Moving Backwards

I consider myself a futurist in many respects. I’ve always been a fan of progress – the latest technology trend, the newest gadget, visions of the 21st century. Heck. I was for the first person I knew with VOIP. This passion probably started with my father. Though we were a blue collar family that didn’t have much, we were also some of the first or few with a VCR, Apple computer, and ATARI before it was called ATARI. He liked to tinker with CB radios and remote control cars. And though it seemed like child’s play, I can see how he laid the groundwork for my own curiosity with tech. My mother can also claim credit. As a records management professional, she provided my earliest exposure to computing. Searching and printing microfilm was a favorite activity. I played with anything that I couldn’t break and watching her type away at a computer was in a word, “cool.”

So, fast forward some years. I went on to study at MIT, where I was exposed to a bounty of tech, including Sun Microsystems, coding, and the MP3. Everything felt like it served a purpose – technology seemed to make life better. My interest continued through careers in environmental policy, management consulting, and design. But I only incorporated tech where appropriate. For example, I went without cable television and high-speed internet simply because I didn’t need it. I bought my first cell phone after issues with my land line, and I still use my mother’s 40-year-old sewing machine.

This idea of usefulness inspires my philosophy in futurism. Nothing should be adopted and promoted for its own sake. If something requires a literal change in lifestyle or behavior to use it, it’s just not very useful. Similarly, society’s obsession with convenience has diminished the very meaning of the word. In some strange way, we’re adapting our lives to be dependent on tech, creating complex systems and processes to make it happen. What’s useful? What’s convenient? And how will the future balance it all?

As I think back to my childhood, I can see the genesis of the need for balance. Yes, we had a microwave when other families were heating cans of soup on the stove. And I executed my first computer program when I was in elementary school, while other kids were climbing trees (though I did that too). BUT, many clothes were hand-me-downs and our Christmas toys were used. It was through these experiences that I learned balance, and that new wasn’t necessarily better. If a smart phone doesn’t offer what I need but distracts me with useless features, I’ll pass.

As we progress, it’s up to all of us to question what’s both useful and valuable to society. When it comes to tech, it’s important that we invest our resources in the right way and for the right cause.

I Decreased My Screen Time for 30 Days and This Is What Happened

Some may find it inconsistent with my MIT education, but at times, I can be a bit of an anti-technologist. Actually, I can be downright stalwart. So when I read an article about how truly horrible late-night screen time can be, ending the practice became a no brainer. I had been working from home for several months and had fallen into a fluid, low-pressure, do-what-I-want, no-schedule schedule. I prided myself on late-night working sessions and routinely watched Golden Girls until 1 in the morning. While the world slept, I was online, perfectly ignorant of the blue light affecting my eyes, brain, and body.

As a first step, I scheduled my iPhone’s Do Not Disturb from 10pm to 7am. This would become my screen-free time. I’ve read that we should start winding down as early as 9, but this felt like a solid start. After 10, the only things getting through my phone were emergency phone calls from family and friends.

Challenge number one presented itself immediately, does TV count as screen time? Rather than research blue light levels of flat screens, I decided to throw late-night TV watching into the experiment. After all, less TV should be a good thing, right?

Well, sure. But I soon realized that all of my favorite programming came on at 10 or beyond. So long, Golden Girls. The added restriction didn’t seem worth it. And when 10 o’clock rolled around each night, I found myself sighing “oh man” like a kid denied an extra hour at Chuck E. Cheese.

Aside from TV, my original challenge also proved difficult. I had to wrap up any and all internet activity before 10. I guess, in a way, it helped my work-life balance. That is, until I discovered drafting to-do lists and brainstorming via notebook were relatively productive work alternatives.

I hit some snags throughout the month, convincing myself that it was ok to break my fast for one night. After all, I had never seen all four Alien movies and TNT’s marathon presented the perfect opportunity. Despite the occasional cheat night, my fast slowly yielded surprising effects. Instead of meeting 10 o’clock with “oh man,” I found myself saying “I’m sleepy” (Again, much like a kid). Oh snap! The lack of screen time had reset my personal clock. It became easier to fall asleep and a few nights offered the best sleep I’ve had in a long time. Not sure if my eyesight is better or my skin more resistant to sun damage, but wow, I’m actually tired when I’m supposed to be.

Again, this fast was a tough one, but the effort was worthwhile. I’m more in tune with my body and have a sleep cycle that better coincides with nature. Yes, being a night owl is fun, but that’s not the way humans are wired. I just hope to reclaim those productive hours elsewhere. To be continued.

I Quit News for 30 Days and This Is What Happened

Though summer had a joyful start, it was shockingly interrupted by the deaths of two family members (same day, different circumstances). The unusually inspiring Democratic National Convention and Summer Olympics were a much-needed distraction. But by the end of August, I was tapped. Personal bad news plus general bad news plus the 2016 presidential election made for a bad cocktail. And so, I decided to take a break from the news. A colleague started his own fast earlier that month. So, I was encouraged that others felt like me and this undertaking was actually possible.

