Lonely? Ditch Facebook, Find Real People. Live Longer.

“When a man of Scotty’s years falls in love, the loneliness of his life is suddenly revealed to him. His whole heart once throbbed only to the ship’s engines.” – Star Trek

DSC02578

Why, oh, why does it not say Texas Pain RELIEF Institute?

Daniel and I were friends from second grade onward, until I moved away.

I’m not sure if it was our mutual love of Mad® magazine, parody, or wearing army fatigues that we found here and there and the unearned ranks, units, and qualifications we’d poorly sew onto the faded olive drab fabric (I’m pretty sure I was a sergeant of a unit that never existed).  We’d regularly sleep over at each other’s houses, throw up poorly breathing nylon tents in the back yard, and then go on maneuvers with our toy rifles; fording quickly flowing rivers or assaulting fortified hills.  Daniel even managed to find a Korean-era K-ration we were too scared to eat.  I mean, it smelled okay, but . . . .  And we each shared magazines we certainly didn’t want to let our parents know we had (hint: boobies).  And I still have one book he made me promise I’d return to him because it wasn’t his, this really has weighed on me, and I’m not kidding.

omni

What magazines we looked at may or may not have looked like. I plead the fifth.

During the school day we skipped lunch together, talked science fiction together, and told bad jokes together.  Our conclusion on Mel Brooks and Hogan’s Heroes?  The best things on television, ever.  Carrie Fisher and Sigourney Weaver?  Our goddesses, along with Madeline Kahn.  Especially when we saw Carrie in a bikini one night at Daniel’s house.  Wow.

It was also Daniel who taught me that in Tom and Jerry, Jerry was the evil one.

When I visited him at Easter I knelt and did the novena, even though I wasn’t Catholic.  We were brothers.  Daniel and I belonged to the same tribe, until time and distance pulled us (mainly me) away.

This week a study (really, a metastudy, or summary of other studies, which is like a summary of Game of Thrones for your friends who don’t watch Game of Thrones) was released about loneliness and how being lonely negatively impacts health.  (Hint, being lonely is worse than being obese, drinking too much, or not having enough Pez® to stick to your eyebrows on St. Johns’ Day in Nova Scotia.)

AARP commissioned a study that says that 42 million people older than 45 suffer from “chronic” loneliness.  Since there were only 120 million people older than 45 when they did the study, that means that over 35% of those people over 45 are . . . sad.  And it’s very sad when that many old people with that many wrinkles are sad.

What does chronic loneliness do to you?

Nothing good.

It increases your odds of death by . . . 50%.  That sounds like a lot, and it is.  That’s almost worse than the wrinkles.

So in the age of Facebook®, people are less connected to one another.  In fact, in another study they found that old people who relied less on email and social media for their social connections were . . . happier.  Let me write that in blazing letters across the sky:

Facebook® is no substitute for calling the people you know and love and talking to them.  Period.

I’ve watched Facebook™ grow, and I’ve viewed social media with skepticism.  I tried to get on Facebook®, but it never was able to engage me.  Facebook® seemed so much shallower than blogging.  Also, I’ve always thought that Facebook© was a tailor-made infidelity machine – putting people who used to have sex back together, while removing all of their bad qualities in a haze of boozy memories.  There is no way that I wanted to fight off all of the girls who were chasing me like I was a Roadrunner®.  Heavens, who has that energy??

Let this be a reminder, the people on Facebook™ have bad morning breath, have bad armpit smells, and leave their socks all over the place (except, of course, me).  But to a lonely spouse, or worse, and idealized memory?  Not so much.

Let’s pretend that Facebook© was really, really good at helping people really connect on a spiritual level?  They’d disable that feature in a second.

Why?

Facebook® makes money when you’re dissatisfied, and makes money upon your dopamine receptors which are always looking for novelty.  Facebook™ makes money when you hit refresh and scroll through more updates and see more ads, or look to see how many people “Liked” you.  Facebook© is free to you because your attention is the product.  And your dissatisfaction is the way to maximize their return.  Thank heavens for youtube videos of cats!!!

Why are older folks getting lonely?

Well, my parents had dinner parties.  When they were in their 50’s I was still a pup, and had to got to go to their dinner parties, at least when they were at our house.  The couples would get together, and they’d immediately split up.  The ladies would go the kitchen and drink whatever Mom made for ‘em, even though it smelled like something that would catch on fire if a stray spark veered by.

The men would retire to the dining room (nobody smoked anymore) and drink bourbon, scotch and talk about elk hunting, war (real, actual war) stories, or how the weather was, or what the crops were like.  Someone would make an off-color joke, and give me a wink and a nudge.  Really, it was always Vern that did that.  Honestly, most of the jokes were right over my head unless they were directly and obviously about boobs, but at least I was part of the game.

After drinks, there would be dinner.  Which would also include drinks.

Afterwards?  Cards and a communal gathering, until the time came that people would head home.  The game of cards itself was meaningless, merely a reason to sit around the table and talk more.  And drink more.  It was a good thing that they mainly left before Star Trek©.

The gatherings were even more wide ranging than that – on occasion we’d go spend the night, for instance, at a cabin deep in the mountains that one of the families owned.  During the course of that weekend we built a mountain road with a road grader, rode horses, and I outshot all of them with Pop Wilder’s .222.  Oh, I and won a game or three of Risk®.

We hunted together with Pop Wilder’s friends.  We went on wide-ranging 4×4 trips deep into the forest at 12,000 feet.  We rode snowmachines together.  Although I was certainly the junior member, more than anything it looked like a tribe – a group of friends that supported each other and shared in each other’s joys and sorrows as we snacked on ziplock-fresh sandwiches at 12,000 feet.

And today I don’t see that.  Although I know a zillion adults, most of them don’t get together like this.  Most of the adults I could get together with like this (there’s a pretty big implied trust) live very far away.

In our current world, we spend our time chasing our children on their adventures (wrestling, football, academics, Boy Scouts, etc.) and focusing on our spousal relationship, and finally, work.  I know that sounds like the best way to spend your time, but . . . is it, really?

