A Timeout From Technology

citytreesDuring 2015, I managed to crank out at least one semi-well-conceived post each week for the online glory that is Nipple Monkey. And as you may have noticed, I offered up nothing during the month of January 2016.

I wanted to take a little break. Not necessarily to focus on other things, though that was one of the upsides. I simply took a break for the sake of taking a break, to try something different. And not having that weekly need to feed the digital beast sparked some introspection into my relationship with technology.

The Trouble With Technology
I’m a long-time tech geek, old enough to be considered an early adopter of computers – even before they invented the personal computer. In fact, I was programming back in the 70s. So it’s no surprise that I pounced on the iPhone when it came out in 2007.

The point is that I like gadgets and technology in general. But I find that I often use these sorts of things quite differently from most people I know.

Let’s stick with the smart phone as an example. Have you ever had drinks or dinner with someone who not only leaves their phone on but actually sets it on the table? Worse yet, a phone that constantly chimes or vibrates with a steady stream of alerts?

I liken it to having some obnoxious guy constantly trying to butt into our private conversation. And yet you indulge him on the off chance that he might suddenly say something important? That’s crazy.

If I commit to spending time with you, I want to spend time with you. Not you and literally everyone you know.

That means the people who I’m not spending time with have to wait, because you are my priority. I expect the same in return. It’s as simple as that.

ifoneTechnology For Me,
Not For You

As I frequently tell people, especially those who complain that I don’t always answer my phone, I didn’t buy a mobile device so that they can reach me whenever they want. I don’t carry it around so it’s easier for people to reach me at their convenience, on their timetable, regardless of what I may be doing at that particular moment.

No, I have a smart phone so I can access people and information when it’s most necessary and convenient for me. It’s not for you; it’s for me. You don’t pay the bill for that service; I do.

And I also spend far more time looking up things on Google or accessing maps and other information than I do calling or texting someone to find out what they are doing. Sometimes I think people call or text simply out of boredom, as if they have forgotten how to be alone for a moment. For me, technology is a tool, not some sort of a pacifier.

Technology Teaching About Nature
That’s not to say technology can’t be both a tool and a source of entertainment. For example, I recently watched a documentary on the technological workhorse of the latter half of the 20th century: the television. And it taught me about some of the negative effects that all this technology can have on our health.

I stumbled across a show on the National Geographic channel that talked about the importance of occasionally disconnecting from technology and reconnecting with nature. It was called Explorer: Call of the Wild, and it opened my eyes to a few things worth sharing.

Roughly 5 billion people own cell phones. Only 4.1 billion own toothbrushes. Though I guess one could argue that if you didn’t own a toothbrush, a cell phone is the best way to communicate because no one wants to spend one-on-one time with someone who has poor oral hygiene.

On average, Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors. And only 10 percent of our teenagers spend time outdoors every day. We’ve retreated not only from nature but from sunlight as well. And it looks like future generations are going to be even less connected with the natural world.

parktreeThe Niceness of Nature
So what’s the big deal? Well, imagine if there were scientific evidence that demonstrated the benefits of nature. There is, in fact, such evidence, and plenty of it.

Being in nature improves creativity by 50 percent. It also reduces stress hormones and lowers blood pressure and heart rate. It can help combat things like depression as well. Researchers even found that some trees give off chemical compounds that boost our body’s natural ability to fight diseases – including diseases like cancer – by as much as 40 percent.

So a walk in the forest – or even a park – can actually make you healthier. But taking that walk with a cell phone, and the mental distraction it causes even when it’s tucked away in your pocket or purse, greatly diminishes the experience and therefore the benefits it provides.

Trees For Technology
As 2016 progresses, I’m still going to try to consistently post material here on Nipple Monkey. Feed the Monkey! And I will continue to be a semi-functional cell phone user. But I’m also going to try to spend at least a little time in a park every day – rain or shine – for the rest of this year. And I will do so with my phone turned completely off. It’s just too beneficial not to.

Don’t live near a park? I live in Manhattan, one of the most densely populated places in the United States, and yet I have three parks within walking distance. But if you genuinely do not, your brain can still derive some benefit from simply looking at images of nature – even on your compuiter. And I suppose you can also watch a video of the wilderness on your cell phone, right?

A Few Comments About Comments

I used to run a semi-happening online soccer magazine. At the time, I allowed and occasionally even encouraged readers to make comments on the articles because it seemed like the thing to do, to engage the audience. I no longer feel that way.

As a writer, I don’t do comments anymore. I’ve learned that they don’t really “engage” anyone. Allowing comments only hands the keys over to the reader, giving them a platform to say whatever they choose. And what they choose often has less to do with you and your articles than it does with them and their own personal agendas.

And what’s wrong with that, with giving others a platform to speak their minds? Well, for starters, I worked hard to build that platform and attract an audience. I invested hours of research, writing, editing, rewriting, proofing, fact-checking, and formatting to create every article. Beyond that, I worked hard to promote the thing, using social media, content marketing, and organic SEO. So why should I give that platform – and my readers’ attention – to someone else?

