Less Spam, More Real Contact

As the new year approaches, I’m cleaning out. I’ve done some cleaning of the piles of paper that have accumulated around my desk. I’m also cleaning out my digital life.

Facebook was one thing. Email is another. I can’t just dump email, and the amount of junk email I get is huge. My spam filter just wasn’t cutting it.

I found myself starting to get really irritated by all of it. To the point of being angry every time I looked at my email. Not good. Life is too short to be irritated and angry so much of the time. I needed a better spam filter. I’ve installed SpamSieve. It cost $30, and took a bit of trouble to set up, but so far, I’m liking it. A lot.

I also get a huge amount of not exactly spam, but unwanted, email. It’s email from places I’ve ordered something, and now I get a daily email from them about other stuff to order. Or it’s email from online petition sites, where I’ve signed onto something, and now they send me “action alerts,” some of them send me “alerts” 2 or 3 times a day. These aren’t scams. Not exactly. I know how and why I got on their email blast lists. But I’m feeling blasted.

It’s tiring to be on alert so much. For the rest of the month, I’m unsubscribing to as many not-exactly-spam lists as come along. And I’m not signing onto any more “action alerts.” Ever.

If I feel so strongly about contacting my representatives about something, I’m going to write a real letter. Or I’ll call them. Or I’ll arrange to talk to them over lunch.

I suspect that signing online petitions only generates spam for whoever you’re trying to reach, and sending spam is no way to positively influence anyone’s opinion.

There must be a better way of generating support for good causes than badgering people in their email multiple times per day and pissing off the people you are trying to persuade. You can only take that sort of thing for so long. Then it’s over. Not just for your cause, but for everyone else’s.

If you can figure out the solution to that problem (Hint: it’s not just reducing the number of times you badger them to just once a day, or even once a week.) you’ll be doing everyone a big favor. I have a feeling it has something to do with spending less time spamming and taking the time to make more real contact.

Reading List #1

Here are 10 books I’ve read, with a few comments. They’re not necessarily books that you should read, though some of them are. Some of them are referenced here to avoid others’ wasting time and money on them.

  1. Middle Church by Bob Edgar. If you’re someone who follows one of the three Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) and you’re totally disgusted with how your faith has been co-opted by right-wing bullshit, this will be a good read. Bob was a US Representative from Pennsylvania for a while, and served as President of the National Council of Churches. He dropped dead of a heart attack last spring.
  2. On Writing by Stephen King. This guy writes so well he even makes writing interesting.
  3. The Sea Is So Wide and My Boat Is So Small by Marian Wright Edelman. A leader of the civil rights student movement and the founder of the Children’s Defense Fund reflects on what it will take for our kids to have a decent chance at making it to adulthood.
  4. The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin. Seth reflects on what it takes to make art.
  5. Justice by Michael Sandel. A really good primer in ethics.
  6. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. A tedious read about the sad lives surrounding a young man who decides he needs to leave the tired town he grew up in.
  7. The Practicing Congregation by Diana Butler Bass. Some hopeful glimpses of a few congregations that are exceptions to the so-called Mainline Decline.
  8. What Money Can’t Buy by Michael Sandel. The sequel to Justice, and a faster read, on what it means for a society to sell out.
  9. Recreating the Church by Richard Hamm. A useless “how to fix the church” book by a former mainline denominational bureaucrat.
  10. Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope. A novel about love and politics in a 19th century English parish. Long, but decent.

I’m Dumping Facebook. Maybe.

My relationship with Facebook has always been rocky. On one hand, in the beginning, it did connect me with a few old friends.

On the other, now that I’m connected with them it’s a time waster. I don’t use it for business. The infinite supply of pictures of cats with bold lettering superimposed over them has worn thin.

Most of the posts on my wall are posts from my wife. I appreciate that she posts things on my wall. At the same time, these are usually things she can tell me face to face. We sleep together every night. Facebook is an unnecessary middle-man in our marital affairs.

I’ve tried quitting Facebook before, so I’m not sure I can pull it off this time either. But it’s time to try again. I’m not going to announce it on Facebook. This is the only place I’m going to say anything about it.

This isn’t about cutting people off, or whining about not enough people paying attention to my Facebook posts. If you want to reach me on social media, I’d love to hear from you. Use Twitter. I’m @i_Caspar.

How Can I Help You?

This may be one of the best questions ever. You can use it in nearly any situation, with nearly anyone.