Right now, as a family, we depend upon the iron triad of children, work and spouse.  All of my adult friends (locally) come from either my children or my work, or, IS The Mrs.  What happens when work changes (this is a minority of friends we see, so not much) or the kids get older?  Two thirds of the local social network dries up.  That day.

And, I recall that the social network for my parents lived on with them after I graduated.  After Pop Wilder retired.  It was a durable network.  They may have been alone, but they were never lonely.

In some weird way, we seem to have taken the informal support networks from men and women.  We seem to have replaced them with the evanescence of work and children.

We have, when those support networks crumble over time, ignored those left over.  And they get lonely.  They don’t have Vern attempting to turn the butter into my thumb when he passed it to me (it never worked, I was young and fast, and he was older and a bit inebriated).

Where are they now?  Are they in our past, those who trust us with their very souls?

There is an endless summer.

That endless summer contains every single day young boys spent together in a world bound only by imagination, in a world where each barley field represented a chance to crawl on our bellies toward enemy lines to stop the Germans in their tracks, or to stop the Cylons® before they could hit our main base.  One last swig from the canteen before we braved the minefields and tried to take out the German 88mm gun before it savaged our boys to pieces.

We played at life, at courage, at understanding where we fit in our tribe.  We discussed love before we knew what it was.  We discussed right and wrong when we were living it.  We displayed strength because it was intertwined with our being.

I called Daniel’s number tonight for the first time in years.  I remember their house, and I know right where they were when they picked up the phone, heck, the number was familiar with me.  They remembered me through the fog of ages.

I’ll talk to Daniel soon.

Why did I wait so long?  Guilt.  I felt (and still feel) that I’m the one who killed our endless summer with the starting of my car and the loss of my virginity.  I’d left the fields of play behind.  I’d left the best friend that I’d ever had or will ever have behind.

Tonight I gathered up the courage to make the call back towards summer, the call back to the innocence of boys bound together in blood, in bad comedy, in Steve Martin, in mutual, total trust.

And we’ll go back to the summer, where we belong.  At least for a few minutes when we talk.

Did it get dusty in here?  My eyes seem to be watering.

Nobody gets to be lonely in summer . . . especially not an endless one.

Elon Musk, The Terminator, and The Matrix

“Look at it this way, Mulder, by the time there’s another invasion of artificially intelligent, dung-eating, robotic probes from outer space, maybe their über-children will have devised a way to save our planet.” – The X-Files

DSC02770

Ahhh, remember when the Spaniards led the way to the nuclear missile base?

This is the second of three posts during Elon Musk Week® – the first one is here (LINK), and the third one is here (LINK)Elon Musk: The Man Who Sold Mars.  This one is (in theory) about health.  Kinda.

When I was a kid, one night on Creepy Creature Feature (LINK) they showed “Colossus: The Forbin Project.”  The really short version of the movie was that the Department of War (let’s call it what it is) built a computer to control all the nuclear bombs.  The Soviets built one, too, called Guardian.  I’ll let Wikipedia spoil the ending:

Colossus arranges a worldwide broadcast in which it proclaims itself “the voice of World Control”, declaring that it will prevent war, as it was designed to do. Mankind is presented with the choice between “the peace of plenty and content, or the peace of unburied dead”. The computer states that it has been monitoring the attempts to disarm its missiles; as a lesson it detonates two of them in their silos in the US and the USSR, killing thousands, “so that you will learn by experience that I do not tolerate interference”. The computer then transmits plans for an even larger computer complex to be built into the island of Crete.

Colossus later announces that the world, now freed from war, will create a new human millennium that will raise mankind to new heights, but only under its absolute rule. Colossus informs Forbin that “freedom is an illusion” and that “in time you will come to regard me not only with respect and awe, but with love”. Forbin responds, “Never!”

In 8th grade over a decade after the movie first came out, in some sort of weekly school magazine, they had a script for a play of the Forbin Project (I am not making this up).  We were going to film it, because for some reason the school had this great, hulking video camera (weight, approximately three tons) and a VCR that they never used (weight, approximately six tons).  My teacher couldn’t figure out how to make the VCR not auto-rewind every time we hit “stop.”  Thus ended my budding film career.

forbin

It’s the future!  Why aren’t we all wearing jumpsuits???

This kills me, because I was playing Doctor Forbin.  (sigh)  At least I won the lip-syncing contest that week with the Lido Shuffle:

It looked a lot like this:

butters dancing

In the Elon Musk/Mark Zuckerberg autistic billionaire slapfight over Artificial Intelligence, I’m siding firmly with Elon Musk.  AI is the second most dangerous threat that humanity is now facing, besides the potential for another KISS comeback tour.  Gene Simmons has soooo much extra skin, and Paul Stanley might break another hip.

Given that Elon and I are in agreement that AI is in the “as dangerous as being changed to a hungry pitbull with bad gas” (the pitbull, not me), I was really quite surprised when he announced the latest one of his ventures, which is mind-bending (literally in this case):  Neuralink®, which will link the human brain, via AI, to the . . . well . . . infosensesphere.

Yes, you read that right:  direct linking of the human brain (through a machine interface) to the infosensesphere.

And it is possible?  It’s already starting, though right now we’re using Playskool® versions of this technology.  Cochlear implants are allowing the deaf to hear with 16 bit fidelity.  (No, not everything sounds like Super Mario Brothers, but that would be cool.)  We can read pictures of dreams people are having and record them.  We can hook a machine eye into the nervous system of blind people, and they can see rudimentary pictures.  All of this was science fiction ten years ago.

