Wednesday, December 21, 2011

More interesting things

Email doesn't ruin real-world relationships. Facebook increases your social support a lot. The internet is good for you. This is good news.

Some stress is good for you. A lot of stress is bad, trauma is bad, but living in a perfect bubble world is bad too.

This post about tips to enjoy your vacation more is awesome. Science says: take a vacation of 3-6 days. Make the peak and the end awesome. Hang out with your family, particularly eating ice cream.
(am I becoming just a filter for Barking Up the Wrong Tree and Wired Frontal Cortex? ... maybe.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Thought scraps

"Things are as they are": this seems about the fourth thing you say after you live in a place for a while. First, "place X is great"; second, "place X is bad and here's why"; third, some subtler things about place X, that it's friendlier or colder or sleepier or grander or whatever; and fourth, "well, okay. Place X is place X." You stop generalizing. I feel like this is when intelligent conversation can start. (either that, or what I'm saying is "stop writing about places." Hmm, that doesn't seem right.)
Thoughts of an expat in Bishkek
A counterexample: an article about Bhutan that generalizes, and is annoying as a result.

So traveling is great, right, and especially after that post about world-curating, one might think I'm advocating a lot of traveling and a lot of randomness injected into your life. Why do I say only 20%? Because I think conventional wisdom is mostly correct: society progresses by abstracting and automating details like how to get water for the day. I couldn't do a lick of work here. Even, I think, if I lived here. But furthermore, if I lived here, I think my life would be poorer in a lot of ways. You can't get as good variety of music or movies, activities to do, organizations to join. Western life offers a nice lot of complexity, and I mean that in the positive, Csikszentmihalyi sense of "differentiated parts working together as one."

I like cricket. Time will tell if this is like stroopwafels, which I pretend to like while I'm there, or herring, which is actually great.

There's a different take on interruption here. In the US, you get stuff like "Never ask a busy person to lunch." Here, people I've met seem pretty much more okay with being interrupted.

Someone else who's figured out food. Orexin, I guess: sugar kills it, protein helps it, and it in turn helps us to be alert and have energy and so on. This drives me nuts. How does this fit in with everything else that the body does?
Also by Lehrer, but more convincing: I guess I should be chewing gum.

Living by yourself is pretty nice for us control-freaky types. I resonated pretty well with this article about an Indian lady being less stressed after losing her maid. It's hard to live in a place with someone else; you just feel like you're being watched, and that every move has to be right in some way. But perhaps this is just an extreme example of me curating my world!

Inspirations from a Creed music video

Well, a live version of "My Sacrifice", to be exact. So Creed. They look kind of like meatheads. They have rather shaved heads that are smaller than their necks. They look like those guys you went to high school with.

Wait a minute. Why are they "those guys you went to high school with", and not "those guys you talk to every day"? Was high school the last time you interacted with a jock? Why is that, and is it a bad thing?

Why is that: it's because you curate your own world around yourself. You don't want to hang out with jocks, so you surround yourself with non-jocks. (This happens pretty easily: get a tech job and move to a hip neighborhood. If you run into a jock, just ignore him and hang out with your friends again.)

Is curating your own world a bad thing: Well... world-curating has some nice effects. You like the people around you, you don't get shoved into lockers, you can just start talking about Wizard People Dear Reader or Python or Sufjan Stevens whenever. I suppose the problem then is that we get worse at dealing with stuff that's not in our bubbles. You might have to deal with a jock someday, but your jock-skills will have atrophied.

Is curating your own world inevitable: maybe, yes. Almost by definition, we'll keep going for more of what we like and less of what we don't. The world will continue to supply us with the same, in higher quantities, for less money, and in more places. If I decide I'm tired of Delhi, I can flip on the A/C, find some Chinese or Italian or whatever food, tune in to my computer/phone/Kindle, and I'm in a climate-controlled, food-controlled, information-controlled bubble all of my choosing.

What's the answer? Maybe just not curating too much. If you refuse to curate your world, you'll just get random everything all the time. (It's like traveling in India: exciting, wearying, and impossible as a long-term lifestyle.) If you go for, say, 80% curated and 20% random, you'll get to mostly-enjoy a mostly-smooth life, while still inoculating yourself against all the tough stuff.

How can we inject 20% randomness into our carefully-curated lives? If you know the answer to that one, let me know.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Like a reverse Grinch, my heart just shrank three sizes

I went out to get some change. I had only 500-rupee notes, and I owed a guy 44 for laundry. It's late at night, most things are closed, but there's a little ice cream shop across the way selling gourmet deluxe ice cream for 39 rupees. (it's only so expensive because it's on Park St. in Kolkata, which is sort of like Park Ave. in New York.) Well, it would get me some change, and it sounded kind of nice; I mean, I like ice cream.

And a beggar guy came up saying how he's trying to get food to feed his children, and I can go buy him the food, he doesn't want money, etc. His name is Sunil. Of course he's lying, but there's that little bluebird of doubt: maybe he's not. I'm in India; who knows. I can go buy him the food. I can see him get some food. I can hand over only enough money for the food. And it would also get me some change. This bird's voice was quite amplified by the fact that I was going to buy a scoop of gourmet ice cream. Suddenly that seemed rather trivial.

We pass some kids sleeping on the sidewalk, who Sunil says are his. And we walk to the place, it's a little run down 3-square-foot hovel where too many kids and adults are wolfing down dal and a couple dudes are cooking chapati over charcoal. And this is the point I don't know exactly how to manage, and therefore this is the point when I get screwed. There's a flurry of Hindi (Bengali?), and somehow Sunil has a bag of chapatis and says it's 150 rupees ($3). I balk, because 150 rupees could buy about five street meals. Of course, I want him to have about five street meals, or at least three, given that he has two kids. If he said one meal was 30 rupees, I'd give him 180 and say "get your kids breakfast tomorrow too." But it's just some chapati! So Sunil says "Oh, I forgot, the chicken" and soon he has also two clay containers that I assume contain chicken. This is still not even close to 150 rupees, but we're getting within my margin of error. I hand over 150 rupees.

Immediately I regret it. There is no way this cost 150 rupees; I'd say 50, tops. Therefore, I am conned somehow. At best, Sunil and his kids ate, and Sunil and the restaurant split the 100 extra rupees. At worst, Sunil just handed the chapatis and chicken back after I walked away, Sunil and the restaurant split 150 rupees, Sunil spent his half on cheap hash, and his kids still didn't eat.

Okay, of course I'm angry, and of course there's nothing I can do about it. Luckily it's only $3, but I feel used.

How can I prevent this in the future? The solution I'd like to adopt is, when approached by a beggar, to categorically yell angrily and move as if to hit him; perhaps this would convince some of them that not all white people are money bags, and that there might be some negative consequence to trying to run their scams. However, this solution is rather uncouth, as well as disastrous if someone is actually honest. I guess the best solution is to just categorically refuse beggars.

It's like an essay I was reading about people who are angry about new changes in video games. Instead of posting on forums about how awful the new change is, they should just stop playing. It doesn't get you any of the "satisfaction" of venting, but to vent and continue playing only signals that you don't really mind the new change. And nobody listens when you vent, and venting does nothing to you besides make your anger worse. Similarly, anything I do besides simply refusing beggars will only make things worse.

Okay okay, so it took me 25 years to learn that I shouldn't give money to beggars, okay, no kidding. Well, I've finally learned it! Sigh.