Social Media and Our Disconnected World

cafe_mainimage by Open University

Spring represents a new beginning.

Old man winter is gone and we are welcoming warmer weather.

By the skin of my teeth I finished my least favorite spring ritual: my tax return. Once again, H&R Block’s website came to the rescue and I electronically filed the tax forms in the nick of time. While Uncle Sam and Aunt Mary squeezed me for every cent, I received a text message from my sister reminding me of my nephew’s birthday. This was my big sister’s way of looking over her absent-minded little brother’s shoulder.

After the message, I realized how dependent we are upon technology. Our devices and social media allow us to communicate at the speed of light. With Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Skype, we can keep in touch in ways that were unimaginable a generation ago. Soon, I am sure, the transporters and flying cars will arrive.

It has been an exhausting learning curve regarding the newest technology. In the past, I missed out on the popularity of Myspace before the world switched to Facebook. But now, after conducting a personal inventory, I realized that I currently belong to seven social media websites.

Often, doubts arise to tell me that this high number is not normal; maybe if I had my parents’ God given common sense, I would have clicked “deactivate.”

However, I cannot function in today’s marketplace without all of this electronic interaction.

While Facebook and Twitter dominate the social media landscape, Instagram may threaten their supremacy. Recently, I received the news that Instagram is what young people use and Facebook is for their parents. Wikipedia has a list of social media pages, which contains 209 websites and this is not an extensive account, so there are certainly many more. Who has the time to use all of this stuff?

>>> The most valuable communication still takes place face to face and in person.

>>> The old-fashioned phone call is still an invaluable way to communicate, since you actually hear someone’s voice on the other end of the line.

>>> Text messaging is next, since it is instantaneous and convenient.

>>> E-mail is still essential and just as necessary as the telephone.

Despite all of our latest technology, people feel empty and emotionally isolated. We’re more connected than ever before, but completely disconnected at the same time. Let’s face it, when you spoke to a friend or family member last, you did not hear their voice.

We are developing relationships with our smart phones. Most of our conservations take place electronically. Believe me, there is no bigger fan of e-mail, text messages and social media, than me. Yet, I do have concerns regarding the effects of technology on our interactions and relationships.

As individuals, our only genuine means of connecting with each other are through interpersonal communications. However, one in four people spends more time socializing online than in person, based on a survey conducted for the online casino Yazino.

Unfortunately, online communications eliminate the possibility of interpretation of non-verbal cues. According to the latest research, only seven percent of actual communication is based on the written word or speech and 93 percent is body language.

Even more disturbing is the fact that the percentage of people experiencing loneliness has increased: 40 percent of adults in two recent surveys said they were lonely, and that number is up from 20 percent in the 1980s. All of our electronic interaction is not helping. The allure of electronic communications is difficult to resist. At its best, social media becomes a cyber-community and brings people together. After a long day, I just want to crawl into my man cave, decompress mentally and click on my computer.

Despite all of this, I cannot be sure how my friends feel when I ask how they are doing, at least not unless I notice their body language or look into their eyes. In the end, I have to balance life between meeting people in person and the connectivity offered through my cyber sanctuary.

Originally published by Elephant Journal.

 

 

Confessions of a Fragmented Mind

Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party

Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What happens when your brain cells are slipping away and your imagination abandons you? I plan and improvise as much as possible.  When all else fails, there is always the power of prayer. I am just unsure if God listens to a born again heathen.

My struggle against the technology continues.  Recently, malware affected my laptop. How can a writer function without a computer?  And no, I am not using my phone or tablet  for writing of any kind.

Back in the day, I actually participated in typing classes during elementary school. Fortunately, an IT specialist from work rescued my machine. Thankfully, Manny saved me from going to Geek Squad. Geek Squad has a reputation for charging customers outrageous rates for rudimentary services.  Damn, it isn’t easy being green.

For heaven’s sake, when is spring coming? I know that Washington D.C. is not experiencing the Boston’s winter wonderland, but I am still cranky about this season.  What does a Southern boy born from the back woods know about the winter blues?  I have seen more snow during one season than parents in their lifetimes..  Dear God, I cannot make this stuff up.

Life is a series of events that border between the ridiculous and the sublime. During the year, I think, the absurdities in life outweighing the awe-inspiring. The news reminds me daily of how flawed we all are. Despite this, the struggle, the journey, family and friends make it worthwhile despite the darkness.

