You Can’t Make Me WANT Your Social Gathering!

I had the book “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community” by Robert D. Putnam on my reading list because it was on Mark Manson’s list of “5 Books That Explain Why it Seems the World is so Fucked.” SEEMS is the operative word here, by the way. It really isn’t and he was right about this book! It’s a great read for those that think that social media is what is killing our desire for community. The book was written in 2000, before the advent and spread of Facebook. And he writes about things that have been in decline for the previous 30 years or so. He writes about my generation, the one that seems to have picked up the anti-community ball and ran with it.

The first thing that I found so intriguing about this book is that I have always believed I was in the minority when it came to my feelings about social gatherings of all types. I have never been a “joiner.” I have never wanted to be part of a club of any kind that wants to meet on a regular basis, other that maybe a book club or writer’s club…which also doesn’t seem to exist anymore. And even if it did, I’d be too scared to attend without a wingman. When I have been coerced into joining something, I find the group so desperate for leadership and volunteers, that I feel like I’m on a sinking ship trying to escape with my life. It turns out I am not in the minority at all. It’s more of a generational thing.

It also turns out that a lack of community isn’t a new thing. It looks to be cyclical. It isn’t that the world has always been a wonderful hodgepodge of community involvement and now because of social media addiction, everyone stays home. It rises and falls in popularity, mostly during times of crisis or scarcity. When there is a big war or famine, people tend to group together tightly for a generation or two, then the feeling wanes and we go back to our independent loner natures for the most part.

Weird to find, once again, that we aren’t in the throws of end times, but merely experiencing a low in the natural cycle of humanity.

There is one problem that I see becoming prevalent. Humans have a natural hormone response to being near each other, it doesn’t work through the computer. Bonding with and caring for others doesn’t happen through pictures and written words the same way it does through interpersonal contact. Is social media bringing us closer? In some ways yes, but not if we limit our interaction to online.

We should be spending some time together in a physical way: dinner parties, bar-b-ques, and community projects, are all ways we can build social capital that allows us to trust each other. It makes us happier people. In the past, we (most of us anyway) felt compelled to put in the effort of going to see each other. How else are you going to know what kind of a monster your cousin married? How would you get to know your nieces and nephews? And how would your Mom know you were happy and healthy? But now we have social media. We can see what everyone is doing without actually going. But it shouldn’t replace actual, in person contact. It should be enhancing it.

We can’t blame social media for what’s happening. It’s only building on how our generation has been feeling. It’s escalating our isolation from each other, but it didn’t create our need to isolate ourselves. That is a whole other ball of wax and this book gets into the patterns that have been manifesting themselves for several generations. And it does so without making us feel negative and hopeless at the end!

The answer isn’t more or different government, more voting, social media/internet bans or regulation. The answer is more socializing. And we have to want that ourselves. We cannot be coerced into it or made to enjoy it. We have to become aware that we need it and then seek it out. Personally, I think it’s a cycle we will work our way through all by ourselves sooner or later. Eventually, a few of us will get lonely enough, unhappy enough to want to change things. We’ll start seeing people more often, doing things together in small groups that build up into larger groups again. These things will build trust between us and will open us up to relationships and happiness we can’t get alone. We’re social animals after all and, contrary to popular belief, I think we’re smart enough as a species to know when we need to do something for our own immediate good. Those that aren’t and don’t have friends and family to pull them along, won’t make it. Evolution is alive and well.

The whole time I was reading this book, I kept thinking about when it was written, 2000. What would the author think about the state of community today? Has it gone the way he imagined it would? Does our current situation surprise him at all?

One really funny thing before I end this! I keep notes about the books I’m reading in a paper journal. I keep the journal and my favorite mechanical pencil with the book, underlining passages and making stars where I have a note in my paper journal as I go. While reading through my notes to refresh my memory about this book, I found myself trying to use my finger to scroll up on the paper page! I think I’ve been spending a lot of time reading articles on my phone lately.

The Mall of Social Media

Why do we treat social media as if it came from another planet entirely? Why do we act as if it did not evolve from human wants and needs and isn’t only using a new technology to connect an already existing human society?

My social media profile is like me walking through the mall. I chose to visit that mall. It is private property that I have been allowed to visit and transact business on. How I present myself is completely up to me.

You remember hanging out at the mall, don’t you? It was pretty much a universal teenage activity for those of us that grew up in the 80’s. We’d wear our coolest outfits, gather with our friends, and enjoy the air-conditioned indoor space. We’d buy the latest clothes and gadgets, we’d eat in the food court with our friends, and make out in the darkness of the movie theater. Some of us, never me because I was always such a good kid, became a bit destructive and disruptive while we spent time there. Some of us even got thrown out by security when we decided to test the limits of conformity in a public space.

