Where randomness is the only certainty

Must. Overcome. Fear. Of. Posting.

Over the last few months I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which I communicate with my friends, family and colleagues.

Looking now at my clock widget, I have clocks telling me what time it is in Singapore, Brisbane, Los Angeles, New York and Berlin covering time-zone difference of 18 hours. The reason for having so many clock widgets is that the people that I want to communicate with on any given day are spread across a pretty wide region and it’s good to have some idea when they’ll be awake.

For the most part, I communicate with people via quick skype/gmail chats, tweets/facebook, or short emails. I’ve been keeping this up for a few years now and I’m realizing that many of those that I’m close to really only ever get to see glimpses of half-thought-through snapshots of the ideas in my head. It’s becoming clear to me that this is a pretty terrible way of keeping those relationships that I really care about.

One fix to this problem is, I guess, to hit that little green call button more often. Unfortunately, the times when I can freely call someone rarely fit with the times that they can take that call.

Of course, I could spend a lot more time writing long emails to people. I actually did this for a while. The problem that I found is that as the time between emails drags on, those emails get longer and longer and I get less and less likely to actually ever send it. On top of that, the absolute social awkwardness that is me makes me feel weird whenever I email someone out of the blue. Especially when you haven’t spoken to that person in years.

One of the things that I find very strange about becoming an increasingly old physicist, is that I regularly butt my head up against some new problem for a while only to realize that I knew the solution years ago and had completely forgotten that I knew anything about it.

When I lived in Austria I really struggled with my poor German speaking skills. My inability to speak the language meant that many of the conversations that I had were either short, or I couldn’t convey full essence of whatever it was that I was trying to communicate. I guess people probably felt the same way whenever they spoke to me in English.

I found that while I was in Austria I increasingly turned to the internet to get my daily fix of communication. For the most part this began through my old blog, Quantumbiodiscs, and then later as part of the LP hivemind.

While blogging didn’t always help me to keep in touch of others, those that new about the blog could easily keep tabs on me.

So, why did I (effectively) stop? I guess there were really 2 things that, together, cut down my blogging activities.

The first was that I moved to Bristol. In Bristol it was a lot easier to communicate with people on a daily basis – so much of my ranting was done to my colleagues and others in the lunchroom as opposed to random folk on the intertubes. Also, as time went on in Bristol I became much more involved with my work. Increasingly I found that I was more likely to read a paper or to think through some whacky QI thoughts than to spend time putting together a good blog post.

The second thing was that I began to develop a bit of a fear of posting to LP. Now, don’t get me wrong interwebs, I really enjoyed writing for LP and working with all those involved. They really are a fantastic bunch of people. I also think that the LP collective worked wonders during 2007 Oz election campaign. Unfortunately, it seems that this was clear to many other Australian political tragics.

By the time I joined LP it was already getting pretty big. That didn’t bother me so much, in fact I thought it was a great thing (hell, I still do). But at some point after the 2007 election I made that horrible mistake that Wile Coyote always made, I had run out over the edge and then looked down.

After the 2007 campaign there was a lot of academic analysis of the effect of the new interwebish media. It became clear from this work that LP was very widely read and also had a large influence on the media at that time. While this might seem like good news, to my addled brain it made me think that maybe I should spend longer than 15 minutes writing a blog post and actually put some serious work into my blogging.

I guess gradually, the realization that I was throwing some fairly raw thoughts out there spooked me. The net effect of the spooking, work and life in general pushed my output down to zero.

Now, as time goes on and I realize that moving home every couple of years is actually taking a toll on my relationships with people that I care very much about I realize that, possibly, my writing can help the situation. I’m reluctantly realizing that I’m rarely ever going to be able to spend long afternoons chatting with my dearest friends over (good) coffee. But maybe if I keep this blog up to date then at least they might have some chance of keeping track of what’s going on with me.

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4 responses

  1. peadarcoyle

    Mick, as a slightly younger Physicist/ Mathematician, I have a deep sympathy with what you are saying. I’ve worked short term in Shanghai, did undergrad in Bristol, and am aiming at Postgrad in Japan or Singapore. I understand as I’ve left the wonderful tranquility of undergraduate life that it is extremely difficult to keep the relationships going. And I struggle with the ‘work addiction’ and lack of ‘good long afternoon coffees’. I do seem to spend my free time (when I’m not studying or tutoring) looking for ways to work on papers or paper ideas. And also the rather difficult problem of how to handle keeping good notes and not losing ideas.
    In this age of intense and quick communication, have we lost the ability to have deep and meaningful communication?

    July 31, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    • I don’t think it’s lost, but I think it’s important to strive for something more than the superficial. Well, at least I think I need to strive for more than that.

      Good luck looking for postgrad opportunities in Japan… (I hope you applied with Kae Nemoto, she’s great).

      July 31, 2010 at 11:20 pm

  2. Ben Sach

    I for one miss your office ranting! With Ashley leaving at the end of the week, it is getting pretty quiet in our office. I’m running out of distractions from writing up, post more! (or move back to the UK)

    August 2, 2010 at 10:43 am

  3. Ben, You clearly need more puzzles.

    Have you considered taking up juggling?

    Or maybe you should finally bite the bullet and make that Lego Turing machine that you’ve always wanted to make :-)

    August 2, 2010 at 1:26 pm

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