Fault

Is it the fault of the struggling individual to ask for help?

Or is it the fault of the peers, onlookers, and bystanders who either ignored the struggle or never acted?

Your answers to these questions might show you more than you think.

Social Media Redux

I did something this morning I haven’t done in a few weeks: I absently scrolled through a social media feed and internally-catalogued my response to each piece of “information”.  I recognized what privacy advocates and anti-social-media pundits have been crowing about for years: these platforms are means of surveillance, manipulation, and profit at their users’ emotional and personal expense.

It’s not a secret that my political and social views heavily skew toward liberal or socialist points (almost comically so).  The 2016 elections gave me a significant number of things to think about and helped me to see the deeper workings and changes that are afoot in the “discourse” that we participate in online.

  • Continued violence in response to ostensibly political and social problems.
  • Posturing from individuals and groups whose egos and worldviews are being challenged.
  • Continual cries for help un-helpfully issued as cryptic “come at me bro”
  • Pageantry and pomp for things that won’t matter in an hour.
  • Primping in lieu of actualsubstantial change in people’s lives (I tend to call this the “Duck Lips Phenomenon” or the “Photo Filter Fallacy”).
  • Feigned moral outrage over “issues” (that are more often non-issues).
  • Rapid degredation of discussion in the public sphere.

Seeing stories and posts like these didn’t ostensibly do anything positive for me.  All this media did was further entrench my firmly-held beliefs and did absolutely nothing to challenge my worldview in any meaningful way.  I felt more frustrated and enervated after only a few minutes.

What’s worse about the entire situation is that there isn’t any kind of real discourse–it’s an assault on the senses and sensibilities.  Media has to work harder than ever in this overcrowded age of clickbait, sensationalism, and shock-value stories to obtain That Which Generates Profit: our attention.  Our “likes”, our “Retweets” and “Shares”.

What this points out to me specifically is that social media isn’t very social.  As a matter of fact, it’s exacerbating a disturbing trend of tribalism and othering that we haven’t seen since the first half of the twentieth century.  It’s probably more apt to say that social media isn’t socially responsible instead.

There are no moderators.  There are no gatekeepers.  There are no standards of decorum.  Methods of debate, introspection, retrospection, and critical thinking have been shelved in education and our personal lives.  This lack has led us to conclusions that have little or no basis in reality and whose frames of reference skew from blatantly fascist to remorseless, algorithmic technocracy.  In short:

We’ve lost what it means to empathize and be genuine.

The technology that enables this dangerous trend of dehumanization also has the ability to enable us to be more humane.  But the structure of the applications, our discourse both online and off, and our educational systems have failed us.  We may be more connected than ever, but we’re more connected to our factions than the union we were born into.

We can change this trend if we choose to.  We just have to make ourseleves and others conscious of the fact that there are real people on the other side of the screen.

Who is it for?

That jacket you just bought.

Those shoes you just got.

The photos you’re taking.

The posts you’re writing.

The words you’re using.

The furniture you’re having delivered.

If your answers don’t begin and end with “me”, “myself”, or “I”, then it begs the question: who is it really for?  Are you spending money to buy things you don’t need, to impress people you don’t even know or like, and then subsequently being forced to spend more time in a job that you probably would be better off without?

More to the point: how many hours of your life were spent in the pursuit of someone else’s goals to pay for that?  How many hours will you never be able to get back as a result of that purchase?  How much longer will you have to delay doing that thing that you wanted to do to pay that back?

For all of our sakes, I hope that purchase was worth it.

“Social” Media

If it wasn’t clear before the Cambridge Analytica scandal came to light, it should be abundantly clear to any onlooker now:

Companies like Facebook make a profit by tracking your behavior online, quantifying it through ruthless algorithms and questionable business decisions, and working to sell you (in quantified data) to another company to target directly for advertising and “news”.

Let me absolutely clear about this point: they are not selling “data”, they are selling you.  Every click, every search, every page view, every integration on every single popular site you visit, every sign-in or “create account” action taken via Facebook’s identity management (the ever-present “Sign in using your Facebook account”) – all of these build an incredibly detailed profile of your behavior.  Facebook, its advertising customers, and other “research” companies (like Cambridge Analytica) know more about you than you consciously know about yourself.

If the above points aren’t presenting a clear enough picture, let’s make it absolutely explicit: companies like Facebook make a profit by knowing you better than you know yourself.  Companies like this build incredibly detailed profiles of who you are with information that McCarthy-era intelligence agencies and rogue/vigilante actors would have killed to get a hold of.

If these violations of privacy don’t bother someone, then there’s nothing more to discuss with that person.  It’s likely someone with such a lax attitude on surveillance of this scope and scale not only doesn’t care, but is likely complicit or an active accomplice to the increasing overreach of the broader surveillance apparatus.  “Nothing to hide” only matters when what individuals aren’t hiding remains legal, free from scrutiny, or above challenge.

Personally, when the apparatus invariably turns its attention and barbaric ministrations on those very same people, all they’ll get from me is a cold shoulder and an “I warned you”.

It’s Easy…

  • To talk smack.
  • To say you’re going to show up (and then don’t).
  • To make excuses.
  • To blame.
  • To avoid.
  • To fail (often publicly).

