Category Archives: thoughts

the post online argument shameover

shameover (n):

1. a feeling of regret and self-shaming that remains even after the cause of the event is forgotten by everyone but you
2. a feeling of regret and self-shaming that continues after a particularly shameful action

I am in the throes of #2 of a shameover from arguing on the Internet.  It isn’t the argument itself I’m ashamed of, but the sheer waste of time it represents.  It’s time I could be spending with my family, or time I could be practicing the piano, or time I could be doing my writing class homework.  It’s time I could use to clear out my work inbox or finish up some Scouting responsibilities (as District Commissioner and acting GSM for one group, the Scouting never stops) or just return personal emails.  There’s a dozen ways I could productively use time.  Arguing on the Internet is not one of them.

Duty Calls

Therefore, after two hours of generally wasted time arguing over the child migrant separation crisis, I have a shameover.  And it feels awful.  I feel like I do when I over-indulge in other ways.  I feel like I do when I carb binge, when my blood sugar spikes and I know it will eventually crash as well.  I feel like I do when I watch waste of time TV.  I feel like I do when I spend too much money, on impulse, on an item I do not particularly need and cannot return.  I feel like I do when I drink two glasses of wine too fast and know it will mess up my sleep.  I feel like I did last week when I trolled Trump supporters on the street. I feel like have cost myself something I cannot get back: in this case, time, energy, and a whole lot of adrenaline.

I consider it a waste of time to argue online, because  no argument online can be won anymore.  No one’s mind can be changed anymore.  No one wants to acknowledge logical points or even facts in an age when everything can be dismissed as “fake news”.  There was once a day when people would engage in civil, well thought out discourse on bulletin boards; now we all wallow in fallacies of online arguing.  There is no winning an argument or changing anyone’s mind online anymore; there is only being better at arguing and feeling better about being right.

The only saving grace of arguing online is that there are some cases where I learn something new.   Which I did, actually, tonight, from the original post that sparked the entire argument, which was moderately educational!   This Medium post similarly argues that arguing is a positive in that it helps one “bulletproof” one’s arguments.  Unfortunately, it’s almost always at a disproportionate amount of time and energy investment to argue for that knowledge.  Often, the knowledge I get from arguing online is information could have acquired elsewhere without paying such a high price in time, energy and effort, without arguing, without getting my blood pressure and my adrenaline up.  If I go poke around outside my own liberal bubble, I am pretty sure I can hear others’ points of view without having to waste time being polite and logical to random people I don’t even know who jump in the middle of an argument and decide to engage via deflecting and whataboutism.

Idiot

TRUE.  Because one person’s “FIRST HAND EXPERIENCE” is totally representative of thousands of other experiences and makes them an expert in the subject!

Why then, do I continue to waste time arguing online?  It inevitably results in me losing sleep, not over the argument itself, but over the guilt of the waste of time and energy from it (not to mention the adrenaline coursing through my veins from any argument).  I think it’s because there are two factors of appeal to online arguing for me: the need to hold people accountable for the social injustices they are supporting or failing to fight, and the need to be right.  On the one hand, I have always wanted to crusade for justice and against what I see as wrong, so having the entire Internet in which to do so is great for arguing for what I see as morally correct.  On the other hand, I just really like being smarter than everyone else and I will totally admit that.

Arguing online may hold a thin veneer of justification in that it allows one to try to use rhetoric to convince someone to do good.  Perhaps one will have the opportunity to impart knowledge and understanding to someone else.  Perhaps one will learn some critical piece of information or insight into the logic of the argument.  Perhaps one will learn a new way of looking at something, a new perspective that helps one understand the initial discussion topic better.  In some cases, when people share their perspectives with me, I’m actually grateful for the insight and knowledge.

However, ultimately, the knowledge that one cannot win an argument on the Internet means that if one is arguing, one is very likely arguing wholly due to ego.  It then requires a degree of mindfulness to recognize one’s ego as a primary motivator so one can pledge that one will not argue on the goddamn Internet and then have to write an entire blog post on why doing so is a bad idea before one can peacefully fall asleep.  Now, 900 words later, I feel like I’ve acquired some of that mindfulness – and I can go to bed.  Goodnight world!  Tomorrow is another day of being nicer on the Internet.

 

passiviTV

I have been watching more TV lately.  This started when I realized how much content I could download to my phone or Kindle to watch while in transit on the subway.  This was initially great!  I could immerse myself in television programming any day of the week, not just the one or two days when a favorite show came online.  I started picking entire series to watch, starting with Parks and Rec and adding Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.  I watched a huge chunk of the first season of Outlander while traveling to and from Toronto.  And I could keep watching all the weekly shows that come up in “real time” like Divorce, so long as I watched them on the above ground bus to work in NJ.

