How quickly life can remind you that a day can be a truly miserable thing. Today mine started with a major fight with my girlfriend, Francine. In an attempt to escape the poisoned atmosphere of the house we set off on a pleasant but utilitarian outing. Any facade of pleasantness was instantly destroyed about 45 minutes later when I saw a huge, lovely turtle run over by a truck.
It died because I failed to save it. I saw the turtle emerging from the tall grass by the side of the road and stopped as quickly as I could, about 80 feet down the road (the speed limit was 45 mph, there was no shoulder, lots of cars behind me, I pulled off into a side road). I got out and began to go back towards the turtle but in those few moments it had moved far faster than I ever could have imagined and was already a third of the way into the traffic lane. A large passenger bus saw it but only drifted over the line to avoid running it over directly. The under draft knocked it along the lane and into the tires of a following pick up.
Life sometimes seems like a collection of utterly meaningless, pointless, forgettable moments punctuated by a few occasionally horrible and some wonderful moments. I envy the folk who see it as a more uniformly joyous procession.
I'd never seen a turtle so large on the East coast, it was at least 1.5 feet long, surely had lived a long time to get that size, and surely would have lived a longer time still. I'm not sure what I could have done differently, tried to step into traffic to flag people down, stopped my car in traffic and tried to alert people, I just had no idea there was so little time. We often imagine there's plenty of time left, to see relatives, to see friends, to be happy, to accomplish great things... Often there is not.
I cried like a baby on the drive home. I cried for the turtle. I cried for the horrendously capricious nature of life and death. I cried for my impotence; my life these days seems nothing but trying to help others only to witness their fruitless suffering. And I cried for the fact that I was crying, unable to accept life on its cruelly unacceptable terms.
We humans are sick, sadistic creatures, selectively choosing what and who we care about. Today I mourned the death of a turtle I didn't know, and cursed the driver of the killing vehicle, but I thought and cared little about the hundreds of mosquitoes, ants, and other bugs I likely killed in the remaining portion of the car ride home; I strongly suspect I killed or wounded two butterflies. But for some reason that turtle mattered most, that poor, beautiful, stupid, wonderful, turtle. I am so sorry I failed you.
Attempting to measure one's own accomplishments is generally a monstrously bad idea. Even the most successful of men may find themselves coming up short when they compare themselves to a yardstick of their own making. Those who succeed generally do so by finding themselves perpetually shy of achieving some newly important and consuming goal. That having been said, taking stock of yourself is a sobering necessity, something which me must do if we are to re-align our compass with an objective, societal true North. It is in this brutally reflective frame of mind that I make the following observations about myself, most easily expressed as a Guide to Leading a Highly Ineffective Life. The objective reality is that I have achieved quite a lot, more than many, less than many, and a reasonable amount given my particular make up and life challenges. Nonetheless, I have observed in myself the following limiting, (at times) crippling characteristics that have kept me from being far more than I am.
20 Things You Can Do To Be Highly Ineffective
- Work on many projects simultaneously.
- Associate with no professional colleagues.
- Cultivate few friends.
- Spend almost all of your time by yourself or with a girlfriend only.
- Work in secret. Share almost none of your ideas or work.
- Do everything from scratch. Build your own rather than modifying existing software/code.
- Believe your mind and/or abilities are failing you over time.
- Be deathly afraid of judgment. Ensure you never finish any task properly.
- Ignore important details.
- Explore periods of intense lassitude.
- Be mildly obsessively interested in many, many generally unrelated things.
- [Removed by request.]
- Secretly believe that those who succeed are magically different from you, possess something you entirely lack (as exemplified by the tone of this list).
- Put off until tomorrow that really hard thing that intimidates you, never try to do it today, never right now.
- If you find yourself not particularly challenged in a situation (job, life, etc.), then maintain the status quo, choose comfortable over challenge.
- Develop as little self-discipline as possible. Go to bed when you want, eat what you want, exercise as little as you feel like.
- Constantly wrestle with existential and philosophical doubts rather than engage in the business of actually living. Wonder about what the point of living is if you die rather than actually focus on getting the most from every minute of life.
- Avoid seeking professional, psychological help for things like depression and anxiety, assume that you alone can surely defeat obstacles which have bedeviled humans for millennia.
- Have tremendous difficulty switching tasks/projects, avoid doing so because it's mentally painful.
- Watch TV.
I was sad to hear about Steve Jobs death, but not as others have been. Most call him a visionary genius, but to me he was little more than a benevolent dictator leading a technology cult. The awe Apple seems to create is not through revolutionary features but through the stripping out of function in deference to form. Apple reduces every complex problem down to an overly simplified interface, satisfying only the least common denominator crowd, hipster aesthetic purists, and a small few who either break the ties that bind their device or mindfully accept technology on Apple's terms. Apple and Jobs have been adept at making the old new again, at creating the perception that they intended what long had been, albeit inelegantly.
I had more fully featured MP3 players years before there was an iPod. I had smarter phones years before there was an iPhone. I had a more capable tablet years before there was an iPad. I had more powerful multitasking personal computers years before it was possible with a Mac. Apple did not come up with these ideas nor the technology that realized them, all they did was package other people's invention in a form that ensured popularity through the careful crafting of a limiting experience. And in that capacity Apple has excelled; their products have deserved their reputation of being easier for novices to use and better at their limited tasks. Tightly controlling what your users are allowed to do, what your software is allowed to do, and what hardware they are allowed to do it on has a magnificent impact on ease of use and stability, ask any Windows or Linux/FreeBSD user who plays in a less regulated ecosystem. And yet to my perpetual surprise, cultural perception seems to credit Apple with being the father and mother of all these technological wonders: the smart phone, the MP3 player, the tablet. Steve Jobs' legacy seems not about invention or innovation but marketing, selling the people on the idea that less is more, that their way is the way, and ultimately (if unintentionally) that they were there first.
I don't like Apple, and I never liked Steve Jobs, but I, too, mourn his untimely death, for his passing is a horrible reminder that though our understanding and mastery of the universe has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few thousand years, all the money in the world cannot linger us many more days here on this good Earth. Steve Jobs had literal access to billions, literal access to every master of every scientific, technological, and medical arena here on Earth, and yet he was little more protected from the vagaries of fate than the least of us. How so very horrible and frightening that is, that in the end it mattered not the man he had become, but the every man he remained.