Life after Facebook

It’s been about two months now since I deleted my Facebook account — not just disabled, but really and truly deleted. On my end of things, there’s nothing left for me to access. On Facebook’s side of things, it will probably be another few weeks before all of my data has been completely purged by their systems, but it’s coming. I hemmed and hawed for weeks before making the decision to do this; now that it’s done, I’ve been thinking lately about how it’s affected my life. What have I gained? And what have I lost?

Because there have been both: some clear gains, and some clear losses. First and foremost, getting rid of Facebook has drastically opened up my time. When I turn my computer on or pick up my phone during the day, I check my email and a few other things, and then… I’m done. There’s nothing else to do, so I put it away. It’s amazing how much of your day opens up when there isn’t an infinite scroll available. Now, could I have achieved the same effect by being more disciplined with my online habits? Theoretically, yes. Experientially? No.

Another gain is that I feel much less mentally… buffeted, I guess you could call it. There’s no predicting what you see when you’re scrolling through the newsfeed: it’s a mishmash of whatever your friends have posted (as curated for you by the almighty algorithm). Everything appears without context and leaves no context behind it. News is mixed with fundraisers is mixed with baby pictures is mixed with jokes and political opinions and anecdotes and rants and all the rest of it, not to mention the hoaxes and misinformation and flat-out lies, coming at you relentlessly. And everything implicitly (or explicitly) demands a response: like me! share me! respond to me! be happy with me! be angry with me! agree with me! correct me! Frankly, it’s exhausting. Leaving all of that behind has been refreshing. When I want to read the news, I open up a news app. If I want to respond to something, or to learn more about it, it’s easier (and, now, more natural) to take the time to find the context, digest what’s happening, and formulate a response that’s not just off the cuff.

But there’s a price to this temporal and mental freedom, isn’t there? Leaving Facebook has meant reconciling myself (well… sort of) to being out of the loop. I don’t know what’s going on with my friends, not the way I used to. I’m not seeing pictures of their kids — and I’m one of those strange people who actually enjoys seeing pictures of other people’s kids. For some of my friends, Facebook was really the only connection point we had, and when I think about some of those connections I feel a real sense of loss.

But it’s a strange thing: what I’m grieving is maybe not the loss of those relationships, but the loss of the illusion that they still existed. As long as our profiles were linked, there was hope: “Sure, we haven’t talked in ten years — but we could!” And to be completely fair, sometimes this did happen, we did reconnect. I got in touch with a friend from undergrad to return a book I borrowed from her about twelve years ago. I was able to apologize to someone from my past for something that happened when we were young adolescents. But those moments, if I’m honest, were few and far between. I wasn’t using Facebook to connect with people; I was using Facebook to feel as if I were connecting with people. Those are, in the end, very different things.

And so this last comes from a loss but is really a gain: ditching Facebook has reinforced for me the fact that friendship is an active pursuit. There was no real friendship behind most of my connections; there was, at best, a passive acknowledgement of a shared past. But that’s not a friendship, or enough to sustain one. I do miss being in the know. I do miss the ease of the connection that I did have with the people with whom I am really friends. In that case, though, what have I really lost? Just the ease; not the thing itself. In the weeks since quitting Facebook I have been sending and receiving more emails than I have in years. And I’ve been picking up my phone not to scroll through a feed but to actually, you know, call people. It’s been a good change. Yes, I could have done all of this without needing to delete my account — well, maybe. But if that’s what it took to remind me of the work and worth of actively pursuing friendship, then it’s a price I am willing to pay.

Boredom as discipline (a follow-up)

Last week I wrote a post about Manoush Zomorodi’s book, Bored and Brilliant and the value of letting our minds wander in as undistracted an environment as we can regularly manage. (Again: it’s a great book and you should read it.) Since that post was closing in on two thousand words I thought I had better stop writing and publish it, but I hadn’t actually yet run out of things it prompted me to think about. So, here are some further things I’ve been gnawing on.

This book actually meshes well — strange as this may seem — with something I read last month, Sara Hagerty’s Unseen: The Gift of Being Hidden in a World that Loves to be Noticed. Since I read Unseen I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to live a “hidden” life, especially in regard to Biblical language around being “hidden in God” or “hidden in Christ”. What does it mean to be hidden in God? How do we cultivate that private, inner life? I’ve been mulling this over with some of my friends (hi, Heather) via email. Hagerty’s whole thing is taking those moments of our days where our instincts are to distract ourselves, or bury our emotions, or vent to friends, and instead use them as prompts to turn toward God in prayer — particularly when we are angry, hurt, etc., but really (ideally) all of the time. It’s like being a tree — we see the trunk and the limbs above the ground, but in reality the great strength of the tree is in the root system, hidden from view. The inner life of relationship with God, hidden from others, is our root system, and it’s what our flourishing depends on.

