Thursday, September 7, 2017

Digital Detox Comes to an End

Six months ago I dropped my smartphone onto a hard tile floor and shattered the screen.  It marked the beginning of an extended period of digital detox.  Not that I didn't still have my laptop, but for six months now I've been using an old 1990s Nokia dumb phone.  It was a bit of an experiment to see what life looked like without that constant distraction everywhere I went.  In a lot of ways I found this preferable to the dopamine addiction of smartphone living.  We are a society addicted to those small chemical hits that we get with each message and notification, and I'm no exception.  All the same, life without a smartphone these days can be a bit of a challenge, and it is nice to have a navigation device, camera, news portal and communication device in your pocket at all times.  I finally broke down and ordered a new phone.   Then a few days later I found out about a company that offers free phones and service if you stay below a certain data limit (freedompop.com), so I ordered a second one as a backup.  Tomorrow the first phone will arrive and my experiment in 20th-century living will come to an end.  How do I feel about that?  Frankly, I'm somewhat excited to be getting a smartphone again, though not without some sentimentality toward the simplified life of the previous months.  I don't want to be one of these people addicted to checking their phones at all times, eschewing real-life experience for the digital high.  Can I find the right balance?  I'd like to think so, but only time will tell...

Friday, July 14, 2017

When Life Throws a Curve Ball

It's been about two years since I started working on my latest novel, tentatively titled Enemies: A War Story.  This is a big one, epic in scope, and with all of the research involved as well as the writing, it has more or less consumed me during this time period.  So, when my good friend Gabor announced that he was coming for a visit from Hungary, I decided that this was a great time to take a break and put the manuscript aside for a while in order to take a good, old-fashioned American road trip.

Unfortunately, life does not always cooperate.  We were supposed to be in San Francisco tonight, staying at a hostel in Fort Mason, near Fisherman's Wharf.  Instead, we're holed up in Mammoth Lakes, after dropping the transmission on the used Ford I recently bought, with this trip in mind.

At least we got out and about before the car broke down, visiting the nearby ghost town of Bodie.

And, while this repair will cost a pretty penny, and take a fair bit of time, there are worse places to be stuck.  But what will I do in the meantime?  Well, I suppose I'll get back to the novel for the time being after all!  Each work day is one day closer to the finish.

That said, here are a few more pics of the lovely town of Bodie, out in the middle of nowhere, east of the Eastern Sierra:





Sunday, May 7, 2017

The test continues...

It has been five weeks now since I destroyed my smart phone and switched back to an old "dumb" phone that I had lying around in a drawer.  So far, I have to say, I haven't missed having a smart phone much.  I've always disliked that feeling of carrying around such a distraction wherever I go.  I don't like that nagging desire to constantly check my emails, and texts, and Facebook, news, etc., etc.  It is a relief to just be able to forget about all of that stuff. 

At the same time, I really don't like having to reply to texts by tap, tap, tapping on a number keypad, the old-fashioned way.  So today, I decided to take a look at the latest offerings from the company who made my last smart phone.  My last two phones, actually, have been manufactured by a company called BLU.  They are based in the U.S., but buy all of their components from China, from the same suppliers that make other Android-based phones.  They don't have a lot of marketing, or corporate overhead, so they are able to sell their phones quite cheaply.

So anyway, no, this is not any kind of endorsement for BLU phones.  Quite the contrary!  Today I was checking out the newest versions and I found out that one of their suppliers pulled a sneaky trick.  They loaded some malware onto the phones, shipped straight from the factory, that automatically sent every single text from a user's phone, plus call logs for every number called, back to a server in China.  Yes, that's right, if you bought one of these phones that meant that every text you sent to your friends, or your mother, or your girlfriend or boyfriend, all of them were duplicated and sent to this server in China where they were collected and saved for purposes unknown.

Apparently, BLU was shipping these phones with no idea that they were infected with this malware.  After customers began to find it themselves, BLU says that they fixed the problem, just within the last few days.  BUT, the story doesn't end there.  Now customers are complaining that while the malware is gone in the latest software updates, there is an adware program in it's place.  This one doesn't send your personal information to a Chinese server, but it does make unwanted ads pop up in your browser.

So... long story short, I did like my last BLU phones, and I would like to get another one, but I'm not in any hurry.  I think I'll wait a while and see how all of this shakes out.  It does leave me wondering, who was collecting that data and for what purpose?  Chinese intelligence?  Identity thieves?  Advertisers looking for an edge?  Whatever the answer, it just goes to show, you can't be too careful these days.  I guess my old "dumb" phone will do for a little while longer...

Thursday, April 6, 2017

This is a test, this is only a test...

Anybody who knows me might have noticed that my online presence has diminished considerably over that past year or so.  Part of this has to do with the fact that as I've focused on my latest writing project, I've let my career as a self-published author dwindle.  My newest book is not the typical genre novel that can thrive on its own.  This one is the type of story that will need a home with a traditional publisher to succeed. And so I've spent less time marketing myself and my books online and withdrawn more into writing mode.

It also can be said that the state of the world these days finds me wanting to spend less time online in general.  I do want to know what's going on.  I still read the news, and watch it on TV, but I find that too much of it can be overwhelming.

Which leads me to my current test.  About a week ago I managed to accidentally destroy my smart phone beyond repair.  That itself is a long sad story, but the upshot was that for the first time in years, I was left without one.  Digging through an old drawer, I did manage to find a very old Nokia "dumb" phone.  I figured, hey, at least I can throw my sim card in there and have a voice connection while I wait for a new phone to arrive.

It was at that point, when I was about to order a new smart phone, that I began to ask myself a question: Do I really want a smart phone at all?  Do I want to have this thing in my pocket that is always calling out for my attention?  Do I want constant news updates?  Do I want to be a slave to that dopamine burst I get every time I check my texts, or email, or stock prices, or Facebook notifications?

I saw a television interview recently in which an expert claimed that the average person spends about 4 hours per day on their phone.  Do I want to waste twenty-eight hours per week on this electronic device?  Well, as you might guess, my answer to all of these questions was, "No, I do not."

That leads to more questions, however.  Don't I want a camera in my pocket at all times?  How about online maps?  What if I need a ride-share?  Are giving up these things worth the trade-off?

Now that I am one-week into my test, so far I haven't missed my smart phone one bit.  Well, except for the picture I would liked to have taken of a bunch of wildflowers in the desert.  But what would I even have done with it, really?  Probably never have looked at it again.

So I'll see how it goes.  I really do find that the distraction of a smart phone is quite annoying.  Most people, studies also show, check their phones on average once every six and a half minutes, all day long.  We are a society addicted, and I for one am going cold turkey.

I don't expect this experiment to last forever.  At some point I will probably cave.  Most likely that will be whenever I go traveling next.  It is hard to live in the modern world without this device.  Unfortunately, I find it somewhat hard to live with it, too.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

A New Year Begins...

I suppose I'm a little late for a New Years post, being as this is already the 5th of January, but Happy New Year anyway!  I hope things are starting well for everybody, despite which side of the political spectrum you might find yourself on.  Either way, it should be an interesting year...  As for me, I'm starting things off with cover re-designs for all of my books in the Bachelor Series:


I've put these books back on the Kindle Unlimited subscription service, which means they will be free to read for subscribers, plus Amazon will allow me to make these titles free for five days each for everybody else over the next three months.  If you'd like to know when these giveaways go live, you can enter your email address in the box to the right to sign up for my newsletter.  I've been very lax about posting any updates there, or here on the blog, but I'll try to do better in the new year.  Here's to hoping that everyone finds at least a bit of romance in 2017!