Sunday, April 21, 2019

Sensory Overload

Today is Easter Day, 2019. I guess that this day has come and gone for around 2,000 years, but I really don’t know nor do I care. I know it means an awful lot to an awful lot of people, but to me it means nothing more than the Easter Bunny and kids hunting for colorful eggs. And even those days, for me, are long gone unless I happen to be with any of my grandsons. Usually Easter is not that sort of occasion. I get the significance it holds for those who believe, but the premise behind that significance is, to me, nothing more than an impossible legend, a myth. It might transmit certain cultural histories, but the proof of the story to which it pertains is not nearly enough for me. And no, I am not open to debate it.

This day – this weekend – is also when an annual convention for a certain recovery 12-step fellowship takes place in Northern California. In fact, it is called the “Northern California Convention of <redacted> Anonymous.” This year it was held in Sacramento and there were literally thousands of attendees. It took place over four days, but besides a quick visit to register on Thursday, I only went for the main event last night. I was there early enough, however, to do some socializing and exchange pleasantries with a bunch of people I know, some of whom are close enough to be actual friends. Most, however, are not – at least in the strictest sense of the word.

Ken Tisa, “Kali’s Dance” (2017)
In this, and probably other similar fellowships, the term “friend” gets thrown around much more freely than I would use it. And some might even be taken aback that I do not consider them friends outside of meetings and other “program” gatherings. Many would say that since finding a new life in recovery, they now have – I am not exaggerating – literally hundreds of friends. I cannot imagine how anyone could maintain even 100 friendships, never mind multiple hundreds. And at this convention, for those who have all those friends, they were surely in their element. All of that attention and all of that good will and all of that like-mindedness and singleness of purpose, combatting an affliction that could have killed us and did make our lives a living hell. Yes, we have that connection that is often formed when groups of people are faced with catastrophe, and long-term relationships spawned from that often come from it – but to be friends with everyone? Pass.

I’m sure there are those who are naturally affable and feed off all that energy; they make connections with as many persons as possible. I don’t. All of that all in one place drains me. I enjoy seeing old friends and acquaintances as much as anyone, but I prefer it be in a far more limited way. But I was there. I hugged a lot of people (we do a lot of hugging in this fellowship). I exchanged pleasantries. After a few hours, I needed to get out of there. It was not anxiety, it was exhaustion. And even though I saw so many, I missed seeing even more – and many of those I did not see were among my real friends. It is impossible to find everyone one wishes to find in a gathering that large. And, truth be told, I didn’t look that hard. Because simply walking around means running into too many “friends” who I must stop and talk to for a moment. Because that’s what we are supposed to do.

So I did it. I took my introverted self to the very place I am least comfortable. It’s not just crowds (though I will avoid crowds generally when I can), but a crowd where I knew so many by face at least, and many of them by name. There were also too many who knew me, somehow, but I do not know or did not remember them. That’s awkward. But I put on the face, danced the dance and did what I viewed as my responsibility. I took my 14 years, eight months, two weeks and one day of clean-time (no mind-altering chemicals) downtown to show that this thing we are all doing can work. That doesn’t mean I have to enjoy being over-stimulated, it just means I have to endure it. Seems like a small price to pay for the life I have today.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

I'll Think About It


After almost four weeks of Facebook deactivation, I am thinking about reactivating my account in the near future. I have not, however, made a final decision yet. Unlike most people, when I say “I’ll think about it,” it is not a deflection to avoid saying what I already decided; I am, in fact, thinking about it. So, what is there to think about? Didn’t I basically throw Facebook under the bus? Didn’t I call it and its mother every nasty name in the book? Didn’t I say it was the harbinger of the end of the world as we know it? Well, the last statement is partially true, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The others are, of course, hyperbole.

I don’t condemn the platform itself so much as I do the way it is used. As it has evolved and as it turns out, the quasi-anonymity of (ironically for “Facebook”) faceless-to-faceless interaction has led to the spread of hate and division. Indeed, where that kind of infestation took some skill, planning and resources prior to the age of information, it can now be done with ease by those who don’t even realize they are doing it. That and the boundless self-aggrandizing, self-promotion - self-everything - has not only turned me off, it was turning me. Turning me into yet another of the many iterations of Facebook minions.

Despite my disenchantment with what Facebook has revealed about people, Facebook is, in a way, its own antidote. The same platform that is so utilitarian in spreading division can, in theory, also be used to spread unity, understanding, peace, good will, diversity, love and all other timeless virtues. However, the platform itself is merely a tool, its benefit comes from how it is used. The degree to which the corporate entity, “Facebook” (whether that refers to Mark Zuckerberg or any other real people who make up that entity), can direct that usage is limited. It is limited in the same way a hammer manufacturer can limit the way its hammer is used. While the Facebook platform has more about it that can be regulated, it is still, ultimately, about who is swinging the hammer.

If I go back, I will use that hammer to build, not destroy. That, however, is not as easy as it sounds. In fact, I could argue that using a hammer for demolition is constructive, is morally positive and is ethical. The demolition phase of construction clears the way to build anew. Of course when it comes to people, ideas, institutions, ideologies and the like, the demolition of those things brings in different and powerful dynamics. We are no longer dealing with tangible, inanimate objects. These are, instead, intangible, but - and ironically enough - very much animate… and sentient. It all has to do with people and all of our collective humanity that makes us up. Facebook puts all that under a microscope and magnifies it to ridiculous proportions, indeed, super-human proportions.

