Thursday, August 21, 2014

Social Media Taper - For Now

Over the past little while I've taken some self assessments (no, not the silly quizzes on Facebook where it says I'm 33% controlling) and I've discovered some attributes about my character with which I'm not thrilled. One of said character flaws is a tendency to be socially obsessive and there are some tools out there that feed on this weakness. Facebook is the biggest culprit and I'll address how I'm currently dealing with it.

Some friends may understand this reference
For those that have "friended" me over the past few years, you'll know that Facebook has been an obsession of mine. Early on, I was concerned with spreading my sphere of influence, garnering friends that really weren't and were more like distant associates with whom I had made vague connections. I justified my growing base of friends and the efforts I put into it by telling myself the posts I created were uplifting, insightful and faith oriented. That may have been true of a percentage of the posts, but there were certainly some lame posts that make me question, "What was I thinking?" But the argument of narcissism always lingered in the back of my mind and looking back I'm positive that played into the obsession.

Over the last couple of years, however, connections became deeper, more meaningful and shared with a few friends. Inside jokes could be shared with others likely wondering what it all meant while I laughed in the background and chuckled at some perceptions. While the connections remained close, I also became aware that the content shared was also so insubstantial, shallow and lacking any deeper meaning. Opinions on faith, politics, family circumstances and struggles, if shared on Facebook, could only be done so on a cursory level as either public criticism mocked the poster or comment threads spiraled out of control. The desired connections were replaced with opaque vinettes and left me wanting for more.

On vacation this summer Rebecca challenged me to take a social media fast, lay off what others were doing and live in the moment. Sure, I was encouraged to take pictures to allow my aging mind to recall the fun we had, but leave Instagram and Facebook alone for the two weeks. She didn't believe I could do it. She had challenged me the same way the previous summer and I just had no desire to do it then. This summer I didn't want to either but just to prove her wrong I took the challenge.

What did I learn at the end of the two weeks? Well, the world kept spinning. I kept breathing. Facebook kept on going on without me. Unless someone tagged me in a post or a comment, I was more or less disconnected and few had qualms over my absence. While some complained of not receiving vacation updates, pictures and some birthday wishes, overall, no one really cared. "How odd," I thought to myself. If I'm not on Facebook, won't my friends miss me?

So what's the truth, or perceived truth? If no one tags or comments to me, does anyone really care? Do I hold value on a platform meant to generate more interaction? Will my own obsession and lust for insight into people's lives and a perception that they care about my life be  starved if I leave the social media world?

A couple of days ago I read an article that outlined how I've been feeling on this topic. Basically, my brain has been on social media overload and my obsessions have run a muck. I need to reset, even after the two week fast, and live with humans, not the tendrils of their social musings. I actually deleted Facebook from my iPhone (and it's stupid companion Messenger app - what a mess that split was). And how do I feel?

Well, at first it completely sucked. My spidey senses kept tingling as I thought about the likes and comments I was missing. After about 24 hours with no one having tagged me in a post or comment, disappointment hit as I realized no one really missed me. Then relief came. Until I got tagged. Yep, you guessed it. ALS Ice Challenge - ugh. Sorry folks, I'm not participating, regardless of so unenforceable rule around donating to a charity I'm not associating myself to for various reasons. Don't get me wrong, people are having fun and for the most part it can be a good way of changing things, but for the bulk of participants, how many have paid the $10 "did it" donation as opposed to the "suck it" $100 donation for not participating. I digress - different topic.

Do I have moments of yearnings where I want to go and check my feed? Absolutely. But it's waning and curing and healing. I'm not looking ever couple of minutes to see if I have notifications on my homescreen. Do I get the little badge that says I have 55 notifications and then I get to sift through a pile of "likes" on one post? Nope. And it's liberating.

The downside is I'm missing out on some things in people's lives. I have friends that do awesome volunteer work, real humanitarian type stuff and self promote for good. I'm missing out on my church's uplifting messages that come through my feed (gratefully I see these on Instagram as well). I'm missing out on flavorful anecdotes from friends who's kids say strange things, mark themselves up with washable markers or post cool action pics of wake boarding and hopefully motocross (can't wait).

But most of these friends are actual friends and I can catch up in real life with them. They text me or see me at parties. We talk. Really talk. We actually have a friendship. And beyond the friends, I have a family that I live with, with whom I can sit in the same room and actually talk rather than have our noses in mindless devices (we're not there yet - but I'm hopeful).