How does that mesh with what Zomorodi is talking about it? I have no idea if she is religious or not, but that’s beside the point perhaps. What stands out to me in this context is not something from the book, but an anecdote she related in her interview on the Team Human podcast. Zomorodi takes her show on the road to college campuses, and one of the exercises she has students do is to take a piece of paper and write something down on it — just a thought, not necessarily anything weighty. But then their instruction is to tear the piece of paper up and never tell her, or anyone else, what was written on it. And she’s found that students are aghast, they find it really difficult to do, because we are so primed by our natural drive for connection with others and by the techno-social forces driving our world right now, that it seems completely bizarre to have a thought and not immediately share it. Zomorodi is concerned about privacy in the sense that we often think of — stopping websites from tracking our data, etc. — but also in terms of privacy of thought, being not only able but willing to keep things to ourselves, even to take pleasure in that. Is that a skill that is disappearing? It seems to me that maybe it is.

So here’s the intersection of hiddenness and boredom/stillness and the delight of not saying it all: the secret place of prayer. Our days are filled with all these little cracks of time — waiting in line, pausing between activities, settling down before bed, taking a tea break — and we so easily reach for things to fill them: to books, to our phones, to the internet perhaps above all. (Quick, internet! Amuse me!) Zomorodi reminds us that those cracks are where, if we surrender to “doing nothing”, our brains find their most creative space. Hagerty reminds us that those moments are where, if we surrender to “doing nothing”, our hearts find their rest in God. If we never allow ourselves to be bored, to be un-distracted, to be still — we lose not only those chances at productive creativity, but we lose those chances to reorient our souls, to go to the hidden places with the Lord. We lose our roots.

I have been trying to leave myself more cracks in my day… with varying levels of success. It seems to depend a lot on how well I’ve been sleeping, actually. If I’m overtired, all I want is the self-soothing ritual of a blog post (or a dozen) to read or a game of scrabble against the computer. But I am trying — to learn to do this, to discipline my mind, to learn to want to do this more than I want other things.

I feel like this post isn’t quite fully formed — well, my thoughts on this are still not quite fully formed. But I wanted to put it out there anyway, and invite you to mull with me. What does it mean to cultivate a hidden life? To hide yourself in God? What do you do with your cracks?

My desert island books

You know the question: if you were going to be trapped alone on a desert island, what book, or five books, or ten books would you want to take with you? I decided to make a list —  allowing myself ten, because I’m feeling generous, and also anthologies, because ditto, but no cheats like a magical solar-powered Kindle pre-loaded with the last thousand years of bestsellers. Paper books it is, though I am willing to imagine in this instance that they’re all waterproof and bugs won’t eat them.

I had two main criteria when I was picking my books. The first is that each one should be already proven as very re-readable; I wouldn’t want to pick a book that I’ve only read once and then find out that it’s no good when you go through it again. I already read many of these books on about a yearly basis. The other quality is that they be written with a certain richness and depth of thought, such that even reading them very frequently (and who knows how long I’ll be stuck on this island, anyway) will continue to give me new things to think about. And so, in no particular order, here’s the list:

1: The Bible: I know, I know, way to be a cliché, Christine. Well: whatever. I’m a Christian; I read the Bible. Though if you think this is a clichéd pick, just wait until you get to:

2: The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien: If you’ve been around here for a while you probably already know that I read The Lord of the Rings yearly, in December. I started doing this in 2003; I wanted to read the whole thing before viewing the final installment of Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy. So I know the story pretty well — one certainly hopes I would, after fifteen read-throughs (reads-through?) — but every time I go back to it I find something new: some new details, some theme I hadn’t twigged on before but can suddenly see everywhere. Plus, if I want a desert-island memory challenge I can work on getting all of the poetry by heart — yes, maybe even the Elvish.

