Continual Refinement or the Art of Fiddling


Adjective: fiddling little details: trivial, petty, trifling, insignificant, unimportant, inconsequential, inconsiderable, negligible, paltry, footling, minor, small, slight, incidental, of little/no account; informal piddling, piffling, penny-ante; British informal twopenny-halfpenny; North American informal nickel-and-dime, picayune; North American vulgar slang chickenshit. ANTONYMS important; large

Oxford Thesaurus of English

There is something engaging about fiddling; not with a violin but in some activity. The pursuit of some goal, taken at a leisurely and mindful pace, without the pressure of timelines, going left, then right, then back, then forward. Each step a challenge; satisfaction from incremental gains. My web site has become my tool to fiddle with.

AI-Generated, Architecture, Art, Building, Content, Dome, Image type, Mosaic, Other, Staircase
A Flâneur of Trivial Pursuits

September 24, 2009 was the day I stared using Squarespace. I was migrating from the Blogger Platform, which I had used since June 24, 2005. Prior to that I simply managed a few web pages. The primary reason for the move was support. I was tired of running into problems on the Blogger Platform, with no place to go to get them resolved. Squarespace support, in my experience, has generally been very good.

May 12th, this year, I migrated the web site to WordPress. In the context of 2009, I was busy at work and didn’t have the time to fiddle around. I wanted to focus on the content, not the technicalities of a platform. But now I have more control over my time, and where I want to spend it. Noting earlier that cost was a motivating factor, others came into play, prominent among them, keeping mentally active.

To provide the greatest benefit, mental activity should be diverse and challenging. Engaging in a variety of activities that target different cognitive skills (such as language, logic, memory, creativity, and problem-solving) can be particularly effective in maintaining mental agility as we age (1). I anticipate facing a number of technical challenges using the WordPress platform. But rather than viewing them as time-wasters, as I did in 2009, now I can use them as problem-solving activities and thus a contributor to my mental health. Photography and writing for this web site cover off some of the other skills listed above (2).

The question is now one of approach. For example do I position this effort in a formal structure, such as a job, or do I take a less aggressive and more relaxed attitude? I have concluded the latter. I prefer to position these activities in the context of just fiddling around. A process of meandering towards some objective, enjoying the path along the way, with some possible rabbit holes, but eventually getting there. In the overall scheme of things, what I do is inconsequential, some may say trivial, so a quick pace is not a requirement. It’s about the journey.

While these efforts might be regarded as trivial, as they may not have grand or far-reaching implications, they present personal challenges, and as such, it is important to recognize and value their emotional significance. They contribute to overall emotional well-being, providing moments of joy, relaxation, connection, and personal fulfillment.

I sometimes think of my meanderings as being like a flâneur. Flâneurism refers to a concept and practice that originated in 19th-century France and is associated with urban strolling, observing, and experiencing city life as a detached, leisurely observer (3). The concept of the flâneur invites us to slow down, engage with our surroundings, and find moments of beauty and reflection in the urban landscape.

But this is the performance and not the consequence. The consequences are several:

Relaxation and Stress Relief:
Engaging in these admittedly trivial activities distracts us from the cacophony of the daily news of event. These activities, help us avoid the resultant stress and enable us to engage the simple pleasure of the pursuit of a goal, over coming a problem, or creating something, allowing us to recharge and rejuvenate, promoting emotional well-being.

Mindfulness and Presence:
Through these activities we can focus our mind, fostering flow and concentration, offering an opportunity to practice mindfulness and be fully present in the moment. Being fully engaged in the present moment can bring a sense of calm and fulfillment.

Personal Enjoyment and Happiness:
Taking on activities that align with our personal interests and preferences, provides a source of enjoyment and happiness, bringing a sense of pleasure and satisfaction. The emotional value lies in the joy derived from doing something we genuinely enjoy, even if it may not have significant external consequences.

Connection and Social Bonding:
Being active in something can serve as a point of connection and social bonding. Engaging in casual conversations about these activities allows us to talk about something other than the weather offering the potential to find a topic of mutual interest. The emotional importance lies in the sense of belonging and social connection that these activities foster.

Personal Growth and Self-Care:
Undertaking trivial activities can contribute to personal growth and self-care. Engaging in activities that promote self-expression, self-reflection, or self-improvement can enhance our understanding of ourselves, boost self-esteem, and provide a sense of accomplishment.

While I might be accused of Egoistic Consequentialism — the consequentialist theory that asserts individuals should always act in their own self-interest, pursuing actions that maximize their own happiness or well-being (4) — I’ll argue that promoting one’s own interests ultimately leads to the best overall consequences for oneself and, indirectly, for others.

So while consequentialism and flâneurism are quite different notions, and it is unusual to connect them, they both emphasize the importance of engaging with and experiencing the world. Consequentialism seeks to maximize overall well-being and happiness, necessitating active engagement with actions and their consequences. The flâneur actively immerses themselves in the urban environment, exploring and experiencing the city firsthand. Consequentialism is a moral theory that evaluates actions based on outcomes (5), while flâneurism is a cultural practice associated with urban exploration and observation.

So the consequence of my meanderings through the urban landscape that is my web site is, I hope, keeping mentally fit.

1: Pro Health, Regency Senior Communities, Brain Activities for Seniors for Keeping the Mind Sharp

2: University of Arkansas, Chapter 29: Cognitive Development in Late Adulthood

3: Dix-Neuf, Journal of the Society of Dix-Neuxiémistes, Rethinking the Flâneur: Flânerie and the Senses

4: The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Consequentialism

5: Ethics Unwrapped, Consequentialism


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