 

Postscript Regarding the Printed Word

decree-aldus-manutius

How did I spend my Valentine’s Day?  Thankfully the local library hosted a book sale. Clearly, I have my priorities in order.

The prices are unbeatable.  I purchased books by Ann Patchett, John Updike and Isabel Allende all for $1.50. The most intriguing part of the sale is not bargain for my books. In this digital age, it is remarkable that a monthly book sale is so popular.

Lately, I am walking this tight rope between printed books and the digital world.  With one click, Amazon delivers the EBook I want to my tablet in seconds.  When money is tight, I can check out an EBook for free using OverdriveSometimes,  when I cannot spend hours browsing the stacks both mediums are extremely convenient.

Does this progress come with a cost?  The production of an independent publication in the age of the Internet is a never-ending struggle.  The same Internet that produced millionaires has unleashed creative destruction on conventional revenue model for publications.

The New Republic had lost three million dollars a year until cyber baron Chris Hughes (a co-founder of Facebook) bought this magazine. When Hughes forced out Editor Frank Foer, some of the editorial staff left in protest.  The American Spectator only publishes an electronic copy to its subscribers.  Hopefully,  the  American Spectator will produce a print version in the future. Harper’s which is a centennial of American culture receives millions of dollars each year from a foundation.    The Los Angles Review of Books is conducting a fund-raiser.  Newspapers continue to cut costs and layoff staff.

The American media is far from perfect. Newspapers and magazines are using technology to adapt for their survival.  Yet, this country needs journalists to ask tough questions and press politicians for answers. There are some readers who expect content for free. The problem is not the lack of information. We need a balance between coverage and context. The Internet can provide everyone a platform for expression which is also a double edge sword. As readers we still have a choice. It is not just a matter of the medium, but perspective. The rest is up to our ability to sift through the nonsense.

President Obama’s YouTubed Agenda: A Breakdown

president-obama-youtube-interview-screenshot

President Barack Obama believes his legacy will be with the economy, the Affordable Care Act, improving the environment and providing greater access to higher education, according to an interview conducted by three YouTube creators.

Hank Green, Bethany Mota and Glozell Green have combined viewership of 14 million people. From the White House’s perspective, this format seemed appropriate for reaching viewers who do not traditionally watch the State of the Union address.

None of the video bloggers (vloggers) have an extensive background in journalism, so I would not expect Walter Cronkite caliber questions among this group.

Despite this, the questions they asked covered a range of topics: from the legalization of marijuana to making college education affordable. While I believe in the power of blogging (it is our most democratic means of communication), this discussion left many unanswered questions regarding the economy, foreign affairs and the overall political direction of our country.

The Economy

“We saved an economy that was on the brink of depression. We created 11 million new jobs,” said Obama during the Youtube interview. According to broad indicators, the economy is improving. The Gross Domestic Product is improving and the stock market is setting new records.

However, there are always two sides to every story, and regrettably, the president has painted an incomplete economic picture.

The administration also declared that the unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis. The current unemployment rate is below 6 percent. Unfortunately, more of the jobs that the White House is trumpeting are part-time. Furthermore, the percentage of working people that say they do not work full-time remains high. Also, fewer people are participating in the labor force. In other words, there are some people who are so discouraged in trying to find work that they have given up the search. This means that not only are they not working now, but they have not looked for jobs recently enough to be counted as unemployed.

Some Americans believe we are still in a recession. It frustrates them that wages are at a standstill. Wall Street has high-powered portfolios, while so many American paychecks on Main Street are losing their punch.

Beyond the numbers, my sympathy is for Americans struggling to pay their bills with the paychecks they have. I am unsure of whether or not America’s political elite shares my sympathy.

The Current Political Climate

President Obama was quick to remind the Republican Party that he won twice during his State of the Union address. His “I won twice,” remark was the political pun of the week. He is also famous for saying “elections have consequences.” Nevertheless, the Democratic Party did its very best to distance itself from Mr. Obama during the mid-term elections. “I am not on the Ballot. However, these policies are,” said Obama during the last campaign.

The results were nothing short of a referendum on the Obama Presidency. Republicans now control the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Republicans also control the majority of state governorships (31). The GOP even made political pick-ups in historically blue states such as Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois.

