Systems maintenance

I love the machine. Neatly sorted spaces, well thought-out folder hierarchies, a drawer of perfectly folded clothes... any sign of systematic organization gives me a geeky, unnatural happiness. When I was a kid, I spent weekends alphabetizing my comic collection, filing my novels by author, and re-arranging my CDs by theme or genre, routines my little sister was good enough to remind me were weird. Still, the process was fun and the outcome rewarding, so I kept organizing away. As technology became more and more important in my life, so did the systems I used to organize it. Home to my photos, music, recipes, writing, schedules, to-do lists, and pretty much every other aspect of my life, my computer, smartphone, and tablet became the primary windows into my relationships, professional life, and creative heart. Keeping all those gadgets organized and in sync was the only way I could manage the ever-increasing wad of data that constituted everything I knew about myself, everything I wanted to show the world, everything I was too ashamed to say or do in my actual life.

And so, like so many other technophiles, I fell into the quicksand of perpetual organization. Apps, tweaks, hacks, and features provided endless options to tinker with and re-organize my digital life, as if someday I would find that sweet spot where, yes, finally, the entire system was perfect and I could dedicate more time to being a better writer, friend, son, brother, lover.

I'm writing in the past tense, but really that last paragraph describes my world today, and the ugly side of all those tagged bookmarks and colour-coded calendars is becoming harder to ignore. I'm anal. I'm rigid. I'm unable to think outside the box. I need to be pushed very hard to change my thinking about an established way of doing something. I am a one man bureaucracy, strangling my relationships, memories, and dreams in a tangle of red tape. It's come to a point where I want to stop and say, "enough."

And therein lies the challenge. For reasons both personal and professional, I am unlikely to recycle all my gadgets and trash their associated data tomorrow. The machine is with me to stay. And really, the computers and apps are just the latest battleground on which my system-obsession wages war against the chaos of disorganization. This is about a worldview that doesn't fret at a lack of structure.

So I need to find a better way. A way to keep the systems organized, but not let them organize me. A way to connect with the things and people that matter the most. A way to relinquish control, or at least the need to control. I need to find a balance, so that I don't wind up looking back on a perfectly-organized but lifeless existence that was dominated by too much machine.