3: Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen: Sometimes it still surprises me when I remember that the first time I read Pride and Prejudice, I didn’t like it at all. I was too young, I think; when I went back to it a few years later it quickly shot to the top of my favourites list and has remained there ever since. It’s a brilliant book; Austen has a satirist’s eye for the absurd, she’s terribly funny, and it’s a great story. Sometimes I go back and just read my favourite scenes: Elizabeth’s interview with Lady Catherine at Longbourn, for instance, or when she receives The Letter.

4: The Complete Shakespeare, by William Shakespeare OR English Renaissance Drama, ed. David Bevington and Lars Engle: This is a tricky one. I really enjoy plays from this era, so much so that I once applied to do a master’s degree in the field. (I didn’t get in. Which meant I did other things instead. So that all turned out all right.) My dilemma is this: all of Shakespeare but nothing else, or none of Shakespeare but a lot of other wonderful things? Probably I would choose the Shakespeare, but it’s a tough call.

5: The Book of Common Prayer, with Hymns (Canadian 1962 edition): Since I assume there will be no church on this island*, the Daily Office will give me some spiritual/liturgical structure, and the hymns in the back will give me something to sing. I don’t know all of the tunes (they are not included, just words), but since I can count meter perhaps I can pass the time by composing hymn settings as well.

* Joke: There was a man who was trapped on a desert island for many years. Finally, he saw a ship passing by; he built a smoky fire and managed to hail the ship and was saved. The captain of the ship came aground to see how the man had kept himself healthy and occupied for so long.

The man told the captain how he hunted for food and found fresh water, and then pointed to three buildings he had constructed on the hillside. “That is my home,” he said, “and the one beside it is my church.”

“What is the third building?” asked the captain.

“Oh,” said the man, “that’s where I used to go to church.”

End joke.

6. The Curse of Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold: This is a favourite, favourite, absolutely favourite fantasy novel of mine, and I read it at least once every eighteen months or so. It’s not the elves-and-wizards type of fantasy: more of politics and intrigue and gods and demons, set in a lightly-disguised medieval Spain. Bujold has created a really fascinating universe for these novels (The Curse of Chalion is the first in a trilogy, but the books are bound together chiefly by their setting and stand alone very well). The inhabitants worship a pantheon of five gods — Father, Mother, Son, Daughter, Bastard — and part of why The Curse of Chalion appeals to me so much (besides being a rip-roaring good story) is that it grapples with some pretty complex theological questions. I dig it.

7. Possession, by A. S. Byatt: This is another one of my yearly re-reads; I tackle Possession every November. It’s a very November-y book, really. The story follows two parallel tracks: the first, two nineteenth-century poets named Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte; the second is set in the 1980s and follows the story of Roland Michell and Maude Bailey, an Ash and a LaMotte scholar, respectively. But it’s so much more than that — Byatt has crafted an incredible pastiche novel that roves through time, with all sorts of mystery and romance and literary theory and a bajillionty small thematic details you can follow through the course of the novel. It’s fantastic.

8. The Norton Anthology of Poetry (Sixth Edition), ed. Margaret Ferguson, Tim Kendall, and Mary Jo Salter: Okay, so I haven’t read this particular anothology before, but I do enjoy reading poetry, and at 1,200+ pages I figure that it would suit my purposes admirably: plenty to read, plenty to think about, plenty to memorize. The Norton Anthologies are pretty solid in general, and I love Mary Jo Salter’s poems and so am willing to take her editorial judgment on faith.

9. The Best of James Herriot, by James Herriot: I love these stories. James Herriot (real name Alf Wright) was a country veterinarian wrote about his practice in Yorkshire in the 1930s and 40s. They’re charming stories, and this is the largest collection I could find at 543 pages (I’d rather have the collected works, but since that comes in eight volumes I ruled it ineligible for this particular island scenario). Herriot’s stories make for wonderful feel-good, comfort reading. I love how deftly Herriot paints a portrait of life in this very a particular time and place.

10. A case of blank notebooks and pencils: No blogs on the island, of course — but I need to write just like I need to read! So I will allot my tenth slot to blank books. Is it cheating to have notebookS, plural? Maybe. I don’t care. (If you object, feel free to make your own imaginary island and enforce the rules as stritctly as you’d like. I’ll be over here with my notebooks.)

Those are my picks. What are yours?

Meet Alia

Lest this blog become all technological gloom and doom all the time, let me quickly point out something very cool I heard about yesterday — a counterweight to my last post, if you will.