My job, then, should I choose to accept it, would be walking a fine line. I performed that role before, but not consciously. In fact, I have performed that role for much of my life, I seem to be built that way. I don’t want to get all new-agey (one of so many irritating reignited fads from the past that Facebook has breathed new life into), but as an introvert, now euphemistically called an “empath” (sounds special, right? Like we have some sort of super-power), I am easily exhausted by too much sensory input from others. High energy people, some of whom are my closest friends, drain me. Facebook brought all that energy into my home, onto my desktop and put it into my pocket. I was being depleted almost all day, every day.

My return to the platform would, therefore, be markedly different in many ways. The most significant would be my very limited participation. My obligation to acknowledge anyone via a status update, a post, a comment on one of my posts or even a “like” is absolutely zero. As such, Facebook would not be nearly so “interactive.” My job will be to contribute to the world of words and information those things that I feel will benefit humanity, will promote unity, will foster diversity of thought and action and, when demolition is necessary, will do so in a way that recognizes the very real humans involved. I would also use it for personal documentations  of my travels and adventures, but only so much that myself, my family and my (real) friends can enjoy them, in much the same as I enjoy (and now miss) theirs. As I’ve written many times, this ease of connection is probably Facebook's biggest attraction and likely what made it what it is.
Little enlightenments come to me on a daily basis through a number of sources, but the most pronounced is still the Internet – usually through email. I will, when sufficiently motivated, write about them as I am this moment, but more often than not, those insights will fade into the darkness of my memory, never to be heard from again. Facebook never forgets. And even though Facebook users are acculturated to sound-bite sized snippets, part of what I do is challenge that status quo. The platform allows for statuses this long, I have (and will, if I decide to reactivate) use that space. If I can get Facebookers to read several hundred words – about almost anything – then that, in and of itself, is beneficial.
The article that got me thinking about this in terms of a return as a real possibility was written in an online journal called The Medium. It is the most recent of a few periodicals that I have a paid subscription to. I found the writing and writers enlightening, fresh and inspired. It is the kind of stuff I like to read – and write. If I had to compare it to something, I'd say it is similar to The Stone, a section of the New York Times that features essays and opinions that are philosophical in nature. But The Medium is more than that. The point is that a simple link to the article I read today does not work on Instagram, does not work on my blog, it might work on Twitter if I had built up a following and liked it, but I haven’t and I don’t. They are not easily and effectively disseminated anywhere else. Facebook is the standard.
My goal, then, if I go back, is to do so with my shields on “high,” limiting my interaction to almost none and just post things that are, at worst, value neutral. Of course, the goal is to foster unity, peace, tolerance, diversity and essentially everything else that not only makes us good Americans, these are the things that make us good humans. But I am still thinking about it.



Thursday, April 04, 2019

Bella's Facebook


My dog has a Facebook account. Her name is Bella and she is super smart – much smarter than the self-proclaimed geniuses on Facebook. While it is true that I have deactivated my own Facebook account, I have not gone completely, totally Facebook dark. Furthermore, although Bella has her own Facebook “friends,” many of her friends are (were) my friends, too. Because of certain canine limitations (no opposable thumbs, for example), Bella needs help navigating and manipulating her Facebook activity. She doesn’t post much, doesn’t interact much, almost never comments, but she will throw a like here and there, peruse the newsfeed for any juicy tidbits and funny cat videos. Her news feed looks nothing like mine did, despite having similar roots.

She doesn’t see much political stuff, either. It’s a good thing because she really, truly, has no fucks to give. However, she still sees some of the pettiness of others, amplified on Facebook to monumental proportions. Maybe it’s because she keeps her yap shut, but that human shallowness so prevalent on Facebook doesn’t seem to faze her. She ignores it. She doesn’t participate. It rolls off of her like the proverbial water rolls off the proverbial duck’s back. It is truly remarkable how nothing, Facebook or otherwise, ever, ever, bothers her. She is unperturbable. I aspire to be more like her.

It is perhaps fitting, then, that I am her Facebook curator. I’ve batted around the idea of coming back to Facebook in some limited sense, but I do not see a way to that end. It will only snowball into the quagmire it was when I left. The pettiness, the cliques, the unsaid and the partially said (all that and more, collectively, used to be called “head games”) has become the rule, the norm, the new juvenility that I will no longer tolerate. So I left. But Bella likes Facebook just fine. She has found, apparently, that limited state where, to her, it is nothing but what it ever was, a virtual echo chamber. It is not real. It is, in her world, all meaningless. Bella doesn’t care who is “in” and who is “out,” and, more importantly, doesn’t care where on that popularity continuum she is. She is not interested in validation, in “likes,” in comments or tags.
 
She just doesn’t care. She is truly free, and she is without being #facebookfree. I am learning from her. In dog years, she is only a little older than I am, but her wisdom surpasses mine in ways that are unfathomable. So she doesn’t have opposable thumbs, so what? I do and she has me. We are helping each other. But mostly, she is helping me.




Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Signs, Sighs and Hints

Yesterday I was considering reactivating my Facebook account in some limited way. I tossed around the pros and cons in my post yesterday and then let it simmer. The things I hate about Facebook are not, of course, really the medium itself, but how people use it. While the medium is an integral part of the message (McLuhan says it is the message), I see far too much “hidden meaning” or “vaguebooking.” I’ve done it too, the medium seems to be an ideal conduit to convey that there is a message, but not what that message is. We get ensnared in a guessing game, but we must do it remotely, across the vastness of the World Wide Web.

