Posts Tagged ‘Twitter’

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The Problem With High-Mileage Bodies

June 15, 2013

The human body is a wondrous thing; complex, resilient, flexible, tough, and built for endurance. But its very complexity makes it fragile, and susceptible to disturbances in its equilibrium that baffle medical practitioners.

Never is this more true than for those of us who suffer from the complaint known as ‘age’, when our component parts begin to wear out, when the dies of our DNA become blunted with repeated cell replications, and we begin to wonder what the hell has happened to our bodies.

Sometimes the signs of decay creep up on us like wraiths in the night and we wake more tired than when we went to sleep. And sometimes they leap out, gibbering at us, in the course of a normal day. When one’s personal odometer clicks over to 24,500+ days, these signs appear more frequently.

So I’m doing my normal Bali thing of writing, reading, reflecting and waiting for inspiration’s thunderbolts to strike, when I feel an urge to have some condensed milk instead – something I haven’t consumed for six months or so. When it comes to actually sitting down and writing, I am very good at displacement activity, particularly when it involves ingesting something sweet.

After mindlessly spooning half a can of the sweet goop into my mouth, I don’t feel so good. Fifteen minutes later, I have a violent attack of dizziness and nearly black out. With a fine understanding of cause and effect, I resolve never again to use a spoon to eat condensed milk, but to drink it straight from the can in future. Obviously, there is a chemical reaction occurring between the spoon and the milk, causing vertigo. Because this has never happened before during my youth, I deduce that it must be my advancing years, together with the use of the metal spoon which has exacerbated the problem. Never again.

Later that afternoon, feeling better and thinking that my condition has resolved itself, I go for my customary coffee. This is a time of day that I enjoy, sipping a good brew, watching the passing parade of humanity, and browsing the infinite weirdness of my favourite social media.

But wait, what is happening here? I can’t understand what is on my screen! Not because it’s Twitter, where almost everything is incomprehensible, but because I seem to have lost the ability to translate letters and words into anything meaningful. My screen is a series of distorted, whirling voids superimposed on individual letters, which either disappear altogether or morph into unrecognisable shapes.

Suddenly, my screen looks like this ...

Suddenly, my screen looks like this …

The distorted shapes writhe and pulse, and the visual field around my phone is shimmering and undulating like a heat haze. And no, I haven’t been drinking. Sweet Jesus! I’m going blind! Or I’m having a stroke, or a TIE. Maybe my retinas have decided to spontaneously migrate and wrap themselves around my irises, but after thinking about the anatomical improbability of this scenario, I dismiss it.

Perhaps it’s glaucoma, I think hopefully, because the treatment for that is cannabis. Then I remember that in Bali, this medication is impractical because it tends to be accompanied by either lengthy incarceration in the Hotel Kerobokan, or a free death penalty, especially if one is unfortunate enough to be a foreigner. OK, scratch glaucoma; consider giant cell arteritis, or a brain tumour, or maybe just one of those psychotic episodes common amongst expats …

Strangely, I don’t feel any fear – just an incredible curiosity as to what might be causing these weird visual effects. My ruminations are interrupted by loud sirens and flashing lights in Jalan Melasti, where a police car escorting one of the terminally entitled VIPs in their shiny black cars has stopped just outside the cafe, taking up a whole lane and inconsiderately blocking traffic. The occupants, presumably some raja kecil with more money than consideration, get out and wander around to do some shopping while traffic snarls behind their car, and I snarl behind my coffee.

I can feel my blood pressure go up, and with that comes an additional visual disturbance – radiating, wriggling worms of light and shade surrounding my central visual field, coruscating with a ghostly radiance and causing pulsating halos around the flashing lights of the police car. This is getting really interesting.

Melasti_Street
The effect is both trippy and magical, and lasts for half an hour, after which it fades. When I can read my phone screen again without distortion, I seek medical advice. Not from a doctor, I hasten to add, but from an alternative source blessed with more diagnosticians than a hospital. I am referring of course to Facebook, where my FB friends rally instantly to provide suggestions, explanations and advice.

And one explanation, thanks to friend Vida, emerges as the most likely. It would seem that I have had an attack of ocular migraine, a painless affliction I had never heard of, and for which there is no real explanation or cure.

