Tuesday Thoughts – August 6, 2019

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Where is your phone when you fall asleep?

How soon after you wake up do you look at your phone?

These are questions that, a generation ago, would not have made much sense. Scrolling through news or social media apps is ritualistic to end and begin a day.

Today, here’s what I endured so far:

  1. A friend who is a police officer posted a statement on Instagram in the wake of the two recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. To paraphrase, its message expressed a wish that, in the event of his/her death at a similar mass shooting, he/she did not want his/her life to become political ammunition for liberals who want to take the guns away from citizens.
  2. A former student floated an inquiry on Facebook to learn of the “best places” to get world news. The comments were, to me, rather shocking. “Fox” was one response. A second suggested that all [cable?] news was biased (so it doesn’t matter). CNN, one reply stated, hated everyone equally. Toward the bottom (among the most recent) someone offered the link to Info Wars. Tone is difficult to measure with online posts such as this, so I cannot fully know how serious or sarcastic any of these types of answers were.
  3. My local newspaper’s Facebook page shared an article about some planned protests outside the downtown headquarters of one of the major political parties. Again, I chose to read the comments from others. The protests were also in response to the tragedies in Texas and Ohio over the past weekend. However, the comments were authored by individuals who has a wide range of explanations, redirected blame, and political talking points. One individual took the time to itemize a series of documented events associated with the current leader from one political party.

You’re likely familiar with at least one of the above situations. For an insight to my personal beliefs on gun control/gun legislation, feel free to read my essay from a few years ago here.

Sidebar: My kids want me to play with Legos with them this morning, but they’ve agreed to let me do some writing before I join in.

I’m currently reading a book entitled iGen by Jean Twenge, PhD. The current section concerns the startling increase in teenagers who self-identify as having depressive symptoms and, by a heart-shattering extension, a similar rise in teen suicides. In short, she surmises that, while there are likely a lot of factors for such an upswing in both of these, the single element in play across the board for teens from all demographics is social media access and activity.

I fear that we’ve already conditioned ourselves to become unaffected by tragedy–unless, of course, we are nearly or directly involved. Our collective participation in all corners of the Internet is not only deteriorating our human thirst for personal interaction, but it has rapidly become our most common source of accessing information. The severe problem is that we are also targeted by others with various agendas and the line between truth and propaganda has all but evaporated.

One of the earmarks of standard commentary on social media sites is the vast view on virtually any debate that the issue in question has two distinct sides. Thus, it’s common for someone to reply with something along the lines of “It’s not because of x, it’s clearly because of y.”

My job in teaching argumentative writing at the college level involves several elements that are grossly ignored, overlooked, or simply not implemented by the average individual, in my opinion. I spend a lot of time throughout a semester expressing the process of evaluating source material and validating that the creator is credentialed and/or qualified to share information. We also take time discussing “professional” language that, when incorporated into academic arguments, is much more widely accepted than a similar take on an issue filled with “charged” phrasing designed to incite an immediate (and equally ineffective) reaction. Ask yourself if you’re more likely to respond positively to your boss screaming at you in front of your co-workers or if she were to invite you to a private meeting time and shared her concerns in a calm manner.

I know this has gone on perhaps too long, but I’m getting somewhere.

While I cannot know for sure, I believe we all want basically the same things in this world:

  1. A better future for our children/the next generation(s)
  2. Respect
  3. Joy
  4. Love

In our quest to secure #1, we are sacrificing #2, #3, and #4 in unprecedented ways.

The problem we face, of course, is the Catch-22 of information sharing. I’m writing these ideas on a blog that I hope my followers and/or friends read. Embedded within this short piece, however, is the (until now) thinly veiled implication that maybe she put our fucking phones down and hang out in person.

But that’s at the heart of it, right? How else can we share our ideas to a similarly sized audience if we vow to take social media diets? If you were to strike up a political debate with the unknown person in front of you at the gas station, you’re likely not going to get much of a response. So, I hope it’s clear that I’m well aware of how I am guilty of the same notions of information-spreading that I’ve mentioned above.

But I also believe that we can start and end each day without feeling so pissed off (or perhaps some other distinct negative emotion) as a result of this habitual desire to “wind down” to someone’s meme or comment or propagandized (and fact-free) article shared from the open web. It affects our sleep, our interpersonal communication skills, and our souls.

Let’s be better than that. You know, for the kids.

I’m off to build Legos with mine.

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True Reflection and Depressing Vision

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On Friday, October 21, 2016, Netflix released six additional episodes of Black Mirror.  This was the third “season” for the show, now with a grand total of nineteen episodes including one holiday episode from 2015.

My wife enjoys cooking shows, baking contests, and true crime mini-documentaries.  I grew up on sitcoms, got hooked on police- and medical dramas throughout the 90s, and really enjoyed Lost (in its early years, at least).  With children now, I am aware of a cartoon who can cure stuffed animals, a talking train who weasels out of mischief episode after episode, and can recite all of the lyrics to Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, thanks to They Might Be Giants.

This past week, however, the missus and I have watched all six of the newest Black Mirror episodes.

My writing idol David Foster Wallace did not own a television in adulthood.  Another favorite named Dave Eggers always wiggles in the trivial nugget that he and his family are virtually tech-free at home (no smartphones, social media activity, etc.).  Ironically, one of the shows my wife watches features a home renovation couple from Texas who also do not have a TV in their own home.

Black Mirror, identified by Netflix as containing “near-future” settings, is equal parts riveting and terrifying.  To me, the episodes involving technology (and specifically social media) contain themes that most viewers already recognize as problematic.  While some of us can vividly remember a time before the internet and our supposed “connectivity” involved with it, can we really imagine our current lives without those luxuries?  Perhaps it’s not an all-or-nothing life we should live with regard to being connected or not.

Image result for secluded cabin meme

This is the point where I remind readers of Thoreau and Walden.  He purposely removed himself from a busy society (in the mid 19th century) in order to return (Romanticize!) to the more attractive natural settings accessible to him.  He desired a connection with the earth and a deeper understanding of his existence.  Most of us do, I would argue.  Yet, we busy ourselves with newer technological distractions and continue to think we’re postponing the inevitable.  By the way, this particular meme is worrisome to me.  What is the need for a million dollars if this is the proposed environment/lifestyle?  I’m also doubting the author’s proposed future of “CHOOSE”-ing to live.

What happens to you when your internet goes out?  What do you look like when an app won’t open?  How much stress have you incurred based on any post by anyone on any social media outlet?

What, we must ask ourselves, is the fucking point of it all?

Is this the legacy we wish to leave?

Memorial Service speaker:  Tony was a good man.  He was a father, a brother, and a son.  He had 49 likes on his 21st birthday status.  (waits for crowd to settle down).  A tweet on September 30, 2014 was shared by none other than Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.  (waits longer…)