Candy Crush Confessional

candycrushYesterday, I deleted Candy Crush. After completing 123 levels, I had spent more time and energy on an iPhone app than anyone should. Since I never synced the app with my Facebook account, all of my "progress" is gone. Any incentive that might exist to start playing again is wiped out by the idea that I'd have to beat the same 123 levels again. Not linking with Facebook had the added incentive of not bothering my friends and family with requests and updates. Without the reinforcement of competition and an easy way to get extra lives, walking away was easier. I wasn't stuck on a level or particularly frustrated with the game when I deleted it -- I wanted to carve out some time from being overstimulated. You see, Candy Crush was specifically engineered to be one of the most addictive games of all time. By tapping into some of our basic instincts such as pattern recognition and partial reinforcement (the idea that praise or reinforcement is just around the corner), the game creates a series of tasks that humans perform well.

Unlike its earlier counterparts such as Bejeweled, this free app puts limits on the player's moves rather than time which both creates a more relaxed frame and allows players to spend more hours playing with brightly colored candies. If a player runs out of moves, a pop up option to purchase more appears. When I started playing, Adam made me promise not to spend money on it. Considering that Candy Crush's publisher makes an estimated $633,000 each day from the game, that promise was probably for the best.

I'll confess, I'm having minor withdrawals from the dopamine boosts triggered by completing in-game tasks. However, I've already checked three remaining items off this week's to do list and written a blog post. The time I would have spent playing on my phone is now going towards reading books and writing more, which will hopefully help to further advance my freelancing career.

As my schedule stands now, I don't get much time to spend with Adam or my friends and family. By eliminating a distractor from these situations, I hope to be a better, more present partner for Adam and a more attentive friend. Life is short and free time is limited. If giving up time wasting games will help me to become a more active part of my own story, count me in.

See Jane grow: Getting to know Javacia Harris Bowser

The beautiful and talented Javacia Harris Bowser

Javacia Harris Bowser is one of my favorite Birmingham women. Though she is already a full-time English teacher and busy freelance writer, she is also committed to building a connective and supportive network for woman writers in Birmingham. Named See Jane Write, this organization holds workshops to help established and aspiring writers hone their craft. Not surprisingly, she has recently been contacted by individuals from other cities about founding chapters outside of Birmingham.

This summer, Bowser plans to fulfill a childhood dream by launching a magazine. I spoke with her by e-mail a while back about the connectivity of social media and her current projects.

Write, Clair. Write!: How did you first start using social media?

JHB: When I was in grad school I heard all of the undergrad students in the communications class I taught talking about something called Facebook. I didn’t think much of it then, but after I graduated and got a job at an alternative weekly my new co-workers were all talking about this Facebook thing too so I decided to check it out and I’ve been hooked ever since.

Around that time, though, I was mostly into MySpace. (Remember that website?) I even maintained a blog through my MySpace where I posted about my life and posted my poetry. I joke about MySpace nowadays, but that website actually showed me how you could build a platform, share your art, and express yourself online and through social media.

WCW: I know that you are a huge advocate of using Twitter as a connective medium. What do you like most about it?

JHB: I love that Twitter can allow you to connect with people you may have otherwise never met. Just think about it, if it weren’t for Twitter I may not have ever met you! [Editor's note: That story is well-documented here.]

WCW: How are you using social media to build your Writeous Babe Project and See Jane Write brands?

JHB: I have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts for both and See Jane Write.

I also have Instagram and Pinterest accounts for Writeous Babe, but being a writer I suck at photo-based social media. I’m working on getting better.

My big social media success story has actually been with the See Jane Write Facebook group. I have managed to build an amazing community with that page, with women writers sharing blog posts, writing wisdom, dreams, goals and so much more via this page.

WCW: What would be your advice to Gen Y and Millennials on social media use?

JHB: Always be mindful of how you are presenting yourself on social media. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t show personality. You absolutely should show personality and you should be genuine. But don’t tell your followers and fans all your life problems. Facebook is not your therapist. Don’t post pictures of yourself drunk or half-naked and NEVER use your social media accounts to bad mouth your boss.

Also, consider how you can use social media to help other people instead of always simply thinking about how you can use it to help yourself. Take time to use social media to promote other people and their work, to share valuable information, and to connect people.

Keep your sickness off my newsfeed

Image credit here During the past week, I've drunk more tea than a British grandmother and fallen asleep during two movies. Yes, I have the sinus-y ick that's going around, and yes, I'm taking lots of vitamins and herbal supplements to fight it. I have also made a short list of bodily functions that should never, ever be put on social media.

1. Snot talk If I wanted to know the details of your illness, I'd go to med school and specialize in family medicine. I haven't yet, so use your text messages and voice minutes to tell your friends and family your symptoms, not your Facebook or Twitter feeds.

2. Bowel movements I don't want to know what goes on in your bathroom. Neither does your mother.

3. Updates from your tear ducts This item is directed to all the people who tend to emotionally word vomit on my feed. If you want to talk about your breakup or have a problem with me, call or private message me. I'm less sympathetic to your personal plight if it is so personal you have to share it with your social media networks. Also, if you live Tweet or Facebook your feelings about anything other than concerts, movies or other performances or events, chances are I've already hidden your posts. I'd say I'm sorry, but I'm not.

4. What you eat Unless you're making an special meal or something that is really, really delicious, I don't care. "OMG my yogurt and granola was super healthy this morning LOL" would make me want to scream. If you aren't sharing a homemade yogurt recipe along with your terrible grammar, don't make the post at all.

Incidents and accidents, hints and allegations

As you may have heard, I love voting. Walking into my polling place gives me butterflies—what if I choose the wrong guy (or gal) for the job? What if I haven’t done enough research about this person? Yep. Sounds like a first date, except instead of stalking on Facebook and Twitter, you use national news networks, campaign websites and your friends’ political leanings.

