I’m rounding out a stint of travel to Serbia, Germany, the UK and am now back in the states. It has been a wonderful experience, even if I am ready for a bit of quiet at home for a while.
One thing that strikes me as I travel to these foreign destinations and meet new people and experience new things: work stays the same.
This is the effect of spending a large percentage of time in front of a screen. No matter what the surrounding environment, with a wifi connection, a laptop and possibly a VPN, I can access the exact same setup as anywhere else. No surprise to most people, why should work ever change for an internet worker?
It’s actually the effect of having that consistency of experience that intrigues me. Very few other professions (that aren’t primarily screen based) would have the same effect. A doctor in a different country would need to learn the local trends and traditions. A construction worker would need to figure out how the building codes are different. An accountant would need to learn the local tax rules. With the internet, it really starts to normalize.
This combines with the cultural homogenization I observed. I’m not saying that all of the places I visited are converging towards the suburban Ohio experience that I’m accustomed to (thank goodness). But there is a sneaking suspicion that advertisers are following me from country to country as they attempt to penetrate new markets. Life is not a series of advertisements (I hope) but the availability of comforts and fashion across the globe has me questioning daily experience in another country.
On a broader level, this starts to make me question the idea of location and citizenship at all. Hopefully I don’t sound ungrateful for the comforts a US passport and background affords me. But now that I start to experience similar daily experience in and out of work and an overall convergent culture and I start to wonder what differentiates one country over another. On the surface it seems like:
- Power standards (plugs, voltages)
- Language (though I benefit from the world moving towards an English standard)
- Tax structures, bureaucratic struggles and the services the pay for, such as healthcare.
Yes, this is a drastic oversimplification. But calling out these things as some of the large differentiating points, I really wonder what a “internet” passport and citizenship would look like, some kind of new world order simplified across all the willing participants of the web. Not just a tax haven and a lack of regulation (looking at you SeaLand), but an actual society of people that are living and working online. A government run by hackers and makers, optimized for low overhead and allowing maximum flexibility between the various geographies of the world. It would probably be a mess, but allows for an interesting thought experiment. Where would move people choose to live in the real world? How would that further impact culture? What defines citizenship in the first place?
Ultimately, I am grateful for the opportunity to work from a variety of locations and bring my work with me. I continue to be an American and likely would choose that again if given the opportunity. Perhaps I’ll start working from more varied locations though.
Despite my love of words, I have never actually picked up another language. I have “studied” both French and Japanese in school for multiple years, but neither of those stuck past a few phrases and vague recognition. While the courses are often emphasized in education, actual long term proficiency (or really long term practice) is never a priority. Thus, American kids don’t normally speak two languages unless a second one is learned at home.
I’m currently in Germany and headed to Serbia soon. I have been in both of these countries once before and rather enjoy the sounds of both languages (obviously I glean a couple of “freebie” words in German, so I’m a bit more partial to that). For both languages/places, I feel super awkward about my linguistic cluelessness. Something I pride myself on is my proficiency of communicating with other humans (ie. explaining an engineering concept to a non-engineer); but in other languages, that skill is completely worthless. It’s like I’ve lost a portion of my brain. It’s like I’m helpless.
I have friends who have started picking up languages by daily practice with tools like Duolingo (a really great app in it’s own right); but the successful ones are those who are immersing themselves in some way. It seems that the key piece is not just grammar or vocabulary, but being ok with working on your skills. Perhaps the most key skill is dealing with the imminent awkwardness of learning a new tongue.
I’m not sure when I will have time to pick up a new language, but I might try to put myself into a situation where I don’t have a choice.
Thanks to Laura for the awkward photo
I have been working on a new mode of connecting with others in the engineering community. It’s been a slog to get people to try it out and use it regularly, but I totally get it. I have so many modes of communication these days:
- Email (multiple email addresses)
- Text (multiple phone numbers)
- gChat (tied to multiple email addresses)
- Slack (multiple “rooms”)
- Twitter DM (multiple Twitter accounts)
- Facebook messenger
- LinkedIn messages
- Forums (I run one of my own, though I hardly have time to visit it)
- SupplyFX (the new site I’m working on)
It really feels like a popularity contest. Any platform is only as good as the one with all the important people on it. This is called a “network effect“. Getting to that point is the hard part. Convincing enough people that it is worthwhile to spend time in one platform vs another.
Aside from thinking about how to get more people to adopt another platform, I feel quite a bit of stress about the range of platforms that I’m already on. What if I’m missing a message? What if someone I’m trying to get ahold of missed my message? Do I try other channels? What if it’s a conscious act (ignoring me)? What if there’s a platform I should be on that I’m not?
It feels like a set of social groups that you can bounce between; sometimes it’s just talking to an individual…sometimes it’s talking to a group. There is definitely a FOMO feeling in there as well (without the accompanying torschlusspanik).
