2022: Opening Act

We’re only twelve days into 2022, and I already feel like I can say, “What a year.”

The holidays were wonderful. My father and brother stayed with us, and we had a lovely Christmas. The boys liked their gifts, and spent countless hours listening to their Pop-pop read them Spider-Man comics from the 1960s and decorating cookies with their uncle. My friend Lauren joined us for Christmas Day. Everyone went home happy and warm and fuzzy.

Right after New Year’s, we booked a month-long trip to Portugal for this summer. It took us a long time to decide whether we should do it, but NO REGRETS. We’ve got travel insurance and hopefully the pandemic will be in a downswing a few months from now.

Then it was like a train hit. Despite staying masked everywhere I went indoors and socially distanced outdoors, I got Covid-19, presumably the omicron variant. I had been to the store, some parks, and one restaurant: all masked and/or outdoor. Everyone else tested negative. I had intense fatigue and sinus congestion, but none of the scarier symptoms. Next, both kids got a horrific stomach virus: sudden and violent. It was so bad that we took them to urgent care to get a Zofran prescription. In the process, we found that one of them had a mild fever, which meant they were tested for flu and covid. And guess what? One of them was positive for neither, and the other was positive for both. Flu-rona-vomit!

Only one of two unvaccinated kids being positive seemed unlikely considering that our family had been together 24/7 for the past several weeks. Sure enough, lab testing came back showing that both kids had covid; only one had flu. That made more sense since we’ve all had our flu vaccines. My husband was still negative! We ended up with Zofran and Tamiflu and two very miserable children.

But as kids do, they bounced back within about 24 hours aside from some runny noses, and were pinballing off the walls and eating hamburgers the next day. Which was when my husband and I got the stomach virus, right on schedule. I was completely immobile with nausea for about 11 hours before my doctor finally came through with a Phenergan prescription. I spent most of the day shuffling between the couch and the kitchen, attempting to manage the kids by voice alone. My husband wasn’t hit as hard and did most of the childcare heavy lifting that day. It was bad. And I feel like we’re still not out of the woods: one of the kids’ congestion could turn into something more serious before they recover from whatever weird mix of viruses they’re fighting.

The worst part of the whole experience was the stomach-dropping feeling that no one was in charge. I don’t mean that “oh crap, I’m the adult here” feeling that every parent sometimes experiences. I’m talking about calling eight open urgent cares and having not one pick up the phone. Having a prescription called in and visiting five pharmacies an hour away before one of them actually has the medication you’ve been prescribed in stock. Knowing that you probably have covid and not being able to access a test for seventy-two hours because everything is either “closed for the weekend” (in the middle of a pandemic spike, seriously?!), or booked out into late the following week.

All I see and hear on the news is “get tested,” “be responsible,” “everyone is getting omicron, be careful,” “hospitals are full so don’t add to the burden,” etc., and yet there’s no visible effort to expand testing availability or healthcare capacity. Its disappointing at best, and when you’re in it, it’s frightening. My kids are doing fine right now, but all I can think about is what would happen if one of them suddenly worsened. It took us an entire day to get them into urgent care. Would an ER admit us? Would the hospital even have space? Would our pediatrician see a covid-positive child?

I also can’t help but think, like I have been since the pandemic began in 2020, of people less fortunate than we are. Despite getting paid year-round, my husband doesn’t officially start work until mid-January, so he has been able to care for our kids while they’re quarantined from childcare. We have two cars, so while it was a pain for us to visit several pharmacies for medicine, it wasn’t impossible. Ditto when we had to drive back and forth to urgent care three times to keep our spot in the long line. Not to mention the ~$200 we have paid out of pocket for the appointments, prescriptions, Gatorade, and food that you need to care for four sick people.

I’m not sure how much longer we can collectively “do” the pandemic like this. I can’t imagine how many people have been driven into debt, poverty, and unemployment by this situation. It feels depressing, hopeless, and above all disappointing. I can selfishly hope that my 2022 starts looking up soon, but plenty of people don’t have that hope.

tl;dr: We need to do better.

Will the metaverse happen?