In the aftermath of the mid-term elections, some Democrats expressed buyer’s remorse. The most prominent politician expressing regret regarding Obama’s approach to governing is Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY). In a speech given to the National Press Club after the elections, Schumer said Democrats “blew the opportunity the American people gave them in 2008.” Essentially, Schumer believes that the Democrats used their mandate to focus on the wrong problem: health care reform.

“The plight of uninsured Americans and the hardships caused by unfair insurance company practices certainly needed to be addressed, but it was not the change we were hired to make. Americans were crying out for the end to the recession, for better wages and more jobs, not changes in health care,” he said.

Foreign Affairs

According to the president, “shadow of the crisis has passed.” In foreign affairs, though, the last thing I want is our brave men and women acting as global police force. President Obama believes in leading from behind. Regrettably, this approach may leave a power vacuum regarding America’s role as the leader of free societies. This void may be filled by America’s adversaries.

How can the crisis pass when:

Terror suspects attack French publication Charlie Hebdo. Global leaders around the world rally to Paris and the White House does not send a senior official to the march.
Iran is determined to obtain a nuclear weapon and may be using negotiations with America as a stalling tactic. A nuclear Iran not only threatens Israel (an important American ally that Obama does not get along with) but threatens the long-term security of America. Iran is greatest exporter of terrorism.

ISIL kidnaps and beheads innocent civilians, including American journalist James Foley.
The White House was determined to reset Russian relations and now Moscow wants to take over the Ukraine. The Ukraine does not expect American military intervention, but only asks for weapons for their self-defense. In response, the Pentagon offered MRES, ready to eat burgers, in their efforts to resist 40,000 Russians.

President Obama drew a red line with Syria regarding its chemical weapons. The administration retreated, marginalizing American influence and exposing the limitations of American diplomacy.

Isn’t it unrealistic to expect the Youtube creators to press the president regarding these vital issues? The effort that came closest to scrutinizing the presidential talking points was by Hank Green, when he suggested the agenda outlined by Obama in the State of the Union speech was unrealistic.

After racking my brain over this, I realized this is not about the long-term direction of our Republic. President Obama wants to double down on his agenda and set the table for the presidential campaign of 2016.

Eventually, the current administration will spend what’s left of its political capital. There is very little room for compromise between the White House and Capitol Hill. It is only a matter of time before the President becomes a lame duck, which happens with every administration.

I am at a political cross roads. The thought of a political dynasty from either party is nerve-racking. With all of her accomplishments, I am uncomfortable with the air of inevitability surrounding former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding the presidential nomination from the Democratic Party.

On the other side of the political spectrum, the Republican Party’s presidential candidates are a real bevy of beauties. Some have experience governing at the state level. The rest will offer great rhetoric for Tea Party Patriots, but not a plan for the rest of America. Former Governor Mitt Romney is considering another run at the White House and Jeb Bush is preparing for his presidential campaign. Governor Romney wrote off 47 percent of the electorate as a bunch of moochers and Governor Bush may not be conservative enough for his party.

Breathe

The only optimism I have comes from the resilience of the American people. I will place my hope and faith in God. I will place my trust in family and friends.

In the end, the American people will sift through all the nonsense and make the best decision for the country. The only issue in question is whether or not we can get straight answers from the political class so citizens can make a sensible decision. All the check and balances in the world are useless without sincere and honest individuals who are determined to stay active in the political process.

Originally published by Elephant Journal.

 

Random Thoughts and Observations

 

Brain Pic by John Holcroft

Brain Pic by John Holcroft

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How can I move forward when my brain has abandon me?

Some former colleagues really miss my way with words. My gift for gab is impeccable. Speaking of my work,  I have enough to keep me busy. I am sure work pace will pick up in no time. Regardless,   I am so excited that I have a space heater in my cubicle. It takes so little to keep me happy.

On another topic,  a new year comes with an opportunity for growth, challenges and change. Unfortunately, I have to include a new fitness routine into my current plans.  Unfortunately, I have been far too sedentary in the last couple of years.  God did not design us to sit still.   My bones ache for some activity.

What else is on my agenda? I am thinking about a few things. Should I take another writing workshop or seminar? Where are the best opportunities to work on the craft? I think life long learning is very important.Regardless, I need a writing desk pronto.  Usually I write with my computer on my lap or go to the local library for quiet space. I just love to hear myself think.

Yearning for silence while  in a crowd. I am skimming through Ezra Pound and thinking out loud.