Whatever it is, I can vouch for the fact that it is fascinating. I am now looking forward to what other mystery ailments will befall me in my journey towards the dark side. New experiences are endlessly intriguing of course, but I agree with Carl Jung, who so accurately remarked about the travails of ageing: “Thoroughly unprepared we take the step into the afternoon of life.”

But I think that it is this very unpreparedness that makes life in the sunset years so sweet, so interesting and so challenging. You know – live in the moment, devil take the hindmost, carpe diem, damn the torpedoes, and long live spontaneity. Forget the future; it hasn’t happened yet.

I live every day by each one of those wonderful aphorisms.

Well, sort of.  After today, I’m adding ‘Be Prepared’ to that list. I’m off now to check that my medical insurance is up to date, and that my will is in order …

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The Anxiety Of Being Untethered

April 6, 2013

It’s 4 o’clock in the afternoon; my energy is low and my body craves caffeine. I can’t think straight, and the demands of dealing with with writing, social media and lazing by the pool have become overwhelming. Within five minutes I have thrown together my essential leaving-the-villa survival kit and launched my favourite motorbike towards the coffee shop. Well OK, it’s my only bike, and it’s actually a scooter – but that’s beside the point.

But only a few minutes into the caffeine experience, I experience a crisis. I feel suddenly exposed, like in those crazy dreams where you’re on a bus on the way to work and suddenly realise that you are naked. Totally naked. Everyone is dressed except you, and even though no-one seems to notice, you just know that within minutes, the whole bus will be pointing and giggling at the idiot who forgot his clothes in the morning rush.

But it’s not one of those dreams, even though the feelings are the same. My discomfiture morphs into a horrifying realisation that I am truly alone. I am blind and deaf, shut off from the world around me, unable to communicate, to listen to others, or to contribute to their debates. I can’t even lurk on the periphery of life’s countless conversations and vicariously enjoy the swirling currents of existence around me. My brain no longer functions, and my surroundings blur into a surrealistic cage, leaving me incommunicado.

I feel as if I have entered some sort of dissociative fugue state, alive but cut off from my normal sensorium, and as a result, isolating me from my network of friends and family. I have lost a big piece of my identity and this generates enormous anxiety. Is this what a Transient Ischaemic Event feels like? Or a sudden onset of dementia?

But, even with my depleted sense of identity, I still understand that I don’t need medical or psychiatric intervention. I know, at the deep core of my mind which still works, that my mental and emotional state is purely due to my forgetfulness. It is a self-created problem which is fairly easily fixed.

You see, I have left my smartphone at home. My god! No Twitter with my coffee. No email. No Jakarta Globe on which to leave pungent rants in the comments section. No Facebook to let me engage with endless pictures of cats. No Messenger to answer important questions like, “What are you doing?” No Google. No Google Translate – how will I converse? Rely on my memory? Ha!  No news. No … life.

Fortunately, just as I am about to leave my coffee half-finished and ride desperately home to retrieve my missing life-line to the world, I remember that I still have some ageing technology with me. It might be ancient, but it still has the capacity to connect me to the world, and to the Universe beyond. It’s modern enough to have random-access storage, and its display, while not back-lit, is adequate for ambient light. People might look at me askance while I’m using it, but at least I don’t have to worry about being caught with a low battery, because it doesn’t have one.

So within minutes of using my old-fashioned portal to other realities, I am immersed in the imagination-expanding richness of the old-style information stored on my portable, albeit retro, Bound Offerings Of Knowledge unit, a Caxton product from a past era, which surprisingly, is still available on-line today. I promptly forget all about my smartphone and stop stressing.

I highly recommend this technology – and not only for those occasions where you forget your phone or tablet either. You have probably heard of it by its more commonly-used acronym, “BOOK”.

Try it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

 

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Do Smart Phones Make You Smarter?

June 19, 2012

I resisted. God, how I resisted.

I kept saying to anyone who would listen, “Why would anyone need a fancy phone that lets you get emails,  access Twitter and Facebook, and surf the web – no matter where you are?” I would proudly show off my little dinosaur of a Nokia that did nothing except make calls and send texts (at least when Telkomsel were having a good day), and accuse my technology fashion victim friends of  suffering from full-time digital data addiction.