I’ve started listening to a podcast called Team Human, hosted by Douglas Rushkoff. My introductory episode  — 93: Palak Shah: Who’s Going to Care? — immediately grabbed my attention because of its subject: domestic workers (nannies, elder care workers, housecleaners, home healthcare providers, etc). This is a field I know relatively well. I worked as a nanny for several years. My mother cleaned houses for a time when I was a teenager. One of my sisters-in-law does some work in the home assistance field. So I know a little bit about domestic work from my own experience, and when I was a nanny I often ran into other nannies and sitters (and occasional housecleaners) during the course of my days.

In her interview segment, Palak Shah, the social innovations director at the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), called domestic work the “invisible backbone” of society — and if you think about it, that makes sense. If you have children and want to go to work, you need someone to care for those children. If you have elderly parents you can’t care for, somebody else needs to fill that role. In many respects, domestic workers are the ones who let the “regular” workforce get to work. But it is a largely invisible field because the work happens in the privacy of other people’s homes. And although domestic work is everywhere, it’s not a particularly respected field, and certainly not a well-paid one. When I was a nanny I was very fortunate in that most of my families treated me fairly, and my main clients (hi, Bruce and Steph!) registered as a business so that I would also be getting/making contributions to the Canada Pension Plan, Employment Insurance, etc. But many (probably most) domestic workers, especially in America, lack the worker protections and benefits (pensions, health plans, paid sick days, contracts, etc.) that the non-domestic workforce often takes for granted.

But domestic work does have something big going for it, which is that it is what we might call “future proof” — which is to say, domestic work is not something that can be automated or outsourced. We’re a long way from robots that can clean a bathroom. You’re not going to skype in a nanny from India to watch your children while you work. Domestic work is going to be around for a long time, and so the question is — how can we as a society make it better? If it’s important work — and it is important work! — what can happen to make working in people’s homes more tenable, sustainable, dignified, etc. for those who do it?

These are the sorts of questions that Palak Shah and others like her are asking. And one of the potential answers is a cool little app called Alia, coming out of the NDWA’s Fair Care Labs, which functions as a “portable benefits plan”, currently being beta tested for housecleaners. The idea is that a housecleaner will sign up and get her clients to do so as well. Each client pays a premium into Alia of $5 or $10 per cleaning. That money accrues in the cleaner’s account and can be used to provide paid time off or go toward insurance costs. Because the benefits are tied to the worker rather than to the job, she doesn’t have to worry about losing them with a change in employment. I think it’s a very cool concept; here’s a nice write-up in Wired Magazine. (And if you clean houses or use a housecleaner, consider signing up for beta testing.)

There: technology being used for something useful and pro-humanity. See? It’s not all bad. Some of it is very good indeed, which I need to remind myself whenever I have one of my regular Luddite fits.

The timing of “greatness”

Our family has had some fairly long drives recently, and my husband and I have been enjoying listening to National Review‘s The Great Books Podcast in the car, hosted out of Hillsdale College in Michigan by John J. Miller. Every week Miller hosts a guest — generally a professor of English from somewhere or other — and they talk about one of the great books of the Western Canon. We’ve listened to podcasts on Beowulf, Pride and Prejudice, Augustine’s City of God, Macbeth, Jane Eyre, The Aeneid, and many others. As far as tech/sound goes, there are occasional volume-balance issues, particularly when Miller is being joined via telephone, but overall it’s been a pretty enjoyable listen. I’ve made mental notes of books that I’ve never gotten around to but would now like to pick up, as well as some, like Farenheit 451, that I read long ago and didn’t enjoy — but which would probably read very differently to me fifteen years on. It’s definitely spurred some great conversations, and we will often pause the podcast to discuss a guest’s interpretation of a work versus our own. I dig it.

The whole thing, though, has made me think about the idea of a “great book” or a canon of literature, both of which seem to have fallen rather out of fashion. I had an English teacher in high school who railed against the very existence of a Western Canon — “It’s nothing but dead white men!” — as well as the idea that we should be studying it with any seriousness. It is true that The Western Canon as we have inherited it is overwhelmingly the words of said dead white men. Do we regret the lost voices and perspectives from the years when they were either going unplublished, or not receiving enough reader traction to have survived the intervening years? Of course. But to my mind, that makes the canon a candidate for supplementation rather than destruction; if it is a shame to have lost those other, unknown voices then surely it would be a shame to lose the ones we still have. We don’t need to stop reading The Odyssey just because we also want to read Their Eyes Were Watching God.