The rumors were (disconcertingly) true: Facebook is now Meta, a company focused on the metaverse, VR, AR, and apparently “XR” technologies. I watched the keynote, which is less a keynote address and more of an extended commercial for Meta and its products, particularly the ones still in development.

Online reactions to the spectacle started going up before the livestream even ended, and I took some time tonight, laid up as I am with strep throat, to read a decent-sized chunk of them.

I’m still puzzled by the “Look at Facebook flounder! They’re not long for this world!” crowd. In what universe is Facebook–excuse me, Meta–about to go under? They’re not even about to replace Zuckerberg. No one is leaving Facebook and its services, at least not in numbers that have any meaning for such an enormous enterprise. 70% of Americans use Facebook. I remain the only person I know who has actually deleted my account in 2021. Plenty of people “take breaks” from Facebook, but they tend to keep using Messenger at the very least. And that’s not to mention the fact that Facebook is most likely still tracking me, and definitely hasn’t deleted all of the data I gave them during my 14+ years of use. Luckily for me, I didn’t quit for privacy reasons.

In the same vein, a lot of commentators are still laughing at the very idea of the metaverse, which is not new and has been touted as “the next big thing” multiple times over the past 30+ years. Several people I’ve spoken to have said something along the lines of, “No one’s asking for something like that, so there’s no way it’ll work.” But no one asked for smartphones or online social networks, either. These products were answers to questions that hadn’t been asked when they first appeared. They were (and are!) schemes to extract more money from people. The idea that corporations exist to serve us, the everyday individual consumers, is incredibly dated and naive. Companies like Apple and Facebook exist to serve their investors and their advertisers, not the people who actually use their consumer-facing products on a day-to-day basis.

“The most popular games today aren’t the ones that fully immerse players in a virtual world; the screen interface isn’t a problem that particularly needs to be solved.”


It doesn’t matter whether it’s a “problem” or not, or whether we want it or not. What matters is that Facebook has decided that this is the future of the internet, and they have the money and the power to make that vision come true. Unlike many previous pushers of the metaverse, Facebook is not a startup. It’s a powerful and deeply entrenched part of individual peoples’ lives and corporate business plans. What you want is irrelevant: if your employer requires you to attend meetings via the Horizon platform, your choice is gone. And a company as big as Facebook can ensure that employers eventually do just that.

There’s also a lot of incredulity about people “wearing stuff on their faces.” But thirty years ago did you imagine that everyone would carry little computers around and use them to watch TV shows, listen to “podcasts,” and read “tweets” every time they experienced a fleeting moment of boredom? Probably not. We adopted the mobile internet with lightning speed and are only now starting to glance back and wonder what happened and if it might not have been such a great idea. Once miniaturization gets far enough along the production pipeline and enough corporations adopt metaverse platforms, nothing will stop VR goggles and AR glasses from going mainstream, for work and play.

Another argument is that the metaverse already exists. Some say it’s in the form of immersive gaming, some say it’s the internet itself. I get the Fortnite argument, but Fortnite is a single game, not a near-infinite virtual world in which you can have your own “home.” It’s not even close to the same thing that Zuckerberg is describing (and building as we speak).

The idea that the metaverse is already here in the form of the internet itself is compelling, and it describes why I think the Facebook version of the metaverse will probably come to be: the call is coming from inside the house. More than one third of us already spend almost all of our time online. And we’ve known for a long time that younger people are spending nearly all of the “free time” they have on a connected device. There’s no giant leap to be taken here. We’re already living on the internet.

By far the worst take I’ve seen is Kara Swisher’s in the Times. How can anyone believe that Meta is just a distraction tactic to make us forget about “The Facebook Papers” et al? Facebook has been semi-openly thinking about this concept for years, and it’s been in the public consciousness forever–there were versions of the metaverse in science fiction literature even before Neal Stephenson gave it a name that stuck in 1992. I find the idea that Facebook cares that much about the recent “revelations” in congress laughable. My guess is that next to nothing will come of this very quiet “uproar.” I’ve even wondered if it was no more than a feeler intended to gauge how much the public really cares about what Facebook and other social media are doing to us and our kids (answer: not a whole lot!).

