What Social Media Has Taught Me About Sensitivity and Respect

Following up on my post about the Boston Marathon bombing and even other posts where I discuss my positive experience with social media, I have been thinking about the fact that social media has made me more sensitive and reflective.  So often I hear people discuss social media as a dehumanizing and vampiric tool on human sensitivity and respect.  The anonymity and distance from one another allows us to be mean without consideration of the impact.  Just do a quick Google search on the latest obnoxious, racist, sexist, and mean things flowing out of the internet and this justifies as proof-positive that the internet is a cesspool of despicable peoples.    At least that's how the argument goes.

But I find it's quite different for me.  I'm increasingly sensitive to what I'm saying, posting, commenting upon, and interacting with online.  That's not to say I'm censoring what I say or refraining from speaking, but I'm more deliberate in what I have to say and I'm likely to vet it more before posting.  Even on Twitter, I think more critically about my use of 140 characters.  I'm still critical and challenge things that I find problematic or dubious, but the ways in which I challenge them are increasingly more restrained.

I find myself doing this for a few reasons.  The first is the fact that because of digital technology, anything can be captured and recapitulated into the larger world in mere moments and I will largely have little say of whether that something of mine is deep and respectful or obnoxious and insulting.  Also, at the end of the day, I want my digital identity to correspond with and reflect my physical identity (or at least my conception of it).   Another reason is that I find much richer and rewarding conversations and dialogue when I post with respect than when I don't.  I make more friends and connections.  I learn more about myself and others.  I get a slice of that human need for dialogue.

I've also realized that aggressive arguing, attacking, and insulting doesn't suit me.  I would rather not be up half the night in such debates like the meme below.  I can easily get an awful sense of indignation and righteousness--that's not hard at all for many of us given the right topic and the wrong comment.  But I find little or no value in dispensing my wrath through social media.  Largely, because it doesn't dispense itself but just sits there waiting to collide into someone else and begin nothing productive but a virtual yelling match between two people.  That is, anger just festers.
http://farm7.staticflickr.com/6067/6027755162_87e38e4708.jpg
We often do this; and yet never feel better.

But the internet and social media feel less and less like an nebulous, anonymous, and potentially hostile environment to me and more and more like a very large room with the capacity for people to hear everything that you may say.  This enormous, ongoing, cross-cultural, trans-generational conversation puts me in contact with many other people in many different places (geographically, politically, spiritually, sexually, etc).  Slowly but surely, the conversations that I've hopped into with more callousness or sense of right have only reminded me of the multiplicity of understanding and process in the world.  In plain, it's shown me time and again that I'm wrong in many different, humbling, and wonderful ways.  Thus in moving forward, I increasingly try to step back before stepping forward.

So where is all of this coming from?  Last week, I heard about the major explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas as it was being reported; it is another tragedy in the unfolding like the Boston Marathon bombing earlier that week.  Upon first hearing it, a host of quips came to mind--none of which were appropriate, but did capitalize on the intersection of fertilizer and explosion.  I have no doubt Twitter and the like are inundated with such quips and off remarks.  I could have easily tossed out a bunch of them, but I realized I didn't want to.  Sure, someone might laugh but it would be at the expense of real people.  People that I'm likely to find out in some way, shape, or form, I am connected to--and who even if I'm not connected to, I'm likely to read about their stories, lives, and experiences from a variety of writers and creators on the internet.  This is what I mean by the large room.  We become much more aware of how closely we are connected and that means we're more connected to events even when they are afar.  We see the human element of the event more and more because it's a quick check of our various social networks to get a sense of who it has reached.  We're increasingly in those networks of connection.  

Thus, more and more, when I prepare to hit the send, tweet, publish, or post button, I'm more likely to think much more about who will read this and how will impact them.  How can I communicate my thoughts and ideas in a way that will effect them without insulting or aggravating them.  I think it has made me a better communicator in many ways and have seen direct and indirect indicators of this.  It's also made my life richer and more enjoyable.

To be clear--I'm no saint in this regard.  I still slip into a more antagonistic role in social media at times.  Though I find it interesting that I'm likely to do that with people that I've known 10 years or longer--slipping into previously established scripts and roles--but for most people whom I know from adulthood and may have never met face to face, I find that I try to maintain a mutual respect, regardless of differences.  It's not an all or nothing and I think there is a learning curve involved.

I think it's also that social media brings to our attention the ways that we are in our day to day lives that we miss or don't necessarily see--but can actually follow in through looking at a week's or month's worth of posts and comments on a social media site we favor.  This opportunity to capture how we interact and be able to examine and study it is something I don't think we really have done well in our day to day lives.  Our conversations, interactions, and gestures are fleeting and thus deny the opportunity to fully study and understand.  Yet, social media has helped me understand what it is that I do and how it is when I interact with people (for good and for bad).  And that is a fascinating opportunity to get a more defined sense of who I am.

I write this, like I write so many other things, because I believe there are many more like me and who have yet to put pen to pad (or fingers to keys) but still find what I have to say resonating with their own experience.  If that is the case, please speak up in the comments below or hit me up on Twitter (@leaton) or elsewhere on social media.  I would love to know that I'm not the only one out there finding that social media is informing and improving our sensitivity.



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A Year of Active Blogging & 200th Blog Post

So I returned to this blog in full force just over a year ago when I renamed the blog and started to write regularly.  In June of last year, I hit my 100th post in total on the blog.  And today, I'm writing about my 200th post, which means I'm averaging about 2 blog posts per week, give or take.  Thus, I've been blogging strong and am starting to see the uptick in traffic that many bloggers talk about in the first year.  I'm not seeing crazy numbers but a few thousand each month--which is better than the scores I saw at this time last year.

