Thursday, October 9, 2014

Social Media

‘cause we zig and zag between good and bad
stumble and fall on right and wrong
‘cause the tumbling dice and the luck of the draw just leads us on

A beautiful lyric from Camper Van Beethoven’s "When I Win the Lottery." A Christian lyric. Calvinist. An attestation to John Bradford's "But for the grace of God go I." God is in charge. God sets the agenda. We're along for the ride. "Lottery" is a clever song about a ne'er do well who dreams of buying glory though his predestined lottery winnings.
… Or…

"No Fate but what we make."
The theme of Linda Hamilton's "Terminator 2". The future is unwritten. Destiny is in my control. I set my path. I create my lot in life. In complete opposition to the CVB lyric. Empowering, but also frightening. Makes us feel small and alone. T2 was the high-point of the Terminator series. After a twelve year hiatus, T3 came along and showed us that the future was in fact already decided. I realize this was necessary to continue the franchise, but it nullifies the whole point of T2. It destroys the essence that set T2 above the action movie genre as something unique, something deep.

I fall squarely in the No Fate camp. I believe in God, but I believe God is irrelevant to the world around me. The intelligent designer who set things in motion a bazillion years ago with the big bang - and then off to other projects. Maybe checks in every few millennia to see how we're doing, but not in control, except maybe in some macro way that only an astrophysicist could understand. Impossible to track or steer the quadrillions of lives in all of the various universes, dimensions.

There is a danger using pop culture references to guide our philosophy. Pop culture it trite. It keeps things simple, easy. It is almost always black and white, but that appeals to me. The Yin/Yang should be my symbol, but not in the positive balanced way it is intended. Good/bad, light/dark is the way I see everything. I try to remind myself that there are no clear lines, that everything contains various shades of grey. But at my center, at my base, my knee jerk reaction is always right/wrong.

One of my yes/no lines in the sand is Social Media. I have studiously avoided it from the start. I never saw the point. Platforms like Facebook seem to give people the impression that they have relationships where none exist. Connecting with long lost friends, but not in a direct manner. Not like a exchanging emails, or a phone call, or getting together. More like a voyeur, peaking in on each other's life. Connected, but without any real connection, any effort. I created a LinkedIn account a few years ago. A nod to convention during a job hunt. From time to time I get "connection requests" from people I know. And after we connect? Nothing happens. When people ask to connect with me, I always accept. I'm now connected with dozens of people, but nothing has ever come of it. LinkedIn is constantly sending me emails suggesting connections with other people. I ignore them. LinkedIn reminds me of people I knew in the eighties. A desk drawer full of business cards mixed in with used plastic forks and spoons. Social Media, in my mind, is a giant waste of time.

Without realizing that it was happening, I got sucked in. Google+. It started with my blog. Ponderous essays on a variety of topics. Not slapped out in twenty minute bursts, but wrought through several sessions – hours of work each. And a lot of what I write is pretty good. Some of it is very good. This is not just my opinion, feedback from my writers’ group, feedback when I publish an Op Ed in my newspaper. I created my blog page. I posted an essay that I just completed. I posted a couple of older ones that I thought were above average. And then I waited. No one visited my page. I added labels, tags. More essays, good essays. Still no one visited. And then I learned about Google+ communities.

Bicycling, running, mental health, punk music. These are the topics that interest me. When I created a presence in these communities, people found my blog. Actual followers. Small chunks of readership in a variety of countries. Turkey, Germany, Russia. Ukraine is the biggest and most consistent. And I'm not sure why. Ukrainians have been reading my months-old blog-post "Validation" steadily for weeks. I would think folks in Ukraine would have more important things to worry about right now than what I have to say. My kids think this is cool. They are of Ukrainian descent. My wife, Susan, a first generation American.

But those Google+ communities. This media actually is social. I'm not hanging onto old, dried up relationships, I'm creating new ones. Back and forth commenting. Reading updates on people's lives. Joking, sparring, some honest-to-God arguments. I know their kids names, the city where they live. Their goals, their interests, their achievements. It's a platform that no one ever talks about. Not in the news like Facebook, twitter, et al. And because my communities are one-dimensional, focused specifically on trail-running, or fixed-gear bikes, or OCD, or Tourette's Syndrome, the people I'm connecting with are far more diverse than my flesh and blood friendships. We intersect and bond over a narrow band of interest. The remainder of our lives, our hobbies, our activities, our professions are varied and random.  

I spend a lot of time looking for well written blogs. Blogs on topics meaningful to me. Mental health, broken spirits, that sort of thing. Many of these bloggers are Christian - very. Not surprising, folks struggling with problems often need someplace to turn. These blogs are primarily on the community’s subject matter, but they often include the theme that God is in control. God has a plan. If I put my faith in God, everything will be all right. I've never tried to do this. I have a natural distrust of authority figures – those in a position to set the rules. And who could possibly have more authority than God? But these bloggers, they are some of the people I’m meeting, my new friends, the ones I’m just getting to know.  

A year into the game, I now find myself worrying about offending some of these new friends. I am accepting of others beliefs, but are they accepting of mine? Like the new kid in school, I want to fit in, but I want to be myself. In my essays, I lay it all out. Nothing is hidden. My deepest thoughts and secrets. It is so personal that only a handful of my friends even know about my blog. It isn't information I'm comfortable sharing with the people I see every day. People at my work. My family. Long lost friends.

The comparison of quotes at the start of this essay gets to the heart of my fear. Will Calvinists accept my No Fate philosophy? Can Christians accept my beliefs in reincarnation, my rejection of Christianity? Can anyone in Europe accept that I'm an American? Many of my connections revolve around rock music, bicycles and running. What do these people think of my OCD? Tourette's Syndrome? Past drug use? Do they care? My tendency in the flesh and blood world is to avoid unpleasant topics. They make people uncomfortable. I don't stand on the street corner and rant about my kids' teachers. Or bemoan my struggles with alcohol. On-line, as Charley Rider, I tell the truth, my truth. For the past year, it hasn't mattered what anyone thought. If someone was offended, well, I didn't even know who they were. I'm starting to know. I'm starting to worry. It has begun to matter. I'm starting to care about the faceless people I'm meeting on Google+.


  1. I very much enjoyed this piece. Black and white thinking can feel safe, but there is a lot more variety and growth in the grey. It is good to see you breaking thru your "knee-jerk reaction."

    1. Thanks. Besides enjoying the process of creating and blogging an essay, the principal point of this exercise is self-discovery. After a year + of it, I'm way more in tune with myself. BTW - It's nice to know that people actually read this stuff. Thanks for commenting.