I had to make up a word like “infosensesphere” because I’m pretty sure we don’t have a word to describe the concept.  Neuralink© implies that we’ll be able to:

  • Google without being able to spell (oh, wait, that’s done).
  • Share Microsoft® Outlook™ schedule information . . . wait, that’s done, too.
  • Share feelings. Like sad.    Thankfulness.  Salty.  Drunk.  Mind to mind.
  • Have all of the data available in the world instantly, essentially melding the Internet in as your own personal memory. You won’t search – you’ll remember.
  • Shut down your current input sensations, like pain, or headaches. (Not the headache that Johnny Depp’s career is, but real ones.)
  • Share sensations. Like . . . all of them.    Even that.  And that, too.
  • Co-opt AI. Artificial intelligence would be part of us.  And, we’d be part of it.

Essentially, you’d be hooked up to all of humanity.  All of the time.  When a friend felt joy at finding a new flavor of Pez®, you could feel the joy.  And taste the Pez©.  All when your friend did.  Think texting is addictive?

Additionally, I’d be surprised if you couldn’t record all of it.  That feeling of joy when you got your first date?  You could feel that way again, every day.  That feeling of sadness when she broke up with you?  You could edit and delete it out.

I start to come up with some huge questions:

  • What about privacy? Think fighting with a spouse is bad now?  What happens when they see what you’re really thinking about them in the middle of a fight?  Oh, and if you don’t share, the fight gets worse.
  • If you think Facebook® envy is bad, how bad would it be to envy everyone and their feelings?
  • What if, instead of all your base are belong to us, all your brain are belong to us?  What if they delete everyone’s memories and hold them for hostage?  Or just flat out steal your passwords?
  • AI uses you as data storage and as a remote appendage. If only there was movie, starring Keanu Reeves that might be able to show us what this might be like . . .
  • Would you have to share with your Boss? No fake calling in sick.  And if they asked you to share your feelings about them, would you?  Even the fantasy you have about them being sealed in a barrel of live snakes and lemon juice after covering their body with paper cuts?
  • What about free will? Now that your brain is tethered to everyone else, how do you push your ideas to the front . . . of your own brain?
  • Why bother to climb Everest when you can experience that climb without leaving your basement? I have to use explosives and threaten to shut off the Internet to get The Boy and Pugsley away from their computers now.  Why would they ever get off the couch if they were Nugget-Netted© in?
  • If you thought drunk texting your old girlfriend was bad . . . wait until you send drunk feelings. Oh, and you get to remember it in vivid detail the next day.  And she can share it with everyone.  And it’ll be on record.
  • At what age would a kid get his net? What happens when it’s mandated they get one?
  • What happens if it breaks down? You’ve adapted to life with what is (essentially) a super mentally processing hive-mind schizophrenia.  What happens when you’re back with a tricycle (with a bent back wheel) for a brain?
  • What if you can’t (for whatever reason) get the implant? Is there a special island they keep you on?  A zoo?

But think of the positive sides?

  • You can feel like you ate a chocolate cream pie. Without eating one.
  • The dryer would tell you when your clothes were warm, hot, and ohhhh-so-fluffy.
  • Weight loss problems would be a thing of the past. You could shut off hunger.
  • You could literally put yourself on autopilot for the work day while your consciousness read comic books inside your brain. But, let’s be real – in this type of future, why would you even have a job?
  • It would likely be impossible to murder someone. Or start a war.  You’d probably be forced to feel the pain of others, in whatever passes for school.
  • No more ACT, since everyone would have a perfect score. No more college, either.
  • Oh, and you could put yourself on autopilot for the gym, too! You’d be hulking out whenever you wanted to!

This type of technology is amazing in its scope.  It changes not only civilization, but changes every individual human in the future.  If we were to catapult ourselves 200 years into the future we would fundamentally not be able to understand civilization – it would be as if ten million years of evolution took place.  Thankfully, no sixties song ever dealt with this question . . . oh, wait!

Again, I agree with Elon that Artificial Intelligence is dangerous, but at least I can imagine being chased around by Terminators® until John Connor® takes them out.  I cannot, however, imagine the perfect melding of machine with my brain, and my brain with yours.  Maybe Colossus can help us figure out what that might look like?

Paging Dr. Forbin . . . .

Maslow’s Hierarchy, Fear, and Highlander

“Honor? I’ve got seven kingdoms to rule! One king, seven kingdoms! Do you think honor keeps them in line? Do you think it’s honor that’s keeping the peace? It’s fear! Fear and blood!” – Game of Thrones

20150318_112257

I don’t ask for much.  I just want to die as I came into this world – screaming and covered in someone else’s blood.

In 1943, Abraham Maslow had one of the two ideas that cemented him in the public consciousness, sort of like a Johnny Depp of years’ past, but with more showers than Johnny usually takes.

This idea (the other idea was, “If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”) became known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  For obvious reasons it isn’t known as Wilder’s Hierarchy, though . . . that’s coming soon, I hear, maybe even by the end of the post! (Foreshadowing!)

Maslow’s Hierarchy is often shown as a pyramid, because Maslow only intended for his psychological work to be used for ancient Egyptians, since that greatly reduced his malpractice insurance.  Also, his patients could not sue, being dead and all.  Upon further reflection and remembering that mummies could come back from the dead if they were played onscreen by really hot people, Maslow changed his mind (and his insurance carrier) and decided that Maslow’s Hierarchy was universally applicable, even onto inanimate objects, like bankers and rocks.

I kid.  Everyone knows that rocks have feelings.

Anyhow, Maslow’s Hierarchy was really his way to describe how and why people act the way they do, and asking them is just too darn hard.  Maslow’s Hierarchy became really popular in the 1960’s and 1970’s and was used to explain absolutely everything in public education from why kids hate split pea soup to why they are attempting to knife the teacher.   But what is the pyramid?

MaslowsHierarchyOfNeedsBy FireflySixtySeven – Own work using Inkscape, based on Maslow’s paper, A Theory of Human Motivation., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36551248

At the base of the pyramid are the physiological needs – things like breathing, food, water, shelter from the cold, cold winter of your parent’s disappointment.  These were the needs that Maslow felt you couldn’t get past unless they were met.  You’re not exactly thinking about writing poetry when you’re drowning, so Maslow said you were stuck down here.  Interestingly, Maslow felt that sex belonged here, too, despite all of the bad poetry written by involuntarily celibate 15 year olds . . .