Where I actually talked myself onto the fence about Facebook, I am no longer there. Of course I could be persuaded or persuade myself back, but for a medium that has as much text-based information exchange – perhaps more so than any other “multimedia” yet - it is largely devoid of any real talk. And it’s not just Facebook, it’s not even just the age of information, it’s likely a phenomena that is as old as we are. As much as we can misunderstand symbolic communication, as inaccurate as words can be, it is still far and away the most effective way to convey our thoughts.

The template for this non-communicative communication scenario looks something like this:

Scene: Something is clearly bothering someone. This is evident through non-discursive communication – all communication that does not use words, including silence. The conversation follows.

P1: *exhibits some form of discontent through non-discursive and/or limited discursive communication*

P2: “Is there something wrong?”

P1: “No, I’m fine.”

Yet it is clear that P1 is not at all “fine.” We’ve all been there, we’ve all been both P1 and P2. As P1, “I’m fine,” means I’m fine. It also means “leave me alone,” or “I don’t want to talk about it.” If pressed, I’ll say that. From the perspective of P2, it is difficult not to internalized P1’s discontent. “Was it something I did or said, didn’t do, didn’t say?” There was a time in my life when what I did and did not do, what I did and did not say, always had the potential to create discontent in others. Questioning my role was both appropriate and damage control. The other component to that internalization has to do with a genuine desire for those close to me to be content. I cannot make the world “happy," and will not at the expense of my own serenity. Furthermore, at this point in my life my motives and actions have never been purer. Yet I still question, “was it me?”  That is something I continue to work on.

We are dealing with humans and their idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies. I get it and I have a lot of experience as P1, P2 and P3-infinity. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt. But that does not mean I have to live there anymore. I am not a child, a teen or a “young-adult.” I not only grew through those phases, I literally survived them. I am not interested in reliving that. Facebook didn’t create that semi-spoken/unspoken tension, that quasi-communication that requires us to be mind-readers, but it certainly gave it a much larger audience. That fact that I still run into it, as a 56 year-old man, is nothing short of unacceptable. I won’t play. Got something to say? Say it with words. If those words say, “nothing,” then I’ll ignore all other signs, sighs and hints and go about my happy life.





Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Facing Facebook Death


It has been about 10 days since I deactivated my Facebook account. Three years ago - at about this time of year - I deactivated for about three months, although all of my friends who recall it remember it being much, much less time. The archives, however, do not lie. Still, it is interesting how the perception, among those who have any recollection at all, is so universally underestimated. No one said, “Only three months? I could’ve sworn it was longer.” I reactivated on a limited basis for a couple of specific reasons (reasons that I no longer remember) and while my presence was, in fact, initially limited, eventually I was right back into the mix complete with reinstalling the app on my iPhone.

With the exception of the occasional quip, “I thought you were done,” no one really questioned my return. It was business as usual. Facebook, at the time, was pretty similar to what it is now. A few features have been added, but what makes it unique has been a key feature for a long time now. What feature is that? It’s not exactly a discrete feature or application, but more of a mosaic that is woven through Facebook as a whole. It is literally the binding agent that holds Facebook together and those tentacles have spread far beyond just Facebook and its holdings (Instagram, WhatsApp, etc.).

Most social media users recognize the hyper-connectivity of it. It is, perhaps, one of the features that makes it so attractive. There are any number of ways to interact on Facebook. For example, we can simply click “like” or, now, select one of a few other “reactions.” We can comment on the main thread or any of the comments, creating or adding to a sub-thread. We can tag all kinds of shit – not just pictures; we can tag posts, we can tag comments, we can tag videos, memes, ads, and so on and so on. Everything in our archives is inextricably linked not to just a few others, but due to our connections with friends, friends of friends and their friends and their friends of friends, we are all just a few degrees of separation from everyone else. Yes, everyone.

Okay, I hear you. That’s nothing new. It’s been like that for a few years now, at least. Granted. And the ramifications of all that are as old as the connections are, too, but I don’t know if many people have given it much thought. Here is what it means, especially for those who are, like me, frequent and/or long-term users of Facebook. It means that our real realities are now inextricably linked to our virtual realities. They are (or are becoming) one and the same. That is where this is headed and jumping ship at this point – and failing to board that ship at some near-term future point – is damned near impossible. The Facebook world is no longer virtual, it is part of the real world and those who aren’t “in,” are, by definition, out.

Still nothing new? So what? Okay, consider this: When I, or you deactivate or (gasp!) delete Facebook, it is not the same as a death or disappearance in the physical world. When people leave this life or for some other reason are physically absent for a long time, they still have a presence. They held a place in our world, in our hearts and in our memories. Some African tribal cultures believe that as long as the memory is alive, that ancestor is not truly dead. In real reality, when we leave or die, we have left a mark, a memory remains. Not so with Facebook.

While Facebook has not yet figured out to completely erase a former member’s existence, they have done a good job getting there. When we leave Facebook – whether it is permanently or temporarily – we lose all trace of our existence. Facebook removes not only all of our own content – what we post and allow on our own timelines – but also every comment, every like, every tag and everyone of my pictures that shows up in your “photos of” tab because you were tagged – they are all gone. Facebook not only takes us out, it extinguishes almost all of our history, and that history is very closely linked with those of many others.

