No such thing as a Stoic phone

stoic-phone-1I’ve had this iPhone for years, got fed up with it, got fed up with always having to chase the updates, always trying to catch up with the latest OS, always fighting off the built-in obsolescence, didn’t bother renewing the contract with O2 (when it finally ended) but instead went off in a huff and bought a cheap, pay-as-you-go, crappy dumb-phone, something deliberately not fashionable, with hardly any “features”, that was out-of-date before it started. ‘If I can’t always have the newest and fastest, I’ll have the oldest and slowest; that’ll show them,’ I thought, not really knowing who ‘they’ were or why I felt the need to show them anything.

But, as so often happens, I got bored with what I had and wanted something new. Again.

guide-good-lifeBut of course what I should have done was – not do that. What I should have done was – remember the book I’ve just finished reading, A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, by William B. Irvine. (Here are three summaries he wrote for Boingboing.net.) That would have saved me a lot of trouble.

Stoicism was a big deal back in the day, up there was Cynicism and Epicureanism and the other Greek and Roman schools of philosophy. Seneca, Epictetus and the emporer Marcus Aurelius were big exponents, but it’s pretty unheard of today, in any kind of structured way. Sure, we know what being stoical means, what being philosophical in the face of some adversity means, but that’s about it.

What the Roman stoics wanted, above all else, was tranquility. No negative emotions, such as grief, anger and anxiety, only positive ones. They felt the majority of our negative emotions were caused by our insatiability. We’re just never satisfied. We work hard to get what we want but then, when we get it, we eventually lose interest in it and go on to want the next new thing. And so on. This even has a name: hedonic adaptation. Sounds very grand.

“One key to happiness, then, is to forestall the adaptation process: We need to take steps to prevent ourselves from taking for granted, once we get them, the things we worked so hard to get.”

Lots of similarities with Buddhism, especially around the notion of impermanence:

“By contemplating the impermanence of everything in the world, we are forced to recognize that every time we do something could be the last time we do it, and this recognition can invest the things we do with a significance and intensity that would otherwise be absent.”

There are many techniques in that book that can help the reader contemplate such things as impermanence, as well as how to ‘stoically’ deal with all the crap life may throw at us. It all makes for fascinating reading, and I’ve been trying to out some of it into practice in various settings – with good results. Some of it reminded me of CBT; stepping out of your comfort zone to “immunise yourself against a fair amount of future anxiety.”

But I kept coming back to their views on desire, though that seems to be harder for me to internalise. Rather than working to satisfy whatever desires we find ourselves with, we should be learning to be satisfied with our life as it is, we should learn to be happy with what we’ve got.

I wish I had remembered that before I wasted all that time on that stupid phone.

stop-wantingI know you’re not interested, but I did finally jailbreak it, by downgrading to iOS 4.o and running redsn0w, but Cydia and ultrasn0w couldn’t get the damned thing to work with my other SIM card. Not bothered, didn’t want it anyway.

Like the Buddha says, stop wanting stupid shit.

iMeh

Some context: For large parts of my working day I’m sitting at my PC reading and writing emails, Word things, database things. I also sit and read/write in the canteen with a cup of something. And at various points throughout the week I go to meetings where I also do the sit/read/write/drink-tea thing.

Sheets of A4 are involved quite heavily in all that, and I was asked if the paperless theme I’m so keen on when discuss the department’s systems and processes could be extended to my own ways of working. So I borrowed an iPad.

I’ve had it for over a week now and feel decidedly meh about it (if that’s not a contradiction).

Overall? Interface; nice. Access to the Word files I need; a faff, Dropbox notwithstanding. Ability to take notes and scribbles; still not as good/quick/free as a pen and paper.

I’ve found that I’m more likely to keep on top of my emails with it (which I’m guessing is a good thing?) and it’s very handy to have a fuller web with me when out and about, but if I was just looking at it as a way of cutting down the paper when I’m away from my desk, I think I’ll pass.

What would help more would be a netbook, I think. Something I can access my stuff on more easily. Something read/write. I’ve no doubt that there are many app(lication!)s out there that can help with that, but I’m just not sold enough on the notion to invest time and energy in searching them all out.

And that VMware View app(lication!) I had a go with. I was really excited about that and loved being able to connect to my desktop to get at my shared folders and files (hang on a minute, you mean– just like a laptop?). I could run Word and Excel, and even Access on it (like a laptop?), and being able to log in to our student records system (like you can do on a laptop?) has come in handy a couple of times. But, dear me, what a pain without a proper keyboard. Or a proper mouse. Just little things like the tab key, or F5 and F6 can make a big difference to your experience of something if they’re not there. Very frustrating, like trying to type wearing mittens. I’d imagine.