Moving right along, Maslow said if you were fed, warm, and could breathe after sex, you could worry about security needs.  Me?  I worry about staying awake.  Maslow might be the only person who locked the door to his bedroom after sex.  For the record – Maslow brought up sex first.

But, these security needs weren’t just having a loaded carbine when your Zombie Grandma (LINK) shows up at your bedside.  These security needs also include (according to Wikipedia®):

  • financial security,
  • health, and,
  • “safety net” against health problems.

If these sound familiar, this appears (to me) to be the level where almost every political argument is waged.  You don’t hear any politicians saying that they’ll get you all the air you can breathe, but they do sure fight for the “government will take care of me” vote.

weirdal

I imagine Al is normally pretty well adjusted.  But TSA?  Yeah.  They take it out of everyone.

The next step up is social belonging.  For those of you born after 1995, this is like being on Facebook®, but with actual people.  It includes the usual suspects from your Facebook™ feed – family, friends, co-workers, people you go to church with, except rarely will anyone quote Firefly© and William Shatner won’t show up on your “Doorstep” feed (LINK).  One reason I think people feel a bit more hollow today than twenty years ago is that so many depend upon Facebook© for their social relationships – it’s like a friendship if you stripped out all of the parts that make a friendship real – the person you can share with, the person that you can call in the middle of the night for help when you need it the most.

Since when do I worry more about my 401k than my family?  Since Maslow said so?  Hmmmmm.  We might be seeing some cracks in this philosophy.

Next on the list is esteem. This means people accept you and value you.  You provide worth to those around you.  You’re a ninja in a room full of evil kittens (unweaned, eyes closed, but still REALLY EVIL).  And you have those throwing star things.  And two samurai swords.

See what happens when someone harshes your esteem:

Esteem is awesome.  It’s excellent!  I love it when people worship the stuff I do.  I also love it when people hold me accountable for the things I don’t do.  It means that what I do matters.  And if it doesn’t matter?  You don’t get real esteem.

I think this is where the current world begins to diverge farther and farther from the social reality.  I love soldiers.  95% of them are awesome!  But not every single one is a hero.  Many are awful people.  Again, I generally see the uniform, and I sense pride.  But to claim that all are heroes means that none are heroes.  All have the same esteem, so they all have none.

Another interesting note (well, it was interesting to me) is that one of the leading causes of depression among men over 40 is . . . loss of esteem, usually job-related.  When I say depression, I mean (shhh) suicide.  Which if you believed Maslow, this would just send you to your friends, and not all the way to square zero.

At the top of the pyramid?  Self-actualization.  It’s like if Wolverine® could do math.  Oh, wait, that’s Tony Stark.  Self-actualization was Maslow’s fantasy of how it felt to be Albert Einstein walking around everyday, but without the autism.  This means you’re living your full potential without restraint.  It must be how Jeff Bezos feels everyday now that he’s all pumped up on testosterone and has those big guns (arms) and big guns (actual rocket ships).  Heck, it’s likely he even has large artillery somewhere.

The rich aren’t like you and me – they have cannon.  (With apologies to F. Scott Fitzgerald.)

Later in life, apparently after watching the TV show Kung-Fu or maybe seeing Led Zeppelin on stage, Maslow added a capstone:

highlander

SELF-TRANSCENDENCE.  Remember how Connor McCloud of the Clan McCloud could do and be everything after he chopped all the heads off of all of those people in Highlander? (SPOILER ALERT FROM 1985)  Yeah.  Apparently this was what Maslow envisioned when he added this to his pyramid.

grigoryhighlander

I’ve been snarking at poor old Maslow this whole time, primarily because he looks like a well-meaning hippy from today’s standards.  And I’m not sure he deserves it, but, really, it sure is fun.  Ironically, my comments are tame compared to the criticisms of his fellow academicians:

  • Ethnocentric – individualistic versus communal.   Soviet Union fell, dude.
  • Peacetime Vs. Wartime – war combines the two bottom parts of the pyramid so that security takes on the same level of importance as eating. Which, except for a few hundred years in a few small places on Earth?
  • I Could Have Done It Better – Well, sure! What part of the pyramid are you on?  Sissy.

Okay, can I criticize it better than those idiots?

Absolutely.

Maslow entirely neglected the concept of time.  If hunger has been gnawing at me for weeks, it’s a very different story than if I’m worried about being hungry tomorrow.  Hunger forever gnaws at the soul.  (Not the sole – who eats feet?)

Likewise, a brave man will jump on that grenade for you in combat, whereas one who has been sitting at the bottom of a trench for a week might just want to see you gone because you snore or eat your own toenails.

The concept of time is crucial.

And, on further reflection?  Most of our motivation comes not from a clear and shining purpose – it comes from fear.  And fear is time-dependent.  The longer it goes, the more it nips at your soul.  And those we rightly call heroes are those that overcome that fear, both in the short-term and during the long game.  We used to call that character.

So, I make the following Modest Proposal:

Let’s call this . . . the Wilder Hierarchy of Fear™ – (represented by a blob, not a pyramid) starting with –

  • First Fear:   Fear of not having Pez®.  And not breathing.  And not having food.  And freezing to death.  This fear will make you do stupid things, especially in the short term.  Longer term (a week or so) it might even grow into a debilitating fear.
  • Second Fear: Family Survival.  Fear of losing your family.  Many times it will overcome the First Fear, unless you really, really like Pez® more than one of your children.
  • Third Fear: Bloodline Survival.  You like your kids.  You want them to have more kids.  Why?  It’s good.  Especially if you read this blog, because your IQ is totes above 125.  And we need more of you!  Fears of financial failure fall in here.
  • Fourth Fear: Fear of Shame.  You have people you work with.  People who look up to you.  People who admire you.  You don’t want to appear weak or incompetent or dishonorable to them – in many ways, that’s worse than death, because it puts a blight on the family name.
  • Fifth Fear: Fear of Lack of Achievement.  Me?  I have to wonder how much more I could have done if it weren’t for the Pez®.  Stupid Pez™.
  • Sixth Fear: Fear You Aren’t a Marvel® Superhero.  Name says it all.  WHY DON’T I HAVE ADAMANTIUM CLAWS???