Therefore, once established in the Facebook Universe, once we acquiesce to all that is Facebook, the platform is in control of every aspect of our virtual lives. On it, we have no right to free speech, we have no rights whatsoever. It is not our  world, it is theirs. But if you do try to leave, everything goes, including all communal references to you. Yes, the pictures your friends posted and tagged you in are still there, but your tag, your name is gone.

I find myself with a dilemma. There are a handful of people in my life who have memories, many of which occurred in the real world, that are “housed” on Facebook. Where we would have real pictures in an actual photo album, we have turned that task over to a machine that does a remarkable job bringing more complete content and recoverability to those memories. But, we have given responsibility for their care over to Facebook as well. Mine are now gone, in a virtual purgatory, neither alive nor dead, in between places. I don’t know how long Facebook keeps deactivated accounts alive – I’d guess indefinitely since advertisers pay more for a larger count of accounts. And if I reactivate, even if I just stay on the sidelines as a spectator, everything will come back. If I don’t, eventually my virtual presence – all of it – will disappear. It will be as though I never existed. The same machine who created virtual Mike will erase not only me, but all remnants, all memories of me, too.

At this point I feel as though I am thinking in terms of a “final” decision. Go along now, build upon my virtual presence, keep all that in the care of an algorithm or go rogue, get off the virtual grid, be forgotten. I am on the fence, honestly. Furthermore, there are those in my life for whom this sort of communion is real enough, is beneficial, it might even be necessary not in terms of life and death, but necessary in terms of a means of communicating where little or none existed before. Or… it’s just better and more convenient. Is that so bad? Stayed tuned, I guess, the wheels are turning…


Friday, March 29, 2019

The Path to Victory



It has been just about one week since I deactivated my Facebook account. I know that I have saved some time, or, perhaps, freed up some time since a week ago, but I have no idea how much. There is no question that some of that “saved” time was wasted in other ways. While I still know what is going on in the world, in my world I am largely clueless. By design. It is that hyper-attention to every little thing that made the Facebook world so all-encompassing, so ubiquitous, so… annoying. Prior to social media and the domination of this one platform, all that information that now seems so important to share and digest was metered by the physical limits of communication. The rumor mill ground out tidbits at a much slower rate.

In the past week, I have seen and spoken with many friends and family members who were and are still on Facebook. It is not as though face-to-face and other direct communication with them was supplanted by social media, but a good deal of that communication did take place there – and often it was in the form of a mouse click on the “like” button. It is the modern day version of “I see you;” a virtual head nod of acknowledgement. That über-regular “contact” is now gone and, so far, I do not feel a downside to it. I have reeled my world in, I do not have to touch every corner of the globe every minute of every day. Looking back, it was exhausting.

I willingly grant that many do not put that kind of stock into their social media presences. And, for me, it didn’t happen overnight. Indeed, my Facebook account dates back to 2006, but I never really used it until an old high school acquaintance contacted me through it – and through that many other old, lost connections were reestablished. It was like magic. But it would be years before the ever-presence of Facebook would become ever-present.

What really turned me off was the acquisition of something I never had, thought I wanted, but did not know it how trying it would be. That something was popularity, a “following,” more “friends” than I could shake a stick at... I was in the “in” crowd. It wasn’t just Facebook, the recovery fellowship I am involved with has knack for doing that, too. While I enjoyed the attention, the validation, even the notoriety, I hated “monitoring” it, I hated maintaining it and I hated defending it.  And when even all that was not enough, when even with all those “friends,” I still, at times, could find myself on the outside looking in. Real and/or perceived, it hurt and often left me wondering why. Worse, it left me thinking about what I was doing wrong and what I could do to get those people to like me.

When I thought about it – clearly – and framed it in those terms, I was able to place the appropriate worth on what I thought I wanted so much and, as it turns out, I don’t. True, everyone wants to be “liked,” everyone wants and needs friends, but no one needs 2,500 of them. I cannot maintain that many friendships nor would I want to. But the machine feeds that deception; Facebook hasn’t redefined what a “friend” is – Facebook users have. I did, even though I claimed otherwise. Worse, I feel it has diminished the real connection with the real friends I have… or had. When real friends are embraced by the “in” group, those relationships are necessarily diminished if I am not also in that group.

All I can do is work on my side of the equation and, to that end, the great divider that Facebook serves as will no longer play that role in my life – at least from my end. Grade school, for me, was hard. I was shy, awkward and never had a lot of friends. I hated it. College was better, but even then my self-worth was low. Looking back I should have given myself a lot more credit, had I done so, I might have been more successful (oddly enough, now that I do, I am). Some of those decades-old feelings were coming back due to the artificially high standards of not only Facebook, but also manifestations of it in the real world. I was, to borrow a cliché, “comparing my insides to your outsides.” I forfeit. I can’t play that game and keep my sanity. I cannot continually keep score. I will not base my self-worth on whether or not you feel I am worthy.

I have slayed the dragon. I will have no problem riding off into the sunset. It’s the only path to victory.

Peace.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Instagram Purity and A Moment with Mike, #3


At just three days since deactivating my Facebook account, I already have some interesting insights. The most profound is that I am even thinking of it in those terms. Usually when I “end my association” with something, in essence, cancel my membership, I do it and that’s that. No looking back, no wondering or thinking about what life without whatever it is would be like. I have quit clubs, cancelled gym memberships, subscriptions, even cable TV and never gave it a thought afterwards, let alone three days later. Why Facebook?

