Jake LaCaze

Writer and marketer doling out perspective as a service

I've been rethinking my relationship with technology since I started reading Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport.

After mentioning this book is usually when a blog tells his audience he's deleted his social media accounts and can now be reached only by smoke signal.

But this is not that kind of post, dear reader.

I appreciate that Digital Minimalism is not a book of prescriptive, one-size-fits-all advice for living with technology in the 21st century. While Newport himself is no fan of social media, he leaves it up to individuals to define their own relationships with the tech they use regularly. Newport's most important message is that you think about where technology fits in your life, not that we all reach the same conclusions and use or avoid all the same services.

Digital Minimalism is not a how-to guide. It is instead a guide calling its readers to develop their own philosophy about where technology fits into their lives.

After I started reading the book, I deleted from my phone nearly every app not related to calling, texting, or navigation.

Newport suggests suspending use of any problematic apps for a month. He refers to this time as the “decluttering” period. Once the decluttering period is over, you re-introduce the temporarily banned tech back into your usage and observe whether you think it still has a place in your life. Newport claims that often people realize they no longer need the tech, making their decluttering periods permanent.

I made it a week before I reversed my declutter, because I'm lacking in moral fiber. But I have kept most social apps from my phone this go round.

And though I have deviated from Newport's recommendations, I have started creating distance between myself and my phone. I've started leaving it behind in other rooms of the house. And my short break does seem to have made putting my phone down much easier when I know I need to.

My declutter has made me realize how much I prefer the desktop (or laptop) experience over the mobile experience in most situations. I'm an elder millennial, so I'm better with a traditional keyboard and mouse than I am with an onscreen keyboard.

I recently got a couple a couple used (or “previously enjoyed”) laptops through my job. The laptops are nowhere near the latest and greatest specs. They can't upgrade to Windows 11, but they run Linux just fine (currently Solus).

Still, these laptops are thin and powerful enough for everything I need. Ten or fifteen years ago, it would been impossible to think of how I could ever need anything more. Especially when you consider the near ubiquity of public wifi.

But now, in the age of smartphones, we want the same conveniences once reserved for laptops at our disposal through these devices many of us keep in our pockets at all times.

Perhaps it's easy to gush over tech like laptops when propping it against the smartphone. Perhaps the smartphone is a scapegoat, the villainous flavor of the week.

a robot from my sketchbook

I do not believe eliminating smartphones will fix everything. We would find a substitute for distraction, perhaps laptops and desktop computers.

But that's a problem we can address when we've improved our relationships with our smartphones. This acknowledgment makes us better prepared in the war for our attention.

While Newport doesn't say everyone should delete all social media, he doesn't hide his opinion that social media holds little to no value. These days it's fashionable to jump on Newport's side and crap on social media while ignoring any benefits.

The reason I fell in love with the Internet way back in the late '90s is the same reason I stick around on social media and related platforms in 2022: The potential for connection that's harder to find offline.

Connections made over the Internet are not a substitute for connections with my family and other people I see offline. While I can get along with almost anyone I meet face to face, there are very few I can nerd out with on anything that truly interests me. Or at least not to the depth I want to go. Also, I tend to hop from interest to interest. It's always nice to know I can find other parties interested in the same things, on the Internet, often in the form of social media.

Perhaps I would feel differently if I were part of some sort of establishment I could fall back on.

But I would be disingenuous to gloss over my gripes with social media, which relies on sloppy algorithms to decide which content is worth promoting. (I'm looking at you, Meta, LinkedIn, Twitter . . .)

When I think back to my favorite times in online communities, they were often in communities that hadn't yet been adopted by the masses. And while that may make me sound like an idealistic hipster who wants to keep his hangouts under the radar so that he can have them all to himself, I find my defense more practical than that.

The simple truth is that, in most cases:

Mass adoption = commoditization.

And once you start catering to everyone, you end up serving no one. And, at some point, the experiences all run together, as the users and their avatars do. And you get an experience similar to what you likely find offline, in which few of the experiences stand out above the rest.

Before reading Digital Minimalism, I was becoming convinced that a return to smaller online communities was the best path forward. I still believe that in theory, though I haven't begun practicing it as well as I should.

I'm not sure of the exact limits of this practice either. Obvious candidates include places like micro.blog and niche Mastodon servers. Maybe even the smaller subreddits. I suppose you can create an insular experience on Twitter if you follow the right people.

While I would like to see a break from the worst of Web 2.0, I'm thinking Web 3.0 is most likely not the answer.

Does that mean Newport's preference for walking away from social media is the answer?

I'm not ready to jump on that train. But I can't blame anyone who does.

I hope this essay shines some light on the need for philosophy—perspective over advice—in all aspects of our lives, even in technology.

#socialmedia #technology


Note: This post is about a burnout experience I had in the last couple weeks, which inspired this attempt at ripping off Hyperbole and a Half.

Recently I wasn't feeling so great.

I couldn't point the finger at anything in particular, but something was nagging at me. Lingering. Like a storm cloud that insists on raining on me wherever I go.

(You know I'm in a dark place when I'm quoting Joy Division.)

I have a habit of holding things in and bottling them up.

I often don't realize I'm doing it until my mood's in the dumps.

Sometimes you just have to deal with whatever's getting at you. You can't fall apart over every little thing.

Thanks for telling me - Strip 1

But if you're lucky to have someone you can trust with your feelings, then you should open up and let them help when they offer.

Thanks for telling me - Strip 2

It's not on that other person to fix your problem. And sometimes simply listening is the best thing they can do for you.

