On a recent vacation to Japan, I found myself frustrated by the poor performance of my 4th generation iPod Touch which I had decided to take with me in lieu of my phone or any other iDevice. At the time, I found the ability to do anything basic, even type, painfully difficult as the device struggles on iOS 6.1.6 with its paltry 800 Mhz processor and 256 MB of RAM. In retrospect, it may behoove those that rely on technology in their day-to-day to take only the most basic (and perhaps even poorly performing) device with them for emergencies on vacation.
Besides the dependence on some services on the availability of SMS, I find now the experience rather freeing. I had also, by my own neglect, forgotten to add my feed reader to the Touch before leaving. As it required a form of second-factor authentication, I could not add it "in the field," as it were. When I came back, however, I discovered the inherent value of this arrangement.
Perhaps it is no secret that the internet can be a very negative place. When dealing with it on a daily basis, I find myself understandably deadened to any form of reaction to such content. What I did not realize is the possible related effects it might be having on my happiness generally. I suppose I believed that by distancing myself from negative reactions would allow me to feel positive reactions instead, as if one's emotional wellspring drained proportionally to the intensity of emotion. I am beginning to gather, however, that this policy may not be a healthy one.
As is regular with time zone changes, I found myself active and alert at 4am the morning after my arrival. I decided to begin to cull the mounting pile of articles that accumulate in my feed aggregator when I am away. In doing so, I observed a number of interesting patterns.
First, the number of fluff pieces in a few of my feeds make themselves immediately apparent at this macro level, particularly at places like mashable.com with entries like What Makes the Wolverine Unbreakable?.
Second, the sheer number of negative articles and comments in said articles became painfully apparent, like a bucket of ice cold water poured over you in a warm bath. It's not that I wasn't aware they existed or that I didn't try to ignore them in the past. But it became increasingly clear that what had been missing was my emotional reaction to them. In the distance I'd been blessed with over the past couple weeks (save for one traveling partner's occasional "dude, let me tell you about this negative post on Reddit"), I seem to be able to feel the miasma of unhappiness oozing out of this electric exchange, fettering my general enjoyment and appreciation for things.
I had generally been wondering after my own happiness, as old hobbies that once held my attention no longer could do so, even though we are arguably on upward slopes with many of them, particularly video games. I wonder now if it is this general lack of enthusiasm that is caused by the emotional armor we must all don, in varying degrees of solidity, when dealing with negativity online. Like its real-world equivalent, this armor may protect us against many dangers, real or imagined. But like the armor of the past, not only is it something few of us can afford, it weighs us down and makes us inflexible. Or, in the worst case, it may be the very thing that leads to our demise.
In light of this, I have proposed an experiment to myself. In the spirit of "don't say anything unless you have something nice to say" (not that I say much online generally), I will attempt to take as much positive outlook on things as possible. In my line of work, this may be a difficult proposition. As Chris Granger mentions in his interesting post about bettering programming, software engineering is an antagonistic environment, though it doesn't necessarily have to be this way. It may be possible to approach problems without a "put up or shut up" philosophy. I feel like this approach may end up being better; as opposed to distancing myself from a reaction, I will choose to feel a response, but to take the upside as opposed to no side at all. As a friend of mine has said, this year will be the year of "relentless optimism."