Along similar lines, Ian Bogost sees the metaverse as a mere vanity project, “the private vessel of trillionaire intergalactic escape.” That’s a take I have to strongly disagree with. The metaverse isn’t about Mark Zuckerberg, or any other tech baron. It’s about us. Not about helping us, or connecting us, or giving us new streams of income, or giving us creative outlets, or any of the other nonsense that got heaped on our virtual plates in that keynote. It’s about separating us from our money, the same thing every for-profit venture has ever been about at bottom. What makes this venture unique is that just like smartphones and social media, we’ll probably eat it up without any resistance whatsoever. In ten years, I’m betting we’ll be spending our real money on fake clothes, fake art, fake houses, fake games, fake concerts, fake socialization, fake lives. Sure it’s been tried before–several times, in fact–but I think now the timing is right.

By far the most fascinating takedown of the metaverse is that it’s “boring.” People have been saying this about Facebook itself for ages, and now they’re saying it again about both the social network and the upcoming metaverse project. But if Facebook is so boring, why are we still addicted to it? If the metaverse is so dull, why have dozens of techies and startups and corporations tried to create it so many times and at such great expense? Face it: we’re pretty helpless in the face of masterfully engineered tech. And the metaverse will be nothing if not carefully calibrated to keep us hooked.

Done and Dusted

It’s been over a week since I permanently deleted all of my social media accounts, including The Big One: Facebook. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time–for years!–but felt like I couldn’t. What if I missed out on events, and pictures of events, and updates on people’s babies and kids and houses and jobs? What if someone couldn’t get in touch with me? What if I lost touch with people I liked? Where would everyone go to see what I was up to? What if I was tormented by regret after torching the carefully curated set of updates and images that I had come to think of, in what I can only describe as an unhealthy and sinister way, as Me? Where would I be if not on Facebook?

The answer is, right here. Yes, on this blog occasionally, but more accurately HERE, “IRL,” carrying on as usual. Still more accurately, carrying on as was usual before the grenade of social media was set off in our midst.

The online Me has always held a terrible power over the little-m me in my life. I remember loving the “personalization” aspect of AOL Instant Messenger away messages, and then the personalization of Myspace page backgrounds, profile content, and profile page soundtracks. Look, it’s my little corner of the internet! It was like having an online bedroom with all the right posters on the walls.

For adults my age, Facebook and Instagram serve those same purposes today, 15-25 years later. Especially for those of us prone to the compulsive scrolling and “checking” that characterized my own relationship with social media, and especially after the arrival of the smartphone took social media off of our laptops and put it in our pockets 24/7.

For me, trying to “cut back” on screen time while still using social media was like trying to stop smoking with a pack of cigarettes still laying on the coffee table. You have to flush them down the toilet. As long as they’re there, you won’t be able to stop thinking about them. You’ll reach for them compulsively, out of habit and even muscle memory, and once your hand makes contact with that crinkly cellophane packet, you’re going to smoke one. Just one, just for ten minutes, and then you’ll “stop” again, rinse and repeat.

After only 24-48 hours, my brain started working differently. Several times I found myself laughing at a joke I had thought of while driving or watering the lawn or folding laundry. After a couple more days, I realized that some kind of semi-dormant inner monologue, which had become quiet and boring without me even realizing it, was having a renaissance. My thoughts wandered more freely, my trains of thought became longer and more creative, and despite still having music and podcasts available, I began spending more time in silence.

When I do listen to music, I’m choosing albums I haven’t listened to in years and playing them straight through. I realized that I had been listening to a lot of the same music all of the time: light, fast stuff. I had been skipping a lot of songs I thought I didn’t like. I had labeled a lot of music I used to enjoy “sad” or “too slow,” but now I’m enjoying it again.

Things that used to make me feel harried and rushed and frustrated have started to feel leisurely and relaxing: doing a long workout on my exercise bike, reading a chapter of a book, even working. I’ve realized that this is because I no longer feel compelled to interrupt myself by “checking” social media. The compulsion to pick up my phone even when it is still and silent has ebbed away.

I’ve started to forget where my phone is. One day I left it in the kitchen from 9am until almost 2pm. I’ve stopped bringing it with me to the bathroom (yes, I really used to do that), I’ve stopped keeping it right beside me while watching TV or playing Yahtzee at night, I leave it inside my purse while driving instead of propping it carefully on the dashboard.

