• The Social Dilemma

    A couple nights ago, I watched The Social Dilemma, which presents a clear view of social media’s primary purpose, the tactics used, and the undesirable consequences. I really enjoyed the way it combined interviews with technologists and professors with dramatization of a family grappling with social media’s influence. What really impressed me, though, was when friends strongly recommended watching it – friends who I wouldn’t have identified as being concerned by this information. It goes to show the power of a strong presentation and Netflix’s influence.

    The documentary emphasizes that social media is a commercial endeavor, and its purpose is to capture our attention and change our behaviors. The primary purpose is not connecting the world, but trading on humans as a commodity. With abandon, social media companies have combined design, psychology, and artifical intelligence to make money hand over fist. Their actions have negatively impacted millions of individuals, as well as the broader fabric of society.

    Personally, I have attempted to manage my social media usage. I have not maintained a personal Facebook account for years; at a previous job, I kept one exclusively for maintaining the company’s Facebook Page, and gladly deleted it upon leaving. I have temporarily disabled my Instagram account on occasion, with the latest stint coming in at about 3 weeks to date. I don’t really miss it and have recognized occasional urges to re-install and sign in as moments of boredom that do not need to be filled. To combat Twitter’s addictive nature, I use the third-party client Tweetbot and limit the accounts I follow. I use Snapchat to message a few people – one in particular will never answer a text, but will always answer a snap. And Apollo, a third-party client for Reddit, makes the forum’s experience much more enjoyable and customizable, including making it easy to filter and mute topics and users. My usage habits significantly limit the number of ads I see, but I still notice my thinking being affected.

    So in addition to disabling accounts, uninstalling apps, and choosing third-party apps over official ones, I have also heavily restricted notifications on my phone. Messaging apps are allowed to tell me when someone has messaged me directly. Email notifications are off, though I occasionally temporarily add an address to the VIP list. Fantastical and Things can ping me (but I rarely set up reminders). Almost every other notification is turned off; most apps are denied notification permissions in the first place.

    Rather than rely on social media feeds to keep in touch with friends, I have gone the old-fashioned way of keeping in touch on an individual basis. Yes it takes time and effort, but the connection is more genuine, and social media wasted lots of my time for advertisers’ sakes. I also find that as you make regular effort to keep in touch with people, some reciprocate – and that feels very rewarding.

  • “Movement”

    I was going to start this post with some insightful comments on the connection between movement and living; you can’t have one without the other. But I’m sitting in the back seat of my sister’s Jetta, flying down the highway, and n. So instead, I will jump right into talking about moving. When I was a kid, my dad was in the military. We moved to Germany shortly before I turned 5, and to New Mexico just after I turned 8, then El Paso, then back to New Mexico. After 21 years in the desert, we moved to North Carolina.

    I fought it. I wanted to be somewhere new, but I definitely didn’t want to live in North Carolina. I decided to escape to Australia for as long as possible. Three and a half months later, I returned to the US for my sister’s wedding, and to stay. A month after, we started taking pandemic precautions. I still hate North Carolina. I hate the humidity, the abundance of foliage, and the barbecue - this Eastern style vinegar-based stuff is not at all my thing. But it doesn’t so much matter where I am right now, since I am avoiding going out socially until an appropriate COVID-19 prophylactic is available. So regrettably, my vehicle is now registered here; I don’t want to remove the New Mexico plate.

    Maybe I should move back to the desert. Northern New Mexico is beautiful, I desperately miss the chile, and Albuquerque is a decent size. I feel a bit sheepish; my mom always wanted us to develop roots somewhere, and I always scoffed at the idea that was even possible. As a result of early opportunities, it was difficult to fathom living in a single place and liking it. It is still somewhat foreign, but I have a deeper appreciation for that kind of sentiment.

  • Music

    The music of my childhood was Journey, Bon Jovi, Billy Joel, Tina Turner, and Barry Manilow. It blasted from the Kenwood system in our living room, especially when mom was cleaning, and from the car stereo when driving. Sometimes we competed with the stereo; other times, we just listened quietly.

    My parents separated when I was 12. We lived with my great-aunt in El Paso for a while, then temporarily moved into a sparse two bedroom apartment. Besides the family dining table, mom’s first purchases were shelf stereos for us. I was encouraged to pick out two CDs; they were “The Very Best of the Beach Boys: Sounds of Summer” and one of 50 classical pieces. Music was a way to pass time, to relax after a rough day, to connect with family.

    I think the first group I liked of my own accord, though, was Matchbox Twenty, whose albums Mad Season (2000) and More Than You Think You Are (2002) were released when I was 10 and 12, respectively. I felt, and still feel, like the music and lyrics have substance. I love Rob Thomas’ iTunes Originals commentary and go back to it every so often just to listen. I love that he recognizes Mad Season was intentionally “overproduced”, mentions that they thought it was cool that it got panned as a bad soul record, and that their 2002 album was “the first real Matchbox record”, with an emphasis on ’70s style rock. The music grew and changed with them, as it should.

