Thursday, May 30, 2024

Bringing the World Closer

I don't "rank" my friends. I do not have a best, a second best, third best, etc. friend nor do I have any "BFFs" (and, in the words of my dearly departed little brother, "forever is a long-ass time"). Even if I did, I would avoid such labels. Every relationship - friendship or otherwise - is unique. Each has its own combination of characteristics that makes it the only one like it in the history of forever (and, again, that's a long-ass time).

However, there are certain characteristics that can be used to make broad categories. But even the word "friend" is not so concrete. Some people view every single one of their Fakebook friends as an actual friend. I am not here to argue that they are or are not (I don't care, have 5,000 friends, it's your life), but I can say with certainty that all of my 2,000+ Fakebook "friends" are not real friends. In fact, most are not (if you have to ask, you already know the answer).

Further, among them, there are those who are friends, but friends who, if I had some particular urgency, I could count on them to be conveniently unavailable. There are others who I know will drop everything if I needed them. That does not make one group "better" friends than the other, but there is a qualifiable difference in those relationships. In fairness, I am, to others, both. I will drop everything for some and would not for others. Does reciprocity play a role? I'd be lying if I said it didn't, but it's not everything. I'd be there for some who I know would not be for me; I don't know why.

It seems that certain aspects of human interaction, and human connection, and human relations, and relationships, have been diluted with the advent of social media. We are - in what amounts to a nanosecond compared to the whole of human history - all of a sudden provided with the tools to connect with everyone, everywhere, all the time. Not every connection is equal, not all are special, not all need to be "nurtured" and, certainly, not all need to be cherished. And all those "social media influencers" who are "interacting" with you do not have a relationship with you - you are their markets.

This hyper-connectivity is not sustainable. The cracks are already showing, the bottom will, eventually, fall out. Only AI can maintain the number of relationships that the "age of information" has made possible. Those who try to keep up will spend all their time doing only that - they will always be left trying to catch their breath. I was onboard with all of it once, I thought it was cool, it would make the world a better place and bring us all closer. But all of it, even something as innocuous as text messages, has left me rethinking what all this "bringing the world closer" has really done.

Exactly the opposite.

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Eighteen Years of Perspectives, Purpose & Opinion

In the fall of 2005, I was a junior at California State University, Sacramento. I was also 42 years-old and just one-year sober. My life up to that point was full of twists and turns, starts and stops, life and death, but at the time, I was full of hope - and I was excited. I was finally good at something; my mind was clear, and I was moving towards a goal I thought was forever beyond my reach. I entered with a hybrid dual major of political science-journalism, but my focus was journalism. Thanks to an English writing general education course and one magical professor, I discovered while in community college (and one failed attempt at sobriety) that I could write.

That failed attempt at sobriety turned out to be serendipitous as it changed not only my academic trajectory, but also my entire career path. However, that is a different story for another time. This is the story of The 25 Year Plan – the story of the blog that is now more than 18 years-old and holds more than 650 separate entries. One of those entries, early on, explains where the name came from, but there is no need to dig for it, I will recount it here. It is a short story.

When I went to San Diego State University back in the early 80s (when I was of “college age”), there was a euphemism for students who would take longer than the typical fours years to complete a college education. Today, a fifth year (or more) senior is called a “super-senior,” but back then, when asked about one’s projected graduation date, a response from one of “those” students might be, “I’m on the five-year plan.” It was as common as “super-senior” is today. In fact, the problem of students not graduating in four years is one that has been recognized by many universities, and measures to mitigate the problem are equally common. Because I would be much closer to 25 years from high school to college graduation, I decided that my plan would be called, ├╝ber-euphemistically, “the 25-year plan.” When it came time to name my blog, it seemed obvious.

That explains the name, but not how it came into existence. Blogging 20 years ago is not what it is now. Today, virtually anything is and can be called a “blog,” and virtually anyone who publishes anything on the web can be called a “blogger.” Technically, a Facebook post is a blog post. The term comes from the words “web log,” and, at their inception, these online logs were primarily written and much longer than a Facebook status update. Indeed, Facebook was just in its infancy at the time, not yet available to the masses. Myspace was the de facto social media platform. One of the main blogging platforms was called “Blogger,” (purchased by Google in 2003) and it was free, robust and it was just beginning to expand beyond simple text-based posting.

But in December of 2005, I wasn’t looking for any of that. There were no real smart phones (no iPhones, I don’t even know if I had a Blackberry yet), social media was only Myspace and the internet was still painfully slow. I was looking at a five-week winter break and I was not exactly looking forward to it. I was on fire; I had one of the best semesters ever in school (3.94 GPA) and I was leery of too much free time. Two years early that free time, in part, derailed me, ending nine months of sobriety. One of my journalism professors was (still is) a prolific writer and used this new(ish) blogging platform to publish stuff he wrote for himself. He suggested opening an account and using it to “keep your writing fresh” over the winter break.

I took that advice and never looked back. Eventually I attracted other bloggers who read my posts regularly and I became a frequent visitor to their blogs. The community I ended up building (which sounds more purposeful than it was – it was much more organic than it was my doing) was robust, and deep, and anything but superficial. Unlike Facebook, or Myspace at the time, the things we wrote about, most of the time, had substance, they had texture – we pushed each other and learned from each other. The comments were, sometimes, mini blog posts all their own. In the early years, I wrote and posted several times per week. I wrote for the sake of writing. And, while not all of it was good (despite the overall positive feedback), much of it still holds “ah-ha” moments when I reread it all these years later.

As the internet matured and as social media like Twitter (now X) and Facebook took off, blogging, at least as it originally was, has fallen off. However, other writing platforms with a quasi-professional angle are beginning to emerge. I am present on one, The Medium and there is also Substack, and others. That community I built on Blogger is long gone, although a few of those I engaged with are my “friends” on other platforms. My writing for The 25 Year Plan has slowed to a mere trickle, my readership, while never very big, is almost nonexistent now.  However, every now and then, I will break out this old-school keyboard with the purpose of writing for the sake of writing.

And if no one reads it, that’s okay.