You may have noticed that my posts here have been a bit light recently – only four in the last 12 months – and to explain why, I would like to tell you about a surreal online experience I had about a year ago.
I was on a mainstream news website when a moderately interesting article caught my eye and I posted a brief comment about it. I can’t remember what either the article or my comment were about, except that neither of them were particularly important. The point is, it drew a swift and angry response from another poster who I will call Angry Woman.
I was puzzled by this because I thought my post was quite innocuous, so out of interest I looked up Angry Woman’s profile to see what I had done to annoy her. Her profile indicated that she had posted 37,000 comments on that website alone (by comparison, I had posted about eight). My jaw literally dropped. 37,000? Really? How does she find the time? Does she not have a daytime job to go to, a family to look after, a garden to tend? And what purpose does she think her posts will serve? Does she think she will change the world? Has she ever changed her own mind? And that is probably just the tip of the iceberg: she quite likely also vents her spleen on other news websites, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and so on. She is almost certainly an internet addict, like the people who walk round with their faces in their smartphones, oblivious to the real world.
Needless to say, I didn’t try to engage Angry Woman in any further online dialogue, which would have been pointless. Instead, I took a critical look at my own online activity. I have a daytime job, a family and a vegetable garden, all of which take a lot of looking after, and I periodically write this blog. I only have 24 hours in my day: how much time can I justify spending on online activity? There is no right or wrong answer to this as everyone’s circumstances are different, but after giving it some thought I came up with these rules of thumb for myself:
Time spent reading, watching or listening to mainstream media on or off line: 5 minutes daily. That’s just enough time to scan the headlines. It’s useful to know what the mainstream media thinks are the important issues of the day (which are not necessarily the actual important issues of the day) but most of what follows the headlines is nonsense and not worth spending any more time on. Mainstream journalists rarely seem to ask obvious questions or follow up obvious inconsistencies, and for good reason: they would probably be fired for rubbing up the wrong people the wrong way.
Time spent commenting on websites: nil. I am giving that up altogether. It seems that mainstream media websites, and environmental websites like Resilience.org and Deep Adaptation, are increasingly populated by Angry Woman clones who are prolific posters and seem to enjoy picking arguments and trading insults. I have better things to do with my time, and it is particularly disappointing when it happens on environmental websites where we are all supposedly on the same side. Environmental debates, like political debates, seem to be increasingly polarised. Maybe this is what happens when a society begins to decline. However. the standard of discussion on personal blog sites run by the owners (like this one) seems to be higher, so I may continue posting very occasional comments on those.
Time spent on social media: 10 minutes daily. I have a Facebook account with the privacy and security settings cranked up to maximum, so that it is invisible to search engines and can’t receive “friend” requests. I only use it for looking at specialist discussion groups and commercial suppliers, mostly related to vegetable gardening. I have never had a Twitter or Instagram account and I don’t intend to start now. I was talked into installing WhatsApp by a co-worker, but had to uninstall it almost immediately as people started sending me messages which I never got around to reading. The only social media site I use regularly is Manx Forums which is an online discussion site for residents of the tiny Isle of Man, where I live.
Time spent posting photos of cute babies, children, holidays, animals or selfies: nil. I had a bad experience with an online photo of myself a couple of years ago and wrote about it here. Since then, I have ensured that (to the best of my knowledge) there are no photos of me anywhere on the internet.
Time spent writing this blog: one post every three months. Hence the rather light posting you may have noticed recently. So much of my time is spent on work, family and tending my allotment that one post every three months is the most time I can justify spending on it. I don’t earn any money from it: I just do it in the hope that a few people might find it entertaining, and an even smaller number might find it useful.
Time spent writing books: varies depending on the season. I would like to leave a useful legacy when I depart this planet (not on Elon Musk’s space rocket to Mars; I am talking about the other thing) and I am currently working on “Medicinal Plants of the Isle of Man” illustrated by plants growing in my own garden and allotment. I am photographing the plants myself partly for copyright reasons, and partly because if it can’t be found or grown on the Isle of Man then it probably shouldn’t be included in the book. I hope future healthcare providers may find it useful. All books and other materials I have created are available for free here.
Continuing in that vein, my next post (in three months) will be about “Care and Use of Toxic Plants” and here is a photo of an American Mandrake (Mayapple; Podophyllum peltatum) taken in my garden this spring. American Mandrakes are rather drab, inconspicuous plants which most years put out just one leaf. However, occasionally if the plant is feeling unusually energetic, it puts forth two leaves followed by a tiny flower. You can see the flower bud in this photo, forming in the junction between the two leaves:
and the flower in this one:
The roots contain Podophyllotoxin, which is a highly toxic chemical used for treating warts and verrucae. Applied externally, it makes them shrivel up; taken internally, it would probably do the same things for your internal organs and is not recommended. More about this and other toxic plants in September.
Slaynt vie, bea veayn, beeal fliugh as baase ayns Mannin