My ”morning ritual” is hardly regular enough to be called a ritual, but there are some constants: I have my coffee combined with some sort of “start” to my day. Over many years that start has taken on different looks. When I was a child (and before coffee), it could have been morning cartoons or reading the panels of a cereal box while eating a bowl of that cereal. Later, it has been a morning news program, newspapers and, more recently, iterations of all that in some form or fashion via the Internet. It hasn’t always been the absorption of external information, however, for some extended periods of time it has included the creation of new combinations of words and punctuation that convey what is on my mind. This morning, those words are these.

There are some elements to Facebook that I do miss, but not enough to outweigh what I truly don’t miss, something I was reminded about on Instagram yesterday. Further, those things I miss are things that did not even exist prior to about 10 years ago. Before the ubiquity of Facebook, staying in touch with friends was done the old fashion way – and it took some effort. Today, a scroll through a Facebook newsfeed will usually tell us all we need to know about friends, family and even non-friends, and if it doesn’t say enough, a quick journey to that friend’s profile will fill in the gaps. A status “like” or a quick comment will fulfill our friendship obligations for the day.

I also miss my girlfriend. Not in real life – we live in the same home, but I miss her in the virtual world. While the friendship obligations do not follow in terms of our relationship, that is, I do not and cannot maintain that relationship with a simple liked status, it is a part of our interaction that I have had to sacrifice. But that sounds harsher than it needs to be, worse than it really is. I also no longer feel any need to “read between the lines” and since I do not know what she is putting on Facebook, unless she brings it up, I won’t need any further interpretation. While I am not a fan of “vague-booking,” she and I are both well-versed in it.

What I really do not miss, and the primary reason for my Facebook abstinence, is the political bullshit. I’m sure, with the release of the Mueller Report and Attorney General William Barr’s conclusions drawn from it, the meme war is at a fever pitch. It even showed up in my Instagram feed. I like Instagram for not only what it is, but also for what it isn’t. Most of the people I follow are real friends and associates or those more iconic public personalities who post things I’m interested in, much of which involves motorcycles, music and snowboarding. Occasionally a political meme will slip through (I might have stuck one or two up there myself), but generally those I follow are not posting that shit.

Because I value the apolitical nature of Instagram, I unfollowed one person yesterday. The reason was not due to just one, isolated, political meme. It was a pattern of them. In fact, a click this person’s profile revealed a large percentage of the pictures were regurgitated memes - political snipes - many of them derogatory towards the entire “other side.” Which side is not important. My side is not important. The purity of my Instagram feed is and yesterday I took the necessary step to further purify it. That person has every right to post whatever he or she wants, and I have every right to restrict it from my feed.

Do I have thoughts on the Mueller Report and what is contained within it? Of course I do, and I will have something to say about it in short order, but it won’t appear on Instagram. It also won’t appear on Facebook. I am committed to not feeding that machine, that echo chamber where we will find many others who will agree with, cosign and validate anything and everything. Believe the most outrageous shit, post it on Facebook and you will find not a few, not dozens, not hundreds, but thousands of others who will jump on that bandwagon. Why? Fuck if I know…



Sunday, March 24, 2019

A Moment with Mike, #2

Another moment (yes, eight minutes counts as a "moment") with yours truly.



Saturday, March 23, 2019

A Moment with Mike, #1

This video, shot unscripted, will become, hopefully, a regular element to my publishing "empire," such as it is. It is way too long for Facebook where the attention span is one minute or less. These are just some thoughts that are guiding my future direction. Enjoy...




Friday, March 22, 2019

Intolerance


Because you can’t reason people out of positions they didn’t reason themselves into.”

The quote above is from an article recently published in The Medium by Ryan Holiday. In, “It’s Not Enough to Be Right—You Also Have to Be Kind,” Holiday discusses how logic and reason used in an effort to establish “rightness” is not effective in changing many, perhaps most of the views we hold close. I am as guilty of this as anyone; perhaps, due to my formal training as a rhetorician, even more so. I like to win. I am good at putting together evidence to prove that my position - my view - is the correct one. It is often counterproductive. Being right is not always the right thing to be. Being empathetic, however, always is. Empathy is that quality that enables us to not necessarily agree with each other’s views, but to understand them. I can be right and also understand others being right as well.

We establish our world-views from a number of sources. Some values, like the very ideas of what is right and what is wrong, come from a deep-seated, perhaps biological, evolutionary or, if one is so inclined, ethereal place. We seem to have some idea of fairness built-in. Others come from our environments, our parents, our institutions our leaders and our peers. We adhere to the principles embodied by those we respect and admire. It might be a chicken and egg question – do we admire those who embody our values or do we adopt the values of those we admire? It’s probably a little of both, but regardless, those values are deep and not easily changed, even if I have come along and “proved” that there is an inconsistency in them.

Holiday speaks about both the “political correctness” problem as well as the “anti-intellectual” problem, almost placing them as extremes along the same continuum. What might we call that continuum? Maybe it is the spectrum of tolerance and intolerance, consideration and inconsideration. If so, I would counter that both political correctness and anti-intellectualism can represent the same end of that spectrum – intolerance and inconsideration. However, it is only the extreme manifestations that place them there – political correctness, when exercised with reason and compassion, is tolerance. The same goes for anti-intellectualism. The perception that everyone who has higher levels of formal education are somehow “superior” has spawned a back-lash to that intolerance and inconsideration. However, a certain level of formal education is important, democracy depends upon it. Dismissing it as “elitist,” or unimportant, is equally intolerant.