Social media only provides us with a similar experience with more people, more stores, and more “hangouts” and “make-out” spots. People aren’t any more fake on social media than they were at the mall. We have all put on a façade that attempts to portray who we really are. All social media does is make it easier for the more shy and quiet people to have a bigger voice. When you’re the lone Sci-Fi fan in your town, you tend to not wear your cape around the mall for fear of standing out a little too much. On the web, you find your tribe of weird and wear your cape, boots, and carry a scepter for the world to see. You are not alone. You are part of a group. And being part of a larger group equals safety to humans across time. There are positives and negatives to that of course, but it isn’t new or alien.

Ironically, it seems that it is more cool to hate social media and to proclaim that hate loudly on social media, like hating the commercialism of the mall but still going there because that’s where “1 Potato 2” is. I’ll admit openly, I love it. I have my favorite platform that I use most, even though it’s not perfect, just like the mall that doesn’t have a Rubio’s anymore. Overall, it has enhanced my life. I’ve kept in touch with people I would have lost in time. I’ve met new people that share my interests. I’ve learned about things I never would have heard about, let alone gotten to understand a better. And I’ve gotten to share my life with some of those people on a regular basis. It makes me happy.

There is one thing I would like to actually complain about though. We need to stop thinking that social media needs to be fair and unbiased. It is not a news source. It is not the place to get a liberal college education. It’s SOCIAL place. It’s a party and a marketplace combined. A place to hang out with friends, notice new things to spend our money on, and play. You don’t go to the mall to find out what’s really happening in the Middle East or who to vote for in the next election. You go there to socialize and meet friends. Yes, while your scrolling through your media feed, you’ll only see what you want to see. You’ll be among friends, hopefully, and those you have something in common with. It’s called “social” media, not news media. We should be treating it as such, in my opinion.

Just as when I’m at the mall, I have every right to shop and eat with who I want to shop and eat with. If you approach me and ask to sit at my table, I will be polite and either say yes or no. And to be socially acceptable, you are required to accept my yes and my no. We may start to talk and find out we have a lot in common and become friends, or we may find that we don’t like each other and go our separate ways. I don’t have to let everyone sit at my table, but you can if you want to. That’s the glory of socializing. It’s completely voluntary!

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time at the mall of social media. I’ve been having fun and putting many of my responsibilities to the side. I’ve been more interested in making new friends and playing with my old ones, than being productive. It’s been fun but I do need to get back to work. I’m not leaving it forever, I’m reprioritizing. I have work to do in this world. Life is not all fun and games you know!

Real Love Sets Us Free

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I found Wild Woman Sisterhood about a year ago and have loved just about everything they post. I am only saddened by the negativity of the Facebook comments they seem to get. I’m not sure if it’s social media itself or the people that tend to follow, but many commenters seem so self-centered, immature, and negative. Then again, maybe it’s just the written word that causes the confusion. It’s hard to write one or two lines and get a solid meaning across.

When I see a post on any page that I can’t get behind or doesn’t apply to me, I just keep scrolling. I’m sure it’s out in the universe for someone. That someone isn’t me at the moment. There are times when I do make a comment when I disagree, but it’s usually because I know the person that posted it personally. I’m talking to them directly, just as if they had said something over coffee. I don’t agree and I want to talk about that. But I’d never do that to a stranger and I especially wouldn’t do it on a social media post.

Maybe I just use it differently.

They posted something beautiful this morning and I felt compelled to add my own ideas to it. I kept thinking about it all morning. I even talked about it with my son as we went hiking through the desert.

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My morning routine was broken up today because he wanted to go hiking and, since it’s warming up out here in the desert, it couldn’t wait until the afternoon. After a lunch, a rest, and the dishes, I sat down to write, and the idea was still swimming around in my heart.

Here’s the quote.

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And this was my comment.

Such a beautiful sentiment!

A caged bird is “loved” too. But the best love is the kind that supports freely, the kind that makes you feel like you can do anything, including walking away.

That kind of love is precious.

I’m bound to my love, not because I feel like I have to stay but because I want to, because here, with my partner’s love, is where I grow and thrive best!

And then, when someone insisted that a caged bird is not really loved at all…

The person who caged it does believe they love it. They love it as an object to be taken care of like a book, pen, or chair.

Humans should never be loved that way, but we often treat each other as objects instead of beings. That doesn’t mean we don’t love each other. It means we haven’t grown enough to know the difference yet.

It takes a strong person to love another human as a separate being and not an object.

Lovers that treat their partners as objects to be kept, get scared and angry when their love isn’t returned or if their partner changes their mind.

Parents treat their children as pets, something to be controlled and cared for, instead of distinct individuals with their own wants, needs, and agendas.

And sometimes we treat our friends that way when we insist that they spend time with us and only us, as if they aren’t living their own life when we aren’t around.

