In 2002, Chris Dancy was overweight, unemployed, and addicted to technology. He chain-smoked cigarettes, popped pills, and was angry and depressed. But when he discovered that his mother kept a record of almost every detail of his childhood, an idea began to form. Could knowing the status of every aspect of his body and how his lifestyle affected his health help him learn to take care of himself? By harnessing the story of his life, could he learn to harness his own bad habits?
With a little tech know-how combined with a healthy dose of reality, every app, sensor, and data point in Dancy's life was turned upside down and examined. Now he's sharing what he knows. That knowledge includes the fact that changing the color of his credit card helps him to use it less often, and that nostalgia is a trigger for gratitude for him.
A modern-day story of rebirth and redemption, Chris' wisdom and insight will show readers how to improve their lives by paying attention to the relationship between how we move, what we eat, who we spend time with, and how it all makes us feel. But Chris has done all the hard work: Don't Unplug shows us how we too can transform our lives.
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|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
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About the Author
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Ms. Pac-Man Is a Life Lesson
To Play the Game, Learn the Pattern
Priscilla Jane Dancy gave birth to me in October 1968, the same year that DARPA, the US government's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which studies advanced technologies, ordered the first router to power what you and I call the internet.
My mother was famous in our extended family for her attention to detail, handwriting and ability to walk up and down steps on her hands while smoking a Pall Mall Gold. From my mother, I inherited her undiagnosed obsessive compulsive organization.
My mother kept checklists, journals and notebooks filled with dates, facts and figures. Her organization rituals were broken into daily reviews and yearly planning. These were times where she sat down, pens, paper and index cards in hand, and asked for my assistance.
The most elaborate ritual of each year came around Thanksgiving, when my mother would go to the Hallmark store at the mall to pick up a new 18-month calendar for the upcoming year.
I would sit with her for hours over multiple days, reviewing each month of the current year, looking for special events, holidays, anniversaries and birthdays. This calendar would become the holy grail of our family's year.
My father, who kept the family in perpetual debt with his desire to purchase the latest consumer electronic or new accessory for his motorcycle, passed on to me his ability to be both the center of attention in any gathering and the most hated person after leaving the room because of his ability to articulate anyone's deepest vulnerability.
The few friends I had growing up were not allowed to visit our home. We were that family. The one with the unkempt lawn in a neighborhood of perfect lawns. The family with the parents that were never home yet had a driveway full of cars.
Retreating into my bedroom, I would hide out, making lists of my own, obsessively reorganizing my music and book collections and color-sorting my clothes. It was where I felt safe.
The power of being able to catalog a database of items was intoxicating, it helped me feel in control. By the time I was 14 years old, these systems of categorization and documentation could be computerized. So it came as no surprise that technology would become my next all-consuming passion.
If and when I left the house in these formative years, I headed to Blazing Flippers, where I would spend hours on Ms. Pac-Man.
Ms. Pac-Man, each ghost a different color, each color representing a different set of behaviors. Blinky, the red and most aggressive ghost, was my favorite to study.
Four different mazes, each level a brand-new prize, a colorful fruit at the center of the board that offered you the chance to gain a few extra points.
After a summer mastering Ms. Pac-Man, I was picked up by my father at the arcade one day. Lost in the music and a near-perfect game, I felt a tap on my shoulder.
"Christopher, we have to go," he said. I looked over my shoulder and was shocked to see him standing there. My father never came inside.
"Hold on, I have a nearly perfect game here!" I murmured. I could feel him gazing over my shoulder. "Damn, you're really good at this," he said.
My father, who rarely congratulated me on matters outside of physical labor, a tucked-in shirt or staying quiet when company visited, was obviously excited to see me master this game.
But outside of those carefully ordered patterns on-screen, my life was a bit more unpredictable. The summer before I entered high school, everything came crashing down around me. One night, my father asked one of his regular customers, Wanda, to close his bar so he could head out early. While closing, Wanda and her husband were shot and killed, and the bar was robbed.
A lawsuit, along with a civil action started by Wanda's family, would drive my parents into foreclosure. One afternoon, my parents called my brother and me into the kitchen and told us to pack up. There was an auctioneer at the front door. We had lost our home.
I started high school mere weeks after our move to Westminster, a small town with not much going on. My father managed to find a job working at a used car dealership. It was 1983, and this was his first job with a computer. It changed my life far more than it did his. Up until that point, I had only ever used my uncle Joe's Tandy TRS-80, and I thought my father's new computer was magical. Like any 14-year-old eager to please his dad, I was happy to help him learn how to use it.
I made frequent trips to his office to install and configure software and teach him how to input his customers into Lotus 1-2-3, a relatively simple DOS (disk operating system) spreadsheet program that defined office computing in the early 80s. My heart filled with hope just sitting down at a keyboard, even if my only task was typing "DIR," the directory command for DOS, and watching my life scroll by on the screen.