Then the TV watching time began to creep up.  I started watching episodes of TV at home, on an actual TV.  I would watch two or three episodes at a time.  Suddenly, entire hours were disappearing.  I would look up and realize I was looking at a screen still at 11pm or midnight, throwing off my sleep schedule and my body’s ability to stay asleep due to the light suppressing the melatonin production I need for a good night’s rest.  I’d make up for that with a melatonin pill, and then I’d wake up groggy and start compensating for that with caffeine.  Which, as I learned last fall, I can only consume in moderation as well.  TV is both a bad influence and a bad habit.

Image result for download netflix meme

It isn’t as if I’m watching crappy TV even!  I’m watching a lot of consistently smart, female led, well reviewed content.  CexG , for example, is an extremely smart show, digging into its characters motivations and human frailty and mental health and changing sense of identity with a great sense of compassion and insight, sometimes expressed through musical numbers.  Parks and Rec is one of the best comedies ever, mostly based on the strength of its ensemble.  Neither show relies on gender tropes to build their characters.  Neither is based on laughing at its characters, as some sitcoms consistently do.  They are both well written, compassionate programs.  But they’re also passive content, and as long as I’m sitting there consuming the content, I’m not engaging in anything else.

Image result for crazy ex girlfriend

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: the only show to compare our mammary glands to the density of white dwarf stars.

It’s addicting to consume passive content.  It’s addicting to have an entire entertainment feed directly into my brain.  I have always read so much that I’m used to what Jasper Fforde called the “imaginotransference” process in the Thursday Next books.  To have multiple senses provided for me, without having to use any imagination myself, is fantastic.  It is so much richer an experience to see each nuance of a character’s facial expression, to see their setting, to hear their voice. This is why we all universally love television and movies, after all: they are a full display of storytelling that shows us a full, exacting vision, without relying on our brains to place the information in context or create our own visuals.

So as much as I try to justify my consumption of television, I also know I’m being lazy when I watch.  And I also know that as long as I”m watching, I’m not creating anything of my own.  I’m not blogging or writing.  I’m not practicing piano.  I’m consuming someone else’s creation, and as smart as that creation may be, the only good it does me is to be entertained by it.  I’m not thinking my own thoughts when I’m consuming passive content.  Sometimes, that’s OK, because I need a break and it’s nice to be entertained and heartwarmed by someone else’s vision of, say, Pawnee, IN: a place full of hope and positivity.  Other times, it’s just consumption, and it’s just taking up my time…and, to an extent, my energy.

Am I judging passive content?  No.  I’m judging how easy it is to be passive when consuming media.  With the infinite access to entertainment that is Netflix and its counterparts, one can access the cream of the art form of TV, the best comedies that are out there.  Even those of us with very specific comedic preferences (“Female Driven Sitcoms With Women Who Swear A Lot“) can find hundreds of hours of our preferred content on these platforms and watch those hours all at once.  Yes, I’m sure passive TV watching happened before this, but it didn’t happen to me.

I have to figure out more balance in this area.  Still, I enjoy watching these shows.  I’ve rarely watched much TV.  Doing so now opens up my ability to participate in more conversations around what makes a good vs. bad piece of video content.   And it’s also given me a whole new respect for the writers who make their visions happen in the long run.

Image result for parks and rec meme

 

From symbolism to symbols

There is a moment, in the First Sex in the City movie, where Carrie realizes that Big isn’t coming to their wedding venue (because he is a ridiculous man child, obviously, who only showed devotion when he could buy his way out of it BUT I DIGRESS) Carrie, panicking, asks for a phone. Samantha throws her an iPhone. She looks at the screen, covered in the first generation of apps, and says, simply, I can’t use this. I don’t know how.

Thinking of that scene, it seems so quaint. How could anyone be so clueless as to not be able to use a smartphone? How could anyone have lacked the intuition to grasp the technology, driven as it is by pictures and icons? It is a moment made for empathy from the audience, as if to say, see this confusing technology? It’s OK not to understand it! Even sophisticated New York women cannot efficiently use this newfangled geek device from Silicon Valley!

Now, at the age that the character was in that movie, I think, how did we manage to grasp all this technology? How is it that most of us swam so smoothly into the tide of all of this change? All of these smartphones, all of these computers, all of this digital existence? How is it all of us, all of my generation, managed to transition from the first days of a text-only Internet, to the bright icons, shapes, colors, all of the wordless material that makes up the apps and pictures on our phones? How did our brains transition from having the information, in the format of words that we were used to for centuries, and just suddenly seeing it flow through in a completely different interface every few years?

Look at all these tiny pictures!

In the world of today, I feel fortunate enough to be from a unique generation. I remember A World Before the internet, but only barely. I am still able to see the internet as something miraculous, a conduit that allows for a flow of information and communication we never could have imagined in the past.

That, however, was words. The smartphones are all about images. They are a new way of looking at information, full of symbols. There are the pleasingly aesthetic squares of apps, the shortcut sentences of emojis, the flash of lights on the phone itself to represent a message from another person. My phone speaks to me in a code of shortcuts.