So do I need Facebook to facilitate these relationships? Nope. And I don't need it to skewer it either.

Will I return to Facebook? For those keeping score, I just logged in a few minutes ago to grab the URL of the article I posted to include here, so yep. But I did it via the web interface and not the app. I refuse to be notified and let myself be directed back into the suck hole of social media. I'll look at it when I feel like it and right now, I'm just not that interested.

This post will hit Facebook, and while there may be varying degrees of opinions, especially for those that recently appreciated Elder Bednar's address on flooding social media with positive and uplifting messages, this isn't a call for a boycott on Facebook or any other social media network. Hopefully you'll assess, like I've been doing, what matters to you, what you hope to gain by your thoughts and actions, and you'll seek joy, peace and happiness. I'm not there yet, but I can see some of it returning and it feels pretty good.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

2014 Summer Family Vacation - CA Version

The origin was the same though the path varied as we made our way out to the land of golden dreams. Disparate arrivals made for reunions sweet but the ultimate effect was the same: a California vacation we would never forget.

Since last summer when we departed the golden coast and returned to Texas, I've dreamed of little else than to return and play on the lapping shores of Southern California and cut through the still waters of Lake Arrowhead. Those activities were the crowning events of friendships forged but told just part of the tale that seemed destined to be repeated this year. I am so grateful the Hanson family received another invite to relive and experience a grand adventure with our best friends.

After a seemingly effortless road trip from Fort Worth, TX out to Chandler, AZ, we were highly tempted to carry on through the evening and arrive late on Saturday night at our final destination, leaving the option of attending church the next morning, albeit through bleary eyes. The driving was smooth with 4 drivers (yes, Savannah was even going 85 through parts of New Mexico) and fatigued us little which spurred on our hopes of completing the trip in a single day. With families piled up in the CA home of John Ward, ready to take off for Hawaii the next morning, staying as planned in Chandler with Rebecca's sweet sister Lisa and newly married husband John was the perfect solution. It's always so wonderful staying with them, talking, enjoying time and getting to know them more. They are gracious hosts and make everyone feel so welcome.

Enjoying a quick bite to eat at Eegee's also seemed like a good idea. 

The Sunday drive was fairly leisure except for one small incident involving the AZ PoePoe. 

We were joined by cousin Madi and the party began Sunday night. It was so good to have her along for the trip. 

By Monday morning my feet were ready to pound the pavement of temperate  Lakewood, CA for a quick run before trudging off to the beach with families in tow. The boogie boarding was delightful, surf was moderately calm and the company excellent as we reveled in the careless hours at Seal Beach.

The week in Lakewood consisted of a plethora of game playing back at the Ward home, including a new gem called Carcassone. I'm still having dreams at night about puzzle placements and farm sharing battles with Lindsay while losing the rest of the game to Austin and Rebecca. 

Playing homegrown games like "Who is the Bravest Man?" is another staple of fun on vacation. 

We also played a new version of BlackJack involving Nutella. Wonder who lost?

While not at the beaches Huntington, Seal or Bolsa Chica, we spent countless hours in the fun pool and hot tub. Once Dan joined us, the competition for daring-est dives, flips and cannonballs amp'd up (never go head to head against a pro). For Lindsay's birthday we spent a good portion of the day "jousting" with float tubes while charging each other on surfboards. Caleb came out on top and was more than a gracious winner though I think Lindsay likely won it all watching as queen for the day while all of us naves entertained her with our antics.

The surf was finally conquered by all Hanson kiddos by all learning how to surf on the training boards. Jaden was a natural, catching nearly any wave in his vicinity. While we enjoyed a beautiful sunset bonfire at Bolsa Chica, Savannah struggled and strained to catch her wave and it finally happened just after the sun retired over the horizon. Another first, Lindsay, the ever consummate Cali girl, caught her first wave that night as well. There may have been a little whooping as these two kindred sisters successfully conquered their foes.

The first week's nights were spent movie watching, dating, dancing, bonfire roasting of hot dogs and s'mores, game playing and hot tubbing; some of those simultaneously enjoyed. One night we even challenged one another while simmering in the hot tub to find satellites over head. Have you ever tried doing that just outside of LA? Ha, kind of difficult.