In looking at the past year, it's clear that I've found some niches that seem to work for me.  That I blog about my running antics is amusing as I would have thought as a writer, I would never be a runner but learned that being a runner has helped me to be a better writer.  As I've crossed the half-way point with my current Master's Degree (Education, Instructional Design) coupled with my current position, I'm clearly writing more and more about education.  That certainly makes sense.

My top five posts include the following.  It's curious to see the range among them.  I was particularly suprised that the Childfree post rated so high.  My letter to students makes sense since I do believe it to be a well-formed thought about what I would love for students to understand about their education and the reflection on the Boston Marathon was bound to get high reception.

As an act of self-reflection, I have found blogging to be extremely rewarding.  It forces me to think aloud about the different topics that come up in my daily life and formulate a meaningful way to display that to the world.  Given the increasing traffic, I would say that it's somewhat successful.  But even if it wasn't, I'd continue to do it.  I've come to find my conversations are richer--when on topics I've written about or not--because I've come to have a much more reflective thought process in such conversations.  I'm less likely to grab for the easy answer and try to play around with the ideas first.

Branching Out
In the last year, I've added a few things.  There is the Facebook Page so that if people want to catch updates and the occasional reposting of an older post, you can like the page and stay up to date.  I also fixed the RSS Feed for this blog as it was acting wonky and having some problems with it.  I can see now that my subscription list has grown significantly since I fixed it.  The email subscription in the upper right hand corner is also working.

I'm also thinking of adding more media to the site including further developing my Youtube channel and adding audio where possible.

Rewarding and Reward Me?
Beyond the reward I get from writing, the biggest reward I get is from friends, colleagues, and acquaintances who tell me they read my blog and enjoy reading it (in general or a specific post).  I hear it in face to face conversations, via text, or in emails.  All of which is great and I am grateful for.  If I had but one request it would be that such comments be not regulated to one-to-one conversations but made part of this blog itself through the comments feature (or through discussion threads when the link is posted to social media outlets) as I have always wanted to this blog to be an act of dialogue more than monologue.  That it brings me into face to face conversations is great--that is certainly part of the goal.  But if you are read the blog, please think about dropping off a comment and letting me know your thoughts (good and bad).  I generally respond to comments and would find it useful to understand which posts are striking people the most (besides just how many hits they get).  

So that's my 200th post.  The question will be how quickly will it take me to get to my 300th post.  I'm anticipating much quicker (especially when I look at all the posts I have in my draft box).  That being said--what would people like to hear or read about?  Are there things you're interested in hearing my take on?



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Bending & Folding Time and Space In a Non-Physics Sort of Way Part 2

So in my last post, I explored some ways to save time that address the daily routines of life.  In this post, I'm going to look at other facets of life where I have re-oriented time to work for me.

I've talked about them before, but it needs to be reiterated.  Audiobooks are singularly an excellent means of reclaiming time.  This works on two levels.  The first is clearly that one is getting to read books, he or she wouldn't have otherwise been able to while engaged in sometime (e.g. chores).  Second, it exposes one to a potential wealth of knowledge that a person can use to inform one's life.  Many of the changes I have made to save time have been gleaned from the learning I experienced while listening to audiobooks and doing other things (commuting, chores, running errands).  While it can take some time to figure out what kind of listener you are (that is what genres, types of narrators, and what environments work best for you), it can open up much more opportunity to learn and explore things while otherwise engaged.

Coordinating Tasks

Many people make their "to-do" lists before leaving the house.  A key to any to-do list is to rank them according to distance.  If I'm going out on 4-5 errands, I spend the extra two minutes figuring out which one is closest to each next task so that I spend the least amount of time driving/walking/bicycling.  Without a doubt, I can save a half hour or more in strategically moving from place to place.

Synergy

However, it's more than that.  Aggressively integrating audiobooks into my life also represents one of the core features I've worked hard to instill in my life.  Synergy.  When I was in undergrad at Salem State, the history department chair was Dr. Dane Morrison.  I had known this word before him but would always associate this word with him after college.  Over the course of several years, I witnessed him give this speech to incoming history majors about making their life synergistic.  I had heard this before from my father--though he never used that word.  But ultimately, both him and Dr. Morrison advocated for finding ways to make life overlap.  This was a lesson I took to heart and still look to do today at ever vantage point.  Audiobooks best represent my attempt to apply continued learning and experience even when doing things that don't necessarily demand serious cognitive demand.  It's a means of reclaiming time.

Synergy for me has meant blending interests in ways that maximize outcomes and frees up other time.  A good example of this was when I was a lifeguard.  For my high school senior year and all through college, I was a lifeguard.  But I worked largely at pools that were 5 feet deep in the deep end that either were adults only (health clubs) or required adults to be present with each child (apartment complexes).  There were a great many hours when the pool was either unoccupied or minimally occupied.  This afforded me lots of hours to do reading, writing, and homework.  Even if I worked thirty hours a week, at least half of it was free time in which I got my school work finished.  This meant  with my free time, I didn't have to worry about my homework or getting caught up.  I was often ahead.  This followed suit in grad school where I began working overnight at residential programs.  I was being paid to stay up all night and to check on the residents regularly.  One way to keep me engaged or busy through the night was to always have homework to do for grad school--which there always was--and to get grading done for the classes I taught.  Again, while working overnights messed with my schedule, I also had more free time to readjust because my "work time" also coupled as my school time.
"Time is an illusion; lunchtime, doubly so."  Douglas Adams.
Choosing Time
My friends knock me for being notoriously early, especially if it requires commuting to places that are far away or require driving during busy traffic.  There's been a handful of conferences south of Boston (I live North of Boston) that I have attended in the last year.  Each would start around 8am or 9am.  This pretty much meant that I would get caught in slow moving, almost torturous (were it not for audiobooks in the car) stop-and-go traffic.  This sounds supremely wasteful of my time.  Instead, I usually opt to get up and out of the house by 5:30AM.  This puts me well on the other side of Boston before the first hint of traffic.  I may arrive early but this gives me the opportunity to find a coffee shop and do some work or read.  I sometimes even just go for a walk and enjoy the morning.  I'm able to relax, knowing I've made it to my destination and can reclaim time that I would have otherwise spent in driving.  That's the bigger lesson here is to look for opportunities wherein you can do the same thing in less time.          

