What I got up to during #BelshawBlackOps14 (and what 2015 has in store)

So, I’m back.

Back to blogging, back to social networks, and back to keeping up with the news. In previous years I’ve been chomping at the bit to get ‘back to normality’. This time, however, it’s a bit different.

My signing-off blog post for #BelshawBlackOps14 included the following paragraph:

I realised recently that for around the last 13 years I’ve been thinking on-and-off about something I read in one of Iris Murdoch’s books. I’m pretty sure it was in a philosophical work such as ‘Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals’ but it may have been in one of her novels. Murdoch talked about not really ever having had a ‘strong sense of self’. I really wish I could find the quotation. Putting my own gloss on it, I’ve come to believe that those who don’t have a strong sense of self are more empathetic than others, but may also have more problems with self-actualisation.

Simon Knight got in touch (via my Mozilla email address) to inform me that he’d found out, quite by chance, that the quotation comes from John Bayley’s memoir.

Reflecting on this, over the last two months I’ve realised a few things:

  1. My ‘true self’ / default state / eudaimonic mean is a good deal more conservative than I realised.
  2. The reason for this conservatism stems from a belief in the importance of community and of ritual.
  3. Being part of a community sometimes means personal sacrifice towards a larger goal.

I began to see that that although I abhor the methods the current UK government has employed since 2010, their overall aim may actually be one that I agree with. In other words, the move to a small State (with checks and balances) leading to bottom-up solutions provided by people on the ground – rather than top-down interventionism. What I find absolutely shocking is the removal of the social safety net. That’s really tearing up the fabric of society.

But, to be honest, I’m kind of done with politics and national / international news. I’m more interested in what’s happening immediately around me. It’s all very well being a citizen of the world, but doing so has made me somewhat rootless and rudderless. After a while you begin to realise that some things are incapable of change due to the way the system is structured (and loaded).

I did write some stuff while I was away. For DMLcentral I wrote a brief history of web literacy – which was picked up by the Washington Post. I also spoke on a panel at the Safer Internet Forum in Brussels (which I wrote up here). In December there was a Mozilla workweek in Portland, Oregon. I left that early to speak at the Literacy Research Association conference on Marco Island, Florida. Oh, and Maker Party North East went well.

During my hiatus I went out of my way to avoid the news and social networks. As a result, I had so much more free time that I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. I did quite a bit of exercise. This, combined with 2014 seemingly the sunniest year I’ve ever experienced, staved off my SAD and migraines. Also, although it wasn’t my explicit aim, I’ve lost a stone in weight since moving house in February. Having a routine rocks.

I read during #BelshawBlackOps14. Not as much as I planned, but more widely than usual. Some of this via dead tree books from the library, some via the Kindle Paperwhite 3G I bought while it was on offer. Since I last had one with 3G they’ve restricted it to the Amazon store and Wikipedia website. But still, it’s a useful thing to have.

Books I read:

Books I’m still reading:

Another book I read, after spotting it on the shelf in the library, was on the Alexander technique. After reading it I ended up so concerned about my posture that subconscious worry led to agonising back pain. I booked a physio appointment only for him to tell me it was psycho-somatic! I used that experience as a convenient excuse to attend a Pilates class for the first time. I’ve been every week since as it makes me feel amazing afterwards. I’d recommend it.

Something else I’d recommend is asking advice. I don’t do this enough, so I decided to get in touch with some people I’ve known for a while and respect. I asked how they view me – and for an honest assessment of my strengths and weaknesses. The findings were interesting. As a result, I’m going to build up some small-scale consultancy in 2015 under the banner of Dynamic Skillset. The consensus was that this would not only allow me to follow-up on my diverse interests, but to support those who ask me for the kind of help I can’t provide for free (or with my Mozilla hat on).

More on that as the year progresses.

Image CC BY-NC-SA Philip Chapman-Bell

6 Comments

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  1. Hi Doug, and welcome back! An interesting post especially as I have been reflecting and researching about identity for my open university project. I found your opening comments about strong sense of self interesting. I like to thing that I have a strong empathetic nature(obviously that’s for others to judge), but I also think that I have a strong sense of self too. But my reason for thinking this are because I am really interested in people, understanding them and what makes them tick, and the psychological and neurological reasons behind some of that.But the more I learn about others, and humans in general, I find the more I learn about myself. That process of learning and reflection almost helps my own self-actualisation and sense of self. I suppose it might depends on whether you see sense of self as a continually developing thing or not?

    • Thanks for the comment, Samantha. 🙂

      I was entirely convinced in my Philosophy of Mind class while at university that we can, effectively, be several different people over the course of our (bodily) lifetimes. However, there seems to be a core essence. I’m not sure if that’s nature, nurture or both. But as I get older, the less I want to force myself to be different.

  2. paul martin (@paulmartin42)

    January 1, 2015 — 6:28 pm

    Welcome back & HNY.

    I took a leaf out of your book and did not tweet or post to the local social network during December, but I did use them as search engines and felt that “I” got more value. Indeed when I reviewed my inputs I struggled to remember the random acts of kindness (eg via inputs pointing people in a particular direction)

    As for your Conservative (nb capitalisation) nature, that’s old age. I say in passing that I would put family above community and that there are some good people in the current government: Michael Gove, Ian Duncan Smith and in Scotland Ruth Davidson and her predecessor. Also I don’t think Margaret Thatcher was that bad either but I can feel the pain of those that lost their jobs during her tenure – I have no sympathy for Poll Tax defaulters: my local tax used to be a couple of hundred quid its now probably close to a couple of thousand.

    Finally, I also appreciate the Alexander technnique but interpret it as a way of reviewing your habits, such as bad posture. Your subsequent back pain was thus, possibly, as much a culture clash with your “Having a routine rocks” philosophy.

    • I’m certainly no Conservative (big ‘C’), Paul. Gove did untold damage to the education system in England and IDS is the polar opposite of ‘good’.

      Glad to hear you found some value in going social network-free in December. Hope you had a great Christmas and New Year! 🙂

  3. Julia Skinner (@theheadsoffice)

    January 4, 2015 — 10:10 am

    Didn’t realise how I had missed the weekly newsletters Doug. So glad the SAD did not take hold & you feel refreshed. I can really understand the amount of ‘spare’ time you found yourself with. Scary isn’t it that we lose so much of it when ‘playing’ on social media!

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