Fear and Loathing in the Comments Section
That said, my greater concern is with what you typically find in the comments section. Sure, there are, on rare occasions, a commenter who will raise an interesting point. But the overwhelming majority are snarky, superficial jabs from people who simply don’t like the topic you wrote about.

For example, if you are a sports fan, you are not going to read a lengthy article (and they’re really the only kind I write, aren’t they?) about a team you don’t like. A Barcelona fan is not going to read an article about Real Madrid, no matter how well-researched and written it may be. The interest just isn’t there. Yet you will receive plenty of comments about how that particular team sucks, your publication sucks, your article sucks, your writing sucks, and you, the author, suck. Now did they really read an entire article about another team and not like it, or are they just vehemently opposed to anything that doesn’t suit their world view and decide to take a swing at it?

Sports has always given people a license to abuse one another. But I’ve also written about everything from art to politics, and yet I still encounter this same tribal mentality in the comments section. It’s as if people are not as interested in what you have to say – or how you say it – as they are in the satisfaction they seem to get from opposing or attacking it in the comments section. The actual content of the article appears to take a backseat to the commenter’s desire to feel like they have somehow won, even if it’s not a contest.

CommentsFor example, if someone were to write an article claiming that the sky was lavender rather than blue, I might read it out of curiosity. But would I feel compelled to post a comment about what an idiot the author is for making such a ridiculous claim? While I have made the occasional online comment over the years (usually in a desperate attempt to show everyone how clever I think I am, as opposed to really wanting to say something about the article itself), I prefer to quietly move on to more important matters, noting the site and author in order to avoid them in the future.

But you know how the Internet is. It’s not about information. It’s not about reasonable arguments. It’s about winning. Even if you have nothing to gain.

So imagine I did post a comment, ridiculing the writer of the lavender sky piece. Do I really think that will change their opinion? Are they going to read my comment and think: “Whoa, this guy is saying the sky is blue, and that I’m a sniveling idiot; be gone lavender sky theory…you are no longer of value to me.” No, they are not.

Will posting a comment change the views of others who read the piece? No, it won’t do that either. If I just read what one must assume was a well-made argument for one point of view and then I read a comment at the end that offers only a brief, abusive, and poorly worded claim that the author and theory are stupid, then a comment alone is not likely to dissuade me from the theory presented in the article.

From Anger to Incompetence
This, of course, leads to another issue I have with comments. The lavender piece will most certainly be riddled with comments like “Are blind?” and “Look out the window and you will sea blue, dickhead!” Am I really compelled to give a voice to people who can’t speak – or, in the case of the Internet, can’t write?

And then there are those comments which really have nothing to do with whatever you posted. My favorite are the ones that involve Obamacare. I don’t think I’ve ever even written about healthcare. But people always seem to find a way to vent about things like Obamacare in the comments section. And I’m sure the lavender article author would likely encounter the same: “The sky was blue until Obama gave this country to the gays with his Obamacare bullshit!”

Yes, that’s about par for the course when it comes to your average angry commenter. There’s typically a lot of negativity peppered with hate speech. Logic rarely has a place at the table. Whether they want to advance an agenda, feel like they have an axe to grind, or are simply angry with the world, they will seek satisfaction in the comments section.

And if you think that these examples, with the intentional mistakes in spelling and grammar, are exaggerations, then I’m willing to bet you have never run a blog. Believe me, I’m being polite about the depths to which commenters can stoop.

The Proof is in the Posting
I’ve even done some experiments in an effort to test my suspicion that people who like and follow blogs on platforms like WordPress don’t necessarily read your content. I noticed that people started following my blog only seconds after I had posted something, which left me wondering how they could have found the article, let alone have had time to read through it all, in the minute or two after it was posted.

So I did a little experiment in which I listed a topic in the headline – something like “Mustard is the New Superfood” – and then started the text off by saying that I’m not really writing about mustard or even foods but rather conducting a little experiment to see if people like a blog post without even reading it.

Sure enough, I had several blogs that write about the subject of the headline (in this case, food-related blogs) immediately like the post and start following my blog. This confirmed that people were indeed liking my posts and following my blog without ever reading a word I had written beyond the headline or tags. Though, frankly, I don’t understand their motive for this. Is it to get me to follow their blog or like something they posted in return?

But what was stranger still is that I actually had a few comments about the headline subject (imagine something along the lines of “Obama is yellow, just like mustard, and stinks like his Obamacare”). I certainly didn’t expect that, but it was proof that people were also posting comments without even reading what I had written (sadly, no one commented about how clever I was to write an article that has nothing to do with the headline in an effort to see how this all works).

After that experiment, I shut down the comment functions on everything I write, including this fine specimen of blogdom. Yes, I know I’m missing out on an opportunity to receive constructive, useful criticism and insightful counter-arguments to my own. But I also know those kind of comments are about as rare as an apology on the Internet. Besides, the best feedback is given directly, by friends and colleagues you trust and respect, as opposed to some anonymous person who may or may not have even read the entire article.

My Final Comments
At the end of the day, I don’t need the random praise (“Brilliant!”) or the spiteful criticism (“Fuck you, and fuck Obamacare!”). I put a lot of thought and effort into everything I write. And once I post it online, I’d rather let the reader be the judge. Enjoy it? Then come back for more. Hate it? Then move on.