Coupled with this is to always make sure wherever you go, you something to occupy free time.  I'm rarely without a book  or something to read (especially now with a smartphone and the Amazon Kindle app).  I usually have pen and pad (or just a note-taking app).  That is, I always prepared to entertain myself if there is foreseen (sitting in the doctor's office) or unforeseen gaps in the regularly scheduled program.

Time vs. Cost
For about a year and a half, I paid for cleaning services (from a great company, Green Clean Salem) in my apartment.  I did this because time was at a premium and it was cheaper for me to purchase these services than it would have been to do the cleaning myself.  Weighing time and cost isn't just about considering what you should pay someone to do something--it's about realizing how much time it would take you to do the same thing and the cost to you weighed against the cost and speed with which a professional could do the same thing.  In this instance, I chose the professional.

Time and cost are a tricky formula that often become an ongoing assessment.  I look at the different services I pay for (and those that I do myself) and am regularly asking "do I pay for that or do I do that?"  A good example is my usage of Netflix.  I've gone from high usage with three or more discs to only one disc--I supplement this with use of my library, requesting films from my Netflix DVD list (the ones you can't watch instantly).  Doing so has reduced my spending on Netflix and helped support my library system.  Equally useful is that I work next to my school's library, so the time is largely just the time it takes to request the DVD.

Saying Yes, Saying No
Time is the ultimate commodity that we trade.  That "time" comes in different forms--being physically present (say for a hug) or emotional present (to listen to someone--online, on the phone, or face to face) or doing something (for ourselves or others).  The biggest way to save time and give yourself more of it is to genuinely reflect about what you enjoy and what you don't, what you need to do and what you don't.  Don't waste time agreeing to things you don't want or need to do.  Learn to know yourself well enough to do those things that are of reasonable importance to you and shed the rest.  I'm not a sports fan and thus, do much to avoid going to sporting events, watching sports on TV, and engaging in sports talk with friends and colleagues.  Sure, it puts me out of conversations at times, but on the whole, it has given me more time to do the things I really enjoy...like write on this blog.



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Bending & Folding Time and Space In a Non-Physics Sort of Way Part 1

In conversations regularly, I get asked a lot about how I manage to do all that I do.  Within an hour of one friend asking me about how I do this, another friend posted a great blog entry about how she's renegotiating time with her child.  Thus, I figured I would also add my own experience to the mix.  For instance on my docket right now is the following:
And as I wrote the above list, it did feel like a lot (and I would imagine I am missing some things).  I do this largely while still being able to regularly get at least 7 hours of sleep on most nights.  A colleague of mine at my first major job out of college said it quite well:  "You take all those snippets of time-10 minutes here, 15 minutes there--that no one thinks about and put them to work."

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/f0/You_can't_stop_time.JPG
But you can fold & bend it.
But it does seem a lot and largely, it's not in the name of the Puritan ethic of productivity--though it does end up making me a very productive person.  I do it all in the name of pleasure.  These are all things that I really enjoy and find rewarding.  That luck and effort have colluded in a way to make my life so blessed, I can't pretend is entirely of my own making--but being persistent in my pursuits to various has certainly paid dividends.  That is, I recognize that a good deal of my being able to do this has much to do with luck and the circumstances of my surroundings.  That being said,  I think there are some things that I do that help contribute to this in some capacity that I want to touch upon here.

Automating Life
I look for things that I don't really need to think about so much as I need to be reminded to do.  Apartment tasks such as cleaning, changing out the litterbox, or taking out the trash regularly need to be done but are rarely in the forefront of my mind.  I also would rather not take up mental space or time recalling or figuring them out.  In this vein, I find Google Reminders a boon!  I load my calendar up with a variety of reminders and have reminders sent the day before or on the day of (depending on the task and it's time quantity).

In recent years, I've also taken to ordering food in bulk off of Amazon.  One friend jokes that it's my fallout shelter but it's really just a fully stocked food pantry.  There are several benefits to buying bulk on Amazon.  First, Amazon provides reasonable discounts for buying in bulk and if over $25, shipping is free. Amazon also allows for a subscription to foods and toiletries to be delivered on a regular basis (from one month to 6 or so months).  So there's a lot of staple food (rice, quinoa, tea, coffee, dried beans) and toiletries (paper towels, toilet paper, toothpaste, deodorant, etc) that I have subscribed to for delivery.  This has freed up a lot of time in terms of grocery trips and errands.  If I need to adjust because I need more or less of something, I can always go onto Amazon and adjust the frequency.

With my email, one of the best time-savers has been to actively use filters to only allow relevant emails to show up in my inbox (emails from actual people or things I need to see).  I subscribe to a lot of newsletters and am part of many listservs.  These emails are sent into various folders in my mailbox system for perusal at times when I can clearly and consciously dedicate attention to them.  This avoids me getting lost in a bunch of emails that aren't necessarily relevant or needs my attention.

Along these lines, I also often cook in bulk.  Some of which I will put in the freezer and the rest I will have for lunch and/or dinner for the rest of the week.  I usually try to make two large meals in a given week so that I can have some variation and also freeze some of it to supplement some other week later on.  This cuts down dramatically on cooking time.

Finally, I have automated payments whenever possible.  Be it phone bills, school loans, or any other regular bill, I just have it automatically debited or charged.  Again, this saves me time and energy of receiving the bills, filling out checks, finding stamps and putting it in the mail.

Cumulatively, these collection of tool decrease the need for me to have to remember to do things or digitalize things that are part and parcel of daily life.