The worst part is also the best solution. Picking one or two methods and sticking to them. In theory, this makes a lot of sense. Our brains can only handle so much stimulation and input, and we really should spend time talking to others in person or working on interesting things. A lot of these modes of communication can be used as escapes instead of connection platforms (people on forums all day arguing about making something instead of making things, posting random nonsense to IRC channels, etc). The downside to this is the assumption that if someone really needs to get ahold of you, they will jump to the platform you have chosen, even if just to grab your attention for a bit. That’s depressing if no one actually jumps over. Sure, it’s ego, but limiting myself to one platform could throw into sharp relief that I’m not really needed for much.
I’m going to keep trying a variety of these platforms and will probably even try out new ones as they pop up. As I have written about recently, I’m most interested in increasing my in-person connections, because those will be the most meaningful (even if the cost is highest for those). I’m planning to reduce communication platforms in the future, but for now….I’m pretty easy to find.
I’ve been playing drums since I was 8 years old; sooner than that if you count pots and pans. But if I look at reality, I haven’t been playing drums for a couple years now and finally decided it’s time to pass them on to another person. Well. Sell them.
The drumset itself was nice enough and I played the hell out of it many times. I even used it to record a few songs with my college band and played some fun gigs. I’m not really sad about getting rid of this set of drums. It’s that I know I’m not going to buy another set for a long time. Maybe ever. So it ultimately feels like an identity issue. I used to be a drummer. Now I’m a former drummer. It’s interesting to think about when that transition actually happens.
I’ve already written a bit about the changes in my work priorities, but there have been changes in my personal life as well. It may seem like a silly example, but switching instruments seems indicative of these changes. I play piano (and sing) instead of drums now. What does this mean?
- There are no restrictions on sound or when I can play (I can use headphones with my piano).
- I am making melodic music and singing along.
- I am the lead player, not a backup player.
- I don’t require other people to make fully formed songs (experimental drums-only songs aren’t my thing).
The third one is probably the biggest. I don’t want to be the background music anymore. Plus I have always loved singing and that is a very unlikely proposition as a drummer.
As I wrote in my last post, I’m evaluating what got me to the point where I’m living in the isolated suburbs; but since I’m here, I’ve optimized for not having other people around. Finding bandmates requires that they are on the same schedule as me, like the same music as me and are interested in playing music with me. That’s a pretty narrow set of people. I like playing music too much to wait on others to decide they’re ready to play.
So I will celebrate this next step in my life. It’s really a part of a larger trend, I think. I know the general thing makes me happy (music), but I need to find my place in it so I can continue on (piano). Since I have already moved moved on and I still have music in my life, it makes the transition easier. But maybe I’ll go bang on those drums one last time…
One thing that I always loved on The Amp Hour was coming up with alliterative titles for the episodes (my favorite word is still “ostrobogulous“, used for episode 162). After roughly 150 occasions of naming shows like this and realizing the increasing amount of time it takes to come up with each one, I decided to move away from the practice and simplify. However, this instilled a fascination with odd words (see also: Logolepsy). There are even a few words that I “invented”, usually by combining latin bases I could figure out, smashing together entire words or by changing the case of a word.
Recently I encountered the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows. This is a project to inject unique words into the common lexicon to describe…well, common feelings. I should note, I’m way late to the party; this site has been around and covered in the media for years now. That doesn’t make it any less awesome. I love the bold nature of inventing words to help out the population. I will continue to do that as I can and will use one of the author’s inventions below. Amazing how the internet works though, isn’t it? Just throw words out there and sometimes strangers pick them up.
This post is not actually about words. It’s about my recent difficulty voicing some feelings I have encountered. I discovered two new words, which hopefully replace the paragraphs of explanation it would normally require. And although me using new words to describe these feelings doesn’t particularly ease the description of emotions from one human to another (me to you), perhaps it will on the second pass, should I mention these feelings again. If nothing else, I hope these words introduce a bit of logolepsy into your life.
The first word is nodus tollens:
I am getting older, as we all are. But as I continue to move towards my goals in life and the goals keep shifting, this has me looking backwards, not forwards. Specifically, looking at and analyzing how I got to where I am today. I don’t regret anything in my life; quite the opposite, actually. I’m super grateful for all of the experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met. It’s more of a feeling of “how did I get here” (thanks, Talking Heads, for never allowing me to say that phrase without singing it).
This is especially how I’m feeling professionally. I have had some wonderful opportunities in the field of electronics, but as I move away from hands-on electronics and towards product management, I see it all differently. I don’t dislike it, far from it. It’s more like I’m analyzing the parts that got me to where I am; more importantly, how those same pieces will impact my future.