    I went to my first concert with my younger sister on 11 February 2008: The Jonas Brothers’ When You Look Me In The Eyes tour. Yes, I went ‘because of my sister’, but I liked them then and I like them now. Subsequent concerts have included Reba McEntire, Rascall Flatts, and Phillip Phillips - all of whom aren’t really in my typical genres but who had a couple songs I liked. Phillips’ show was very understated; he was completely immersed in the music and in having a good time, something I really admired.

    In September 2014, a friend invited me to a Foster the People concert, because he wanted to see Fitz and the Tantrums open. They were probably the best opening act I’ve seen (with Us the Duo’s opener for Pentatonix coming in second). They played from their 2013 record More Than Just a Dream, as well as a fantastic cover of “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurythmics. And then Foster the People were overamplified and not as good, and we left for a beer.

    In May 2016, I saw Pentatonix in concert. The whole show was very good, but the encore was a standout. In a building with notoriously poor acoustics, they asked the audience to be completely silent. All the lights went out, save for one low wattage bulb on stage that they stood around. And then they performed a song from their eponymous album I always skipped, “Light in the Hallway”. It was eerie, and beautiful, and memorable.

    In the last several years, I developed much more of an appreciation for Taylor Swift’s writing and music videos. There were a couple earlier songs I liked, such as “You Belong With Me” and “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together”. From those, to “Blank Space” (of which there is a great cover on Spotify by Imagine Dragons), to “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things”, to “I Forgot That You Existed”, her music has depth and emotion while being accessible. She skillfully flits between styles while being wholly herself. I haven’t grown into Folklore yet, but it certainly seems to fit that pattern.

    I have also started listening to more Spanish music (along with a little Portuguese). My own Spanish is not quite conversational, but I definitely feel at home listening to it. Spanish-language artists like Alvaro Soler, Juanes, Sebastian Yatra, Morat, and Alex Cuba make up the bulk of my listening currently, along with Portuguese-speaking artists like Jao, D.A.M.A, Melim, and Verso de Nos. They simultaneously make me feel at home and someplace else entirely.

    Looking for thematic elements in the music I enjoy, I discern a few: intelligible and meaningful lyrics, instrumentation that is interesting but not overly complex, styling that is not overly quiet or melancholy even when the subject matter is somber. I love when artists are okay with their music not meeting expectations, when they experiment, and I am absolutely enamored by clever covers (Fall Out Boy’s “I Wanna Be Like You” is fun, by the way).

    People who know me expect that I’m an alt rock kind of person - and I do like it sometimes. But my musical tastes are more diverse than that, or even than I have written tonight. I am thankful to be able to enjoy it, to have friends and family to discover and experience it with. What a wonderful world.

  • Friendships

    In my late teens and early twenties I often felt like most people, especially those in my peer group, were not willing to reciprocate my investment in friendship. There is a sentiment I regularly see today, that I felt during those years: that to figure out who one’s real friends are, one should go silent and wait to see who initiates contact. I am so thankful that I combated that feeling, because it’s just as revolting as those videos where people act like jerks toward a significant other to get a reaction.

    The truth is, people grow and change, and everyone is dealing with their own problems — “fights on the outside, fears within.” People are raised differently, or want different things out of a friendship. Some are good at in-person friendships but uncomfortable with texting or calls. Everyone expresses affection differently, and develops trust at their own pace. Having a good friend starts with being a good friend — listening, talking, being patient, being forgiving. It may take quite a while before you see the fruits of your labor.

    And so now, in my 30th year, I have several friends who make an effort to stay in touch — whether by initiating conversation or consistently replying when they have time. By developing insight, adjusting my expectations of others, and by focusing on being a good friend through patience and persistence, I have what I was seeking: not just friends, but confidence that they appreciate my efforts, and that they are doing their best in return.

  • Write It Out

    I was thinking about my blog style in the past, and how I tend to post a little bit of everything. My interests are varied; I’m not trying to be an influencer. Then this post from Kottke came to mind, as well as this post by Kevin Wammer, which links to one by Paul Jarvis.

    First a gem from Kevin:

    What I really want is to write on what I care about, linking to what I find interesting, and sharing my thoughts on things … Because this is what blogging is all about. A place where I can open up a little to the world (wide web) and share what I care about.

    While Paul says:

    Writing for everyone really means writing for no one.

    And so, my goal here is to write for me. And maybe some others will enjoy it along the way.

  • Initial Commit

    Over the years, I have bounced between publishing tools. Squarespace was limited and expensive. WordPress was overkill and cheap. Tumblr was bought by Verizon. This time I wanted a simple site, and quickly decided on Jekyll and GitHub Pages as the way to make that happen. To repeat a common refrain in my life, “We will see how it goes.”

    I am starting fresh. There is no compelling reason to bring along the cruft of my previous blog attempts. The process matters more than the artefacts. Would a historian agree?