Routines
In recent years, I've also realize the power of routines in one's life.  For me, the three routines that I find to be most useful are:

Going to Bed Routine.  I start this routine most nights about 1.5 to 2 hours before I'm ready to actually lie down for sleep.  It starts with making tea (some version of what's referred to as sleepy tea) but also includes showering, putting out clothes for the next day, prepping my lunch for the next day, putting out what I need for breakfast, packing my bag(s) for the next day, drinking said tea, and sitting down in bed to read for anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour.  Right before I turn out the light, I'll do some light stretching.  I'm amazed at how this routine helps to center me and prepares me for bed.  Most nights, I'm out within minutes of turning out the light.  It makes my sleep more potent as I'm fully relaxed and makes getting up easier because I know I've had a good night's sleep as that the morning is already set up; there's no need to scramble.

I find this routine rewarding also because it's a quiet and reflective time to myself.  I'm putting together my things for the next day--maybe listening to an audiobook or music--and just enjoying the motions and the solitude (ok, not entire solitude, the kittens love to trample underfoot).

Morning Routine:  The night routine gives way to the awakening routine which usually starts with me awakening (or being slightly nudged by Bear, one of the kittens) just a few minutes before my alarm clock.  My first and foremost goal is to get out of bed and stay out of bed.  A warm bed with two cuddling kitties can be extremely hard to escape from.  So my first goal is to get up, walk to the bathroom (turn on the audiobook), and wash my face with cold water.  This serves two purposes:  1.  It wakes me up much more than just getting up. 2. It's great for allergy season to wipe off the nightly build up of pollen.  From there, I'm putting on clothes, getting breakfast, and checking email (briefly), and taking care of any other last minute items.  It's overall less hectic because a lot of the issues needed to be taken care of already were--when I was in a more alert and prepared mindset the night before.

Rebooting the Mental Computer:  A large portion of my job consists of staring at a computer screen.  It's fun but it's also a lot of mental concentration and thought as I peer into a 2-dimensional viewbox, discerning information directly and indirectly.  Therefore, in order to focus or continue to be engaged throughout the day, I find it's useful to reboot my own computer at least once a day, if not more by going for a walk.  Sometimes, the walks are short--too the end of the hall and back and sometimes, they entail a lap around the campus for the air and eye relaxation.  Regardless, though they take time away from work, they also help me be more sustained and engaged in the work and less likely to lose concentration or maintain a low threshold of concentration.

Owning the Environment
A major component of this is that I've changed my physical environment significantly.  My "living room" is not the center of relaxation it is in many other rooms.  It's productivity central.  Sitting down to watch television has to be a conscious and determined act.  I've create spaces for certain things.  My bedroom is not so much a sanctuary but it's devoid of electronic entertainment.  I've got books a plenty, my bed, and a space to meditate, relax, stretch.  My kitchen and dining area is generally my chorse area (e.g. ironing, folding laundry, etc) and where I prep and eat.  My living room is for entertaining, working on the computer, and exercising.  This clear sense of space allows for me to know where things go, never really needing to do much organizing/cleaning up (besides sweeping/mopping).  This may seem like an irrelevant component, but it is useful as it cuts down on questions and confusion about where to put things or where to look for things.

If you've made it this far, you've probably NOT found things that help you save time per se, but to some degree add time to your life, even if it's adding time that will allow you to reclaim time later.  However, they are essential parts in the whole process in that they give attention to a great deal of the smaller facets of life that do drain or chip away at our time.  In the next part, I will explore specific ways that I either play with time or reorganize life to reclaim time.



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Observations of a Tragedy In the Making

So just over an hour ago the reports came in about the explosionsat the Finish Line of the Boston Marathon.  A shocking thing for many people on many levels.  At this writing, three are reported dead and around two dozen injured.  Additional incendiary devices are being reportedly found.  It is a sad thing to witness.  It strikes close to home on two counts.  I live 20 miles north of Boston and I do hope to some day run a big marathon (and am training for a marathon this year).  But I am safe—as are the vast majority of those who attended and participated in the event. That is relieving but for the fact that in the ensuing weeks, we will be reminded time and time again of how it could have been us in some way, shape, or form.

My first response was the following which I posted on my Facebook and Twitter:  “so there has clearly been a tragedy at the Boston Marathon. Yes, check on your friends and loved ones to make sure they are ok. But do yourself and everyone a favor, step away from the newsfeed. Do not obsess over it. Do not constantly check FB, Twitter, newsites, and news channels for updates. Check back in the evening or tomorrow. Obsessing over it will continue to fester anxiety and worry without any real cure besides increased fear and anxiety--which doesn't do anyone any good. Instead, count your blessings and appreciate that you have a life to live.”

If it plays out like other such events—especially if it is terrorist-related—there will be many speeches, there will be much fear-mongering, and there will be a lot of anxiety induced.  And thus, we commit and are complicit in the second tragedy that befalls such events.  We learn the wrong lessons and further empower those who want to do us harm.  In the end, the terrorist can only take our lives.  But if we allow for it, they can also take our minds.  When we fixate on the violation that such an event represents, we can be so obsessively concerned about it, that we lose sight of what it is that terrorists want.  More than our lives, they want our minds.  They want the freedom of thought and spirit to be strangled away by fear of what may happen.  The power of the terrorist act is not the initial violence but in the internal violence that runs through everyone’s head as they replay and readjust their lives out of the fear instilled from the event. 

