I didn’t realize that not doing something could be such a big deal until I mentioned in passing to my wife once while shopping that I didn’t need shampoo, as I’d stopped using it. From her reaction, you might think I had just revealed my birthplace as Alpha Centauri. She wanted to know all these things, like when had I stopped and why I did it and so forth. Naturally, I didn’t have answers for her, since I hadn’t really thought about it much. That was nearly three years ago, and I haven’t given it much thought since.
Other people have, though, judging from the 20 million-plus Google search results on the topic. It seems that baking soda for washing and apple cider vinegar for rinse/conditioning are the alternatives, but I was so blissfully unaware that I was doing something that I never bothered with this transitional step. I…just…stopped…one day, and never looked back. Now I can’t even remember what my motivation was in the first place.
I probably have The Tightwad Gazette (yeah, that’s an Amazon link, watcha gonna do about it?) to thank as much as anything for the move. It was here that I first got the idea to double the life of a bottle of shampoo by only using it every other day. From there, cutting back even further was a natural progression. Saving money was surely part of it, as was a desire to be less of a “consumer.” Perhaps we had just run out of whatever I was using, and a few days along I realized I was fine without it.
The real trick, of course, is to know what one’s hair really needs and give it that much and no more or less. I had been using both a special shampoo and a conditioner to help control my hair’s tendency to go the way of the summer dandelion, but the way I dried and styled it were at least as important. By gently squeezing out the water instead of vigorously rubbing my head as if to polish it, and by using a moderate amount of olive oil (that’s right, olive oil), I was able to bring The Mop of Doom under control. I’ve since switched to Brylcreem, as the classics truly never go out of style, but the method remains the same. After a vigorous scalp massage in the shower, I squeegee out the water, squeeze again with a towel, work a dollop of something in from the roots to the ends, comb it back, and move on. Easy-peasy, right?
You might think so. Obviously, it was for me. Here again is the trap: taking our own skills for granted and assuming that whatever Great Thing we’ve done is just as easy for everyone else as it is for us. What happens then is that someone else, looking to make a change or try something new, sees the “It’s so easy! You just do it!” post and, through a subtle blend of envy and intimidation, decides that they’ll never be able to do That Awesome Thing. In fact, I see four major stumbling blocks when it comes to gleaning lifestyle-improvement information from the massive data swamp we call The Internet:
1. Perfection Envy (The Martha Stewart Syndrome) I don’t mean to pick on her personally, but she is arguably the first of the “make it look easy” gurus, at least in the modern information age. The style she set forth, especially with her glossy magazine, has percolated through the internet and forced countless bloggers and photographers to elevate their images to saintly, perfectly-lit masterpieces: tiny cupcakes perched playfully on an antique lace doily; white straw hats hanging on antique doorknobs bolted to a whitewashed pallet; random bowls of lemons, perched serenely on salvaged, shabby-chic buffets. How is an ordinary Joe or Jane going to compete with this idealized vision, especially when they are just beginning to explore a topic? While some may find it inspiring, others will no doubt be discouraged when their initial efforts pale in comparison to what they’ve seen online. Trust me, I’ve been there.
2. Information Overload (The Junk Drawer) Regarding those 20 million entries, all for not doing something: how much information is out there for actually doing it? At least as many, it turns out. Wading through the redundant, the irrelevant, and the inappropriate eats up valuable time, and how often do we ever get off the first page of search results? I expect that the ratio of useful information to fluff is somewhere around 1 to 10 or 15. Maybe that explains why searches take so long; why we end up going down so many rabbit holes; and why we often wind up on a page with no idea how we got there. There’s just too much to sift and sort.
3. Lack of Context (Bubble Distortion) A side effect of the overload, due partly to ineffective filtering and partly to sheer volume, is “bubble distortion,” or as the academics put it, “decontextualization.” (They love them some big words, they do.) This happens a lot. Simply put, it involves reading one random blog post, or looking at one random pinboard or Flickr album, and assuming that all there is to know about the person posting is embedded somehow in what they’ve posted. This makes them easy to categorize and either: ardently follow because they’re so awesomely cool!, or ignore because OMG what a dork/poseur/snob/lowlife they are because of this one thing we saw. Things look distorted through bubbles, and we tend to see what we want to. Don’t lie and say you’ve never done this, and I won’t either.
4. Substitution Errors (Street Learning) This is a by-product of the previous condition. Since we lack the necessary context for what we glean due to our need to skim through too much information, we inevitably miss something important, relevant, or interesting. Sometimes, something we find will intrigue us enough to delve deeper or come back for more, and it is possible to build a relationship of sorts with the other party. All too often, though, it’s hit-and-run; thanks for the tip, gotta go. Contrast this to the learning of a now-bygone era, when the older generation taught the younger, and both worked side-by-side. I may be getting maudlin here, but I remember doing carpentry projects or chopping firewood with my dad, and there was learning that happened beyond the topic at hand. I picked up his approach to the project, his attitude about it, and often as not some current political or social philosophy on the side. I don’t know if I’ve been as successful with my own sons, though they seem to be fine fellows, and I don’t get that sense of connection from a how-to article or discussion thread.
So, if I get a little pedantic from time to time, or seem to dwell on unimportant details, that’s why. I don’t want to leave anyone behind or feeling like they can’t do what I’ve done. It’s also part of the reason why I haven’t gone on about rebuilding bicycles or making scrap-lumber furniture, either, though I’d be more than happy to do so. I want to write the sort of blog I’d want to read.