PS: My initial unease with this iPad, from an interface design point of view, has become clearer thanks to this BBC news story about Jonathan Ive and Blue Peter. Apparently there’s a word for it, skeuomorph:

It has been widely speculated that Sir Jonathan might now shift the Apple’s software away from its reliance on “skeuomorphic” textures and effects – in other words stop trying to make its apps look like their real-world equivalents. [Link]

Not before time.

The shape of stories

This week’s coaching and mentoring study day was all about stories and how they are used in coaching sessions to illustrate, elucidate, explain, hide and identify what may or may not be going on in our lives, behind the scenes or upfront, in our histories or our aspirations.

We briefly touched on the theory that there are only eight real stories but countless variations, and I was reminded of that Kurt Vonnegut clip I found on Brain Pickings, where he’s explaining his theory around the shape of stories. It may not have much to say about how narratives can help coaches and mentors, but it’s wonderfully astute and elegant. That Brain Pickings article carries on where this clip ends, if you want more.

Patchy first impressions

eye-patchI’m all for paperless this and online that at work, in terms of the systems and processes I try to roll out in place for the people I work with and for, but I was asked to put my money where my mouth is and remove the paper from my own ways of working.

I love lists, and those lists tend to be paper-based. It wasn’t so much those that I was asked to look at (thank goodness), but how I deal with all the reports and papers for the meetings and committees I go to. I did have a look at this before, but with not much success, so I agreed to have another go and asked our IT dept to lend me this here iPad.

Now I’ve had iPhones for a while, and have been a fan, but this is the first time I’ve had a proper go on an iPad, and I’m finding it a little frustrating.

Yes, the interface is all lovely, pinching this and spinning that, but that distant art student in me still has a problem with its schizophrenic approach to design: wonderful hardware, sleek, shiny, minimal, parred down, distinctive; but the software? ‘Notes‘, written on yellow pretend paper, complete with pretend perforation and pretend red margin, set in some kind of pretend leather folio, complete with white pretend stitching round the outside? ‘Contacts‘, set in a similar pretend address book, with pretend pages held together with pretend stitching along the pretend spine? I know that there are other work-related app(lications) out there that aren’t as bad, but still.

The thing that really jumped out at me, though, were those small pretend-raised lines under the F and J keys, ostensibly there to help the touch typists locate the home keys. I mean! The thing with the moveable split keyboard notwithstanding, that still feels wrong, right?

So no, I’m not sure I’m going to get on with this iPad.

In(ter)activity

interactivitySpeaking as an old Interactive Arts graduate, this Onion article really struck a chord and had me shouting “Yes! Exactly!” at the screen over and over again.

Internet users demand less interactivity
‘We Just Want To Visit Websites And Look At Them,’ Users Say

Tired of being bombarded with constant requests to share content on social media, bestow ratings, leave comments, and generally “join in on the discussion,” the nation’s Internet users demanded substantially less interactivity this week. […]

Speaking with reporters, web users expressed a near unanimous desire to visit a website and simply look at it, for once, without having every aspect of the user interface tailored to a set of demographic information culled from their previous browsing history. In addition, citizens overwhelmingly voiced their wish for a straightforward one-way conduit of information, and specifically one that did not require any kind of participation on their part. […]

“Every time I type a web address into my browser, I don’t need to be taken to a fully immersive, cross-platform, interactive viewing experience,” said San Diego office manager Keith Boscone. “I don’t want to take a moment to provide my feedback, open a free account, become part of a growing online community, or see what related links are available at various content partners.”

“All I want is to go to a website, enjoy it for the time I’ve decided to spend there, and then move on with my life,” he continued. “Is that so much to ask?” […]

In addition to demanding less interactivity, Internet users requested fewer links and clickable icons connected to social media outlets through which they could email, share, tweet, pin, blog, or re-blog content. Many said that when they did come across something they found interesting or amusing, nine times out of 10 they just wanted to keep it to themselves.

“Don’t always ask me to send everything I’ve read to everyone I know. And by the same token, I don’t need to know if they’ve read the same thing. That information means nothing to either of us,” said Glendale, AZ shopkeeper Dan Allenby, who could not think of a single instance where it would be helpful to sign into another website through his Facebook account. “If I wanted to tell someone about something, I’ll just tell them individually. Or better yet, they’ll stumble across it on their own.”

The header image for the article is great, just people reading the web, but sat next to it are the obligatory share-this-with-everyone buttons showing some impressive scores, so whilst it’s hitting a nerve with me, there are plenty of others on the other side of the in(ter)activity fence.