Thanks for telling me - Strip 3

So many of us get upset when we feel as if people don't open up to us. As if they won't they let their guards down and let us in to the real them.

That's why our reaction to unflattering conversations is key.

Thanks for telling me - Strip 4

Life is best when it's shared with others.

Thanks for telling me - Strip 5

#sketches #mentalhealth


You're just playing catch.

That's usually what you'll hear the coach tell the pitcher who can't get the ball across the plate.

You're just playing catch . . .

What other big events can we simplify to settle our nerves?

Having problems writing?

No big deal, you're just stringing some words together.

Terrified of your upcoming speech or presentation?

You're just talking to a room full of friends.

Got a big proposal?

You're just throwing some ideas out there.

Sure, the stakes are higher than the lackadaisical approach would suggest. But sometimes it helps to forget for a bit. At least until you've gained some momentum.

#perspective


When you were young, you thought you could do all the things. You thought you had to.

Because to refuse was to admit you weren't superhuman. To admit you were less than. To let someone down.

But now that you're older . . .

You know you can be exceptional at only so many things.

And every new thing you add stretches you thinner. Robs your current obligations of your best effort.

So what are the few things you'll choose to be exceptional at?

#perspective


Peter Hook (of Joy Division/New Order fame) has long been one of my favorite bassists. But recently he's become my solid No. 1.

Not because of his talent. Not because he was able to play unlike anyone else.

But because he chose to play unlike anyone else.

Being an artist isn't about what you can do. It's about what you choose to do.

Sure, there are specific areas where you can't be the artist. Most of us can't be professional athletes or fighter pilots no matter our choices.

But there are countless ways we can be artists.

We just have to choose how we go about it.

#perspective


For every argument to be made, there's likely a valid counterargument.

Lately I've been arguing that people should celebrate their victories. Ignore the advice to “act like you've been there before”. Because most people who offer that advice haven't been there themselves.

Maybe you haven't been there before. Or there's no guarantee you'll ever return.

Celebrating your wins gives you fuel to work toward your next win. And the one after that. And the one after that . . .

But some wins shouldn't be celebrated.

During my brief time as the worst car salesman of all time, I didn't make many big commissions on deals.

Surprise.

But one time—one time, I made a nice bit of change.

Under most circumstances, I would say that's worth celebrating.

But the largest commission I ever made was on a car I sold to a couple in which the husband was dying of cancer. He passed away a couple months later.

I can't help feeling bad whenever I think about that sale. The deal was fair. But still . . . that doesn't mean I feel great about it.

And then there was the time I got promoted to what I thought was my dream job.

Finally, I had been rewarded for the risks I'd taken. For my determination and hard work.

How could I not be excited?

Because my promotion came on the same day 20% of the company had been laid off. On the same day I had climbed to new heights, others had been knocked off their own mountains.

Sometimes you have to read the room and know that some wins should be kept to yourself.

#business #careers


So many of us are waiting for permission to go.

Yet we find ourselves sitting at the green light, moving only when someone else honks to tell us the signs have changed.

Not only are we now encouraged to go, but we're pretty much required to go.

But we're unable to see the opportunity before us.

And then we complain when we get stuck at the next light.

#perspective


It wasn't so long ago that I would have seen the sketch below as one big failure.

These days my assessment is a bit more generous.

I now recognize the sketch as a series of tiny failures. A bunch of tiny mishaps that added up to something much larger.

I see the small errors in the nose. In the eyes. In the hat.

Each one of those errors can be taken care of with a bit of practice.

One by one, bit by bit . . .

Until one day I'm able to sketch something more nearly resembling the original.

#sketches


Did you hear about KFC making a website dedicated to stock photos of its fried chicken?

I laughed out loud when I heard about it. And then I considered going to KFC for lunch.

I ended up staying at the office because:

  1. I didn't want to spend the money.
  2. I didn't want to brave the DFW traffic for some fried bird. (Though if we're being completely honest, I prefer their grilled chicken.)

But I was tempted. Oh so tempted.

Note: The website appears to be down, so I'm not providing a link.

I got another laugh out of a recent exchange with Nextcloud on LinkedIn.

Screenshot below.

Screenshot of my exchange with Nextcloud on LinkedIn

That little emoji response was perfect. So relatable. So human.

Marketers, branding and business people—let's be honest about something:

Brands are not human. I'm talking about brands for companies. Not personal brands.

Brands are businesses. And businesses exist to make money. If they don't make money, they usually cease to exist. At some point.

This isn't criticism but acknowledgment.

But when brands can let their guard down a bit and find a way to be more human—or more nearly human—they make us forget for one second that they're a mass of legalese and corporate speak. And budgets and forecasts. And supply chains and processes.

For a moment, brands become something—someone?—we want to do business with.

And in an era where we have so many options, that want can be everything.

#branding #business


How many people are excited about the Metaverse?

Thanks to the pandemic, most of us are living more of lives online than ever before. Some of our recently-developed habits will stick around. But as pandemic fatigue creeps in and as getting the virus is less devastating than it was in the early days—thanks to the vaccines and the less-deadly variants of the virus—is more online what most of us are seeking?

Society was becoming more fragmented before COVID-19 came on to the scene. The pandemic has accelerated that trend.

But does anyone want more Zoom? Even those who never want to return to the office?

What need is the Metaverse filling? Other than Meta's need to grow shareholder value.

To be clear, this is not an anti-technology rant. Technology is great and connects people like nothing else. Until it isn't and until it doesn't. Until it's terrible and until it divides us.

Living fully requires acknowledging and embracing life's paradoxes. I can't help wondering if those pushing the Metaverse aren't taking the time to see the other side.

#technology


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