Though I am saddened by the tragedy, I am also deeply awed by the way we as humans react.  Though I read and see some people’s reactions focused on how sick/evil/wrong people are, I find that a train of thought a dead end.  There will always be extreme people—but they are still few in comparison to all the good people.  Regardless of the number of people involved in this—it will pale in comparison to the number of people who are doing good both directly and indirectly:  by being first responders, police officers, and caregivers to those affected or by donating money, time, and blood to the event.  In the aftermath of such tragedies, my faith for humanity is renewed because of the following:

1.  The Facilitation of Information
Within minutes of it happening, people were quick to info others.  Twitter, Facebook, and virtually all social media went full speed ahead with people trying to make sure people knew.  That information went from digital to physical and back to digital.  I watched as people at the coffee shop I was at read about it on their phones, communicated it with others which sent them to checking in and spreading it on their own devices.  There’s an undervalued awesomeness here in that in under two hours of the event—not weeks, not days, and barely “hours”, the information travelled around the world—thousands of miles through thousands of circuits and routes.  The instantaneity of the event sent us to check in with those who we cared about.  Which brings me to my second point:

2.  The Reiteration of Safety and Care
I received several texts and Facebook messages of friends checking in on my safety and I saw a great deal of my Boston-located friends and family checking in.  Myriads of people were able to quickly and clearly communicate their safety and allay the fears and concerns of loved ones.  We wanted to communicate our own safety and hear from others.  That is, we connected and appreciated how quickly our fear could be allayed.  We looked to love, first and foremost. 

3.  The Explosion of Empathy and Aide
More than anything what was impressive in the aftermath was the amount of empathy and aide that flowed towards Boston.  Innumerable wishes to the safety of people in Boston from individuals and organizations.  Prayers and thoughts of Boston in abundance feed my Twitter and Facebook feeds.  Coupled with this were helpful pieces of information too.  Below are some of them posted on Twitter and the ongoing information and response to the event.  Ample people both connected to Boston and having nothing to do with Boston sending their thoughts and prayers for no other reason than they feel its important for the people of Boston to know they care.  Some may find this frivolous—it’s just a tweet or a FB post, but then if it is so frivolous and meaningless why would so many take the time to do it—amounting to what collectively would look like hours (probably days) worth of effort to communicate said care and concern.  

I say all this—not to undermine the serious loss and sadness experienced by the victims, the victims’ family, or any others directly or indirectly impacted by the event.  I cannot speak to the ways in which this will deeply impact their lives.  But for the rest of us, I think there is much to consider about how we move forward and what lessons we take from this. 

I also say this from the safety of a coffee shop in Salem while the event unfolded.  I recognize that I am both physically and emotionally removed in many ways which I am sure some will consider for a reason to disregard what I have said.  Such is their right.  But I do believe there is value in learning the right lessons from this tragedy and understanding that though it is sad, there are many ways it reaffirms our humanity instead of rejecting it.

We may never be able to fully prevent all such events from happening.  This may be the "new normal" as some would argue.  However, what we can control is how we react to it.  We can reaffirm our humanity and push the fear aside or we can be locked into it.  I would chose to push the fear aside and from what I see around me--so would the vast majority.  Let us hope that is the lesson we learn here.  








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Yes, It's Complicated: Accusations, Performance, Gender, & Sexuality

Maybe it's the weather...maybe it's the Supreme Court...or maybe because it's been on my mind of late what with this letter to the editor and this calling out of a sexist meme.  Yes, it's probably the last two and in general, I regularly have gender, sex, and sexuality on the brain and thus, am inclined to write about this.

So I'm just going to throw it out there.  I'm quite challenged when I hear people accuse others of being gay or being closeted.  It's something I have been witness to at least half a dozen times in the last year.  And it does often come as an accusation of being gay, in the closet, or so repressed, that the (accused) person just doesn't know it.  All of these conversation I have experienced happen not in front of the accused but in conversations to which they are not privy.

When pursued with questioning about why the accusation has been made, no answer involves, "Well, I saw him making out with another male."  (Though that in itself is not necessarily a guarantee of him being gay, keep in mind).  But usually, there is nothing in the accused's behavior that can be defined as "gay"; instead it almost universally points to gender.

I get why people may speculate about the sexual orientations of others.  I certainly look for clues.  I do my best not to assume everyone I meet is necessarily heterosexual.  I constantly have to look for clues or check innate assumptions embedded in typical discussion questions. I recognize that I have to do this because we're still not comfortable enough with the topic to ask or have a respectful way of asking.  But the danger lies in moving from clues to conclusions.  At the end of the day, I don't assign their sexuality; if it's relevant, then I'll try to find a way to invite them to tell me and if I can't find a meaningful way to do that, then I probably don't deserve to know.

So what's my hang up about suspecting or even accusing people of their sexuality?  These are vocalized or text-based conversations; ones that could be overheard or re-read.  And the accusers have most likely had these discussions with others besides just me--the accusations have spread.  The damage of this cuts two ways.  It first cuts in the amplified perception of this person of being questioned about who he or she is.  But it also cuts at the people who hear the accusers make their case.  People like me.  

Gender and sex are often hard for people to understand and to clearly delineate.  I get that but I still am pained when am witness to these occurences.  It's a philosophical and activist issue but also a personal one.  There were various times in my life where I've been openly accused of being gay.  The most absurd (though in truth they were all absurd in some degree--not because of my sexuality, but because how or why the person thought he/she had the right to make such a claim and what he/she was doing with such a declaration) was in either junior or senior year of high school where a female classmate accused me of being gay because I wore shorts all year long.  Apparently wearing shorts year-long has something to do with sexuality--who knew?

One of my favorite movies on gender, sex, and sexuality is Jamie Babbit's But I'm a Cheerleader (1999).  It's a film I often use or refer to in my courses.  However, there's one challenging scene in the film that throws the rest of the film into question and in some ways, undervalues much of the good the film does.  The scene (below) is the intervention scene, wherein Megan is confronted by her family and friends to be told that she is gay (and needs to go to a de-gayifying program).  Now, I get that Babbit in all likelihood shaped the scene in the context of Megan being so utterly repressed that she is ignorant of her homosexuality.  Yet, I can't help but feel the coercion of that scene in which her non-sexual acts are read as gay and the declaration of her homosexuality lead her to re-form herself as homosexual.  I know how loaded that sounds and I'm sure at least half my readers (friends and strangers alike) just furrowed their eyebrows, if not outright cursed me.  Bare with me!