But what most interests me is the charge of being dead. Well, the poor dears can’t help that, can they? Death may have snuck up on them decades or centuries or eons ago, but they were all living and writing on the razor-thin edge between their present and the future, just as we are now. Refusing to read authors simply because they lived before we did strikes me as particularly foolish, and smacking of what C. S. Lewis and Owen Barfield called chronological snobbery. In effect, it is the assumption that the past is inferior to the present simply because it is the past. It is easy to look at the ideas and assumptions of the past and think ourselves well past all that — and in many cases, we may be right. But if we assume that the present is always superior to the past, we end up in the intellectual weeds. Lewis writes,

Barfield never made me an Anthroposophist, but his counterattacks destroyed forever two elements in my own thought. In the first place he made short work of what I have called my “chronological snobbery,” the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited. You must find why it went out of date. Was it ever refuted (and if so by whom, where, and how conclusively) or did it merely die away as fashions do? If the latter, this tells us nothing about its truth or falsehood. From seeing this, one passes to the realization that our own age is also “a period,” and certainly has, like all periods, its own characteristic illusions. They are likeliest to lurk in those widespread assumptions which are so ingrained in the age that no one dares to attack or feels it necessary to defend them. (Surprised by Joy, ch. 13)

Miller opens every podcast with the same question: “So, Professor So-and-So, what makes XYZ a ‘great book’?” Naturally, the answers vary, although there are some common themes: the books highlighted on the podcast have something profound to say about the universal human condition, or give us a clear window into a particular time and place, or were influential on another author or a country or a movement, or what have you.

(Aside: Giving us a window into a particular time and place is not always seen as a positive quality; many books are challenged and pulled from library shelves because they are seen as too different from our more enlightened age, too rooted in their contemporary mores. The American Library Assosciation recently struck Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from a prestigious children’s book award because her books contain “dated cultural attitudes” — nevermind that Wilder’s portrayal of the conflict between American Indians and white settlers is a nuanced once, overwhelmingly steered by Pa’s good-hearted acceptance. Chronological snobbery has won that particular battle. End of aside.)

But a great book isn’t a Great Book just because it shows us something about humans or influenced a movement — there’s a larger link between them, which is that these books have all stood the test of time. Something about them means that they have stayed in print, that readers are still buying and reading and enjoying them, and not just because they can be found on university syllabi (although I’m sure that helps!). Despite their temporal and cultural remove from us, there is something compelling about them, some quality that has ensured their survival even while other books from the same periods have been lost. They have survived the literary sorting contest that, over decades and centuries, removes the dross from the gold.

Above all, greatness takes time. I read a lot of books that have been published within the last decade or two, many of which have been bestsellers. Will they become Great Books, in time? Some will; many won’t; popularity today does not mean popularity tomorrow, never mind in 50 or 100 or 250 years. I love John Grisham’s novels. Will people be reading John Grisham in 2218? I don’t know, but I bet they’ll still be reading Charles Dickens and Jane Austen and Dante and Homer. I certainly hope they’ll still be reading Laura Ingalls Wilder, despite the ALA’s recent smackdown. We certainly shouldn’t abandon all contemporary reading in favour of exclusively browsing the past (that’s the other side of chronological snobbery, the fetishization of what’s gone before), but neither should we abandon these older books. Instead of challenging them, let us allow them to challenge us — to illuminate the unquestioned mores of our own age even as they expose their own. To do otherwise is to lose a great deal of our ability to understand the world in which we live today (as well as to understand the past), and that would be to lose something very precious indeed.

The pleasures of competence

I read an article recently about social media and its effect on the growing brains of children and teenagers (look for it first on the list of Weekend Reading tomorrow). One of the minor points that stuck out to me was a line about the brain — particularly the adolescent male brain, but of course it applies more broadly — being naturally driven to accumulate competencies, and the danger of video games and their ever-more-rewarding levels replacing the real-world competencies necessary to living as a functional adult.

Now, I’m not anti-video game. I played a lot of computer games growing up, and there are a couple that I still play from time to time when the mood strikes (Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 and West of Loathing) and one that I play daily (Kingdom of Loathing). I enjoy playing them; it’s pleasant and rewarding to beat a level or solve a puzzle I’ve never been able to before, or to get faster at my runs through the game. I’ve been playing KoL on and off for more than twelve years now — longer than some of its player base has been alive — and it still provides enough interest for me to keep coming back. Video games are not inherently the problem; as with most (or perhaps all) tools and technology, it’s not the thing in itself, but how we use it.