Noting that the First through Fourth Fears are driven by a desire to save your family and your community is pretty easy.  And maybe, maybe, I should change it to a pyramid.  Why?

The Bangles!

Why Fitbit and Cheat Day Might Be Making You Fatter

“What is wrong with these people? They have no willpower. I once went 28 years without having sex. And then again for seven years.” – The Office

DSC03308

How Cheat Day feels.

Fitbit® will not make you skinny.  In fact, Fitbit™ might make you fatter (or, make you lose less weight).

Why?  Although exercise is very, very, good for you, you still can’t run faster than your teeth (LINK) . . . exercise is not the biggest factor in losing weight – it’s calorie intake(we’ve covered that before, too (LINK) – remember the Scottish dude who didn’t eat . . . for over a year?  Yeah.  He got skinny.  Remember, he started at 456 pounds.

Sure, he exercised, but his ace in the hole was the “not eating” component of his plan.  But if he would have had a Fitbit® . . .

It’s not just Fitbit™ – it’s any fitness tracking device.

Why?  Well, it’s all in your head.  Really.

The most crucial part of the equation when it comes to weight loss (or, really, kicking any habit) is hacking your own brain first.  And if you don’t do it, there are tons of companies that want to do it for you.

Let me give an example:

Once upon a time after I graduated college, I was in a department store (this is in the BA time – Before Amazon) and was looking at a stereo.  It was awesome!  Speakers big enough to use as a coffin for a large dog.  I wanted it, but knew that I shouldn’t.  I owed people money, like my mortgage company.  I had just moved.  It was expensive.  Ohhh, but it was pretty!  And it had . . . surround sound!  I could listen to my TV with speakers located behind my head!

I would have walked away, but the person I was in the store with said, “You studied really hard in school.  You work really hard at work.  You deserve it!”

Brain hacked.

I bought the stereo (and ended up paying probably 10% more than the price in interest) since I couldn’t pay it off that month.

But I deserved it, right?

No.

I totally didn’t deserve it.  In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that Nobody Deserves Anything.  If we could just tattoo that on each other’s foreheads, we’d all be better off.  I never hear The Boy or Pugsley EVER say deserve.  It’s a dirty word around our house, and no one wants to hear the 45 minute lecture that goes with that word.

That word successfully hacked my brain, though.  In a way, that was worth the whole price of the stereo, five times over.

And that’s what Fitbit© does.  It creates the concept of deserve in your brain – and that’s the danger.  I walked 10,000 steps today!  I deserve . . . a pizza.  Not a slice.  A pizza.  I walked 15,000 steps – that’s a pizza and some ice cream.  Oh, and beer.

So, an activity tracker might just make you fatter.  Are there other self-sabotaging behaviors we engage in that might add in to the mess?  Sure there are:

  • “I’ve already slipped up today, so I’ll eat the whole pizza.” – This makes sense – it combines a temporary defeat with a complete and total surrender of the day. Yay!
  • “I’ll restart the diet after the weekend. And this pizza.” – Ah, the good old future you, paying for the sins of present you.
  • “My cheat meal can be a cheat day.” – Well, meal is a lot like day in that they’re both words.
  • “My cheat day can be a cheat weekend.” – And what weekend isn’t made up of days?
  • “Chips are good for you, right?” – Only if you own stock in Frito-Lay©.
  • “Those cookies will go stale if I don’t eat them?” – And they will slowly kill you if you do . . . .

These have the common theme of “deserve” followed by “victim” followed by “extreme rationalization.”

And how do these come to mind?  These are already tricks I use to convince myself that this makes sense.  I’ve had to abandon cheat meals because . . . I’m not good enough to deal with them.  Likewise, any system that depends upon your willpower to for long term support, especially when you have a friend like your brain, is doomed.

Scott Adams works the idea that he uses choices to work around willpower.  Now I’m not sure that Scott has ever weighed a pound over his ideal weight, but he does have a point – willpower for a long term diet is a difficult partner, so he has a system.  Sadly, as a vegetarian, none of his choices involve bacon, and my choice the other night to eat all those chips was probably not as bad as it could have been (I might have tried to inject them into my eyes), but it wasn’t a great choice.

So, an activity tracker might be a calorie enabler, and another tool for your mind to tell you that you deserve something.  And whatever you do – don’t make me give you that talk.

Reminder:  John Wilder is STILL not a doctor, nor will he regenerate as one.  Consult your Doctor, Attorney, Car Mechanic, and Podiatrist prior to following any advice that you might get from here.

Information Vacation – More than a Rhyme, it’s Good For You

“Mulder, the Internet is not good for you.” – X-Files

DSC04813

The Boy, looking out over the Fruited Plain.  Sadly, cell reception is great there.

As I’ve alluded to in the previous two posts (GOLDand SUDDEN WEALTH), The Mrs., The Boy, Pugsley, and our borderline idiot dogs (who try ever so hard) recently went on a vacation.  We took off for the Fourth of July, which in Great Britain is known as Benjamin Franklin is a Jerk Day.  Part of the idea was to have some fun experiences (which we did, and I’ll describe in future, meaningful posts) but when we finished I had some other observations, as well that I’ll share in the next few posts . . . anyway . . .

We went off to the mountains, because:

  • that’s where the gold is, and
  • that’s where the cold is.