After I had finished training my father, I started visiting the dealership to work on my own projects. This computer would eventually house all the lists my mother would ever create, a place where all my memories would be collected, sorted and, most importantly, saved and recalled.
My first personal project on my dad's computer would be to build a spreadsheet of my extensive Michael Jackson memorabilia. Anyone who came to see my family between 1984 and 1988 spent quite a bit of time staring in awe at my room. Literally thousands of Michael Jackson photos, records, T-shirts and other souvenirs littered the walls, filling every nook and cranny. It looked like a museum.
Upon graduation from high school, I went off to college at Mount St. Mary's in Emmitsburg, Maryland, a Catholic university and seminary. While my parents didn't have the funds to send me, a combination of loans and grants got me in the door. There I explored Eastern philosophy and spent a lot of time reflecting on life, religion and meaning. Unfortunately, by the time the second semester came around, my mother had misused some of the funds that had been set aside for me and I was asked to leave. I was devastated. On the ride home, I stared out the window as Michael Jackson's "Man in the Mirror" played on my Walkman. How would I ever become a real adult if I didn't go to college?
College had been a safe place for me to explore and look inside myself. My family home was the opposite — never safe, never secure. But I could always find comfort in the green glow of a computer screen, in the stream of 0s and 1s running through my head in repeating and predictable patterns. On a computer I was always in control. Online I understood myself.
Several weeks after I was forced to drop out of college, my mother's best friend reached out to me. Judy ran an antiques shop in Westminster. She wanted me to set up a computer system that could track her inventory and sales. Things were looking up. I now had a paying gig as a computer consultant.
No matter how unruly my life became, I made sure my jobs always included access to machines. In September of 1992, I got my first copy of Microsoft Office for Windows 3.1. It was revolutionary!
I was finally branching out beyond the world of the spreadsheet and finding the playgrounds of word processing with Ami Pro and my first real calendar program, Lotus Organizer. I was that odd employee who carried a diskette back and forth to work so I could update my files, my calendar, even my contacts on work computers while I was on my lunch break. A cigarette in the ashtray next to me, the churning mechanical sounds of a floppy drive reading my files in front of me and a Double Big Gulp of Diet Coke — I was in my element.
Unfortunately, my unhealthy lifestyle was starting to take its toll. Between home and work, I was sitting in front of a computer for 18 hours a day. I was eating junk, indulging in as many cigarettes, as much alcohol and as many illicit substances as I could get my hands on. One Friday afternoon, shortly before diving into another weekend bender, I was sitting quietly at my desk when something snapped. It felt like my hands were not my own. I was in the middle of my first full-on panic attack.
Up until this point, there had been a few scary moments in my life where I felt afraid, but never like I was going to lose my mind. I got up from my desk and walked over to a nearby convenience store I frequented and asked John, the store manager, to help me. John, a catty old queen, probably all of 33 years old, went right into the back room, got a pill out of his drawer, put it in my mouth and locked me in the walk-in fridge.
My trips to see John to handle my panic only became more frequent over the next few months until finally, I was dependent on Xanax. This, my first dip into drug addiction, led me to finally see a shrink, who put me on the antidepressants and benzodiazepines I would take for the next 20 years.
Fortunately for me, this was also the start of me chronicling my medical symptoms in Lotus Organizer. I was patient zero in the digital health revolution — just 20 years ahead of the curve. The information I recorded in those days taught me the power of life-logging.
In 1994, I left Maryland to move in with my boyfriend, Doug, in Indiana. A couple of years after that, we resettled in Colorado, where I started working for a medical software company now known as WebMD. During this stretch of time, the consumer internet was birthed, email started becoming a necessity for anyone in business and the PC became mainstream, making Bill Gates one of tech culture's first heroes, an unlikely titan who had dropped out of college and made something of his life. (Maybe there was a chance for me after all!)
By the close of 1998, I basically lived in Microsoft Outlook, and I was copying mountains of stats and facts into my calendar each day. Years of sitting with my mother making lists had morphed into a daily and sometimes hourly relationship with software and computers. Microsoft Outlook, the flagship PIM (personal information manager), would define the next decade of my career, and I was just turning 30.CHAPTER 2
Do You Trust This Computer?
Your Internet History Is Still History
By the year 2000, I had backups of nearly five years of calendar entries in Microsoft Office, seven years of emails, six years of chat messages and every document I had ever created since I logged Rock with You, my first 45 single with a picture sleeve, in 1982. I could search my life, all of it, or at least everything I had saved thus far.
Not only that, I had a filing system that went to ridiculous extremes, folders within folders, nested by type of file or year. I could find documents to fix a problem at work from a job I had done five years earlier. I could summon an email from a decade ago. The age of weaponized facts, screenshots of conversations, saved emails and recorded conversations was still 15 years away, but I had amassed not only an arsenal but a mutually assured destruction protocol for almost everyone in my life, past, present and future. I had built the Internet of Me.