To be human is to be in need of help. I can use all the help I can get. All sincere offers of real help are welcome here!

Being of real help adds to your karmic bank account. Even if the offer is declined, if it’s genuine it will be remembered, and good will is often better than money in the bank.

Only ask it, though, if you’re planning on listening to the answer you might get… and following through.

When in doubt about what to do next

… it’s probably time to pick up a book and start reading.

It doesn’t matter what book. It doesn’t have to qualify as great literature. Even if it turns out to be total crap, you’ve started to think about what makes it total. Where are the holes in this argument? Why are these characters so flat? How could it be improved. Once you’ve started thinking through that, you’re on your way to thinking through what got you stuck in the first place.

And, if it turns out that you did happen to pick up a masterpiece, you’ve just opened your mind and imagination to a whole new dimension, and now you can go places you didn’t even know existed before.

The best blogs are the ones that aren’t selling anything.

People who write those blogs might be selling something somewhere else. There may be an occasional link to someone else who is selling something. But with the best blogs, you can read them day after day and not feel like you’re getting pitched.

Seth’s blog, for example, has a couple links to other sites where he’s selling stuff. But even though he’s talking primarily about marketing, he’s not pitching his stuff in the posts. Mitch Joel and James Altucher also have this kind of blog.

Second tier bloggers have lots of great information and ideas on their blog. Good for them, and I read their stuff, too. But a second-tier blog mixes sales into their content. As in: “Here’s a great idea, and if you want to see more great ideas, sign up here.” Or: “Here’s something useful about [whatever], and as long as we’re talking about that, you might want to try this thing I’m selling.” Or, at the end of every post suggesting that I download their free e-book.

Then there’s the kind of blog that’s more about pitching the blogger’s stuff than the content, where posts are about getting you to sign up.

I’ve been blogging for years and I’ve never made any money. Some people seem to be able to make money at it. They seem to be the people who give advice about how to make money blogging. Not me. I haven’t made any money blogging, and I can’t sell anyone advice on how to do it. I don’t think the best bloggers are doing it for money either. They do it because they love to do it. They make their money doing something else.

Bottom line: the second you start blogging for the money, or because you want something from your readers, your blog will start to suck. Blog because you love to do it. Make your money doing something else.

Focus Is Essential

Seth Godin says it’s never too late to start a blog. On this advice, I’ve started quite a few over the past several years.

Starting a blog is easy. Keeping up with a blog once it’s started is the hard thing. My record is Scarlet Letter Bible. It ran for about 10 months, from July of 2010 to May of 2011. I’ve had a couple others, Caspar World and iCaspar, that I’ve restarted several times each. This blog is on it’s second incarnation.

What makes blogging hard is keeping focus. Scarlet Letter Bible ran well for me because I knew exactly what the blog was about. When I realized it wasn’t my wheelhouse any more, or that I didn’t want to be, I made a conscious decision to stop. In my less successful attempts, lack of focus precipitated failure.

Sitting down to write and having to decide again each time what to write about, and wondering how that connects to what you wrote about yesterday — that’s hard. Too hard for me. Without intending to, and partly because I didn’t know what my intentions were, I stopped writing. Then, months later, I’d realize that the project was left hanging.

Another blogger, Mary Jaksch, says that choosing your topic is one of the most important decisions you make when starting or restarting a blog. While she’s mostly focused on choosing a topic that will rank well in search engines, part of her advice is to choose something you’re passionate about. In my experience, the key to success isn’t just passion but keeping focus. As with any project, sometimes its success depends on your ability to focus for a while on something you’re not particularly passionate about.

It’s important to have a topic you’re passionate about. And, depending on your aims, it may be important that your topic ranks well on Google. All the advice about publication scheduling, guest blogging, social networking probably has some merit. But more essentially, blogging requires focus. You need to know why you’re bothering, otherwise before long you won’t bother.

There’s no garden without a gardener, and there’s no blog without a blogger. And there’s no blogger without focus.

Blogging, as it turns out, is the same as most things worth doing. Find your focus, and whatever else develops, you’ll do alright.

Reboot

In computer world reboot means to restart. It’s shorthand for “turn it off and then back on again.”

This is my blog reboot. Nothing before exists. No posts. No comments. Not even a real theme or formatting.

This is my new year’s resolution: to write something every day.

It might not be much. But something. Even if it’s just one word. Something.

And, in addition (though not daily) to start building a theme from the ground up.

That’s the plan.

Go.