Magic Words

by Juan F. Lam

Jul 30, 2022

#perspective #technology

In my last blog post, I talked about the beginning of two journeys: one fitness related, and the other writing related. A quick update before we hop into the core of today's post: Where writing is concerned, I've decided more or less that the novel I had in mind would work better as a graphic novel instead. This revelation isn't me being loosey-goosey. It happened because I worked on a graphic novel for the first time this summer on a secret project which should be announced sometime next week. Beyond that, I've also started my Master's program at the University of Florida so I don't foresee myself being able to write a novel for a tiny bit more.

On the fitness front, I have lost 10 pounds within the last month, and it's because I've managed to go to the gym more consistently, and keep a good handle on my caloric intake. Woohoo! Why that happened is unclear. I think it must have been a combination of things. I've publicly declared I would go through with it in my last blog post, which helps, and perhaps I'm also more willing to do it this time around than other times.

Mostly though, I think I've also had a bit of a change in perspective. Perspective is a tremendously powerful thing, and it's made the difference between losing 10lbs and not losing 10lbs over this last month. First of all, I tried making the gym more fun. It's been helpful to go with my roommates and friends whenever I can, rather than go alone. Second, I've also been trying to listen to audiobooks while I'm there -- gym time is reading time now, and since I love reading already, the gym takes on some of that good-will.

But the most interesting change I've made is how I think about food. I've been cooking more, partially to save money (I am a grad student now and money's tight), but also to take more control over what food (and how much of it) I'm putting in my body. I started thinking of calories as "energy units", which is what they are. But calling them "energy units" (in my head), has had some interesting effects:

  • It sounds cooler, so I'm more interested in logging my intake
  • It's shifted my perspective on what it is that I'm consuming

The reason we're told to eat more veggies and fewer sweets is because of efficiency. Eating 4 ounces of chicken breast with 4 or 5 ounces of, say, broccoli has about the same, or less, amount of "energy units" as a doughnut. But guess which one is going to keep you satisfied longer? It's not the doughnut.

One other area I've been thinking about applying the "magic words" principle to is technology. In Vannevar Bush' pivotal essay "As We May Think", he proposes a vision of how we may use computers to better log, link, and derive insight from information we collect throughout our lives. Back then, the vision for digital technology was as information and communication apparatuses. But... is that how we see technology now? I know I don't. To me, technology today is all about social media platforms, games, streaming services, and search engines (with search engines taking a sort of back seat to social media platforms). Part of that is baked into how we think about, say, "phones".

When was the last time you thought of your phone as a tool that allows you to collect information, log data, and communicate with others? Chances are... rarely. When I think of my phone, I think about the apps that go on it. My phone is where I go to send Snapchats, or scroll through Instagram, or text. A mobile version of my computer. Just a mere gateway to the platforms that live on the Internet, rather than as a tool that is used to do particular things with particular intention.

Intention matters, as I've mentioned before in this blog post. Are we using technology intentionally? I don't think. Computers were promised to serve as a means to augment our lives by giving us easier, quicker access to information, and ideally for free. It does do that. Wikipedia, YouTube, blogs, forums -- these are incredible tools to use to learn. But we've also overstepped the bounds of that promise. Our phones don't exist to augment existing connections anymore. The whole thing has taken on a life of its own, and not always in a good way. We don't go on Instagram to keep up with friends anymore. We just go on Instagram without any intention other than just going on Instagram.

To those ends, I think it's important to start changing our perspectives on the technology we're using daily, evaluate whether the reasons we say we use technology align with our actions, and to be more intentional about the whole ordeal.

Try thinking about your phone as a communications and information device, and see if that changes something about how you use it. And get back to me!

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nikki :)

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