Sunday, September 6, 2015

Is the Internet Taking Over Our Lives?

I know at least one person who thinks so, and he believes it will be the downfall of us all. Of course, he is in his nineties and has never even used a computer, but he hears about sites being hacked and information stolen. The TV news stations don't seem to run stories about the good side of the Internet.

I suppose anything can be misused and get out of control, but, aside from the occasional glitch that has me cussing at the screen, I think the Internet is absolutely wonderful. I'm certainly not addicted to it, but I sure wouldn't want to find myself in a situation where I didn't have access anymore.

My computer is my newspaper. I sit down first thing each morning with a cup of tea to find out what is going on in the world. I get the vast majority of my news via Google News. Because the articles come from so many different sources, and I even have some choice in which version I read, I am not subjected to a continuously biased slant that distorts what I hear. And if I want to learn more about a topic in the news, I've got Google Search right there in front of me. This morning I spent an hour learning more about Syria and what has caused this current refugee crisis.

My computer is my contact with our local weather station. After I check whether it is supposed to rain today and what time, I can also find out the weather for all of Mexico, the US, and even the world. Are any storms threatening Terry's fishing on Mexico's Pacific coast? Or his brother's fishing on Florida's Gulf Coast? If I check again before my evening walk, I'm much less likely to be caught in an unexpected downpour. And I receive email warnings of any pending tsunami threats so I can warn Terry if necessary.

Facebook is my connection to locals and my family and friends back in the US. It allows me to live and travel in foreign lands without losing touch. I didn't make it to my 40th high school reunion, but many of us are now in regular contact via Facebook.

Blogger is my soapbox. It gives me a place to share my ideas and opinions. No one is put in the position of having to read if they don't want to or disagree. I actually have almost no idea who is reading what I write, but I know they are from all over the world. And there must be a lot of them, because I have over 93,000 pageviews since I started a couple of years ago. Whoever you are, thank you! I started writing because I had something to say; I never expected so many people would be interested in reading it. And all of you in Ukraine - how in the world did you find me?

Since I decided to move back to Portland, I've bookmarked the Portland Monthly magazine. Every once in a while, I go to their site to see what's going on in Portland. When I arrive, I'll be right on top of the latest happenings.

When I moved to Mexico over eleven years ago, one of the hardest things for me to give up was my weekly visits to the public library. I always had a stack of books waiting to be read. If fact, I picked this location in Mexico because a local organization has a library where members can check out books in English. After I decided that the membership cost was too steep for what they offered, I started stocking up on paperbacks on every trip north of the border. Then I visited every book exchange I could find (and we had a lot of them then) to trade those books for others. Then I got an MP3 player and a non-resident library card for the Queens, New York library. I could download books to my computer or audiobooks to the MP3 player. That was wonderful! Well worth the fifty dollars a year! And I could download hundreds of magazines through Zinio with my library card. Unfortunately, they don't have the best website and the employees don't seem to understand how the system works, so I haven't been able to renew again since my card expired a few months ago. So sad, but my MP3 player broke now, too, so I guess it's time to move on. Now I have an iPad with Kindle. With amazon, it is just amazing how simple it is to find the book I'm looking for, have a virtual look inside to verify that it's what I want, click a button, and it's mine. Yep, it's not the same as a real book with real pages, and it's not the free public library, but it will hold me over until I get there.

I've found that Pinterest actually does a pretty good job of replacing the magazines I used to read on the Zinio site. I can do a search in an interesting category, find a photo that grabs my attention, then go to the orginal site that shared the photo. There is usually an article or blog post attached. It's almost like a magazine without all the ads. I get vegan and vegetarian recipes, lots of decorating ideas (for my future tiny apartment in Portland), and see pages and pages of drawings and sketches like I am (supposedly) doing.

I have Skype, so my computer is also my telephone to call family and friends in the states. When the person I'm calling also has Skype, we can even make a video call.

If I had to do it over again, I don't know if I would have bothered to go to a university at 40. Why, when the information is all out there just for the asking? I hear in-depth discussions of current events by listening to NPR on my iPad. I watch interesting lectures on endless topics with Ted Talks. I have discovered many free sites to get me started in studying various foreign languages. The I can go on and learn more with Rosetta Stone. And Wikipedia may not be perfect, but the amount of information available there is fantastic.

I am my own travel agent with the Internet. I can buy plane or train tickets, rent a car, and arrange to stay in a private home in Tuscany or Provence or Portland. And I do all that with much more information than I ever had working through a travel agent.

I am downloading my CDs to my iPod Touch so I won't have to move them and the stereo back to the states. I don't have Netflix yet, like nearly all of my friends do, but I can definitely see it in my not-too-distant future. Shoot, even my exercise is online since I got a Fitbit and walk at least 4 miles a day!