Loving someone and letting them go, allowing them the space to be free, to say no to us, to walk away, is terrifying.

What if they find someone better? If you loved them, you’d want them to if they could.

What if they grow away from me? If you loved them, you’d want them to be the best they can be with or without you.

What if? Don’t ruin the time you have with your loved ones worrying about the future. Love them completely right now, so if the worst happens, you have all those beautiful memories to look back on.

If you LOVE someone, something, set it free. If it doesn’t come back…

Hunt it down! That’s what my Grandpa used to laugh and say! But we all know that just doesn’t work. The caged bird is safe and secure, but it will never fulfill its true reason for being on this earth.

The caged human is the same. She will never reach her own potential. He will never be who he was truly meant to be.

Love them but do not cage them. Support them, share with them, help them, but set them free and watch what they become.

The Rabbit Hole of “Curated”

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Stick with me here. It’s worth it!

I started reading a great book this morning called, “The Revenge of Analog – Real Things and Why They Matter” by David Sax. It was recommended in an article about keeping physical journals, ones that you write…by hand…with a pen!

I’ve been keeping journals on and off since high school. I find it interesting how little my handwriting has changed over the years and how much it can drastically change in a week or even a day when I’m rushing or angry.

But sometimes I wonder, will anyone ever read them? I sincerely hope they don’t! Or at least not while I’m alive. Most of them are filled with craziness that I wouldn’t normally express. Something about writing every single piece of bullshit out with a pen often helps me let said bullshit go. If I can’t say it, I write it, and then I feel better.

I have taken long and short breaks from journaling over the last..um..thirty years. The longest break was in my early twenties. Man, I wish I had taken the time to write things down back then, but maybe that’s just stuff best forgotten.

Then there are times when I wonder what the point of all this writing is; the futility of writing down thoughts that never see the light of day, the lists, the dreams, the angry rants. There’s just so much there, even if I wanted to, I’d be hard pressed to go back and make any sense of it on a regular basis. Then an interview on The Creative Nonfiction Podcast gave a great idea to help me fix that!

The author being interviewed said he looked back on his journals and notes every month and put together a newsletter for his audience of all the most interesting things he found, ideas, and quotes. I don’t have a big audience to share that kind of thing with and even if I did, I’m not sure they’d want to see that far into my reality. But it would be a healthy exercise for me to take an hour or two a month to read what I wrote the last thirty days and write myself a nice summary. I tend to forget the ups and downs in month, or a week for that matter, and this practice might shed some warm light on my attitude changes. There may even be a blog post in there.

You see, I’m one of those people that has a short attention span and a weak memory. When I’m feeling good, I think I’ve always felt good. When I’m feeling down, I get depressed and think I’ve always been down. It’s weird but the best way for me to combat that is to write things down.

Want to know something weirder? I do the same thing about making dinner. If I haven’t had time to make dinner for my family for a couple days in a row, I get it in my head that we are ALWAYS going out to eat or scrounging for frozen pizza. If I write what I made for dinner on the calendar, I can look back on that last few weeks and reassure myself that Taco Bell employees do not know us by our first names.

I guess I should circle this back to that book I started reading this morning. You do know this post is about a thought I had while reading that book, don’t you? Welcome to my brain. It’s fun. Trust me.

Reading that book made me think about the word “curated.”

“Curated” is an adjective that means “(of online content, merchandise, information, etc.) selected, organized, and presented using professional or expert knowledge.” It has come up in my thinking a couple times this week.

When you hear the word curated, you probably think of museums but in this case, I’m thinking about printed magazines and books.

Here’s the deal. (That’s for my husband. He hears that sentence several times a day from me.) The internet is an amazing place because everyone can put their “art” out in the world for free. You can have a free social media page, keep a blog or vlog, self-publish a book, record your music and have people all over the world download it, or put your visual art up for the world to see and love. It’s a world of infinite and free information! But there is a down side. It’s not all worth spending time on and we each only have so much time and attention!

So here we are scrolling through our social media pages, hopping from one blog post to another, randomly finding and playing music, and reading “news” article after article. It feels like a waste of time.

How can we fix this?! How can we spend our currency of time and attention more wisely? Enter “curated” content, otherwise known as a book, magazine, music album, or “TV” station. Yep, it turns out that those that can pay a little extra are moving back towards things like book stores, paper magazines, and news stations for their information. It seems we’d all gladly pay someone we trust to sift through all that content that’s being created and present us with curated information that has already been vetted, organized, and is relevant to our needs. The hard part is finding an author or an organization you can trust!

It’s amazing to me how we create new technologies that will open up the room and air things out like a big spring cleaning. People rush in to see it all and find new ways to use it, but when the dust settles, the tried and true comes back. The old ways with a fresh new look!

