The Great Unsubscribe

I read a lot, and I often save items that catch my eye for “later.” Sometimes the stack by my desk has to be thinned out, and typically, I find a few things that I replace, still waiting for that magical future moment when I have time on my hands; and a lot more that’s outlasted its usefulness, or my interest. So satisfying to see a noticeably smaller stack after a clearing!

The digital world is no different, except that when I read something I like, I often click “subscribe.” I need more to do, right?

But if it’s easy to add myself to email lists, it’s almost as easy to undo the damage. So lately, every time I see an email come through that I’m not going to get to, again, I do the mental sort. Is this a site I’ve outgrown? Did I subscribe thinking that this would be a treasure trove of information and advice, only to realize I will never read another thing from this source?

Have I gotten on an email list by mistake? I could swear there are evil things at work in cyberspace. I know some of the junk mail that makes it through my filters is nothing I would ever request. Not sure how that happens…probably agreed to something in fine print. But even those emails have the little “unsubscribe” link at the bottom, usually in the finest of fine prints. Clicking “unsubscribe” is almost as exciting as dropping off at Goodwill…you just know you’re going to feel lighter for the effort!

So, I’m thinning my digital commitments. Don’t ask me how it works, but an email inbox can be almost as overwhelming as a physical stack on my desk. I just know there’s some great stuff buried in there, if only I had time to catch up!

It’s a little like throwing out a box you never opened from a move. The common advice is, if you haven’t opened a box a year after a move, you can safely throw it out, because you obviously haven’t needed or missed whatever is in the mystery box. I’m a little to obsessive for that approach.

But when it comes to digital files, I’m more willing to purge without angst.

The other solution is a little like moving and not leaving a forwarding address. I’ve created new email addresses over the years to better sort who gets what. Now my oldest address is for those annoying times when you need to give an email, but you know you’re not going to maintain the relationship. A second one is for orders, and I use a third one for personal exchanges. Except when I forget and use the wrong one…which is why some friends and family are mystified by my system and just send the same information to multiple addresses. My fault for making it complicated, I know.

But here’s the thing…I find it’s easier to unsubscribe than to abandon my email addresses. Because, you know, I’ve probably set up an account or two along the way with the information, and if I abandon ship, that’s going to be a problem. An old email address is sort of like a remnant from middle school…like a piece of your history that you aren’t really excited about any more, but can’t part with either. I wish I had been more thoughtful about what I would want to follow me around the rest of my life. I probably wouldn’t have made the same choice if I had recognized the reality: I’m likely to be stuck with my digital “names” till I die. What’s up with some sites treating your user name like it’s sacred? Because of course a lot of my user name choices were based on my email address at that time. Apple‘s iTunes, for instance…now that’s one I’d like to update, but I’m stuck with my original user name there forever, apparently.

I think the digital world should allow regular re-sets, don’t you? I’m not trying to do anything illegal…my personal preference in naming convention has just matured a bit over time.

But I digress. I started by saying that I’m cleaning digital house, and how good that feels. I guess I’ve just demonstrated that all issues have sub-issues. My real angst is about email and user names, less about my inbox clutter. At least I can do something about the clutter.

If you want to reach me, feel free to send me a comment here. I can currently be found through my blog; Facebook; Twitter; I have four emails that are trailing around for various purposes; and I have a LinkedIn account that I don’t really use. I also managed to stumble into Google Circles, but I tried to back out as fast as possible. Really, I’m not looking for more ways to be connected…I just need to keep up with what I’ve already begun. And at that, everything I just listed is only for personal use. Work is a separate story.

I’m going to rest now. Feeling overwhelmed by digital forces.

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Margins

Been on a blogging break…busy at work, busy at home, no time to sit down. I saw this recently:

“Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.” ~Gene Fowler

I’ll admit, I’m not producing the next award winning novel here, just jotting down a few personal thoughts, so I can’t claim that the process requires blood. But it does require time and some effort. And I’ve learned that I would prefer posting nothing to posting quickly.