Megan's gender is called into question--not her sexuality.  She's vegetarian, likes Melissa Etheridge, has vaginal art, and doesn't like making out with her boyfriend (that last point is supposedly the final truth--but bad chemistry between two people--isn't always an issue of sexuality).  This crystallizes er perception by family and friends as "lesbian"--an attraction to other women.  Yet her acts are non-feminine (at best--though barely by any means), not necessarily homosexual.  Megan comes to accept the label forced upon her by  her community and embraces it.  In this way, Babbit's film reads almost like the nefarious "True Directions"--the conversion therapeutic camp that attempt to fix people who are not heteronormative.  In Babbit's rendering of Megan--it's the community's intervention and then her acculturation to that identity by fellow non-heteronormative types that lead her the status of homosexuality--that is, she's cured of her heterosexuality by the training she receives from her nonheterosexual group.  In the end, the perception of her gender comes to codify her sexuality--never entirely divorcing the two (even the title conflicts gender and sexuality).  Again, that's some of the point Babbit is making but it's that sword that cuts both ways again.  It cuts at Megan--because she may be homosexual, but that she never gets to question or explore her gender--without it having to reposition her sexuality (or even consider more than the two options given here or heterosexual or homosexual) limits her (and I do recognize that in the context of a 2 hour film in 1999, some of these topics are much harder to fully flesh out--Babbit does give this some attention with the character of Jan).  It cuts the other way in which audiences reinforce and take with them the fact that gender dictates or is a solid indicator of sexuality.  And that's a challenging and somewhat dangerous idea to pose openly.

So I bring it back to the accusations.  When we declare someone else's sexuality based upon their gender, we do harm to all people.  Beyond the potential effects it has for accuser and the accused (and how the accuser's perception reinterprets the relationship with the accused), the accuser's sharing of his or her suspicions with others perpetuates the elements of gender with sexuality that are already problematic for our culture.  Why?  It informs others of the "right" and "wrong" ways to be as a "man" or "woman," if one is to be associated with a particular sexuality.  When we accuse someone of their sexuality in this context, we speak volumes about the ways in which we expect gender to conform to sexuality.

In Megan's case, it leads a happy ending--which is great.  But I think in many instances, it does harm because it communicates how people should not act to avoid the associated perception.  This happens for two reasons.  The first is that the associative sexuality with gender performance in many contexts is still understood as derogatory if it defies heteronormative expectations.  The second is that people want to be understood and not miscommunicate who they are.  Combined, the failure to create neutral space for gender and sexuality that is nonheteronormative and non-threatening with the desire to clearly communicate who we are, creates caustic side effects.  It's not only that we don't want to miscommunicate who we are but we devalue certain associations--we see them as threatening if we're perceived as such (Listen to the hostility in someone's voice when being labelled as an identity they are not, "I'm not gay!"  Followed by the Seinfeld'esque, "Not that there's anything wrong with that.").  It reinforces the gender and sexual hierarchy.  If we are a culture that cannot divorce gender from sexuality and privilege some genders and sexualities over others, we encourage heterosexual males to be "men"--"real men" and other such questionable ways of conceiving ourselves and others.  We limit our abilities to understand and express ourselves in full.  We perpetuate the perceptions of gender and sex expectations (and expressions) and reinforce some of the more negative results from such associations from gay-bashing to slut-shaming to rape.

Here's what happens in those conversations when the accuser is speculating to a friend--he or she is also communicating what are acceptable and unacceptable ways to present one's gender in conjunction with one' sexuality.  As a person who regularly reflects on his gender and sexuality, I consciously pick up on what this spells out on the ways we are supposed to be--what's appropriate or what will get people talking.  I like to think I've garnered the strength, self-confidence, self-acceptance, and understanding to not let such things affect me--but they most likely do in ways I'm not entirely aware of.  Thus I would imagine that others too who are confidants in such discussions, hearing about an accused are likely to also internalize the unspoken messages about how he or she should be to avoid such accusations.

In writing this post, my purpose is not to scold or condemn those who have done this.  In truth, I would bet in my own history, I have likely done this.  Rather I want to bring an awareness to the nuance within our conversations that we might not entirely realize is there when we talk about gender and sexuality in the presence of others and the ways it effects us directly and indirectly.  If this has provide some means of doing that for you--great!  If I've failed miserably, well--I guess I have more work to do.



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Yes--That's Sexist and Yes, I Have to Call You on It

So right on the heels of my Letter to the Editor, I also have this to say (though, I wrote this before the letter to the editor came out and had to reschedule its release here).

I have a rather undeveloped policy about how I deal with things I take issue with on Facebook or other social media in which I am connected to people.  What little I understand of it though is that it starts with the assumption that if a person has chosen to virtually connect with me, then they have chosen to accept the fact that I am an active user of social media who seeks out conversation and meaning.  By accepting or requesting and continuing said connection, they recognize that I'm likely to engage with those things that grab my attention and to which I have some knowledge and/or stake in the conversation (and granted sometimes I have too much of latter without enough of the former--but that's a post for another time).

So when someone I'm connected with on Facebook, posted the following.  It certainly got me a wee bit angered and ready to say something.  In fact, it annoyed me enough to write a blog post about it.



Oh the many things wrong with this.  Particularly, because it was created on or around March 27/28 and it comes in the aftermath of the Stuebenville rape conviction and the various backlashes.   The many, many, many things wrong with this.  So much of this wreaks of a moral technopanic about the nature of women's behavior in public which is always easier than considering the role of the men or the system at large.