This is equally true in the analog world, as we know. A hammer can be used to build a table or to knock down a wall. A water hose can be used to irrigate a garden or to flood a basement. A knife can be used to take a life, or in a surgeon’s hands, to save it. Like they used to say about fire, all of our tools and technologies — whether analog, digital, or some combination of both — are good servants, but bad masters.

Video games are no exception. They are amusing servants but bad masters, and the trouble with virtual achievements is threefold. First, they are too easy, which is a big part of what makes them so seductive. It doesn’t take much mental effort to progress in a video game — not zero effort, certainly, but not much compared to, I don’t know, learning to knit, or moving from algebra to calculus, or writing a technically correct sonnet, or becoming fluent in a second language. And humans are lazy. Calculus is hard; why work to master it when I can just build another virtual roller coaster or finally beat my Tetris high score? Video games offer us constant ways to measure our progress and to master our skills, hitting those dopamine centres in the brain and keeping us engaged with the game for as long as possible. The brain naturally wants to achieve competence in what it’s doing; video games provide a way to do just that, but one that I can only describe as counterfeit.

The second problem is that video game competencies are ephemeral. As I grow older I have come to value more and more the tangible labours of my mind and of my hands: real writing on a page, real dinners on the table, real yarn transformed into real blankets. I spent around two years writing a 130-page thesis for my master’s degree, and outside of parenting my children it may have been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It involved countless hours of research, writing, revisions, and brainstorming; as I worked I swung wildly between elation and tears depending on how the work was going and how exhausted I was (for the record, I recommend writing theses and having babies consecutively, instead of concurrently like I did). But I wrote it, and defended it, and now I can hold a library-bound copy in my hands. It was a tangible achievement, and I learned and I grew a lot in that process in ways that translate fairly directly to other areas of my life. I can’t say the same for getting more efficient at farming KoL’s in-game currency.

Finally, video game competencies are designed to encourage total mastery rather than just “good-enough-ness”. I will admit that this doesn’t sound like much of a problem — but hear me out and I will try to explain my thinking here. In my life I have achieved what I would call a basic or partial competence in a lot of different areas. I can sight-read music quite well if I’m singing, and with difficulty (but eventually) if I’m on the piano. I can put a dinner on the table that is reasonably healthy and basically tasty without too much stress. I’m not a brilliant housekeeper but I can keep things around here more or less clean. I’m competent. I’m not a master, but I’m good enough. That’s actually a surprisingly comfortable place to be.

With video games, however, competence isn’t good enough. They work more on an all-or-nothing model: if you’re not the best, then you’re not good enough, end of story. Think about a high score table: it tabulates not only the highest scores, but by implication, whether or not we are measuring up to the standard that the best players set. The goal isn’t even to have fun; the goal is to get to the top of the board, and then to defend your slot there. Competence doesn’t matter. Winning matters.

I will never completely master most of my skill areas, not by a long shot. Take cooking, for example: I do most of the cooking at home, but it’s not something I particularly relish — I cook because we need to eat, and that’s pretty much the end of the story. I don’t think “oh boy!” when the time to start dinner comes around every afternoon. I will never be a brilliant cook, having neither the passionate interest nor the culinary imagination necessary. But even though I won’t achieve mastery in cooking, or maybe even ever start looking forward to it every afternoon, I have discovered nonetheless that building my competencies in cooking is pleasant and rewarding. I like tinkering with an ingredient until I know exactly what to do with it. I like having go-to recipes under my belt, being able to make biscuits or meatballs or a basic roux from scratch without needing to look anything up. Being the best at cooking is not on the table, but that shouldn’t detract from what I am achieving in the kitchen. There are no levels or high scores here, but there is the pleasure of competent good-enough-ness.

Unlike in a video game, as well, a competency that I’ve achieved is mine forever, barring dementia or some sort of traumatic brain injury (and granting that practice may be needed to maintain it). If the fine folks at KoL pulled the plugs on all of their servers tomorrow morning, I’d be left with some memories of a game I used to play and not much more than that. But in the mean time, I know how to read a crochet pattern, test a cake for done-ness, translate French, drive a car, read a map, and remember five verses of Abide with Me. I may not be running up high scores, but nobody can take those things away from me either. I’ll take that over a virtual accomplishment any day.

Video game achievements can supplement our real-world competencies; let us just take care that they do not substitute for them instead.