We are seeing an inflexibility, an inability to compromise and nowhere is that more evident than in our governmental institutions. Compromise is viewed as “weak,” giving any ground at all is viewed as a “loss.” Taken to its extreme, no one can win. The competition in the world of ideas, what we should and should not be doing, even down to very personal levels, is turning the deliberative process into a gladiatorial event. Recently, even the death of an opponent has not stopped the fighting.

At a more individual level, nowhere is this more prevalent than in online communication, especially social media and, among that, especially Facebook. There was a time when I relished demolishing trolls. It was sport and I am good at it. But I can safely say that, as right as I was, I didn’t change a single mind. I did not foster any coming together, I did not promote any compromise, I did not “win” any converts. I, like my opponents and too many others, were sucked in by the anonymity and, ironically, the facelessness of Facebook.

The game of life is not adversarial, is not about winning and losing, it is about surviving and improving our collective lot. Doing that requires the one ability that makes humans different from all other living beings – the ability to communicate symbolically and abstractly. That gives us the ability to act cooperatively. That’s what elevated us to the top of the food chain. Nothing we have done to conquer our environment is due to any one person’s individual effort. Without the cooperation that benefits us all, we are just prey.

Human history is rife with us being our own worst enemy. More people have died at the hands of other people than from any other any other living thing – maybe even bacterial and viral epidemics. Yet, despite that, we have conquered the world, we have changed the face of the planet to suit us. For better and for worse, we could only do that together. Evolution gave us this huge brain that has enabled us to do, in a relatively short period of time, what no other animal has. Our demise will not come from the outside, it will come from within. When intolerance becomes the primary value, everyone loses.





Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Almighty


In staying committed to my proclamation yesterday, in 24 to 36 hours I will be deactivating my Facebook profile. I am very much looking forward to not having it in my… um, face all the time. While becoming totally free from it is impossible (unless I complete my disengagement with some kind of off-the-grid living – a future goal, to be sure), I will no longer have any direct participation in the platform. It will take a compelling reason to reactivate. There might be reasons to access it momentarily, but even that must be a really good reason. Like smoking just one cigarette, or drinking just one drink, or imbibing in that one anything, it could prove to be “too many.” If that sounds a little like addiction, I’d say there is an element of truth in that.

But it is more than just some habit that takes so much of my time. It is how that time is used and what results from it. As I wrote yesterday, the cons are far outweighing the pros – or, in recovery speak, “the party has been over for a long time.” What will I do with all the time I will be saving? This. Exactly this. One of the things I do best and my only artistic talent is the ability to arrange words and punctuation in a way that is more than just communicating, it is pleasing. I posed a question on Facebook yesterday regarding the difference between art and craft. There are many likenesses, but I also believe there are many differences. Among them is that art, at its core, has no other purpose than to be, to stimulate the senses in some profound, compelling way. While it can generate income, income does not define it. While it can be otherwise “useful,” it doesn’t have to be. There is no utilitarianism to art, it just is.

Related to that, I plan to read more – more different (to paraphrase the late, great Steve Jobs). I probably read as much as ever, but most of it is disjointed “sound bites” in the form of “status updates,” memes and headlines. I will credit Facebook for bringing actual news into my newsfeed, but most of it consists of empty calories; I can and do get my news from other sources. These snipes do not add any substance to my life. I want to read and write more deeply, to explore what it means to be human, to add my insights and revelations to that which has already been written, from recently to eons ago. The works do not have to be nonfiction, they can be fiction as well, because life is not contained exclusively within the “real.”

My biggest fear is that I might miss out on some event, some announcement, even birthdays. Where phone numbers were once committed to memory, cell phones have taken that task over. Similarly, other tools, such as Facebook, have become the de facto storage medium for other personal minutia like birthdays. Thousands of years ago, Socrates lamented that the written word and books would lead to a decline in the ability to commit things to memory. He was clearly onto something. His words (ironically, preserved in the writings of Plato) were prophetic, indeed. However, I am faithful that the things I really should know about, the goings-on that affect me and those other tidbits that somehow, magically, managed to circulate before Facebook and the Internet, will find their way to me.

And if I miss something, so be it. The idea that we have to be all things, do all things, be everywhere is relatively new. I cannot be everywhere and do everything, but Facebook brings to my phone or desktop everything, everywhere, all the time. Indeed, the Internet and its favorite son, Facebook, are omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. Sound familiar? That sort of deity is one that I always viewed as fantasy, as myth, as dogma and as tradition – never in my mind has it been a real thing. But look at what we’ve created…

I’ve been told that Facebook is merely a tool and as such is morally neutral; it is all a matter of how I use it. But all other tools I have ever used do not have any “brains” behind some curtain. This tool is being directed by humans and whether or not their motives are pure, humans fuck shit up all the time. I submit that this thing has become fucked up. It might work just fine for others, but for me… it really has run its course. Maybe my voice, added to a chorus of others, is marking the downfall for Facebook. I doubt it, but even if that was true, something else would fill that void. I am trying, really hard, to, live a more authentic life. Facebook not only does not require authenticity, too often it is antithetical to it.  