I’m not suggesting that you and your friends are into groupthink, but whether or not you like it, your peers’ political views influence your own. My group of friends is diverse in political views and backgrounds, so adventures through social media provide many opinions. During this past election, the media focus has been on the deep divisions in the country. Perhaps the repetition of this idea has lent it truth—up until very recently, the two dominant political parties differed on some issues, but were largely similar.

Because of the timeline, it appears that one of the causes of our political polarization is the way we get our news. With the huge increase in the number of news outlets provided by the Internet, individuals have an increased ability to choose their sources. As humans we tend to choose the sources that mirror and magnify our own views, so the tendency on the Internet is to do just that.  In so doing, we may discount the possibility that other viewpoints might have merit.

Another result of this shift is that science is under attack. With personal bias (I said it! I said the b-word!) playing a role in our choices, opinion has been put on the same level as hard data, years of repeatable experiments and pattern of thought may be discounted by personal opinion. I’m sorry, but believing gravity doesn’t exist won’t save your life if you walk off a cliff. On the flip side, several huge discoveries made recently have turned out to be bupkis after they were introduced by the Nature or Science journals and used in TED|Talks and news articles.

This shift from hard evidence to opinion is deeply unsettling to me, both as a scientist and as a writer. I have been raised to believe that the purpose of reporting is to provide as much relevant information on a topic as possible and to leave the conclusions to the audience. On the Internet, that sometimes involves reading multiple articles about the same topic from different sources which can be hugely time consuming.

Outside of NPR, who has fired correspondents because of personal political activity (their policy here), and PBS, I am straining to think of others I trust to give the full picture. Their paychecks come from listener support, grants and government funding, so money is less of an influence. Granted, you might disagree if you’ve ever been stuck in traffic during a pledge drive, but that’s a different story.

With the newness of new media, it largely remains to be seen if a (mostly) bias-free Internet-based news source possible in this new environment. Now I’m curious—how do you get your news?

Paul Simon's “Call Me Al” tied with the Beatles' “Daytripper” as my favorite song for almost a decade. As far as I can tell, it has nothing to do with my parents going to the Clinton inauguration. 

Staccato signals of constant information

When my family moved to Alabama, my parents gave me a Lisa Frank diary. For a few months, I locked the details of my playground exploits, crushes and friends behind the unicorns playing on the rainbow covers. One day, I left it unlocked and open in the living room. At that point, I hadn’t acclimated. After eight years of life in Virginia, my new yellow (more Naples yellow than cream, ick) bedroom still seemed foreign.

Because what I had written was unhappy but tame—I had only just heard my first curse word—they sat me down to talk about it. I was mortified. As an only child, I wasn’t used to having my stuff moved or touched. I knew how to share, but that was my diary. That was MINE.

Now I don’t keep thoughts for anything other than writing projects on paper. There are a few drafts of angry letters to exes shuffled away somewhere and some notes from the trip I took to Europe, but those are camouflaged in my cluttered apartment.

As a paranoid member of Gen Y, it kind of makes sense. One look at my Facebook timeline and you're privy to an electronic record of the past seven years of my life. Until LiveJournal went through a purge earlier this year, you could’ve found my adolescent pre-Facebook drama there. Thank goodness that’s not readily available.

Thing is, social media has become the new way to journal and document life. This switch has some serious consequences—the electronic record is almost never entirely erased. It is easily shareable through social media and never entirely dies. On the other hand, paper can be scanned or copied, but it can also be totally destroyed. It doesn’t hurt that burning old documents can purge both your filing cabinet and your mind.

If Facebook had been around when I was younger, I probably would have been diagnosed with ADD and medicated accordingly. Multitasking at the same rate that I do now would have rendered me almost entirely unable to keep attention on one task at a time. Since I started Tweeting, Facebooking and text messaging later in life, I am still able to turn my phone on silent, make a friend change my social media passwords and get down to writing/working physics/being fully present. Once the assignment/hang out is over, though, I go right back to being constantly connected.

That’s the beauty and danger of social media. It’s possible to plug more into your community and to connect deeply with others who share your passion. It’s also easy to get sucked into documenting every detail of your life for everyone in your network to see.

Striking a balance between these two is the key—if you can’t, I’m going to hide your profile. That’s the purpose behind journaling, not social media, and is best left off the web. I heard that the book store you mentioned quite a few times on Tumblr is having a sale on Moleskines

Title taken from Paul Simon's "The Boy In The Bubble"

Love in the time of Facebook

Without exercise and a creative outlet, even the tiniest annoyances inspire a nuclear-level reaction in my brain. I start clenching my teeth, my core temperature spikes and my posture goes to crap as I start taking pot shots at the people around me. After almost a year dating Adam, I’ve had to start consciously moderating my behavior.

Adam and I met in person at a mutual friend’s birthday party. Our initial courtship began with a Facebook message thread about cephalopods, special effects, books, music and food. That was how I gave him my number. Since then, our relationship has continued through messages and posts on Facebook, by text messages, phone calls and in person.

These days, my crazy moments happen when I neglect my emotional health. When the thankful posts on Facebook and Twitter started, I realized that I had not been at all mindful of how my emotional state affected Adam. Thus began my exercise—every day I tell him at least one reason I love him. Redirecting my focus often makes me smile and helps keep my emotions more level.

Coupled with an increased focus on regular exercise, deliberately practicing love has helped me to treat him as a friend as well as a partner. After seeing my progress in this area, I want to try this exercise with other areas of my life. I hope that continuing this practice will allow me to focus more on what I love about my city and my friends and even to share it with others.