What’s Your Family Culture?

I’ve been thinking about cultural customs and communication a lot lately. I’m wondering how much of what we do or don’t like about a person initially is more about how they communicate or the manners they learned growing up in their own family/national culture and less about who they are or how they behave.

What is culture? It’s the way a group of people living in close proximity have learned to communicate through words, actions, and behaviors. The family I grew up in had its own developed culture. And the state and country I grew up in had its own wider culture. Your culture teaches you what to expect from the people around you and what they expect from you. It makes people comfortable and able to focus on bigger things. When I walk in a room at a party, I know that if I make eye contact, smile, and talk in a familiar friendly way, people will accept me as part of the group and I can move forward with making closer friendships. That is what culture is.

The world is a big place with so many different cultures and communication styles. We used to only interact with a few on a daily basis. In the course of a regular work week, we’d interact with our own family’s culture and that of our physical location. It was easy. In a lifetime, the only time you’d deal with another would be if you traveled or if a foreigner came to your area. In those instances, you’d have to learn about what was expected of you as you traveled or that your new neighbor from China communicated respect in way different than you.

With the internet and social media, the world suddenly seems so much smaller. We deal with vastly different cultures on a daily basis. The pictures we see, the articles, the comments, all reflect a myriad of cultures that are so foreign to our own even from people inside our own country. We react to what we see from our own perspective, assuming that the person on the other end is posting from the same point of view when in fact he most likely is not. We end up taking offense and being angry, wondering what in the world has gone so completely wrong these days.

You’d think making it possible to see and communicate with people from around the world for free would make us immediately more understanding and sympathetic to others, but no. It’s made us angry and distrustful. Of course, it has! People say human is human and “a smile means friendship to everyone” but that just isn’t true.

The internet is opening up a whole new era of communication. In my opinion, it’s the equivalent of discovering fire, inventing language, and developing farming. It’s going to take a long time to re-invent the rules of behavior. Our new culture may be very different than any previous one. It may need to be based on a broader understanding of human nature, braver communication techniques, and a penchant for really wanting to connect. It remains to be seen if the human race is up to it.

Anyone Out There?

I’ve been feeling a bit disconnected lately. Ok, maybe just today. I had a great weekend but some pieces of it fell short of what I had hoped. Some pieces exceeded my expectations! Honestly, I just want to connect with real people lately over real things.

Is anyone really out there? I mean, really? It seems that we’re all talking to the walls. I’m having a mental breakdown on the internet lately. I’ve always been firmly in the camp of ‘the internet brings people together,’ but lately…sheesh…people!

The internet does connect people. Most of the people I know right now I met online through first Yahoo groups and then Facebook. I’ve used it as a beacon to find like minded or at least like scheduled people to get together with.

My first use of the internet to meet people was joining Yahoo groups to find other local mom’s and meet up for park days. “Playgroups” were awesome back then. It made going to the park so much more fun because you knew there would be other mom’s to talk to and the kids would have friends to play with. We met every week, rain or shine. We’d move it indoors if it were too cold or wet outside. And eventually we moved it to each other’s homes. We all bonded over the kids and their crazy antics. I still know those people thanks to Facebook.

Yahoo groups also introduced me to my first homeschool park day. I met those families every week, too. We’d meet at the same park at the same time, kids in tow, with picnic lunches and lawn chairs. We had the most fun there. Again, I still know some of those families. I’ve recently learned that homeschoolers don’t really do this anymore and it just breaks my heart.

My sons have made friends of their own on social media. And, yes, they are real people with real lives and some of them we have met in person now.

It’s been overall a pretty positive experience. But lately…

It’s as if people are only there to argue. Most people don’t really read a post. Several times now I’ve asked for specific answers to questions from a personal point of view and all I get is someone “googling it for me” or telling me why I should do something else. If I post that I’m looking for a friend, lovers raise their hands. If I say, “Does anyone read books?” I get “Movies are better!”

You know what I’d like right now? I’d regular park day to hang out at, a weekly thing that we all bring lunch to and sit and talk to each other. I’d like a monthly book club where everyone reads something and shares it over coffee and we all freely associate what we’re reading with what everyone else is reading, or just spend time laughing about not having time to finish any book. I’d like to have people over every Saturday afternoon for a potluck.

Host those things! That’s what you’re thinking. I have. I have done most of them fairly regularly over the years, but people don’t come anymore. They all say they will. They all say they’d love to. But when the day comes they flake out and I’m stuck sitting there alone, more depressed than before I started. I just don’t have the emotional fortitude to sit at a booth at IHOP waiting for all those people that said they’d be there, only to get a message an hour later that they aren’t going to make it after all. It’s just a lot of effort and I’m tired.

I’m not sure what to do about it. I’m not sure if there is anything to do about it.