We shared the week with various families that came through, both delighting the Walden littles and entertaining the Hanson kiddos. For us outsiders, we felt more than welcome as they are a cheery bunch and easy to get along with despite the close living quarters. Dan and I even got in a movie with one of Lindsay's cousins though I must admit to having dosed off a number of times during Godzilla.

We also had a fun time at Shoreline Village at Long Beach where we did some shopping and met a recently moved friend from TX. 

Of course, the visit may have been slightly less comfortable had we not engaged in a battle of idiocracy over hot sauce which someone (Lindsay) may have cheated on the final challenge that sent Madi and me into convulsions. 

After Austin and Madi returned home from the El Dorado Singles Ward (I know, it's difficult to believe my 18 yr-old son can attend a singles ward), we made our way up to the Lake Arrowhead family cabin where we spent another week of fun, sun, wake boarding, relaxation and game playing. Proud Dad Alert: all of my kiddos were able to wake board. What a difference a year makes for the Hansons. Rebecca gave it a go a couple of times as well but per her request we'll leave those pics offline.

I may have broken the rental board just before returning it. 

Another dare for which we still owe a 6-pack of a favorite beverage. 

While my personal wake boarding may not have been all that epic, smallish air, no inverted tricks like tantrums, I had a blast and realized a couple of truths about myself. I'm okay reveling in other's success and cheering them on. I don't have to be the best at everything and can appreciate other's prowess. I am more than appeased by incremental success. I still have a competitive edge that comes out in peculiar ways (back flips off the boat - though nobody wants to see the take off look :) ).

Anyone wanna try to figure out what this dare was about?

What a thrill the two weeks were and sharing them with our best friends made it so much more rich and enjoyable. The crowning event for me was the skydiving adventure on Saturday morning during our exodus back to Texas. Dan, Lindsay, Lisa and Brooke (Lisa's youngest) accompanied Austin and me on a thrilling dive from 13K feet (14.5K above sea level) over the desert floor of Arizona. I was positive I would have knots in my stomach and feel it drop before the tandem jump, especially as we climbed in the sardine can of a plane, but to my surprise I felt elated and thrilled throughout the experience.

 Watching my family and friends jump ahead of me was a thrill as well, knowing I'd likely come in with them cheering me on. Unfortunately, it was more laughter than cheering as the tandem instructor landed on my back with my knee scraping along the turf. But the experience was incredible. There are few words to explain the experience of a 60 second free fall: the rush of air, the extremely high decibel wind rushing past the ears and flattening the face that is in a permanent "w00t!" pose, the spin and tumble of the free fall and feeling of weightlessness is difficult to express. 

Once the canopy is drawn and the straps go tight, a complete silence like none other envelops the senses and a form of peace distills upon the soul. It's majestic. My instructor said it best at that moment of perfect calm and stillness: "Welcome to my office." I knew he had it good and this silly programmer was likely in the wrong field. Experiencing it with loved ones made it 100 times more meaningful and I look forward to the next jump (Savannah will turn 18 next and 2 yrs of waiting will seem like an eternity).

Things I learned while on vacation:
  • You can't have too much fun
  • Sleep is overrated
  • The sun does rise earlier in AZ and CA than in TX based on local time
  • If you're excited enough, the water isn't nearly as cold as it could be
  • Stingrays can still make a girl smile from ear to ear and pee'ing on it won't help
  • Go big until your board breaks, then cry foul to the rental shop
  • Drives with friends can open your eyes and help give you perspective
  • Drive time is what you make of it
  • A permit driver behind the wheel is surprisingly chatty
  • Sandy gummy bears between the toes apparently are sufficiently appetizing
  • Showering, when done right, can make anyone giggle uproariously
  • Texas friends are family
  • Being still during early morning moments pool side can achieve a zen-like peace
  • Running at high altitude sucks but the view and perspective is exhilarating
  • Nothing beats your own pillow and bed - NOTHING
  • National Treasure franchise is a highly overrated series but still a great flick to watch when you're tired
  • Seeing happiness in the eyes of the ones you love makes any sacrifice bearable and worth the effort
  • Smoked tri-tip in the mountains of CA is yummy but nothing beats TX BBQ
  • Laughing has healing properties
  • Dish pan hands are worth it when serving your family and friends
  • There's not much a hot tub can't resolve
  • I am a truly blessed man