So, I spend a lot of time on my computer, but is the Internet taking over my life? Or am I learning to use the Internet to make my life easier and more interesting and to stay connected with family and friends? I think the important point is that I am in control. I'm not online all day. I don't feel the need to check my email when I'm hanging out with friends. I know many people seem to compete to have as many Facebook friends as possible, and they read the posts in order of popularity. Why would I care what other people liked to read? I want to see what my friends, and only my real friends, have to say. And why would I care how many people are following my pins on Pinterest? I pin things that I find interesting and want to be able to find again. If someone else likes the same thing, fine, they can pin it, too, but what has that got to do with me? Maybe mine is an introvert's form of social media.

What do you think? Do I waste my time online? How do you use the Internet?

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Who am I? What do I want?

Do you really even know?

My mention of a "self-examined life" yesterday has sent my brain spinning in so many different directions. Preparing to begin a new chapter in my life means that the possibilities are almost endless. Whether a new life chapter starts by chance or by choice, time should be taken to evaluate exactly what we want and what steps we need to take to get there. Otherwise, we can just roll along on the current of life, letting it take us wherever it wants to go, until we wake up one day and wonder how we got so far off track.

I used to have a quote that I kept around for years and years, but, of course, now that I want it, I can't find it. I don't think I ever found out who said it, but it was something about how we go through life with a plan in mind, but one little thing happens that gets us sidetracked a bit, then another thing comes along and sends us off another way, and after a while, life just takes over and we don't even remember where we were going in the first place. I always thought it was a very pessimistic way of looking at life, but it could certainly happen that way if we don't stay on top of things.

Another reason for occasional re-evaluation of our goals is that things change, but we can be so stuck in the old plan that we don't even notice that something has gone wrong. I had a huge epiphany in the middle of the night last night, so I'm going to share it here as an example of what I mean.

I'm a quilt artist. For almost twenty years I lived for quilting. I started a quilt shop 21 years ago so a real job wouldn't distract me from my passion. I woke early in the morning so I could work on quilts before I went to the shop, and I stayed up late at night to get in a few more blocks or a few more stitches before bed. After a time, running the business was interfering too much with my quilting time, so I retired from the shop and did custom machine quilting from home, sold quilts through an art gallery, and taught quilting classes in many different places. In order to keep my passion fed, I had kept a piece of almost every fabric that I carried in my shop, and I eventually moved that fabric to Mexico. Once here, I got together with a couple other women to start a quilt guild, and I kept on quilting. But there's no market for quilts down here. Mexican artisans accept such small pay for their work that few art buyers are willing to pay a fair price for a handmade quilt. Eventually, I've slowed down my quilting, but I haven't quit completely. I entered and won Judge's Choice at a national quilt show just last year. But it is hard to keep the flame of passion burning when the results of my work are just piling up higher and higher.

In preparation for my move, and to help pay for it, I've been going through my fabric, deciding what I can part with, measuring it and marking it with prices. I've gone through all of it, and so far, half of it is in the 'sell' pile. But that still leaves an awful lot in the 'take' pile. So here's my conundrum...

I would like to rent a tiny studio apartment when I get to Portland. If I can keep the price down, I won't have to get a job to supplement my Social Security to pay the rent. If I take the fabric, I may be able to make and sell quilts up there because the market is much better. However, if I take the fabric, I will have to have at least one bedroom to use as a studio, and that will make the rent $100-200 higher. If everything fell into place just perfectly, I would be able to make and sell a quilt a month and that would more than cover the extra rent.

So this is where my epiphany came in last night. I awoke from an apparently sound sleep to the realization that I don't want to quilt any more. I'm absolutely sick to death of the tedius cutting and piecing of tiny little pieces of fabric, the monotonous machine stitching and pressing of all those pieces, and then the endless hours to quilt the layers together.

I still like quilts. I still want to snuggle under a quilt. I want to decorate my home with quilts, but I don't want to make any more. I have plenty unfinished projects that I still love and still want to finish, but that's enough already!

So I woke up this morning with determination to get back into my studio and start to work on getting that 'take' pile down to only my most special favorites. I can't even begin to explain the relief I feel after making this decision. A whole huge burden has been lifted off my back. The thing is, it doesn't mean I can never quilt again; it just means I might have to buy some new fabric IF I ever make that decision. But I know it will never become a life-consuming passion like it was before. And I'm good with that.

For the moral of my story, I have to go back to blogger Joshua Becker:

     "We can never fully know how much of a burden our possessions have become until we begin to remove them."

What burdens are you carrying around that you aren't even aware of? What are you allowing to stand between you and your perfect life?