Of "Girls" and Men
So language is always an interesting thing to study and this meme is no different.  The women are all girls--even those who are married.  It may be a small or irrelevant point--obviously the page (IM So Fuckin High I can't even see u--clearly a page for chauvinistic, sexist, racist and other mad hattery) wasn't looking to be deep in any regard, but it does illustrate a disregard for women in our culture (fostered more by the 22,000+ likes and additional 1700+ shares).

A History Lesson.
I find the faux history most amazing and misinformed.  The idea of women as purely pristine and pure has never really jived with the actual history of sex, if anyone who has taken the time to study the history of sex will tell you.  In fact, the later half of the 1800s was a hotbed of sexiness with sex and sexual acts happening everywhere from dancehalls to brothels to saloons.

It annoys me when people level the supposed morals of the past to lay judgment on the present.  In most cases, these morals were nothing but myths to begin with.  It's like finding speed limit signs 100 years from now and deducing that people never drove over the speed limit--when in fact--we almost all do.

If we were to look at the late 19th century, we find that New York City had hundreds of brothels and brothels were also found in the West .  And the dance halls were filled with women exchanging drinks and gifts for favors--yes, sometimes of the sexual kind.

That's not to applaud what for many was a "choice" that wasn't a real choice (i.e. do this for survival's sake--one's own or family and loved ones) but it's to acknowledge that women were not the bastions of morality that we pretend they were.  That mentality (women's past purity or women's declining morality) contributes to continued sexism and mistreatment.  It first upholds women to traits and ideals that were never entirely true in the first place (and to which we never believe or feel that men can live up to) while also allowing for further shaming of women--another form of power and control.  That much of this is done by or for men without men having to adhere to the same spurious morals, only further illustrates the coercive power of patriarchy.

The statement that "In 1995: Girls Got Undressed for Money" is very curious and another play at shaming.  In all likelihood this is a reference to the Girls Gone Wild series (that's a link to Wikipedia-not to the actual site--and they state GGW started in 1997). But here again, the language is suggestive.  Women have been accepting money for getting undressed for thousands of years as there is ample evidence of temple prostitutes going back to the ancient world.  If the claim meant accepting money to take clothes off for a camera, they would still be wrong.  Women undressing for cash and the camera is something too that is over 100 years old.  Thus "girls" takes on a further meaning.  Girls in this sense are supposed to mean "good girls" to which prostitutes, strippers and other sex workers clearly do not fall into.  The judgment upon women to maintain their "girl" status clearly coincides with the ways in which they act as sexual beings.  Their state of undress is only for the male who (in 1880s parlance) owns her.

Facepalm indeed.
It's telling the that the last panel is a man in a state of disappointment.  First, because it seems that the meme-maker couldn't find a woman offering up herself in a state of undress on Facebook.  But also, that it gives away the bigger lie.  We put this expectation upon women, but in the end, it's typically men (or mayhaps we should use the term, "boys") that are encouraging, demanding and condemning it.  There's the perversity of it--the women are judged by the same sources of those who make the demands.  The ideas of Mulvey's "male gaze" are still relevant.

But It's Just a Joke
It's easy to shrug this off as a goofy internet meme in poor taste and saying I'm looking too much into it--take it too "literally" as the person who posted it said below.  But all memes are not the same and this one I found a bit caustic.  That we can shrug it off so easily as it so grossly represents truth, and plays into the ideas of a demoralizing society brought to us by technology and whose responsibility is placed upon women to uphold is utter rubbish.  Technology nor women contribute to the decline of society (and I continued to revoke the idea that society is in moral freefall).  If you think the moral decay of society is real, I would encourage you to read The Better Nature of Our Angels by Stephen Pinker (his TED Talk only scratches the surface) and significantly reduce the amount of "news" you watch.






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Social Media & Educational Usage: Some (very) Preliminary Results

Today, I will be presenting at the Massachusetts Community College:  Teaching, Learning and Student Development Conference on the topic of social media and higher education.  For those that attended the session or are interested in looking at some of the resources such as the social media and higher education survey, its results, the presentation resources or the presentation itself (also embedded, down below), check out these links.  I will have a follow up post about the presentation and bit more details about the results.
The presentation abstract was as follows:  The rhetoric of social media boils down to being a miracle of the modern age or a clear sign of society’s self-destructive tendencies.  To this end, faculty and schools often fail in engaging their students through social media in meaningful ways.  So while colleges help equip students for the physical world, they poorly prepare them for the digital world.  This presentation looks at the ways and the whys for faculty and colleges to maintain a strong social media presence to aid and act as a role model for students in the digital world.  Just like faculty role model in students’ physical worlds, it becomes increasing important for faculty to be role models as digital citizens and work to develop students’ digital identities.  In an age in which applicants are Googled by interviewers, it’s important that faculty guide and encourage students to consciously maintain a public identity that both speaks to who they are and how they conduct themselves in this ambiguous and emerging new public sphere.  This workshop will address some of the concerns and misaligned fears about social media, identify some of the reasons and ways faculty can role model good digital identity, and provide some ways of constructing clear guidelines about productive social media between faculty and students.

The project as a whole has been a fascinating look at the experiences of students and faculty with regards to their interactions via social media.  It's a project I will continue to pursue and explore most likely as a central piece to a doctorate.







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Recent Letter to the Editor: Columnist ignored country's 'rape culture'

This letter to the editor was motivated by the Salem News' column by Brian Watson's Ohio rape case indicts social media.  A technopanic shift in the conversation away from the actual criminals to blaming the technology.

"Brian Watson’s exploration of the Steubenville rape case (“Ohio rape case indicts social media,” March 28) is riddled with problems. Never mind he cannot bring himself to say the teens raped the young victim (their “crime was to sexually molest”), he described it as merely “wrongful behavior” and that the use of social media “compound(ed) the damage” like this was a mere car accident. The passivity he assigns to the perpetrators speaks volumes: “a video of the incident was uploaded” and 'the two young perpetrators were influenced and encouraged.'"