The second word is Torschlusspanik. This is a German word (not from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows):
This word literally translates to “Gate Shut Panic”, and was offered to me on Twitter when I was describing the feeling and my interest in finding a word that represents it. The description I gave was the manic, physical feeling one gets from the feeling of FOMO (or “Fear Of Missing Out”). Not just the general anxiety that the world is moving on without you, but a specific experience that you can visualize and predict the outcome. This has happened to me even (and possibly especially) when I know the event will never come to fruition. If you’ll excuse the stream of consciousness description, this is what I would have fully described on Twitter:
It feels a bit like a treasure hunt…It’s not actually a treasure you’re seeking though. Instead, it’s a piece of knowledge. It feels like I have just discovered that I’m on the edge of finding the meaning of life or figured out 98% of an extremely valuable equation. I’m not there yet, but it’s within my grasp. It’s a race against time, if I can only reach a certain landmark first…but suddenly, as soon as I realize it is a thing that I want, I feel that all the world has figured it out at the same time….and now I’m not just in a race against myself and the clock, but looking around I realize that the window of opportunity is closing and each person is a potential competitor. I can see the goal, but the closer I get, the more anxious I feel to get there.
The bit about others figuring it out at the same time is never actually the case. The feeling is surely some form of a cognitive bias, but I couldn’t figure out which one…perhaps the Frequency Illusion/Baader Meinhof Phenomenon? Really it’s my brain projecting my newfound information onto the world that I see. As a result, the feeling of anxiety in the present increases, with no actual impact towards future events.
Two words, together
Combined, these two words point towards my somewhat recent and frantic desire to “figure things out”. What do I want in life? Where do I want to end up? Who are the people I want to surround myself with?
Of course, deciding on the future is a gradual course and requires habits, as I mentioned in a previous post. My resultant feelings are an anxiousness to move towards some end goal, as I have always done. Instead, I need to enjoy the ride. I’ve never been good at enjoying the ride. Chaos and serendipity has resulted in some of the best events in my life, things that I remain grateful for. However, I would never have chosen those paths if presented with the option.
While my dive back into the world of words is a recent thing, I believe this entire introspective exercise was caused by this beautifully written post on Raptitude, called “Where the wealth was all along“. It discusses the reassessment of life events once life is over. You’re sitting in a studio reviewing video montages of your life and not just the highlight reel, but also the near-misses. Those are what haunt me. This passage in particular:
Only in a world of true abundance does one have the opportunity to worry about the things they are missing. But that’s how lucky I have been, and again, I can only state my gratefulness towards my path in life thus far. In fact, that is the point of the article and the “wealth” that the author writes about:
The piece goes on to say that in the infinite possibilities and paths our lives can take, the majority of us choose the safe option, but also cherish the connections we already have. I feel that way and believe I have acted that way in the past. But my mind turns to the “fifty undeveloped relationships” for each one currently in my life. Perhaps it is my engineer brain doing an optimization. Want more deep connections in life? You need to meet a LOT more people.
I believe that is the underlying urgency I feel these days, the “closing of the gate” and the anxiety that comes with it. I seek to increase the number of undeveloped relationships, in the hopes that I will gain yet another deep relationship I can cherish at the end of my life. Whenever I’m offered a tour or a walkthrough of a new place, I’m often ambivalent about what I’ll see. But I go along in the hopes to meet new people. The same goes for meetings. The same goes for my upcoming travel. I am happy (and lucky) to go see a bunch of historical sites in Europe. But I’m really looking forward to meeting new people, from new walks of life. Perhaps this is my best tool to combat the feeling of torschlusspanik. Perhaps the only way to not care about the gate closing is to go with the flow.
The nodus tollens comes from looking back onto my personal, career and life choices: in what world does an engineer expect to be hanging out with other people? It is, of course, true that engineers spend much of their career dealing with the intricacies of interpersonal relationships, but I didn’t know that at the beginning; I definitely didn’t choose the engineering path for the people! Another example of serendipity, I suppose. But then again, most professions require human interaction, so perhaps I would have turned out OK regardless. The nodus tollens also causes me to analyze the events that led to me living in the isolated suburbs of an industrial midwest city. That hardly optimizes for human connection. Many of the decisions I’ve made have been towards career success, but not towards human connection. It turns out that I long for connection and it seems that I should start to change my habits to favor it.
Introspection is not a normal activity for me; it definitely doesn’t happen on the scale of this article very often. I’m sure whatever reasons I list explaining my current state of mind aren’t the only reasons, but other underlying reasons will likely take longer to discover. Overall, I think it’s pretty healthy to do this once in a while. I think it’s where art comes from. It even makes me feel alive for some reason. Like I should have been feeling this all along. Why should the “plot of [my] life” ever make sense? Why aren’t we always reassessing? I am going to do my best to sit in this discomfort, enjoy the ride, write about it a bit more and–obviously–discover (or invent) new words to describe what I’m feeling.