I had gone from someone who casually managed support systems at WebMD to the guy who installed the help-desk systems for the US government after 9/11 at the State Department and the Federal Aviation Administration. From FTD Florists to Einstein Bros. Bagels, from the Browning Arms Company to Blue Shield of California — if there was a help desk somewhere in the world that needed someone who understood how hundreds of connected systems, populations and processes worked, my phone rang.
But for all the extreme organization of my computer life, my real life was a mess. My 30-year-old body was starting to fail; I had regular panic attacks, tachycardia, blood sugar problems, insomnia and rage issues. And I was a workaholic.
* * *
The shift from my life being hyper-documented to hyper-connected started quite simply. One day I couldn't find something on MySpace I knew I had posted. Have you ever had that file or post that you know, without a doubt, you created, but you can't find it? Yeah, that happens to other people, but it doesn't happen to me. Ever.
On that fateful day, I freaked out. Then I realized a fundamental flaw in my system that I hadn't planned on. The network I was posting information to was hosted by someone else, and unlike my Outlook calendar, documents and files, there was no backing up MySpace. For the first time in my life, I didn't own my own information. This wouldn't do.
Having spent years organizing files, databases and systems, I began thinking about how to construct a system that could house my life.
How would you house your life if I asked you to? Have you ever thought about your life through the lens of a computer connection?
For me, the first step was thinking of a tool I could build or use that would enable me to understand my daily habits. More than anything, there had to be a way for it to keep track of things as they happened.
I wanted a tool that was also universally understood, searchable and had a method for defining goals. The more I thought about my requirements, the easier it was to see.
I needed a calendar.
Having spent years working with calendars, from my mother's yearly planning sessions to my 1998 MS Outlook, measuring time and data was something that came instinctively to me.
To get my data into the calendar and not spend all day in front of a screen, I had to think about a natural way to download my life online.
In 2008, the tech tool of choice for geeks was called RSS, or really simple syndication. RSS was a web protocol that allowed anyone to subscribe to a site and receive updates.
It's hard to imagine that less than ten years ago we had to basically code our browsers if we wanted news alerts.
I went to work setting up RSS feeds that would update my Google calendar every time something happened to me online.
Someone liked a Facebook post? Calendar entry. Received a work email? Another calendar entry. I sent out a tweet? Calendar entry. Listened to a song on Napster? Entry.
Within a year I could search every post I had on social media, any song I listened to and instantly see what else had happened that day.
My calendar, just like Frankenstein's monster, was coming to life.
After all my social media posts, songs I played and ranting opinions were captured inside my Google calendar, I decided there needed to be a way to see at a glance if I was spending my entire day sending emails, tweeting or watching YouTube videos. I needed to color-code my entries according to category.
Over the next two years, I would capture and catalog my spending, health and travel and even log prayers and meditation.
Imagine for a moment what your life would be like if you could open a browser, go to Google and search for "happy days." Or see days filled with red posts showing how much time you were working and see the late nights and lack of sleep that resulted.
What if you could browse your life as quickly as you could find the closest pizza joint?
That's what I could do in 2012.
I didn't stop there; a busy calendar does not transform a life.
Now imagine if you could get warnings when you're doing something that's unhealthy. Like, "Go home, you've been at the office too long," or "Stop spending money; you're at 30 percent of your credit limit."
My life had become as searchable as the internet.
* * *
This book is about my search for who I was so I can help you figure out who you are — in other words, how we can use data, computers and technology to see our real selves more clearly.
I want you, the reader, to use this book as a guide to the promise of technology. Any book can focus on the everyday dystopia of technology. My ten-year journey isn't meant to be a how-to guide for you, but it is filled with many good options. Just like technology, my journey is a series of preferences configured and tweaked, saved and shared.
For all of you confused, tech-addicted, unfulfilled souls out wandering the world, seeking solace and meaning from some power higher than Steve Jobs, I wish you nothing less than full-blown digital salvation.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Don't Unplug"
Copyright © 2018 Chris Dancy.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Prologue Big Mother: The Maternal Surveillance State 1
Part 1 Bits and Bytes (1968-2007)
1 Ms. Pac-Man Is a Life Lesson: To Play the Game, Learn the Pattern 11
2 Do You Trust This Computer?: Your Internet History Is Still History 17
Part 2 Data (2007-2010) Social Media, Entertainment and Opinion
3 Social Media: Social Media Is Neither 27
4 Entertainment: You Become What You Stream 53
5 Opinion: Yelp Made Me an Asshole 76
Part 3 Information (2010-2012) Content, Work and Money
6 Content: Will Work for Tweets 93
7 Work: Never Reply to All 107
8 Money: A Fool and His Apple Pay Soon Part 128
Part 4 Knowledge (2012-2014) Health and Environment
9 Health: Don't Game or Shame Your Health 149
10 Environment: Smart Homes Don't Care About You 179
Part 5 Wisdom (2014-2016) Spirituality and Self-Love
11 Spirituality: Technology Isn't Making You a Bad Person 211
12 Self-Love: Love Your Selfie 240
Epilogue Big Lover: I Love You, Don't Block Me 258