 

The Power of Self Expression

Shadow of the Wind

I seldom recommend a book or suggest a very few unless asked.  Most of my friends are avid readers who keep up with the latest literature.  However, I definitely suggested that individuals pick up Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon.

Shadow of the Wind has a very sold narrative filled with plenty of twists and turns. Characters are very relatable.  The story takes place in Spain in the background of its civil war, and that affects the society in this book. Daniel Sempere is the main character. Daniel wakes up from a nightmare and cannot recall the face of his deceased mother.  In an effort to provide an appropriate distraction, his father, who is a rare book store dealer, takes Daniel to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books.

This cemetery is a concealed library of lost and forgotten books preserved by book lovers. Everyone who comes to this place for the first time takes one book and must protect it at all costs. Daniel chooses Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax. Carax is an obscure novelist who fled from Spain to France under mysterious circumstances.

Daniel takes the book home and mesmerized by it. After he finishes reading the novel, he looks for other books by Carax but is initially unsuccessful. Daniel owns the last copy of Shadow of the Wind.  In his quest,he discovers a stranger burned most of Carax’s books and is on a mission to destroy Daniel’s copy of Shadow of the Wind.

During the course of the story, you can a see Daniel’s coming of age and his struggle with adolescence. He is investigating the life of Carax and digs until he finds some answers.  Fermin De Torres, a former beggar Daniel discovers on the streets of Barcelona, aids him on his quest. De Torres has a great sense of humor and has unmatched passion for life and literature.  At certain point, the mystery Daniel unravels causes major problems and has unfortunate consequences.

Shadow of the Wind is scary, tragic and thrilling. And yet, this book’s strength is in the interaction and dialogue between the characters.  The following passage is demonstration of Zafon’s ability to capture essence of the bond between Daniel and his father.

My father nodded gloomily and quickly sipped his soup. He was a very private person, and, although he lived in the past, he hardly ever mentioned it.  I had grown up convinced that the slowed procession of the postwar years, a world of stillness, poverty, and hidden resentment, was as natural as tap water, that the mute sadness that seeped from the walls of the wounded city was the real face of its soul. One of the pitfalls of childhood is that one doesn’t have to understand something to feel it.

The only issue with Shadow of the Wind is the conclusion. The author presents an Orwellian world in which the average person is lucky to survive.  The conclusion offers a happy ending and this is not realistic.  No one can manage to survive the circumstances which lead to end of this story. As readers, we can learn a lot from stories filled with struggle, adversity and tragedy.  Despite this, Zafon’s novel is an extraordinary work and he is an exceptional storyteller.

The Learning Curve with Language

Saint Mark by Lucas Van Leyden

Saint Mark by Lucas Van Leyden

In a relatively free society, can individuals collectively ban words? By the way, I will never call America a Democracy, but that is a different discussion for another post.  Recently, Time Magazine published its list of Which Words Should Be Banned in 2015. The following list provides a sample:

  • Basic
  • Bossy
  • Feminist
  • Influencer
  • Sorry Not Sorry

As an aspiring wordsmith, the idea of banning words seems dangerous. There are a few words in the  English language that are unacceptable and society shows very little tolerance. There are examples of hate speech which do little to foster discourse or advance our collective intellect . Society considers such words are insulting.  Speaking of which,  I recommend reading  The Washington Post’s feature on The N-Word , for an in-depth examination of this important issue.

In returning to Time’s list, I am wondering how Feminist made this list.  The only practical explanation is that some women   are reluctant to embrace feminism. In time, I think  some words become archaic. For example,  I cannot recall anyone use the aliment to mean food or nourishment.

I am wondering  about certain words or phrases  that need clarification or become abused. For example, what exactly is a Thought Leader?  According to Wikipedia,  a Thought Leader is an individual  recognized as an authority in a specialized field.  Actually, this word sounds more like a cult leader. There are already so many words that more appropriate (intellectual, expert and subject matter expert come to mind). Yet, the angst I have for this phrase will not stop it from entering the American lexicon.

Speaking of our language, there is another cringe inducing word that comes to mind. As a society, we have abused the word interesting for several years. I can hardly stand this.  For instance, Gina’s PowerPoint presentation is interesting.   Are her slides  awful or irrelevant? I just do not know. However, I may assume that Gina’s efforts did little to wow her audience. This is an example of indirect diplomatic language in which I loath.

Words at there best can evoke emotions or stimulate thought.  There is a learning curve in using language appropriately. Thank God I am not alone in my struggle.