Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2015/ Nothing That Is Important to Me Matters

Nothing That Is Important to Me Matters

I am still scanning through my old papers. I am doing so because I am anxious that my papers could be lost forever if there was a fire or a flood or bedbugs or cockroaches. But my papers don't matter. Nobody will read them while I am alive or after I am dead. These papers are not even important to me. I am not reading them as I scan them. Nobody else will want to either.

My blog is one of the most important things in my life. It does not matter one whit. There are a handful (maybe fewer than a handful) of people who read these entries when I publish them, and then promptly forget them for the rest of their lives. With the exception of a few technical articles, any entry that falls off the front page/RSS feed might never well have existed.

My blog would be more useful if I focused on writing technical articles instead of personal ones. Once in a while other people have solved their technical problems by reading this blog, and blogging about solving technical issues would be better for my career than what I write now (which is a liability). But even though there are many technical blogs I could put together if I made the time, I tend not to bother, because writing technical blogs do not interest me unless they document things I have trouble looking up elsewhere. Meanwhile, the things I do write about (elections, electoral reform, the state of my bellybutton) do not matter. Somehow these topics are the ones most important to me, and therefore the topics I make time to write about.

To signal social status, I obnoxiously and vocally endorse vegetarianism and car-free living, but endorsing these positions does not matter. My rationalizations for being vegetarian have gotten weaker and weaker over the years; these days I can only defend my eating habits out of nostalgic inertia. It is true that meat can be energy inefficient and it is true that I am squeamish about killing animals, but I allow all kinds of other energy-inefficient, squeam-inducing other activities to happen in my name. Furthermore, I am not a good example for others to follow in terms of vegetarianism or car-free living. Yet these positions remain important to me and I am reluctant to let them go.

I obsessively keep lists of things in my life (spending, finances, books I have read, movies I have seen, garbage I have thrown out, when I get haircuts... ) for no good reason. Once in a while I will look through the lists or use them for reference, but I almost never act upon the information contained to improve myself. Other than the NSA nobody else even has access to these lists, so it is not as if they are helpful more broadly either. Yet I spend
multiple hours a month keeping them up to date.

Similarly, I take excerpts from books I read and type them into my computer. In addition to violating international copyright law this is silly, because I almost never look back at those excerpts, and because ebooks exist now.

For the most part, my work does not matter. Maybe it matters more than the things above because -- in principle -- my paid work furthers institutional goals. In that sense, any jobs that employers are willing to pay for matter. But my job does not matter any more than any other sysadmin's job at any other corporation. Working for some hippie employment counselling centre does not make my job matter more. Furthermore, there is a strong argument to be made that my employer would be better off without me than with me. That makes my job matter even less.

Part of the reason I am a hinderance at work is because I hold strong views about technology, surveillance and free software. These views are irrelevant, because the technological world has shifted away from general purpose computers and towards centralized tracking and storage in "the cloud". In resisting these trends I am not doing any good. I am just making myself obsolete, the same way that people who resisted email are now obsolete. The tidal wave of technological determinism is too strong for me (or even me plus the whatever other Linuxy nerds who are on the same side) to resist it.

From time to time I go crazy and organize some outreach event. This year I tried to tell people about proportional representation; in the past I tried to advocate changes to the blood donor questionnaire or advocated for software freedom. These activities are all stupid. None of them matter. When turnout is good almost nobody takes action based upon my activism, and getting good turnout is a hopeless task because I am not willing to put in the work (and the surveillance tracking) to build an effective movement from my actions. So why bother?

I spend a lot of time being anxious about both my personal state and the state of the wider world. I worry about the bees dying, about climate instability, about wars, about The Calamity, about diabetes, about my mortality. Worse than having no answers for these things, I am not willing to put in even the slightest bit of effort to address them. So why do I waste time thinking about them? Given that I am unwilling to take action, worrying does not matter.

And then there are my day to day activities. They are mostly drudgery, and I do not claim to find them meaningful, but I spend a lot of time doing them. They are necessary in the sense that if I did not do them I would be unfed and unwashed and destitute and probably either homeless or dead, but they do not matter to anybody outside myself. (I guess that is not quite true, depending on whether other people have to look at me or smell me.)

The amount of time I spend doing either work drudgery or personal drudgery is dwarfed by the amount of time I spend idly reading blogs or watching fighting game videos on Youtube. Maybe the online companies who want me to spend all of my attention span on their products think that is meaningful, but I don't. It certainly does not matter whether I am reading somebody's blog or not. But it must be important to me on at least a subconscious level, because boy howdy do I spend a lot of my time doing it.

Some people claim that their children are the most important things to them, or that human relationships give people meanings in their lives. I can see the appeal of such positions. They do not appear to be relevant in my life. Thankfully, I do not have kids. I also have few personal relationships, on account of I go out of my way to avoid them. Relationships require vulnerability, which means pain and loss, and I have not determined whether that pain and loss is worth it. Sometimes I have fond memories of past human relationships, but they are always tinged with sadness and regret.

And then there are people's relationships to God, which might well matter, but which (as far as I know) I do not experience myself.

This sounds like a lot of high-school existential angst. More than anything, it is amusing to think that the things I care about the most (and the things I put the most energy and effort towards) also matter the least. Meanwhile things that other people believe matter the most (kids, relationships, God) are precisely the things I avoid. What a mess I have made of this life.