Lower Northern Midwestia summers bounce between hellishly hot and molten iron, although this year the summer has been quite mild and pleasant.  One other nice thing about the mountains is that they don’t have large populations – lots of solitude is possible.  And there are reasons for the low population:

  1. It’s really, really cold in winter, like -40˚F. I know.  I grew up there.  People (outside of my family) don’t appear to cryogenic levels of cold where plastic turns as brittle as Shia LeBeouf’s temper.
  2. Since there’s not much atmosphere above you when you’re over 8,000 feet in altitude (that’s over 100 meters!), it doesn’t block the Sun’s incoming pain rays. I can walk around in Midwestia all day long without sunscreen.  Up high?  I burn like a California resort town during a drought in about 15 minutes.
  3. Economic activity (mainly) consists of tourism, which, because of the whole “bitter cold and five feet of snow on October 1 and no ski area” ambiance, only lasts four to six months out of the year, but mortgages are a 12 month out of the year affair. It’s a poor area, except for the really rich people that own cool summer chalets.  They’re all Texans.
  4. Services are bleak. From our campground, the nearest gas station was 30 miles away (17 meters).  There is no natural gas to any house or business.  Propane is trucked from 30,000 miles away.  Electrical service is beamed from the moon, since that’s closer than any power plant, and, most importantly for today’s post:
  5. There is no cable, no cell phone service, and only a tiny bit of Internet.

Honestly, that was part of the allure of the camping spot, and part of what we were paying for, that dwindling of focus and distraction . . . we’d had that before . . . in Alaska.

In Alaska, even though we had gotten media from “Outside” (Outside means “Not Alaska”) we just . . . didn’t care.  It was too far away.  Bush fighting with Democrats (this was 2004-6)?  Who cares – not us.  Sinkhole swallows Florida?  Sounds rough – yawn.  A not news story about some subject guaranteed to polarize and produce outrage?  Unless it happened in Alaska we didn’t care.  At all.

When we moved back down to The States, we started caring again: we got meshed back into The Matrix.

  • We started worrying about issues that we couldn’t impact – but like attempting to teach a Kardashian to fetch, it just frustrates you since the Kardashian clearly cannot understand the basic concept.
  • We started using Google® as our arbiter of facts. Around the year 2000, we stopped arguing about facts.  In Alaska, we started again.  When we moved back to the states?  Stopped arguing.  Google® is wonderful to find out when Richard Dawson hosted Family Feud®.  What have we lost because we don’t argue about facts anymore?  In my case, I stretched some mind muscles on this trip I hadn’t used in a while, and we thought about the facts not as discrete digital bits, but as part of the continuum of knowledge.  When did that volcano pop up?  How did the valley form?  Why are the rocks near the stream bed at 8,400 feet in elevation rounded, while the rocks near the ridgeline at 11,000 feet angular?  The arguments about facts we don’t know is in and of itself a valuable mental process, and teaches us how to think.  (Imagine Kim even understanding that!)  We don’t need to know how a Kardashian gets into yoga pants.  We can, if we have a strong enough stomach, think it through.  (shudder)

As a family we fight back against The Matrix.  We have designated activities and times when we unplug.  No cell phones when we go out to dinner.  Gourmet Night (LINK).  These things make us turn away from our distractions, (LINK) and focus on each other, and on the present moment.  We have a secondary rule:  we don’t allow The Boy and Pugsley begin to huddle in an autistic mind meld about computers.  No computer discussions allowed.

And as we travelled?  Eventually we hit dead zones with no communication.  At our campsite?  No communication whatsoever.  No cell.  No Internet.

No phone, no lights, no motor car,
Not a single luxury,
Like Robinson Crusoe,
It’s primitive as can be.

Okay, we had lights, and a car, and wine, and a dvd player that we watched Firefly® on, and they had something resembling a primitive WIFI made of smoke signals (it’s digital, right?) but it was really isolated.  I confiscated devices gently encouraged The Boy and Pugsley to embrace unplugging from the Infosphere.

And it worked.

For over 90 hours (with one small break to visit the gas station) we avoided even radio.  Even AM radio.

What did we do?

  • We talked to each other.
  • We panned for gold (next post).
  • Played games. (This one is called Poor Choices and it was a LOT of fun – disclosure:  when I start up an Amazon affiliate link I’ll get paid for it, but not as of this writing)
  • Drove the High Country backroads.
  • Fished.  (no, didn’t catch any)
  • Focused on now.
  • Ate the precious, precious Pez® we brought with us.

We moved away from information saturation, from caring about each and every issue to a life where we were free . . . not to care.

Then, too quickly, we headed for home.  Like a body returning to life, with each passing mile more information was available to us, first AM, then FM, then finally actual cell phone towers.  Then personal email, finally work email.  Then, we got home, and found that our DVR had dutifully watched TV for us in our absence.

So, driving to work this week I ditched news radio.  I started by trying to listen to music, but at drive time all they want to do is talk about butts and farting.  Not that I don’t enjoy having a butt, and, well, the very first joke was probably about a fart and not a no-load mutual fund, so we’re hardwired to find those funny.  Today I drove in silence, just listening to my thoughts accompanied with the back beat of the tires on the road.

Listing to talk radio plays on your emotions – no matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on.  That’s what the radio folks intend.  And I had an idea while driving in silence.  Maybe a life changing one.  Maybe not.  But as Kiyosaki (LINK) tweeted the other day, you control what goes in your mind.

And I do control what goes in my mind.  (Which is why you should read this blog, since it is rated totally awesome for your mind!)  I even can control the things that I say to myself – after all, would I want to be friends with a person who says as many meant things as my inner dialogue could?

Nope.

And I can control that, too.  But there’s no way that I can make the British love Benjamin Franklin, or teach Kim to fetch.

Meditation Pros and Cons – Might be Great for You, Might Kill You

“Sitting here attempting to meditate, I have counted the number of ways I know of killing someone, using just a finger, a hand, a foot. I had reached 94 when you entered.” – Star Trek: Voyager

DSC03159

So, when I meditate?  Gotta have a tiger.  Nothing makes me calmer than sitting with an apex carnivore, because it allows me to forget materiality. 

