this as a resolution post, but here we are. It’s easier to write the introduction after the essay is written, so here I am to tell you this is a post of my 2015 resolutions. This year is all about purging the “someday maybes” and turning ideas into actions. Taking care of myself and moving forward.

1. Stay off Twitter more, read fewer articles on the web, and create more.

I came back from the holiday break with a renewed apathy about social media. I’m a webaholic in the worst way, but vacations and trips where I don’t live on social media seem to be more refreshing. When I went to Germany last summer, and on this recent holiday break, I either didn’t bring or didn’t open my computer, and deleted the Twitter app and a few others. I read four books each two-week trip.

Twitter perhaps is the worst app for me, since its endless feed helps you get sucked in. But talking to people that don’t use Twitter, you start to realize just how few people use Twitter, how unrepresentative it is of the actual population. My feed is dominated by tech and media types, and it ends up being quite a circular clique. When news came that the owner of The New Republic had replaced the editor, and most of the masthead resigned in protest, my Twitter feed exploded with the news, posting reactions and opinions all day long. No one I talked to offline had even heard of the magazine. I don’t even read it, let alone care about it. It was time for a change.

So far this year I’ve been on Twitter once a day at most. I’ve retweeted 2 things since the beginning of the year and posted nothing. I don’t miss it. I’m sure I’ll use it more for networking and self-promotion when the need arises, and I enjoy having an outlet where I can interact with people I’d never meet in real life—authors of books I’ve enjoyed, speakers whose talks I’ve watched on recordings—and yet, I need to make room for the people that I’ve not only met, but am friends with in real life. I guess that makes me one of those “unpluggers” but it’s more me acting on a realization. If a friend doesn’t add anything to your life, and only takes away your energy and manipulates your emotion, you should separate from that friend.

So, Twitter, I’m breaking up with you. I’ll use the cowards method and just stop calling you as often, send you a text when I’m intoxicated (with ideas and thoughts), but stop abiding by the demands on my time and attention that you make of me. I won’t be your enabler, I’m cutting you off.

Twitter isn’t alone. I’m unsubscribing from email newsletters and RSS feeds en masse. If I don’t open it, if I don’t consistently get value from the posts (and instead just click through them so the numbers disappear), I do not need them. I usually pile them back up, but I’m hoping to focus more on tangible goals this year. As I was unsubscribing to feeds, I was adding new ones, but ones about sewing or cooking.

I feel proud when I write something, like this blog post. I feel proud when I make something new, like a brand new recipe, or sew something, or I finish a book. I don’t feel proud when I consume content on the web. It feels like an obligation, and fills up an endless keyword repository in my brain (opening articles that I might not find interesting, but someone else might), google docs full of ideas (but mostly links to articles), and a OneTab extension with over 2000 stored tabs. I’m learning, but don’t leave myself time to think.

I’ve always associated part of my identity with being informed. I was notorious in high school for using the phrase “I read somewhere” and asking a question. I was showing off. I also couldn’t remember where I’d read the fact, but always wanted to know more. That won’t change. What will change is the focus. I’m taking back my attention span, and lasering in on what (and who) matters to me.

2. Learn JavaScript

I made a lot of headway on this goal last year. I know HTML and CSS fairly well, and want to flesh out my front-end web language knowledge. It’s slow going, considering that it isn’t a display-oriented language but rather an object-oriented language, but I’m pushing on. I’m focusing on this so heavily because not only is it a practical language to know, it will help me achieve some other, nerdy goals that I have.

  • I want to learn how to call an API, which is apparently fairly easy to do in-browser, but I have no idea how it works. I have all sorts of applications that I use, have used for years, that have accumulated vast amounts of data on me that I have no way of accessing. Last.FM comes to mind especially. Nearly everything I’ve listened to for the last 7 years is documented in there, but the only way to get that information out to play with is through an API. Let’s do it. What will I do once I get that information? Well, then it’s data visualization time. I’ve been trending somewhat quantified self this past year as well, influenced by the greater social trend of self-tracking but also by a desire to better understand myself.
  • I want to learn how to make cool data visualizations. Maybe I was super into punk music until college, and then my teenage angst calmed down. Maybe it took a few more years. I’m curious to know how I’ve grown, and it’s easiest to see when directly manipulating and visualizing data that can tell me in ways that my own, unreliable memory can’t.
  • I want to write something that uses the Tangle JavaScript library. I was transfixed by this when I first read Explorable Explanations (one of the open tabs I read that managed to stay open until the whole article was read). This, this is what the web is all about. Interactive, educational, essays. No more news articles copy-pasted from their paper mockups. Not only can references be made interactive on the web, now the information behind them can be directly manipulated for greater understanding. Especially considering how content on the web is read differently than content on paper, it’s important to have ways to convey long, detailed information in understandable, interactive ways. I want to be a part of that. Essays like Parable of the Polygons show me that it’s truly possible. You can read countless articles about how segregation happens, but somehow seeing it so simply depicted—and interactively understood, the concept becomes so much clearer.

I completed the Javascripting tutorial (which I loved, because it helped me get familiar with Terminal and writing JavaScript in a text editor), and am 71% through the codecademy tutorial. I just need to practice, practice, practice. And keep learning.

3. Read something huge, and write something huge.

I’ve owned Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid for a few years now. I managed to get a few pages into it, but not far. It’s a huge book. I’ve read books that long before, but not quite as dense, especially without guidance (book club, anyone?). I’d like to read it this year. It’s been recommended by many people, but when two of the people I thought least likely to agree on something each independently told me I should read it, I knew it was worthy of reading. Now I just need to read it.

I’ve also had a giant idea lurking, for nearly all of last year. I’ve been using a Scrivener trial to try to make better sense of all the tangents I keep going down. I set up four Google alerts to see if new things were published about the topic. It’s morphed into an idea that I’m collecting links about, instead of writing about. Part of it is that I don’t feel even remotely qualified to be writing it and drawing the types of conclusions that I want to draw. Cue an endless link-hunt. But when I think about it, I still get interested, and excited. It may be a dead idea, with too much going on, but I’m going to try to pull it out of the weeds this year. Optimally it’d involve some independent research involving large-scale web URL analysis. Realistically, I have no idea how to do that and not much of an idea how to approach that kind of project.

So there we have it. My three major goals for next year. Let’s get to work.