If someone actually reads the article and genuinely disagrees with me, that’s fine. I can live with that. I assume they can live with it as well. But if they feel strongly enough about the need to voice their disagreement, then perhaps they should write and post an article sharing their own views, just as I have. Or, if they are so deeply concerned with my physical or spiritual well-being after reading something I wrote, they can always contact me directly.

Neither of these things will happen, though. Writing their own presumably intelligent article is hard work – a lot harder than simply taking a cheap shot (“You suck!”) at someone else’s hard work. Plus, the process of crafting that article might expose some flaws in their thinking, in a way that a snarky little comment would not. And emailing a comment directly to the author, out of view of the World Wide Web audience, surely won’t satisfy the exhibitionist desire and perceived “victory” of someone who dreams of posting the perfect comment – that pithy jab that shows the entire Internet that they are better than the author…better, in fact, than the entire Internet. It’s a competition that no one can really win, which is why I no longer bother to play the game.

Thought of the Day: Bloggers Can Be A Sketchy Lot

WpressFirst of all, thanks to all the genuine folks out there in the blogosphere, especially for those kind enough to follow Nipple Monkey or like one of our posts. I know we are an acquired taste, and all over the board with our content, so we genuinely appreciate the love.

The catch is that it’s not easy to tell who those genuine folks really are. And I fear there’s something about hosting your blog on WordPress.com that generates some pretty sketchy “likes” and “follows.”

This isn’t our first walk through the blogosphere. We’ve run blogs on and off WordPress.com long enough to know that, for example, the traffic data they provide is far more “generous” than the industry-standard data you will get from Google Analytics.

But we’ve noticed something slightly insidious in these early days of Nipple Monkey, our least-focused blog to date. Several of the “likes” and “follows” we’ve received are from blogs and bloggers who appear to have absolutely no common interest in the topic of the post – or our entire blog, for that matter.

In fact, we’ve noticed that we get a lot these from people who either blog about religion or blog about how to make money blogging. In other words, people trying to sell you feel-good fantasies. Why on earth would any of these people like one of our posts, or opt to follow a blog such as ours?

OK, even those blogs presumably have real people behind them. And maybe, just maybe, one of them thought something we wrote was interesting and/or funny. Maybe.

But it seems far more likely that this is part of a marketing scheme in which bloggers like and follow other blogs in hopes of driving traffic back to their own blogs, either through our curiosity (to click and see who gave us the false love) or by landing pingbacks that could drive our readers to visit their blogs.

It may seem a little far-fetched, but blogging is a numbers game, and people seem willing to try anything to trawl for traffic. And keep in mind that a lot of bloggers are looking for nothing but numbers. They want to inflate their traffic to inflate the perceived value of their blog. Big numbers can lead to better ad sales.

MuffenAnd speaking of numbers, we long ago gave up on WordPress.com traffic data. Anyone who has worked with Goggle Analytics will understand why. But I do find it interesting that there have been times when we’d get likes and follows with no discernible traffic for the post in question. Yes, there might be some sort of lag time for traffic data, but there appears to be no related lag time for the other data – the likes and follows.

Which makes me wonder if people are searching WordPress.com tags and liking and following blogs and posts based simply on those, rather than actually reading a post and exploring a blog. That would certainly explain all these abnormalities.

But why like or follow a blog simply because of a tag, without actually reading the post or looking at the blog? That strikes me as a little shallow and insincere.

Of course I’m not going to lose any sleep over this. We’re working to migrate our blog over to WordPress.org, so this should be a forgotten annoyance soon enough. And we really do appreciate the genuine love we have received from our legitimate followers (and they will surely appreciate the humor in all this speculation).

But in the interest of honest blogging, I thought we’d try a little experiment. We’re going to tag this post with words like camera and photography. We’re also going to toss things like muffin, baking, and recipe into the mix. And let’s see if we get any likes and follows from photography and/or baking bloggers.

We haven’t written about either of these subjects so far, and this post clearly isn’t about either topic. So such traffic should indicate that they have “blindly” liked or followed us, confirming our suspicion that bloggers are trawling through WordPress.com tags in hopes of driving traffic back to their sites.

[Update: It took less than five minutes before a photography blog “liked” this post, which 30 minutes later still hadn’t received any traffic according to WordPress. Clearly they liked it without even reading it. And four hours after that I got my first like from a baking blog. It’s so disheartening.]

Total Futeblog & the World Cup in Brazil

Our friends have started a new blog about the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. It’s called Total Futeblog and is definitely worth a look. They’ve already told us everything you ever wanted to know about the World Cup, how much tickets will cost, and how to get tickets.

The blog is being done by the same people who created Total Footblog, and they are already veterans of five World Cup tournaments so they have a lot of experience and insight to share. Total Futeblog will continue to provide valuable information about Brazil 2014 as well as highlights from their travels to the tournament next summer. So if you are interested in soccer or are Brazil bound yourself, be sure to check out Total Futeblog.

Total Futeblog