So, I’ve always thought that meditation must be cool.  After all, David Carradine did it as Kwai Chang Caine all through the 1970’s as Kung Fu.  And he could give any group of bullies very peaceful and regretful butt-kicking they deserved.  And, really, throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s on television, meditation was seen as sort of a way to create super powers from within.  The (often Asian, or certainly taught-by-Asians) character would sit down, legs crossed, and would meditate until he got super-strength, super quickness, super pain tolerance, super control of his nervous system, or . . . super control of his ability to quickly grow fingernails at twice the speed of a normal human.

It was everywhere.  Meditation was the cure to all of life’s problems.  Transcendental Meditation™ would help with:

  1. Lower Stress – People who meditate appear to have lower stress and lower concentrations of cortisol (a hormone associated with stress). Me?  Sometimes when I try to meditate it stresses me out because I’m unsure if I’m doing it right, so I focus on that instead of meditating and pretty soon I’m wondering if I’ll have enough money when I’m 80 to parachute into the Super Bowl® and . . .
  2. More Work Output – Some study said that employees that meditate get more work done. I’m pretty sure that if my boss walks by my desk and sees me staring into a blank computer monitor and repeatedly saying “ohmmmmmmmm” he will either assume I’m measuring electronic resistance in my mind, or, more likely, he’ll think I’m off my rocker and rush to fire me before I can charge the company insurance a lot of money for treatment of whatever makes me stare at my monitor and say “ohmmmmmmm” again and again.
  3. Lower Blood Pressure – I thought I needed blood pressure? Oh, not the kind that causes blood to ooze out of my pores like sweat?  Got it.  I think this is probably compatible with the whole Lower Stress thing.
  4. Lower Risk of Heart Disease – If true, probably tied back to 1. and 3., above. Since heart disease sounds pretty bad, I’d probably like to avoid that.
  5. ADHD Treatment – Is ADHD made up? I don’t seem to recall this even existing when I was a kid – it was called, “being a kid.”  And you didn’t get classified narcotics for it.  You got a pile of wood to move and split and haul.  That typically un-deficited my attention and took all the energy I had stored up for hyperactivity away.  Move four tons of wood with a wheelbarrow?  Yeah, you’re not going to bug Mom to the point she wants to give you psychoactive drugs.  But apparently meditation works to help, too.
  6. Better Home Life – Yes, if you’re not a raging jerk from stress from work, that might help your home life. Or not.  Raging jerks seem to do okay, so don’t sell that short.
  7. Increased Intelligence – Unlikely. If you’re reading this blog, you’re already growing your IQ by 3 to 6 points . . . per hour.  If meditation increases your IQ?  Your head will explode.
  8. Ability to Smoke Weed Like the Beatles – Minus the money and the freedom from repercussions. Oh, wait, I’m describing most everyone.  No meditation required.
  9. Finding Chicks Like Yoko – How is this an advantage?
  10. Weight Loss – Yeah, most everyone wants to be skinnier. Except Gary Busey, who just wants to be a fried chicken.  Not eat it, be it.
  11. Growing Younger – Apparently (he said skeptically), a 55 year old that meditates regularly has the body of a 43 year old. Probably buried in his crawl space, right?  But here I think that there might be a correlation with the type of personality that has sufficient discipline to meditate regularly and not get side-tracked, rather than the meditation itself?
  12. Shinier Teeth – I made that one up. But, why not?

That sounds pretty good.  So why don’t people meditate more?

Well, there are some potential risks to meditation, namely a risk to your ego.  I’m not making this up.  Think about the process of meditation – it ends up bringing clarity and reflection on the way the world is, and, potentially, can strip away many of the constructs that we create in our day to day life.

And that is dangerous.

I had a boss that went to a leadership seminar – but this was an intensive leadership seminar, 12-14 hours a day, meant to rip the illusions about your life right up and out of your nostrils.  The theory was that this will allow you to take the risks and live your life unafraid.  Turns out that many people have built their entire life on illusions – and ripping those illusions out through your nostrils is painful.  Especially if you have to confront that you might be the cause of every problem you have, every repressed emotion, and that is dangerous.  According to my boss, one of these Fortune® 500 executives who had paid $25,000 for this course tried to kill himself due to guilt he felt after his illusions were pulled away.  (This is also why you DON’T TAKE my blog as ADVICE!)

Psychology Today (also a dubious publication) indicated that meditation can also lead to depersonalization, psychosis, anxiety, seizures, insomnia, and dating Yoko Ono.  They also indicated that those who had previous trauma could also be . . . dare I say . . . triggered by meditation.

Buddhist meditation was designed not to make us happier, but to radically change our sense of self and perception of the world. Given this, it is perhaps not surprising that some will experience negative effects such as dissociation, anxiety and depression.

–  Psychologists Miguel Farias and Catherine Wilkolm

I have been attempting to meditate, in my own fashion.  My best success has been while I’m off, alone, floating in the Wilder Family hot tub (LINK).  I’ll sit there, alone, focusing on breathing, and then . . . wake up half an hour later.  I know that the instruction manual says never fall asleep in a hot tub, but I’m generally refreshed and have a pretty positive outlook when I wake up.  And Yoko Ono is safely far away in New York, living on John Lennon’s massive pile of money.

Also, I’ve learned to think, when I meditate, that I might be good at Kung Fu.  And levitating.  And . . . being able to grow my fingernails . . . really fast!

Sleep Deprivation, Health, Zombies, and B-Movies

“All persons who die during this crisis from whatever cause will come back to life to seek human victims, unless their bodies are first disposed of by cremation.” – Night of the Living Dead

test pattern

This is a test pattern, back from the days before Infomercials. Public Domain.

Sleep and I have always had a rough relationship.  As soon as I discovered Creepy Creature Feature movies on Saturday night (the movies STARTED at 11:30PM, after Star Trek reruns were over) I was hooked.  I was also in kindergarten, and it was the height of irresponsible behavior for my Grandparents to let me stay up that late, but as long as they could go to bed after Hee-Haw® and the weather forecast, they were happy.

