My Unexpected Salvation

I dropped my iPad Mini into the toilet recently. I guess it was payback from all those times when I left the seat up and the next person plopped down on cold porcelain. Thankfully, the water was clean, and I fished it out quickly but not before water seeped in and damaged the circuit board.

I had smashed the iPad so many times before that it looked like a shattered windshield and its corners were crumbling. Ever the inventive type, I patched the corners with electrical tape and the cracks on the screen with clear duct tape. You can’t go wrong with duct tape (see The Magic of Duct Tape). Still, despite gobs of tape holding the device together, the swan dive into the toilet bowl was the coup de grâce.

At first, the iPad took on a life of its own and did crazy things in rapid succession like run through a bunch of web sites, sort my email, and even place a call to a colleague in Tennessee. I tried desperately to press the red “stop” button before the guy answered. When that didn’t work, I was able to turn the iPad off. But now I can’t get it back on. This, after drying it out and wiping away the foam that continually oozed out of the cracked screen. I have no idea where that came from. You’d think the thing had been wounded and was cleaning itself with pus.

The upshot of all this is that I spend far less time on social media. My poison of choice has been YouTube followed by Quora and then Twitter. Twitter is my least favorite, because it attracts people who have no qualms about letting their inner three-year-old run around like a spoiled tyrant, attacking others and creating an atmosphere of Pol Pot-like oppression. Good luck with that, Elon.

Quora has been good with many entries about World War Two, tigers, criminal minds, imaginary encounters between gorillas and bears, and prison. People submit a lot of questions about prison. It seems to be the platform of choice for those about to do time. It also teaches you how to spot a guy who has done time. Hint: they tend to look around themselves a lot and insist on facing the door in restaurants. That applies to mob guys as well, which is a subset of guys who do time.

My favorite social media platform is YouTube. I have written before about how addicted I am, promising to kick the habit. I have been as successful at that as Mark Twain was at quitting smoking, which is to say not successful at all. Actually, I also still pine for a cigarette every now and then, but that’s another story (see My Last Cigarette).

I confess that I don’t like YouTube as a company, since it is owned by Google and has assumed for itself the power to regulate and censor speech. That reminds me of the chilling comment made by a Davos devotee recently in which she referred to the need to “recalibrate” speech. You know, you can’t have too much of it. It misleads people. And, being an expert, she will decide the extent of the recalibration.

However, I love what I have been able to learn from YouTube. I’ll give them that. I have studied foreign languages: French, German, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, and Latin. I also watch political commentary of all persuasions. I like to watch ideologues dig holes for themselves and then sling the dirt at each other. I’ll leave the names to you with a recommendation to round up the usual suspects and then add economist Richard Wolff.

A representative list of what I like to call “TooMuch YouTube” includes videos on: the history of “Rocket Monkeys”; Hitler’s chauffeur; “Why Sailors Wear Striped Shirts”; the best scenes from “Bonanza”; “How to Organize Your Closet”; the “Incomplete Guide of Chicken Care”; forensic facial reconstruction; the lack of waterways in Sub-Saharan Africa; the Frankfurt School; “Dion and the Belmonts”; the history of Nigeria; “Dates: The Healthiest Fruit on the Planet”; early Venetian lute music; critical race theory; Frozen in Latin; Bee Gees reaction videos; Dean Martin celebrity roasts; the history of the Hittites (in Italian); identifying baseball pitches; and Beethoven’s string quartets. That last one lasted eight hours.

With a list like this, it’s easy to see why I would be great at cocktail parties. That’s if I went to cocktail parties, which I don’t. Besides, I wouldn’t have much of a chance to wax poetic on chicken care, since people really want to talk about themselves. To be great at cocktail parties you have to develop the art of listening.

But something liberating has come out of dropping my iPad into the toilet. I now have time to sit and think, to sip my cappuccino without sorting through videos, to slow down and not feel rushed, to unplug myself from the great social media hive where the din of voices clamoring to get my attention and shout their case has become a kind of Dantesque hell. It’s not even a real hell but a virtual one. I’m also less grouchy, even–dare I say–pleasant from time to time. That might be pushing it, though.

This has been an unexpected liberation for me. I have returned to the world of the living; a slower, saner, safer world, one that is more comfortable and fits my daily rhythms. I’m not saying that makes it artificial and protected from “reality.” Pas du tout. In fact, I get to see and relate to other people rather than their avatars. I’m also not saying you should drop your iPad into the toilet, but you might want to turn it off for dinner.


Image credits: feature by mahdis mousavi; iPhone by Laura Rivera; sketches by visuals; apps by Rami Al-zayat. Like fiction? Check out the Mercury “trilogy” (The Gringo, Laura Fedorahere. Also, go to Robert Brancatelli.

4 comments

  1. I spent a good bit of time crafting a very intelligent comment on your post, Robert. Then I accidentally swiped in the wrong direction and “poof”, it was gone forever before I had a chance to post that gem.

    So, I’ll cut to the chase. YouTube I find to be very useful, in terms of musical entertainment and all manner of advice on how to fix everything under the sun.

    Linked In is a place where I can contact former colleagues and students, or just see what they are up to professionally. But reading the back and forth comments among users is like being stoned to death with croutons — many comments, limited weight. Unless, of course, I am sending out something that promotes my own book.

    I’ll send an occasional book reference out on Twitter if it seems to fit a related news story, but I think all of my 100 followers are well aware of my book, and many have already purchased it. So, beyond that, Twitter is simply a sewer of hate, rants, and personal conflict — all from the personal safety behind a keyboard. It really has no value.

    Interestingly, when the journalist community was kvetching about Musk, Blue Checks and monthly subscription fees, they set up a platform JUST FOR CREDENTIALED JOURNALISTS. This platform would screen participants carefully, and pursue lofty goals and colloquy. You guessed it — hate, rants and personal conflict quickly surfaced among the “journos”.

    My take on all of this? If a platform offers legitimate entertainment or advice (YouTube), or allows professionals to contact each other (Linked In), go for it. If it’s just a platform for opinions, stay away. Pick up the phone and call somebody, perhaps with cappuccino in hand.

    1. I like YouTube in spite of YouTube. Still, someone accused me once of watching only those videos that support my beliefs. Since then, I have made it a habit, painful at times, of listening to the other side and as many viewpoints as possible. Funny, but more often than not they reinforce my original thinking. Thanks for the comments.

  2. Great read, and one that will be ignored, not for lack of talent or capability, but for internet addiction which continues unabated.

    Happiest year of my life, 2020 (yes), occurred when I dropped ALL SOCIAL MEDIA. Only got back on when TIME Blinked got picked up. Publisher insisted on an SM (how appropriate?) platform. I’ve been enslaved to it for marketing purposes for two years, since I’ve been lucky to have a second book (Draculand) drop.

    I spent that year, Covid aside, writing; applying to and being accepted to grad school; and traveling America with Lee and the dogs. It is a year where the bitter and sweet collided violently and I shall not soon forget it.

    Bonus: Didn’t miss SM a bit.

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