For years, since before I even got one in 2015, I thought that smartphones were the problem. I thought the devices themselves were the reason why no one could stop staring at a screen. But it seems that isn’t true. It’s what’s on the phones that makes them so hard to put down.

Before I deleted my account, I wrote on Facebook that I would be leaving in a couple of days, along with links to some of the articles that helped me make the decision. A few people left comments: “Good for you!” “I’ll miss the photos of your kids.” “I’ve been thinking of doing the same thing…”

I’m sure most people on my “Friends List” didn’t see the post at all. I wrote nothing in the most active Facebook group I was part of, a 6-year-old group that felt quite close-knit. I was even in a private messaging sub-group with several other members.

The only people who have reached out since I deleted everything are people I keep in touch with via text or phone call anyway. This doesn’t surprise me, although it would have both surprised and saddened me a year or two ago. Since I started thinking more deeply about social media and how it works, I’ve realized that one of the biggest “benefits” of these platforms is a lie we tell ourselves: “We believe everyone deserves to be connected,” Mark Zuckerberg says. We use it to keep in touch and strengthen our relationships, we tell ourselves. It’s about connection.

But how strong can these connections be when we can only maintain them through a third party that also distracts us, advertises to us, and sells us? I had friends on Facebook I messaged with multiple times every day, but those connections have apparently disappeared without a trace now that I don’t use the platform. I have a neighbor down the street who I occasionally go for walks with, have over for dinner, or meet for a drink––and in a way, my very intermittent connection with her is stronger than my near-constant connection with those online friends. And it’s not just because we meet in person. I would say the same thing about my now-long distance friends from sixth and seventh grade who I schedule periodic phone and video calls with. We don’t require a dedicated platform to keep in touch.

Do I miss my online friendships? Yes, I miss the people themselves. But I don’t miss the constant nagging feeling of FOMO caused by the medium we used to communicate. I couldn’t be on Facebook Messenger 24/7––I have a job! But when I wasn’t “checking” it regularly, I always felt like I was missing out. Oddly enough, now that I actually am, it doesn’t bother me.

An unexpected side effect of giving up social media: my memory is changing. It’s not that my memory is better, per se, but it’s more open and accessible. I make connections to the past more easily, and the memories that come up are richer and more complete than they used to be. I make more random-feeling associations, and am reminded of past experiences and feelings in less expected ways.

Over the weekend I took my road bike out to a long, complex system of paved trails. I was trying out clipless pedals for the first time, and was a bit nervous. I left my phone in my car and ended up riding for over an hour without realizing that more than 25 or 30 minutes had passed. With nothing else pulling at my attention, I found it fairly easy to concentrate on practicing locking and releasing the pedals, let my mind wander through plans and memories, and enjoy my surroundings all at the same time. I realized it had been quite some time since I did an activity that required both mental concentration and physical skill. It had been a while since I learned something completely new. And instead of feeling draining or daunting, it felt refreshing.

After slow work days, I used to feel even more tense, anxious, and drained than I would on busy work days. It’s become clear that this was because on slow work days, I spent a lot of time on social media, flicking back and forth between Facebook and Instagram, looking for something that would hold my attention and give me some content to latch onto for more than a few seconds at a time. Now when I have free time, I read a long-form news article, finish a chapter of the book I’m reading, dig out the latest London Review from my nightstand, fold a load of laundry, trim something scraggly in the yard, or clean the kitchen. Regardless of how busy work is on a given day, I feel fine at 5pm. I don’t feel stressed or rushed. Instead of thinking about “catching up” on social media, I just think about seeing my family.

Does this seem like an awful lot of change for a single week without social media? Yes, it does. It is. I’m realizing just how plastic my brain is. The rut I was in with social media was deep, and long, and very, very easy to fall into. But climbing out of it isn’t nearly as hard as I expected.

I keep coming back to the idea of requiring a dedicated platform to keep in touch with people we consider friends. This is the double-edged sword of online social networks: on the one hand, you have access to far more––and potentially more like-minded––people than you ever did before; on the other hand, does the value they add to your life outweigh the negative effects of the platforms you connect over? These platforms steal your time, manipulate you (yes, they do), sell you to corporate interests, and who knows what else.