On most Saturday nights when I was a wee Wilder, I would weasel my way to Grandma and Grandpa McWilder’s place because they were so fun to be with.  Grandma McWilder would cook me my favorite dinner, and give me money to buy comic books.  You’re thinking Archie® and Superman© and X-Men™, right?  Sure, I bought plenty of those.  But Grandma didn’t seem to care what a five-year-old bought, and the store didn’t seem to care, either.

To be clear, if I went to the store as a five-year-old and wanted to buy a carton of cigarettes they would have sold them to me.  I bought issues of National Lampoon in the 1970’s that had . . . NAKED WOMEN in them.  And you thought that all people were fully clothed all the time, before the Internet.  Not so.

They wouldn’t have sold me liquor, though.  That’s at least sixth grade.

So I bought:

Creepy and Eerie Magazines – the best in 1970’s black and white cartoon gore:

creepy cover

Nothing unusual here, just a woman holding a disembodied hand close to her chest.  Happens every day, most normal thing in the world.

Image owner likely Dark Horse, used under Fair Use (Criticism), but I’ll take it down if they ask.

And, even:

Off-brand magazines like Weird.  Which were not as good as Creepy, but made up for it with worse artwork:

weird magazine cover

No, that’s not “Wired” it’s “Weird.”  I’m pretty sure I had this issue, but sadly can’t remember a thing that went on in the comic – I’m sure there must be a reason purple-skull man and the werewolf are killing vampires.  Probably a zoning violation?

Image owner unknown and probably hiding, used under Fair Use (Criticism), but I’ll take it down if they ask.

Anyway, Grandma didn’t mind if I was up until 1:30 AM when the test pattern came on watching invisible atomic brain monsters (1958’s Fiend Without a Face) get shot and dissolve in a movie that five year old Johnny Wilder thought was really, really good (I give it five blankets over the head!).  But most of those movies were 1950’s B-movies that were so absurd that even my five-year-old brain could scoff at with ease.  Mostly, I’d just watch the giant spider fight the giant radiation enhanced cow and go to bed.

fiendwithoutaface

Not a radiation enhanced cow. (Source, Wikimedia, fair use, criticism)

But then, one night they showed Night of the Living Dead.  Uncut.  Totally uncut, bare butts and all.  More importantly, all of the zombie human-eating was in the movie, too.  This was certainly the scariest movie I’d ever seen, and only one or two in the future would ever capture the utter dread that this movie brought, along with the calculation that Grandma’s house simply had TOO MANY WINDOWS to board up in the event of a Zombie apocalypse.  Plus, the entire concept was new to me – dead people craving human flesh and actually not going to McDonald’s drive-through, but hunting their own!

Night_of_the_Living_Dead_(1968)_theatrical_poster

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK!  Zombies!

This one is, through an odd twist, likely Public Domain.  I’d certainly take it down if Mr. Romero asked me to.

It’s now 1:30AM.  Time to go to bed, but I don’t want to walk on the floor because it creaks.  That would certainly draw the zombies my direction.  I finally get up, and go to the spare bed that’s in Grandma’s bedroom where I normally sleep.

After watching zombies eat living humans my five-year-old brain processed certain facts:

  • Dead people might become zombies, and
  • Develop an insatiable desire to eat human flesh.

I then recalled:

  • Grandma was very old (like 70!), and
  • Old people died, and
  • She might become a zombie in the middle of the night, and
  • I was made of human flesh.

So, if you’ve ever had difficulty sleeping because you thought your wonderful, kindly Grandma might become a zombie and eat you while you were still alive, raise your hand.

Only me?

Anyhow, sleep and I have continued a dubious relationship, and during my life, whenever I could stay up late I certainly did.  But, when I was younger, I would never sleep more than eight or so hours at a stretch until going to wrestling camp in high school.  One of the other wrestlers would just sleep whenever he could.  This was a huge change of perspective for me:  I always avoided naps, and had since I was in head start, and would throw blocks at the other kids who were actually good and attempting to sleep like I was supposed to do.  Heck, even before they kicked me out of head start I knew that naps weren’t for closers.

So, I discovered naps.  What fun!  My sleep schedule became even more chaotic and drift even farther from normal, first a little, then finally my sophomore year of college I had no classes that started before noon.  But the work happened, 7AM start times, early morning sunlight.

The break of dawn.  Ewwww.

At times my sleep pattern has provided four hours of sleep a day during the week, followed by 12 hour weekend crashes.  And, I hear that’s not really good for me unless, that heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke and diabetes are good things.  WebMD.com says that those things are really not good for me.  Web MD further states that it can lower my testosterone, make my skin wrinkle, make me gain weight, and (eek), make me die earlier.

That sounds negative, which makes me wonder how did Edison get by on a steady schedule of only four hours of sleep a night?  Well, apparently he did a lot of napping, which must not have counted.  But he really did get by on less sleep than 8 a night.  A lot less.  And a host of famous people have gotten by with less, even though WebMD says they’re all going to die next week.

I have been pushing it too much recently, though.  Since restarting the blog, I spend about nine to twelve hours a week on it, prepping, researching, writing, editing and publishing, and so far I’ve taken that time out of sleep, rather than other pursuits.

I’ve started graphing my sleep, and so far I’ve added about five hours a week back, during the weekdays, where I’d sometimes been getting less than four a night.

One thing I’ve noted when I go to bed early, is I wake up after that four hours, and sometimes have difficulty getting back to sleep – so I’ve begun taking a little melatonin prior to going to bed.  It’s literally a little, 1 milligram – The Mrs. takes about 10 milligrams, I think, and calls me a lightweight.

So, if you’re up too late and can’t sleep, here’s a copy of Fiend Without a Face, courtesy of YouTube – I hear a remake is coming, but you can enjoy the cheesy effects, especially about one hour and seven minutes into the movie . . .

Just make sure that you have a contingency plan in place to take care of Granny if she goes zombie on you . . .

Note:  JOHN WILDER IS NOT A DOCTOR.  Please don’t do anything unless you’ve talked it over with a large stable of professionals, like your actual doctor.