“I don’t want an in-phone camera”, I would snort, “I have a perfectly good digital camera that megapixels any of your toy phone cameras to death”. I would sneer at those who could not tear themselves away from their digital connectivity for more than a few minutes, even when their expressions, if not their comments, screamed “Luddite!”

And then, in a moment of impulsive madness while on a quick trip to the Old Country, I bought a smartphone. “It’s only an entry model”, said the sales person, demonstrating the shiny little thing and ‘explaining’ how it works by performing an incomprehensibly rapid finger fandango on the screen, producing a confusing succession of icons, websites and social media pages. “The screen’s a little small”, he said worriedly, “but it’s a lot bigger than that, er, thing”, he went on, eyeing my ancient Nokia as if it was made of bakelite and had a rotary dial. “And it’s in colour too … and it has Gorilla Glass”, he added as an afterthought, still bemusedly staring at the scratched monochrome screen of my old phone.

Gorilla Glass. Well, that was the clincher. Can’t have a phone without Gorilla Glass, I thought, even if I haven’t got a clue what that is. So I bought it, and my life changed forever.

I had to re-learn to type, after first switching off some weird, QWERTY screen gesture-based finger-sweeping technique which was obviously designed to be used by a small, yoga-enabled octopus.  Once I reverted to a more familiar keypad layout, all I had to do was to work out how not to press four keys at once with my fat fingers. For those who received my texted gibberish during the steeper part of the learning curve, I am profoundly sorry.

Then there are the apps. Millions of them, all requiring downloads and updates, and all generating icons that clogged up my home screens until they resembled a scrabble board on hallucinogens. It took a week to learn how to move the damn things around without activating them, or making them vanish without a trace. The touch screen is so sensitive that it is almost impossible to pick the phone up without triggering an avalanche of programs and opening unwanted links.

I finally developed a technique of holding the phone by its edges with all unnecessary fingers splayed out of harm’s way. Even so, I keep activating the side-mounted on/off button and its ring-volume counterpart on the opposite side. Everything generally worked, but the downside was that I looked like a bencong waiting for his nail polish to dry.

Of course, every new phone has a design quirk, and mine is no exception. I missed ten incoming calls because I just couldn’t answer them. I became convinced that I had a faulty phone. You see, every button or icon on the thing requires a simple push to operate, as one would expect. But when my phone rings, pushing the little green phone icon does not answer the call. I could tap it, double-click it, push it until my fancy bulletproof Gorilla Glass practically cracked – but nothing. By the merest fluke, I discovered that you have to push and slide the icon to the right – just to answer the phone. Grrr. No wonder this device comes with a General Dynamics hull – the temptation to smash it on the ground is almost irresistible.

The thing is a technological marvel, but I don’t yet know what I really feel about it. I love being out and about, and following my tweet stream – that vast mine of mundane overburden seeded with the occasional priceless nugget. I love following the news feeds from sources all over the world, especially those whose sites are optimised for mobile delivery. I enjoy the comments that appear on my blog, on Facebook and other sites. I love the immediacy of the experience of instant communication and the ability to respond to them quickly.

But I dislike those same things because they are always there, pinging and chiming and ringing and beeping, demanding my attention instantly, tethering me to the internet’s social media 24/7 without respite. I miss reading – real books that is – at the breakfast warung, the coffee shop in the afternoon, at dinner and at night in bed before going to sleep. Before the smartphone, I was reading 4-5 books per week. After the smartphone  – well I can’t tell you how many, because I haven’t finished the one I started three weeks ago.

And the name of the beast itself – ‘smartphone’? Well, undoubtedly the one I have now is a lot ‘smarter’ than my old phone. The Samsung company people? Well, they’re pretty smart too; they are making a lot of money from techno-chasers like myself. The marketing people? Brilliant. Call a consumer item smart, a word that subtly promises to confer that very quality on its users, and you have it made.

Did it work for me? With the onset of any new paradigm, a new equilibrium has to be reached, and I haven’t managed it yet. My challenge now is to balance the demands of my new-found ‘smart’ connectivity with that other stuff I used to do. “Life”, I think they call it.

When I do, I’ll let you know whether I made a smart choice or not.