This is why I had to delete the Facebook app off my phone: the notification icon babbles at me otherwise.

How did the Xennials all learn this so quickly, changing the way we interpret information in so few years? How were we poised for this absorption of information? Words alone, I get – Western culture prizes ourselves on our ability to absorb words and change them into images and emotions in our brains. We have done that collectively for half a millennium, since the printed, widely distributed word accelerated the ability to read. The Internet as it was in 1995 makes perfect sense to me. The way we choose to communicate now though, it goes around the words. It is a direct transfer of simple information, including emotions, without the need to take in words and change them, in our brains, to a concept.

🍆🍆🍆🍐🍐🍌🥒🥒🥒🍑🍑🍆🍆🍆

Pretty sure this means something filthy IN PHONE SPEAK

Maybe this is how we moved so quickly to smartphones and this image and metaphor laden technology. It isn’t that we went forward, it’s that we went backwards. Most of what is done in smartphone communication is images and symbols because it is too cumbersome to pull together a coherent set of words. Going without words entirely may be more efficient on this device, but it strikes me as lazier .

I’m actually typing this on a smartphone, using it as a small computer. It isn’t efficient, but it’s how I write on the subway. The concepts I’m trying to express, I want a reader to interpret through the nuances of words. There are no cookie cutter symbols that can replace original paragraphs. Maybe there are images, but I’d rather forces a reader to create those themselves. It’s effort for both the writer and reader this way.

Oh and that smartphone Carrie caught in the movie? Thrown to her by Samantha. Who is ten years older than the other girls. Proving, of course that anyone can learn this nerdy new tech, especially when it helps them run their successful small business. And I am sure the writers would have forced a gratuitous use of a series of sex icons like the ones above in lieu of dialogue on the extremely well spoken and articulate Kim Cattrall if the 3rd movie had taken place, proving my point about laziness as well.

art vs craft

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few months about art and craft. They seem as if they should be interchangeable terms, as they go together so often in our language. Yet it is only art that we apply the term “fine” to. The “Fine Arts”: drama, music, writing, visual arts, etc.

This, to me, exemplifies the difference between art and craft. I believe Art is based in talent, a calling to create. It begins as a gift of creativity, an ability to transubstantiate emotion and thought into something others can experience. Creating something is an astonishing process, one Elizabeth Gilbert called, “Big Magic” for a reason.

Craft is more achievable to me than art. Craft is when you practice crafting something. It is ironic we call a craftsperson an “artisan”, a word that conjures up images of a handcrafted product. Craft is what we associate with making things, with shaping and perfecting aesthetics, perhaps, but ultimately with a functional product. That may be something as prosaic as a clay bowl, or as decorative as jewelry, but it is a tangible, functional item meant, mostly, for use.

In an age where so much work is now knowledge based, where does that leave us for craft? Are we no longer artisans? I believe that means we have to adapt our ideals of craft to intangible work. Knowledge work is now a craft. My expertise in digital marketing and in business is my craft. It is the work that produces something functional which I practice every day.

Art, however, remains art. The arts have always been a form of knowledge work, producing intangible, cerebral creations. That has not changed. That’s what makes art, the idea of transforming neutral, bland materials into full neural responses. And still – every art is also a craft. There is talent involved in art, but how does one become adept and skilled at transforming that talent into a chosen medium, unless one practices? That’s where art and craft dovetail again, in the requirement for practice, repetition, that constant refinement and polishing of words the same way a blacksmith would polish and re-shape a sword. It’s the challenge of making something that’s as perfect when formed as it was in it initial ideal. Without the same practice one would apply to a craft, art has far less impact and may not even be viable.

It is hard to create art in a form that one isnt innately familiar with. When I noodle on the piano in free-form mode, I still use music theory to pick out the harmonies and chords. I still calculate the relative minors and majors, dominant sevenths, diminished minors. I couldn’t create without that framework.

So an art must be practiced like a craft. Craft can also, at its most practiced, become art. Once an artisan has the practice of creation down, they can take it to the next level, embellishing and decorating, stretching the medium into something extraordinary. This is where craft becomes art, where the statements and thoughts, emotions and intellect, are added to a piece to make it resonate in our minds instead of merely functioning.

What are my arts and what are my crafts? I see writing as a craft. I see my work as a craft. I see music as my art, although I work at it like a craft. No matter what the medium though, I feel the same part of my brain light up when I translate a thought into a medium outside my brain. When I have the right answers at work, when I have just the right word for a blog post, when I hear music in my mind and replicate it on a keyboard, it all hits my brain the same way. It lights something up in me. Whether it is art or craft, do we not all need to have something that lights each of us up?

Perhaps I am thinking about this too hard. Arts and crafts are what each of us have, on some level, to make us extraordinary. It’s what lights our brains up and, if we practice hard enough, we can even extend that to other people and their brains. Both are miraculous that way.