Conversely, it’s really hard

  • To ask questions and be constructive.
  • To show up, participate, and invest yourself.
  • To take responsibility.
  • To ask “how can I make up for this or help make it better next time?”
  • To be visible.
  • To learn from a mistake, admit it, and improve.

Some things to consider when thinking about these two sets of opposing actions:

  • Which one seems more authentic?
  • Which one is more likely to help create real connection?
  • Which one builds trust?

Circles

Someone recently gave me a tremendous gift, but I didn’t recognize it for what it was until a few weeks later.  All they gave me was a concept: circles.

Imagine you have three concentric circles.  One large one, one medium one nested inside of that, and the smallest of the three nested inside of the medium one.

The outer circle you can label as “strangers” or “acquaintances”.  These are people that have no real bearing on your life.  People whose input or advice, in the general arc of your life, mean little-to-nothing.

The middle circle is probably the hardest to define for a lot of people, especially trauma survivors and people with co-dependent behaviors and habits.  This is the “Friends” circle–people you like to hang out with, people who enjoy some of the things you enjoy, people you don’t mind listening to.  Input here is generally acceptable, but still safe to ignore or take with a grain of salt.  The people in this particular circle don’t really know you the way the last set of people do.

The innermost circle is probably a lot smaller than you’d think.  These are the people you can call in a crisis, the people who will (often with no thought to consequence or otherwise) bail you out, send you money, or hop on a plane to help make something better.  The people who know your deepest secrets, desires, and fears.  The ones who seem to be able to light up your world with just a text message or a phone call.  The ones who don’t balk at the word “intimacy” and whose words and actions speak volumes.  This is the “inner circle”–others might call it your “tribe”.

The people who belittle you, dim your shine, or downplay your excitement aren’t for you.  They’re there for someone else.  The ones that are ambivalent or are otherwise silent in your struggles and successes are similarly not worth the effort.

The ones that show up–repeatedly, doggedly, with purpose–are the ones you’re looking for.  The ones who smile and brighten when they hear your voice across the phone line, the ones whose eyes lift and carry your own when you walk in the room, the ones who think nothing of grasping your outstretched hand and pulling you back to your feet.

Those are the keepers.  It’s your job to find the others.  But it’s no one else’s responsibility to make you happy.  You have to make yourself happy.  Sometimes it starts with figuring out what circles people belong in.

Unbidden

A lot of things have come up since the accident and since I’ve been without a car. Thoughts coming to me unbidden, some realizations, and re-learning some lessons. A lot of them revolving around my perceptions of people and their perceptions of me, but many of them dealing with the future.

Been spending the past couple of days looking at used Ford E-250 and E-350 vans. Finally at a point where I don’t care if people tell me what I want to do is impractical, costs too much money, or “seems like a bad idea” or “poor life choice”. I feel as though I’ve been rediscovering my sense of possibility and some sense of myself.

And what that renewed sense is screaming out to me is a singular word: adventure.

It wasn’t too long ago where I had people telling me all sorts of things, some in a passive, anecdotal, roundabout way of trying to dissuade me, and others actively telling me that what I wanted or was thinking about was impossible or impractical.  At the time, I knew they meant well, and I still have gratitude for that.  That being safe and responsible is acceptable.  That the road well-traveled isn’t evil.

At the same time, I can’t help but look at those admonitions as some kind of low-level fear.  Fear, I’ve since realized, that doesn’t belong to me at all.

It’s not that I feel invincible or that any choice I make is without some kind of consequence or trade-off–quite the opposite.  I’m all-too-aware of them.  I recognize that every day not spent in the pursuit of what makes me happy and what makes my life worth living is time wasted.  As Henry Rollins put it, “Like bucket full of water not carried carefully; wasted.”  When the opportunities to be happy with less, but spent in the pursuit of what matters to me, present themselves… what would be the point in letting it slip?  Putting it off until “retirement”?  Being a weekender until it was too late to make it something bigger?

I don’t know if I could live with myself if I resigned myself to that.  If I settled.

So, given all of the things that have happened the last few weeks, I’m going to start focusing my energy on the build-out and construction of the so-named “Adventure Van”.  Anybody that knows me knows I’ve had a fascination for #VanLife for a very long time.  My first attempt at something resembling this was interesting in every sense of the word.

I learned a lot in that month on the road–lots of things about what I need, what I don’t, what I would do with my time if money and ambition were not insurmountable.  I learned that I have an appetite for these kinds of adventures.  That I didn’t need anybody’s permission or approval.  That even given mechanical problems and logistical challenges, I could overcome them all.  I stretched way beyond my comfort zone (and experienced both altitude sickness and beautiful sunrises as a direct result).

For me, the question now isn’t whether or not I can do it, but more about whether or not this choice (and the huge number of others that will follow) will lead me to the kind of life I want to lead.  It’s leading me to a lot of more complex questions about what I do for work, whether that work aligns with my values and goals, whether or not that work is something I want to continue growing in, or if I want to try and leave and do something completely different.

But for now, focusing on work and simplifying my life are the best first steps I can make in any direction.