The Four Burners: the Quandary of Connection and Attention in Work, Health, Family, and Friends

allworkandnoplay

 

Jennifer England put up this webinar as a Soundcloud file.  One of the real value added features of Soundcloud is the ability to annotate the sound file and to comment on others’ annotations.  Beautiful tool.  I put up three responses to seed it. Crickets.  Hmmm.

I put up a Vialogue of the same webinar, thinking perhaps that it was the video that folks needed to engage with.  I made a few comments and included a table of contents in case folks wanted to skip around and only comment  on a portion of the video.  More crickets.  Double hmmmmmm.

I organized a film evening using the easy video IRC tool Synchtu.be.  I knew when I put up The Internet’s Own Boy to watch that the time I chose might not be suitable for our European and points east folk to watch.  Mira Vogel and Susan Watson both came.  The ability to watch and comment synchronously was a revelation for me.  I thought more folks would come although the ones who did gave a tremendous gift to me.  I am grateful.   Not crickets, but perhaps ‘golf clap’ might be the phrase I am looking for.

I also created a Hackpad for folks to add educational movies/documentaries/shorts/etc. so that we might find a way to find more content for the Synchtu.be Channel. I sometimes just turn on Synchtu.be and let it cycle through the playlist of videos already there. It would be nice for folks to be able to randomly dip in and watch what they wished as they wished. How nice to be able to add others’ choices to the playlist.

Not even crickets.  I look in the void

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and the void sounds back.

I am left mostly confused by the week.  What is happening here?  Some tentative conclusions:

1. I am not good at marketing. My marketing channels are not working.  No surprise there.  Like many teachers, getting attention tends to be a local skill-in the classroom, with your tribe on Twitter, your Facebook friends.  I always feel uncomfortable even pimping my own posts. I will feel uncomfortable tweeting this post out. Likely, I will not even place this on the #Ccourses blog  And if folks don’t respond then it means they are not buying what I am selling. Or it simply didn’t get through their attention filter.

2. Others in my various circles are not attending.  Some are busy and say so.  That is one’s absolute imperative.  I have no problems. The others who are in my Google+ circles, my Twitter feeds, my Facebook friends–there has to be a reason for no uptake.  Of course, I am not blaming them. Jeez, you can’t have it all.  Where would you put it? I think it is the same problem I have in attending.  There is too much and time and attention are too thin.

3. In the end we have to decide for ourselves what to do and where to go online.  But we also have to decide what to make and who to engage with.  I am thinking that for those of us who have not reached and (at least for my case) are unlikely at this point to ever reach the tipping point where one’s channel is already peopled enough to give one sufficient attention bandwidth, this becomes a true quandary.  What is worth my connection time?  What has been proven to ‘not connect’ and should I continue activities like Vialogues, Soundcloud, Synchtu.be, Hackpad?  Life is an infinite game, but its length is a zero sum one. What to do?  Should I keep throwing manna on the water in the hope of connection?  Isn’t that the definition of mental illness, doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result?  Should I pull in the boundaries of connections to the tribe however one defines that.  A G+ circle, a twitter hashtag, the blessed 150 of Dunbar’s Number?  Or will that just be happy echo chamber?   I could live with that if it actually existed.

I am reminded of one of the wisest of David Sedaris stories, “Laugh, Kookabura”.  In it, Sedaris is in the middle of a hilarious Australian travel piece when he quotes his Ozzie friend,Pat, as they pass by a billboard with four stove burners pictured.  Pat remarks

“One burner represents your family, one is your friends, the third is your health, and the fourth is your work.” The gist, she said, was that in order to be successful you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful you have to cut off two.

The hypothetical game that happens in the piece asks the questions: how successful do you want to be and which burners will you cut off in order to be so?

4BURNERS

I played this game with a student the other day in a conference about her research paper on workaholism.  She resisted.  Wanted to change the rules.  Finally, she decided what was really important in her life.  She decided that she really wasn’t a workaholic, just someone who needed to work to pay for school.

When I have a week like this I have to ask myself which burners?  I have characterized what I do here on #CCourses as one of these elements.  It isn’t the health burner (unless you are burning the candle at both ends in order to stay ‘connected’).  It isn’t the family burner unless you have decided that someone online is your family. It’s either work or friends.  So…if you want to be successful online and you characterize this as work,  then you have to give up one of the other burners.  If you want to be really successful then you have to shut down two of them. This is the quandary of connection.  What price will I pay for the attention needed to actually connect online?

I know some will immediately say that they don’t buy the premise. I can only argue that it’s a thought experiment. You have to buy the premise to play the game.  It’s like Monopoly,. You don’t have to be a blood sucking  derivatives trader to play.  You just have to hold your other rules and assumptions in abeyance in order to consider another stance.  (Peter Elbow called it the believing game.)  For me, I decided about Thursday of last week that the connection game as I was playing it wasn’t worth the burner  I lit in order to play it.  I dropped the work of connection and turned up my friends and my family and my health. Today I return to connection to ask you what you might do or what you might have done to balance these burners.  (It certainly is a funny question considering the little (but very appreciated) focus that these posts engender. )

Personally, I am not thinking of the four burners as a thought experiment anymore. I  have seen its wisdom over and over in my own life so often that this week may have been the tipping point. It is now my credo for wise action.  Like most credos, it is a personal one arrived at through the idiosyncratic process Nikos Kazantzakis  calls the “full catastrophe”, life. Your mileage, as always, may vary.

This means that while my flame isn’t going to flickr and die, my connection burner is going to go way down.  Just as I think multitasking is a chimera,  there can only be one priority at a time in my life.  Let’s just leave it that my #CCourses Food Truck hours are going to be drastically reduced by popular non-demand.

#CCOURSES (5)

What Are the Essential Connections? You Choose.

The very short YouTube below was done using the neat new app PostIt Plus and the neat old app Explain Everything. My point here (and please forgive the crappy audio sandwich between my comments) is to strip down from the deep chaos I have been experiencing as I have tried to reach out, create, do in multiple spheres of action (home, farm, school, online). So I seek as a strategy in order to catch my breath to back off and focus on what I decide is the essential connection. We need to be able to control the flow or at least we need to give our minds that illusion. Or to quote Mary Oliver:

TELL ME WHAT IT IS...3