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

A Good, Long Break


Posted to Facebook today:

On Friday - two days from now - I will be putting my Facebook account on an extended, perhaps permanent, hiatus. I have had this account since 2006 and I have been using it regularly since 2008. While it is an awesome tool to stay in touch, that upside is overwhelmed by the many and various downsides. It exacerbates the negative, spreads partial truths and complete untruths and generally does a better job dividing than it does uniting.
I know some might say, as I have in the past, “why say anything, just do it.” There are reasons. The most important is that I do not want to lose the connections I have built, many of which predate Facebook. That they have morphed onto Facebook and, for the most part are only active there now, is a concern, hopefully this post will mitigate that somewhat. Related to that, I also want to post the other online places I will still be able to be found.
I have an Instagram profile, a Twitter profile, a LinkedIn profile and a website/blog. Currently, I only use twitter and LinkedIn sporadically, that will likely not change anytime soon. But my website with my blog is active and will become more so. The same goes for my Instagram profile. The longer stuff I write can be found on my blog via my website (www.michaelalthouse.com), and my pictures and videos can be found on Instagram (@bikerprofessor).
This is not an easy decision and that baffles me a little. It should not be so distressing. Part of what has pushed me over the edge is that the petty bullshit constantly showing up in my Facebook newsfeed is materializing in real life. It’s one thing to deal with it in the virtual world, but when it bleeds into my real world, it is simply not worth it.
I suspended my account once before for about three months. I don’t remember what compelled me to reactivate it, but it will take more this time. I’m really pretty fed up. This is not personal nor is it directed at any one person or group of people, and I am certainly not some innocent bystander. However, I no longer have the desire to feed the Facebook machine. It will get by just fine without me.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Battling the Robots



It is becoming more and more clear that wasting the time of the "robo-solicitors" does, in fact, cost them. They work on percentages and any time they waste on a call that does not produce is time they cannot use fishing for those that do. Most of the time I simply hang-up because I am doing something more important, but there are times when I have nothing better to do than to fuck with them. It is kind of a game for me - I am shooting for one or both of two things - maximum time wastage and/or maximum irritation. When I "press 1 to speak with a representative," it is game-on.

How do I know they value their time? Because they are getting better and better at detecting people like me. We are not potential marks, we are not simply uninterested, we are aggressively disrupting their activity and, in the process, increasing their costs. Each minute taken might not amount to much, but together it adds up. They are starting to detect the tone in my voice, maybe they know I have put them on speaker (and I have, when the opportunity has presented itself, shared the call with my entire class - when the solicitors find that out it really pisses them off) or are using other "tells" that indicate this call will not pan out.

To that end, when I plan to engage, I will have to change my tactics. The big pay-off is two-fold. I have wasted a significant amount of their time (my record is around 15 minutes) combined with the "representative" getting so angry that he (usually) resorts to a heavily accented tirade laced with heavily accented cuss words. The icing on the cake is when my laughing on the other end fuels that fire, thus taking even more time.

Granted, the easiest thing to do is just hang up. Hitting whatever number for the "do not call list" does nothing. But if recent hang-ups on their end are any indication, I have, in fact, taken more from them than they will ever get from me. I have taken their time and, if I do it well, I have also taken their peace. And when my laughter is joined by a chorus of college students... it just doesn't get any better than that.





Friday, March 15, 2019

Rearview Mirror


I have a job that pays me a decent wage, provides excellent benefits and gives me a high degree of satisfaction. Not everyone can say that and I am fortunate to be among those who truly love their jobs. I am a university professor. I am not tenured or tenure track (full, associate or assistant professor); I fall into the next hierarchical level. The terms vary, but our titles include adjunct professor, instructor, lecturer, part-time faculty, visiting faculty and the like. Most of us are employed on a contractual basis and our employment is not guaranteed by the rules governing tenure. We hold these positions for a variety of reasons, one of which is the rigor and the concessions it takes to obtain a tenure/tenure track position. In my case, it was a failure to write a dissertation and complete my Ph.D. along with other factors that, through a weighing of pros and cons, compelled me to pursue the path I did.

However, for all university or college level teaching positions, and to a certain extent, all teaching, there is a perception that we do not work either as hard or as many hours as those with “normal” jobs. The perception is not totally unfounded, many of us, myself included, do not work during the summer and other breaks in the school year. Many have to in order to make ends meet, but I have the luxury of taking that time to myself. I don’t get paid for the summer and winter breaks, so in that respect I only work nine to 10 months per year. I also don’t get any paid vacation time and I have yet to figure out how I would use my sick time. Unless I am truly sick (only twice in my entire teaching career), calling in sick does not “save” me any work, it creates more.

While the pay rates for teaching can vary widely, the idea that teachers are notoriously underpaid - for the responsibility we have combined with the education and training it took to get us here - is also well supported. We are, all of us, not valued enough. That is not open for discussion. Those who teach are not doing it for the money, almost all of us could get better pay in other jobs. We love what we do, but it should not cost us because we do. It does, nonetheless. But this is not about that. This is about the perception that I (and I am assuming this applies to many others) are somehow not working as hard you are.

I get it. Those who see me riding my motorcycle all over the country every summer might feel some envy, perhaps some jealousy and even, for a shallow few, some animosity. Combined with the work we do that is unseen, it might look like we really don’t do shit. My schedule this semester has me on campus for class and office hours (required) only two days per week. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I am not required to be there. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I have back-to-back-to-back classes, office hours and another class from 7:30 a.m. straight through to 2:45 p.m. (other semesters I have not been so lucky, my 12 or more units can be - and have been - spread out over five days). And that’s it, right? Work two days and I'm done? While that would be nice, it is not even close to reality. To be fair, I don’t think many regard the job of teaching as just what we do in the classroom. Most would grant and acknowledge that a lot, maybe even most of what we do happens outside of the classroom. However, the perception that I am living in some kind of “semi-retirement," even during the school year, persists.