Within the first few days, I realized how challenging it would be. First, Twitter was a streaming treasure trove of real-time news. I decided that to truly quit news, I had to quit Twitter as well. So, my challenge became two-fold – abstain from the news and the only form of social media where I had an active presence. Ouch, but ok. I remained steadfast and tried my best to avoid both at any cost.

More and more hiccups surfaced as the month wore on. My husband and mother were much aggrieved that their favorite news buddy was no longer available to commiserate. Over time, the question of “what is news?” became a constant nag. I decided that live events, such as the opening ceremony for the National Museum of African American History and Culture, were not news, but punditry about them later was. Think pieces or informational articles were ok, unless of course, they referenced current events. Needless to say, things got dicey.

Despite the many challenges, I made it through. Some commended my efforts while others thought them absolute madness—yet another paradox. And here’s one more: is it better or worse to be unaware of the world around you? Seems like an easy answer, but for me, the ignorant bliss of that month clouds my perspective. I felt less anxious and less worried. Cutting off news felt as if I unloaded the weight of the world’s problems. No more tears over bombings in Syria. No more worry about North Korea’s nuclear armament. No more anger about police killings. Life was more peaceful, leaving my mind to focus on other things.

Now unfortunately, this election cycle was like a punch in the face after a deep and restorative sleep. But perhaps, my 30-day fast better prepared me for the news ahead.

Ready or Not, It's Time to Ship

When a passion project becomes a thorn in your side, it's time to ship. So, that's exactly what I did. I buckled down and willed myself to plan, design, and launch a website in less than 7 days. There were ebbs and flows - periods of startling productivity followed by blank thoughts and wide-eyed blinking. I'm not sure if the end product met my original expectations, but it did possess one all important attribute - it was finished. It was real and clickable and viewable by others. And that bests any dreamy idea drying up like a raisin in the sun.

I shipped on a Wednesday evening without much fanfare (That will come later). The personal satisfaction was enough. Years after thinking up Memo Rogue, a website for working women like myself, I published its first batch of workplace wisdom for any and everyone to drink up, criticize, or, most likely, ignore. How else do you know if your idea is worth pursuit?

My days consulting for PwC suggested a different approach to women at work was sorely needed. During my time there, I felt more like an observer than an employee - watching things unfold, always questioning. It reminded me of previous gigs with previous employers - some who got it right and others who got it all wrong. I thought of the advice from business magazines and career experts who ceaselessly suggest the key to success is being someone else. "Act like this. Dress like this. They do it, so you best do it too!" All the chatter inspired an idea: Women should be able to thrive by simply being their best selves. Charades not needed.

This is where it started and grew. I wanted to create a resource for women who feel comfortable with who they are - that is, of course, until they get the office. For it is there, we feel the need to play the game and put on masks. We emulate some manufactured paradigm in hopes that it leads to success. The formula works for many. But for the remainder who crave authenticity, Memo Rogue aspires to be the antidote. I want to empower women to get out there and be the change. The way you manage, how you reward, leadership through service... These are the things (no matter how small) that we can affect. And with time, it may just catch on.

Learn more about Memo Rogue on my project page or visit the site.

The Tribes Are Merging

It arrived on a Friday morning; 'it' being the September issue of Fast Company. As CCO, I gifted every employee of our tiny company a subscription to the popular magazine. After all, innovation needs fodder, and Fast Company has shaped my own perspectives for years. If knowledge is power, then business, design, and tech knowledge would become our super power.

Gwyneth Paltrow for Fast Company

Gwyneth Paltrow for Fast Company

A quick glance at the front and back revealed much. If not for the headlines and typography, Gwyneth Paltrow's cover shot could be mistaken for a style magazine. Flip the issue over - Saint Laurent Paris. "The tribes are merging." It's an idea I've tinkered with for years. In fact, the About page of this website describes one facet of a shifting trend in how we operate and associate. We're abandoning buckets with lightening speed.

This has become most evident in the sphere of the influencer -- you know, the celebs and big thinkers who dictate how the world spins on its axis. In the olden days (which weren't that long ago, actually), those spheres were largely separate. There was the musician; the fashion designer; the technology guru -- it goes on. Each possessed a unique identity and set of talents that may overlap or inspire the other. But they remained independent and discernible, dancing throughout our pop culture like bubbles in the wind.

We're now in an age where the musician is the fashion designer. Science geeks have become our heroes; and singing, foodie actresses are digital moguls. Spheres are no longer independent. The tribes are becoming one, and our media (Fast Company and the rest) are adapting to tell the story.

Is this a good thing? As someone with an affinity towards many disciplines and an aversion towards labels, the singular tribe is a welcome relief. But I can quickly temper such feelings of liberation with small doses of realism. If anyone can be everything, who is the expert? Who takes the thousand hours to hone their craft, propel it to new levels, and pass it down like a Jedi to a Padawan?

"Some things are meant to be separate," an associate commented. "Some of us would like to crack open Rolling Stone and read about music." He went on to suggest that while certain influencers can legitimately wear many hats, others are simply force-fitting the most profitable ones.

Aside from such debates, I wonder what it will mean for society and the evolution of art and technology. It could be awesome -- a giant bubble absorbing everything, fueling itself, growing beyond what we imagine, and creating the impossible. But we all know what lies on the other side of bubbles. I guess I'll take it as it comes.