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.


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

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


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 (, 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.