So, another New Year comes and goes. A time when aspiration meets regret and we dust off the cobwebs of conviction steeling ourselves for the possibility of rebirth, aiming to become that shining beacon of accomplishment we know is buried deep down somewhere. Or something like that. I am, actually, in favour of little self-reflection, and if a declaration of future intent helps solidify one’s resolve, so much the better. In late summer of 2003, after my father died of cancer, and I decided to stop smoking. I felt that I needed a few months to psychologically prepare, so it was obvious to cement to January 1st in my mind as the inception date of this new, nicotine-free me (still working as a waiter in those days, I couldn’t face the thought of serving multitudinous Christmas revellers without the crutch of nicotine).
The morning after NYE, I ditched any left over cigarettes, threw out all the other smoking accoutrements, washed all the clothes and bed linen I owned (which wasn’t that much to be fair), and tentatively entered the fraternity of ex-smokers. Because I had made a conscious decision months earlier, giving myself time to get used to the idea, quitting was not as difficult as I had anticipated. More than the smoking itself, it was the ritualised practice that was difficult to break. What to do with your hands was an unexpected problem to have to deal with. Rather fortuitously, this particular New Year coincided with the ban on smoking in public places. As a lame teenager, smoking represented for me an entry point into a modicum of previously inaccessible ‘coolness’ and had therefore taken on a social dimension in my mind. The thought of traipsing outside into the cold, wet January nights did not appeal, and I could never imagine Bogey or 007 ever doing that. So I managed to quit and, subsequently, despite the cliché and arbitrariness, I’ve always used New Year to deliberate on new goals and personal changes for the better.
This year some recent podcast listening has been influential in my thought process. Hearing others articulate on concerns I have had in mind seems to have imbued them with a measure of validity. Here are a mere two proclivities which I will endeavour to take forward in all good faith.
1. Take Sleep Seriously
Being an insomniac I felt a rush of solidarity listening The Blind Boy Podcast of Jan 2. The inimitable, fruity brogue of the enigmatic Rubberbandits frontman deconstructs how sleep is often ignored in favour of diet, exercise, meditation etc, as the vital ingredients to wellbeing and productivity. Blindboy excoriates ubiquitous use of his mobile phone; the central culprit of a disrupted sleep patterns, and defines a personal mandate to “take sleep seriously’. The podcast has become required listening as a heady mixture of soliloquy, history and profanity. Other titbits in this episode include why it’s better to focus on the process of exercise not the outcome, and how creativity can be all consuming in both positive and negative ways. The bon mot though is injunction to “be realistic with your resolutions. Don’t be taking ten on, because we set ourselves up with resolutions and we can’t do them. Then in February you feel like a prick”. Sound advice in my book.
2. Internet use can be both positive and negative. Recognise and manage the difference between the two.
As you may have gathered, the theme of my resolution though process has much to do with the myriad effects of the Internet, and particularly social media, on both our understanding of knowledge and our very way of being. In flouncy academic terms the epistemology and ontology of the always culture is playing havoc with any centred sense of selfhood. Podcasts Talking Politics episode on Facebook, Episode #145 of The Waking Up Podcast (The Information War) and The Intelligence Squared podcast with Tristan Harris and Helen Lewis all discuss many aspect of the malaise, from the undermining of democracy, to the crisis of trust in information, to the very hate filled cesspool of social media discourse. But this technology is not going anywhere and, in many ways, it has had hugely positive impact. I certainly don’t want to advocated a 21st century wave of luddism. Yet I, along with many others I suspect, have reached a tipping point where the need to take ownership of the virtual life seems imperative. The tech companies are not going to do it for us (not anytime some). So, some modified behaviours I am going to put into practice include: notice when I am mindless scrolling Social Media with no actual purpose; don’t unthinkingly and without reading share social media posts; don’t let corporate algorithms dictate my culture intake; seek the provenance of what one reads online as much as possible; be ruthless in carving out specific times in the work day for emailing; turn the damn things off now and again.
Happy New Year!