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First Click: Remembering to choose

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December 28th, 2016

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I don't normally make New Year's resolutions because I'm of the belief that if something is wrong you should fix it, not put it off until some arbitrary date. Thus, the timing of my "New Year's resolution" is coincidence, really, after watching This is Water again over the weekend. It's a video adaptation of a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace in 2005. Here, have a look for yourselves when you can dedicate nine minutes of your day to fully appreciate it:

DFW's speech is about choice. It's about switching off the autopilot to assume control over your thoughts in order to live a more conscious, well-adjusted life. In short, it's a recipe for happiness when our default setting is to focus on how unfair the world is to me, me, me.

I've watched this video (and read the transcript of the longer speech) a handful of times since it first exploded onto the internet back in 2013. Yesterday it paid off after I stumbled across a post-Xmas mega sale with a crowd to match. The atmosphere was brutal: screaming kids, frazzled unhelpful staff, and throngs of stressed-out parents dressed for winter in an over-heated department store. My gut was thick with annoyance as I stepped into the endlessly snaking line to pay. "Ugh," I thought with absolute certainty that everyone ahead of me sucked, "this line's going to take 20 minutes, at least." Normally, I'd pull out my phone and escape into the cynicism and hopelessness of Twitter. This time, however, I had the awareness to choose how I'd deal with the situation, and engaged my captive wife and daughter in conversation and a game of I Spy (with my little eye). This simple act defused the situation immediately and was a good reminder that happiness is often a choice.

So that's my resolution: choice.

I will choose who to friend on Facebook. My default setting was to friend people I used to be friends with, extended family members I don’t really know, and colleagues who hit me up with friend requests even though we've never moved beyond LinkedIn status. Instead, I'll be just as picky with my online friendships as I am in the real world and surround myself with informed people I respect, not tolerate.

I will choose the frequency at which I check Twitter. That means rewiring my default setting that causes me to check for new tweets anytime I find myself idling, like when standing in line at the store, or waiting for the arrival of a friend. Why subject myself to Twitter's unyielding toxicity on a regular basis for so little reward?

I will choose to focus on my family first, community second, and world third. That means rewiring my default setting that causes my limited reserves of empathy to be spread both too wide and too thin. In the age of information, it’s too damn easy to be distracted by everything and too hard to focus on what matters. Why should my children suffer under a father infuriated by a foreign populace that just elected a demagogue president?

If the mind really is a wonderful servant to a terrible master as they say, then I choose for a better master. And that's exactly the kind of control I crave as 2016 comes to an end.