For the full letter, check out the Salem News.



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32 Books for March: 365 Books a Year Challenge

Another month and another set of books devoured.  You can find the full listing with additional information in my GoodReads shelf (and I just found out Goodreads was bought by Amazon...oy!)or just take a gander at the bottom of this post.  That's 98 books for the year. I completed 4 physical books which tells me I still need to work on that and I'm not sure that will happen between now and May given my schedule and different demands, but we'll see.  Of the 32 books, 19 were graphic novels which is by far by worse month in terms of total reading.


Johh Dewey's Experience and Education
My listening was lower than usual since I tackled two rather large books.  The Black Swan and Thinking Fast and Slow were cumulatively about 36 hours of listening which is a whole lot of listening but also highlights the nature of listening vs reading.  I listened to both books entirely, whereas if I were reading them there is likely passages I would have skimmed.  And there were definitely passages worth skimming.

So the highlights of this month?

Experience and Education by John Dewey

An "essential" for those in education, I made my way through this short book and can understand its importance within education.  It's rather disappointing that in the graduate program I'm in (in education) that we only read about it but never actually pick it up.

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn

As a colleague said, this is one of those books that becomes an essential text of certain academic fields and often quoted but rarely read.  I read it and can understand its value though as the product of an academic culture that has strongly internalized the ideas that he sets forth meant that the book didn't necessarily strike me as impressive as it appears to have been at the time.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb - The Black Swan

The Black Swan. The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb & Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

I began listening to The Black Swan in my car as I was finishing up Thinking Fast and Slow on my iPod.  They are deeply interconnected (and the authors regularly reference one another) so where one ends and the other begins is extremely hard for me to remember.  However, they were both powerful tomes on the nature of certainty, knowledge, and decision making.  In both cases, the authors do much to reconsider the ways in which we conceive of ourselves in the decision-making process that undermines "common sense."  I find this increasingly important and relevant because I often see the call to rely on "common sense" for something that usually requires anything but common sense.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

I saw the film adaptation of over the winter and found it to be a very poignant book.  I had also heard a lot about it from different people within and around school about its popularity among youth.  Sure enough, I did enjoy and appreciate the nature of the book and the ways it tackles the challenges and sense-making that young adults grapple with as they try to find themselves.

Essential Warlock - Volume 1 by Jim Starlin

I'll say this was a rather large graphic novel--over 400 pages.  And truth be told, I didn't totally enjoy it.  However, Adam Warlock was one of my favorite characters when I first started reading comics (I started reading around the original launch of the Infinity Gauntlet mini-series and Warlock and the Infinity Watch) and this was a series I had never gotten to read in full despite trying to pick up everything that Warlock was in.  I enjoyed some of the gaps it filled but didn't lose myself entirely as happens with some stories.
Jim Starlin - The Essential Warlock Volume 1

Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My Match by Amy Webb

So this book is vying for worse book of the year (or the last few years--no wait, it's probably on par with Fred Saberhagen's The Frankenstein Papers).  As a person, I'm sure Webb is a decent person but the book she offers up about gaming the online dating world was anything but.  What she argues is that she gamed the system--but that only really works if you see winning as spending lots of money on dating websites, beauty treatments, wardrobe acquisitions, and personal training coupled with spending scores of hours collecting data, scrutinizing everyone (while missing the hypocrisy of one's own actions--e.g. getting mad at men for checking their cellphones but scuttling off to the bathroom to write friends and family emails with your laptop), and outright lying.  I kept through hoping she would redeem herself or call herself out--but it just got worse.

So here are the books of this month.

BOOKS

  • Salvador Dali: Conquest of the Irrational by Gilles NĂ©ret,
  • The Outdoor Survival Bible by Rob Beattie
  • Experience and Education by John Dewey
  • The World Reduced to Infographics: From Bodily Functions by Popularity and Five Reasons You're Not Fat Enough to the Sociopathic Nature of Cats and Repressive Society Ratings: Footloose to 1984 by Patrick Casey

AUDIOBOOKS

  • How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid
  • Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger When Life Gives You OJ by Erica Perl
  • The Black Swan. The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas S. Kuhn
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • Data, A Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating to Meet My Match by Amy Webb
  • Me the People: One Man's Selfless Quest to Rewrite the Constitution of the United States of America by Kevin Bleyer

GRAPHIC NOVELS

  • Spike: The Complete Series by Brian Lynch, 
  • Justice League, Vol. 2: The Villain's Journey by Geoff Johns
  • Suicide Squad, Vol. 2: Basilisk Rising by Adam Glass,
  • Spider-Man: Season One by Cullen Bunn
  • Hulk: Season One by Fred Van Lente
  • I, Vampire, Vol. 2: Rise of the Vampires by Joshua Hale Fialkov
  • Earth 2, Vol. 1: The Gathering by James Robinson
  • Essential Warlock - Volume 1 by Jim Starlin
  • Superboy, Vol. 1: Incubation by Scott Lobdell
  • Smoke and Mirrors by Mike Costa
  • No Place Like Home Volume One: Home Again by Angelo Tirotto
  • Green Lantern: New Guardians, Vol. 1: The Ring Bearer by Tony Bedard
  • Bad Medicine Volume 1 by Nunzio DeFilippis
  • The Culling: Rise of the Ravagers by Scott Lobdell
  • Grace Randolph's Supurbia by Grace Randolph
  • Spike, Volume 1: Alone Together Now by Brian Lynch
  • Catwoman, Vol. 2: Dollhouse by Judd Winick
  • Batwoman, Vol. 2: To Drown the World by J.H. Williams III
  • Valentine Volume 1: Ice of Death by Alex de Campi



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