But let’s assume it’s true, that all I do is teach all day twice a week and the rest of that time is mine. Let’s say that those perks, if they really did exist, are attractive enough to make me want to get on that career path. Okay, what does it take to get there? A master’s degree is the minimum and that takes a minimum of six years (often more) of higher education to achieve. I went beyond that and actually made it to Ph.D., candidacy before cashing that work in on another master’s degree. During that time, I was dirt poor, living on part-time, very low-paying work and student loans, grants and scholarships. I will be paying back my loans for years to come, and the payment is equivalent to a decent car (or motorcycle) payment. That means that to attain this “cushy” perception (because it is not reality), I had to do a lot of things, make a lot of sacrifices and pay my dues. And, of course, I am working much more that the two days I am actually, physically, there for students. And then there's email...

I get the reaction. I really do. “Why does that asshole get to spend all summer doing what he wants when I have to work?” The answer is really very simple. Because I did the things I needed to do to get here. I am happy with a lower-paying job because there are tangible and intangible components to it that make it worth it to me. I absolutely love what I do and I love that I have the time and flexibility I do. If it was about money, my educational credentials could land me a much higher-paying job. I’d probably have to wear a suit. For people who are not personally grateful for my efforts. While commuting to get to some office building every weekday by 8:00 a.m. And maybe have to travel 30 percent of my time. Filling out expense reports. And working in July.

For those who are so envious, do what I do. Really, do it. Go get the degrees, work your ass off and get a teaching job. You’ll love it. Your students, most of them, will show you how much they appreciate you, it will feed your soul. It won’t pay much, and some people will think you get paid for doing next to nothing, but you will have time to ride your motorcycle into the sunset, leaving them and all that negativity in your rearview mirror.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Time Will Tell





For a while, since my ill-advised marriage was history at least, I’ve felt pretty secure with who I am, where I am and, overall, I have been optimistic about the future, about where I am going. Lately, however, there has been some wear in the fabric of my life. Not rips or tears yet (been there, not anxious to go back), but the stresses can propagate if not addressed. And there are some unaddressed stresses. Some I can identify, are temporary and will, with time, resolve themselves. They require no action, no plan. There are others, however, that I am not sure of, what their source or nature is and, as a result, I have no idea what to address, let alone how. What that adds up to is dread. I’ve felt it before. Sometimes that feeling of impending doom is impending doom; sometimes when it feels like something just ain’t right it is because something just ain’t right.

At this point, it’s just a feeling – it has no tangible source. It could be the weather and being “cooped up” this long without significant deviation. We need the rain, we welcome the rain, but in California we are not used to it raining this much this long. It might be that those temporary self-righting issues are not self-righting fast enough. But that is not likely; I know that by the end of this year – likely much sooner, and barring anything unexpected – life will get much less complicated. But the build-up, the tension and the stress could be having an unconscious effect.

All this leaves me feeling unsure about almost everything. If I was so unencumbered, if I was without responsibility, if I could, I would just go. I’d get on my bike and leave it all in my rear-view mirror. But that is not who I am today, I don’t run. Okay, I guess I do know who I am. I also have this job - a career - that I enjoy more than any other I’ve ever had, and I have had a few. It pays pretty well, but I’ve made more money. It’s got a lot of independence, but not as much as no job would. It gives me great satisfaction and is an integral part of who I am. I look forward to it and will until I am ready to stop working sometime in my early 60s. Okay, I guess in that respect I am pretty optimistic about the future, about where I am going.

With the exception of the time I spent away in Baton Rouge working on (and failing to earn) a Ph.D., I have lived in the same place - about 15 years. I have owned the same house for almost 14 years and lived in it most of that time. These are the deepest roots I’ve ever had except for when I was a kid. And even that “record” is close to falling. I almost stayed away when I was in Baton Rouge, but there was something calling me back – I felt I needed to be in the west – maybe not Sacramento, maybe not even California, but my calling was definitely to the west. I’ve been back nearly four years now. Prior to that, I rented my house out for less than two years and before that I “commuted” to Baton Rouge and LSU.

During that time, a lot of bridges were burnt. Some of those fires I lit and some were set by others. What drew me back to Sacramento was a combination of a few good friends, a home and the job opportunity that has become my career. That’s it – had it not been for just those things, I would have had no problem living anywhere else west of the Rockies. Someday, the only thing holding me here will be a few good friends, and that won’t be enough. Without the additional ties of this particular home and my career, I’ll have the freedom to come and go as I please. As much as I love my job and embrace how it defines me, I am very much working toward retirement – I will have no trouble “keeping busy.”

That leaves me where I am. I am here, trying to navigate this world the best I can. I’ve been doing a pretty good job these past few years, but like anything else, there is always room for improvement. I try to stay in my own lane. That doesn’t mean I don’t make observations, make evaluations and form opinions – everyone does, there is nothing inherently wrong with discernment (some people derogatorily call it judgement, so be it). But I don’t insert myself or impose my way in others’ lives, it’s not my business or my place. I also do not take kindly to anyone imposing their way on me. In that respect I don’t have to be right or wrong – no one does. To each his or her own, we reap whatever we sow. I am lucky to have what I do, but none of it is worth giving up my sanity.

So where am I? What does it all mean? Fuck if I know. Those are damned good questions. Time will tell.