There’s also the fact that many of the people we have on our Facebook “friends lists” are adding almost no value to our lives at all. Does that sound harsh? Think about it: my list contained people I met while couchsurfing 10 years ago, people I took science class with in 2004, people I shared a dorm building with for 6 months in 2007, even some people I went on one date with and never saw again. I know I’m not the only person whose online list of 300, 400, 500+ “friends” contained a vast majority that couldn’t be considered remotely close. Thirty years ago, those connections would be appreciated for what they were at the time and then allowed to lapse. They could be kept up via purposeful effort––calling or writing––if they happened to be deeper or more genuine than usual. Why do we now feel the need to collect these acquaintances and keep seeing updates on their lives for years and decades after we have any meaningful contact? Maybe we should be realistic about what these pseudo-relationships are: minute drains on our time, our attention, and even our emotional energy that can add up to a pretty big net loss.

Am I saying that everyone you consider a friend needs to “add value” to your life? Well… yes. That’s what friends, both close ones and our more expanded social networks, do. These are reciprocal relationships that are sometimes unbalanced for periods of time––you might lose touch with someone, fall out with someone, someone might be busy or sick and unable to give back––but they tend to either balance out over time or fade away over time. Online social networks have made a new phenomenon possible: people unwittingly taking emotional tolls on each other without receiving any benefit whatsoever in return. You and that girl from high school see each others’ updates and take up each others’ time and brain space, but you have no beneficial connection! You’re just being forced to take these slight tolls on each other so that third parties can benefit from your presence on the platform. And that’s leaving aside the people on your networks who actually manage to make you feel bad, intentionally or not.

We seem to have entered a new phase in the public conversation about social media: apologetics. The idea that “Today, for better or worse, the world runs on social media” and therefore we should expose ourselves and our kids to it seems incredibly short-sighted. Just because something is relatively new and popular does not mean that we should accept it without question, especially when a growing number of doctors (all kinds––pediatricians, psychiatrists, etc.) are saying that they see it causing significant harm.

We’ve known for years now that this stuff isn’t good for us. Pretending we’re still “not sure” is ridiculous at best.

Here We Go Again

For the twelve billionth time (or so it feels), I find myself hovering over the “delete” buttons of my social media accounts, wondering if I’d be better off without them.

If you’ve been following the Facebook whistleblower news, then you may be feeling the same way. The thing is, nothing she’s said has surprised me at all. I think most people my age who are watching aren’t surprised either, although they might pretend to be. We all know that social media is unhealthy, that it doesn’t make us feel good after we’ve used too much of it, that it affects our quality of life, that it’s addictive, and that it’s especially bad for kids. It’s exactly like alcohol, except that if you look around Instagram for a minute you’ll find more people going dry and chugging non-alcoholic herbal elixirs than you will people leaving social media platforms.

I deleted my Instagram account earlier today. I don’t have Twitter, Snapchat, Tiktok, or WhatsApp. But Facebook persists. I was about to click that button when I remembered that I attended a friend’s wedding a couple of weeks ago and that the pictures featuring me haven’t been posted yet. I was so disgusted with myself: I’m keeping Facebook so that I can see pictures of myself at someone else’s wedding? So that I can subtly show off to a collection of acquaintances who may or may not even see what gets added to my profile? So that I can curate this narcissistic collection of crap that makes me look active and interesting and popular? Gross. So, so, so, so gross. And so immature.

I’ve noticed that social media often makes me feel younger than I am. It takes me (and many others) back to a high school mindset of social posturing, attempting to elicit envy and FOMO. Isn’t it unhealthy for us to remain locked in that emotional space when so many of us have real lives now? We have families, we have important jobs, we have homes to take care of, dogs to walk, meals to prepare, towels to wash, lunches to pack. What’s wrong with us that makes us still care whether Rob from freshman year film class sees a picture of us at age thirty-three?

The answer is that there isn’t anything wrong with us. We’re being manipulated and controlled. We’re addicted to something designed to be addictive. It’s not even a secret anymore, and we still can’t stop because of how powerful it is. This is often where people start rolling their eyes and saying that it’s just the internet, it’s no big deal, it’s just the latest thing, it’s just entertainment. But take a gut-check and see if you really believe that deep-down.