I’ve been reading about margins in life…hardly a new buzz word, I know. But I’m attempting to bring the concept into my routines. That means leaving more time around the edges of my day, around each segment. I’m a list-maker, and I’ve always put more on my daily list than I could comfortably finish. My strategy is to transfer the unfinished items to the next day so eventually, the tasks are done. But the negative part of that plan is that I always feel something is incomplete. I need to be better at setting my day aside, sitting down to a personal pleasure, like blogging or reading. My margin for myself is valuable. Why do I put myself in last place? It isn’t a matter of being selfish: it is a matter of restoring, of replenishing self. Hardly a new concept either, but difficult to transfer from concept to practice.

There are challenges from WordPress to bloggers: blog every day, or blog every week. Without formally committing to either goal, I’ve intended to blog on a daily basis when possible. Now I remind myself, there is time in my day for the things I choose. There is margin. I have to control the process, to make the choice. I choose margin. I choose calm. I choose to create room, space, and time to enjoy.

How about you? Are you leaving margin in your life?

Community

I’ve found a whole new community in the past few months. I’ve done quite a bit of poking around on the internet (living in Alaska gives you a lot of time, especially during winter months, to sit in front of a computer screen). I’ve read a lot of posts on a lot of websites, and I’m always impressed by the amazing and seemingly endless variety of topics being addressed on line. I think you could google almost any word and find pages and pages of links to visit, whatever the subject.

But since I’ve plunged into the blogosphere, I’m finding new connections and a whole new digital community to explore and get to know. The site I use for my blog, WordPress.com, offers free hosting and a robust array of tools for bloggers. My guess is that most people using the site are like me: recreational writers, using it as an outlet for self expression. I know there are some professional writers using the site’s hosting service as well, and I suppose there is the potential for any writer to move into a professional realm, if there are enough readers and writing talent to support that move. That isn’t necessarily what I aspire to, although it would be an interesting development.

But the unexpected pleasure I’ve found is the ability to meet kindred spirits; to be touched, amused, and inspired by strangers, who, like me, are using this medium to chronicle bits and pieces of life. Just like the web in general, the variety of subjects people blog about is limitless, ranging from the profound to the mundane. I’m continually surprised by the things people notice and then write lengthy posts to describe, or complain about, or celebrate with words. Some writers share their most personal and intense experiences, and others have a gift for elevating some obscure scrap of life to a laugh out loud experience. I love it when I stumble across a post that brings a smile to my face or a nod of recognition: I know exactly what the author means, I couldn’t agree more, I get it…all those affirming phrases that come to mind to validate my discovery of someone who (at least in a specific posting) is just like me! Not that I think being just like me is the epitome of greatness…of course I’m open to others being themselves…maybe the reality is that I am just like them. But there is the human quality in each of us that enjoys the flash of recognition that opinions, emotions, observations are shared. Sometimes I have the “aha” experience of reading someone’s post and realizing they’ve captured some insight that I get too, but hadn’t quite articulated for myself.

As the old saying goes, it’s a brave new world. Sometimes, when I see glimpses of daytime TV, I think there is too much sharing. That’s why I like the internet so much. You can choose to read or skip content. Of course you can turn off the TV, no one if forced to watch programs that give too much information. But I feel a bit more empowered to be selective on line. If I find a blogger whose writing I enjoy, I can easily view earlier posts, I add a link to my blogroll, I can send a comment of appreciation to the author. Without being too personal and while keeping the comfortable distance of real space between all of us, we have the digital ability to reach out and touch, to nurture friendships, to feel safe in our environment, and yet have amazing freedom to explore.

Of course, in a different way, this ability to check out others from a distance is what all the on-line dating sites are all about. I’m not looking to meet a soul mate on line. But I appreciate the opportunity and the serendipitous joy of finding the kindred spirits out there, of broadening my horizon from my living room, and the pleasure of finding another way to experience the human connection that wasn’t possible just a few short years ago. For all the parts of me that are truly old-fashioned…I love old movies, old music, tradition, family values, faith, classics, standards…I love technology too. Thank you Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and all those computer geeks out there who make it possible (here’s a special nod to my brother, Brad) to enjoy the benefits of these inventions without having to understand the mechanics, and thank you to all the companies that through some magic of economics are able to offer services for free and make it possible to participate without financial risk.