I might still be thinking about this tomorrow morning, but oh well. It merits some deep thoughts.

Leaving Academia 3

There’s been a big ol’ gap here since I last wrote, promising a little piece about getting your first non-academic job. That’s mainly because I’ve switched jobs myself!

I left the startup I was working for and have taken a job at NTT Data Services. This is a dream job, the kind of job I never, ever thought I would achieve, the kind of job I didn’t even think was a possibility for me three or four years ago, much less nine or ten years ago. It has amazing compensation, the kind of benefits package that most people my age don’t get anymore, responsibilities that will challenge me to grow as a professional in ways I probably still don’t foresee, coworkers who are supportive and brilliant and driven, supervisors to look up to, and the kinds of clear goals that I love to work towards. The position is technically “flex,” with some time at home and some in the Plano headquarters, but the company has delayed in-office work until at least January 2022. I have a beautiful home office setup. [Including a huge new desk that I ordered from Pottery Barn when I accepted this job. Highly recommend a big desk. I love having a full computer work station and room for my manual writing stuff.]

Just since my last post here, two more people have reached out to me asking about leaving academic and academic-adjacent jobs (working within the university and college system). I’m sure this is in part due to the big shift that I’m also a part of: workers are changing jobs a lot right now, hiring is up, and people are seeking positions that better suit their COVID-19 comfort levels and their work-from-home preferences. But I hope it’s also part of a shift in academia itself. I hope people are realizing that their skills and their work ethic can be applied in more lucrative, less abusive settings.

I won’t make this post very long, because leveraging your academic experience means something different for every kind of job you might be applying for. What you might emphasize and downplay when applying for a copywriting position is very different from what you might emphasize and downplay when applying for a position in HR. But these tips are universally applicable.

Do your research.

You’re good at research, right? Dig in and learn everything you can about the field you’re hoping to work in. Look at a lot of company websites, competitor websites, and job descriptions. Ask anyone you know who already works in the field if they can give you a quick rundown. Don’t be surprised if you feel totally lost: the way people talk about, for instance, software marketing is completely different from how people talk about teaching undergraduates.

Learn the basics of the industry, and then learn all of the slang words and acronyms that apply to the job title you’re seeking. Then take some time to learn the very basics of any platforms or softwares listed in the job descriptions you see. You don’t need to become an expert at using Excel or WordPress or Figma, but familiarity with them and the terms used when using them will help you talk about your skills and what you hope to learn next.

Aim high, but manage your expectations.

Go ahead and apply for the jobs you want, but don’t be surprised if it takes you a few positions and a few years to achieve those goals. That’s okay. You’ll probably still have better work/life balance and more income in a borderline entry-level position outside of academia than in any position within it. If you land a really desirable job right off the bat, keep in mind that those who hired you probably expect you to focus on your learning curve and get up to speed quickly. You may need to dedicate some time watching Youtube tutorials and meeting with coworkers and mentors so that you can rise to the level if your new position.

Focus on your strengths, but never tell a lie.

Emphasize how your teaching skills can easily translate into mentorship for less experienced writers, but don’t say that you have supervisory experience when you don’t. Emphasize how the dedication and focus you applied to your dissertation research and writing can easily translate into great project management skills, but don’t say that you’ve managed a corporate project when you haven’t.

You can make yourself sound like the incredible potential employee you are without misleading anyone! It can be tempting to dodge these types of questions, but being honest will only help you long-term. You don’t want to end up in a position where you’re immediately expected to display mastery of something you’re clueless about, and you also don’t want a job where there’s no room to learn. If you’re honest with your interviewers, you’ll eventually find a position you can use as a stepping stone, or a position where you can be trained and mentored and invested in. Both options are great.

Have confidence.

Don’t use self-deprecation or tell too many jokes about academia, or you’ll come off sounding bitter and hung up on your past disappointments. When I was interviewing, I was very honest about why I didn’t want to teach anymore: I wanted better work/life balance and to feel appreciated in my work. I got nothing but respect for that! Don’t put yourself down or make it sound like this career path is a disappointing second choice.