Songs for the Struggling Artist


A Better Way to Read On the Internet?

I thought this one post I wrote was pretty good. I know they’re not all winners. There are some that I just sort of throw together and some I really work at and this one sat somewhere in the middle, in that it had the flow of something that just emerged but the shaping of something I’d considered for a while. I guess what I am trying to say is that I was proud of it.

But when I put it out – nothing happened. I shared it on all the platforms, all the social medias it goes to. And I could count the views on one hand. I tried to goose the algorithm on Facebook – since that’s the place I usually get my views. I tried to like my own post (looks like Facebook doesn’t allow that anymore though I was able to like it via the Songs for the Struggling Artist Facebook page) and I used the algorithmic golden word “congratulations” in the comments.

Crickets.

I know better than to take Facebook’s algorithmic selections personally but still – having so few views made me question my own perception of quality. Maybe the post was no good after all. (Again – I know better. Some really great posts have only 4 views total. I know, I know the two things are disconnected. And yet.)

Then one of my friends commented, liked and shared it. Suddenly a post that had had only one view thus far that day had 18.

This is, on one hand, indicative of the reach my friend has but also suggests the power of one person sharing in the algorithmic battle for attention many of us seem engaged in. (Don’t underestimate the power of your share, like and comment. I am heartily grateful for every one. Your click will take my views from 4 to 5. Your share will take my views from 4 to 12 or 18 or more if others share it.)

This all makes me think about what a terribly imperfect way of sharing writing the internet is. It’s also a terribly imperfect way of reading. Facebook pitches its stream of posts as a NewsFeed and it does feel like it has become the place I receive a lot of news – and not just the news – but also the essays and articles and blog posts about things I care about.

But because of Facebook’s algorithms, it decides what I see instead of me. I miss so many things while simultaneously having the illusion that I’m current with the writers I like. But I know that I’m not. I follow Rebecca Solnit there so I see a lot of her writing but I know Facebook doesn’t show me everything. KatyKatiKate is a blogger and podcaster like myself and I want to support her work however I can – but I know Facebook is only showing me a third of what she writes. I wonder what genius posts she’s over there crafting and Facebook isn’t showing me or anyone else because of the algorithm’s quirks. I’m gonna guess she has a few of those orphan posts, too.

In the years before social media, I found it hard to follow writers and bloggers. I felt like I had to remember to go to various websites, various blogs. I just couldn’t remember all the places I wanted to go on the internet to read things I cared about. So when Facebook came around, it provided this very useful service of aggregating those articles, blogs and such. It’s just that it does that so BADLY. Like So Badly.

Twitter is even worse. People don’t really click on articles on Twitter. My sense is that it just moves too fast. The views I get on Twitter are negligible. And I don’t even understand how to share writing on Instagram.

So…what I’m waiting for is some kind of feed for writing. Does it already exist and I just don’t know about it? I want to be on it with my friends. I want to see what they recommended and be able to share pertinent news, as well as indie writing, like KatyKatiKate. The algorithmic bias of Facebook means it will really only promote what is shared – but as much as I love KatyKatiKate’s work, I’m not going to share every single piece. I don’t expect that of my readers either. But I want to be able to at least know about every piece that KatyKatiKate puts out. I want to click like, or love or star or heart or whatever, on all of them and I want to have a list of writers that I love listed on said site or some kind of extra boost for them. How our writings are shared matters and the way they are read and shared at the moment is really not working well.

I rely on Facebook to promote my blog and podcast and we all know how problematic it is. But if it went away tomorrow – or if everyone just deleted their accounts en masse, I’d have no readership whatsoever. I’m dependent on it, at the moment, and I do not appreciate how much control the Facebook algorithm has over who gets to see my work. And, due to the foibles of a writers’ brain, sometimes the control the algorithm has has a great deal of impact on the way I feel and my assessment of the quality of my work. It happens that way sometimes and I do not like it. I’m looking for another way.

 

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Amplify Wednesday

The thing is, y’all, I was 100% sure I would have achieved massive success at least 20 years ago. I do a lot of different things and depending on the thing, small groups of people think I’m pretty great at that thing. My issue is not that I make bad things but that almost no one sees them happen. My platform in this big number world is so tiny – if it were a raft, it could only save a handful of people.

This is true for a lot of women I know. The quality of their work is fantastic but their reach is negligible. I used to fall for the “women lack confidence” angle but I know now that that is bullshit. The whole “women would do better if they just promoted themselves better, presented themselves differently, made more commercial work” thing reminds me of a guy I heard talking about his experience of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He said, “It’s clear that the cream really rises to the top there.” Three guess as to whose show had been a hit at the festival that year. When you’re at the top everyone else is just regular milk and your rise was inevitable. Also – the other thing about cream is that it does rather tend to be rich and white. And male. (Wait – this metaphor falls apart there, I guess. I don’t think cream is gendered actually.) Anyway – my sense is that reach is a problem for a lot of women so I’ve decided to start a practice of amplification.

I already practice some amplification. After learning about the gender and racial imbalances on Twitter, I made it my practice to follow and amplify the voices of women (particularly women of color), trans people, non-binary people, people of color of all genders, people with disabilities and anyone else who ought to be heard more. My hope is that with my simple follows and likes and retweets, I can turn up the volume a little for people who ought to be heard.

It is not a thing that makes a big splashy difference. I see it as sort of incremental but hopefully cumulative. Now that we live in a world where people’s tweets are news, I think it’s important to add to the numbers of the people who are heard.

That’s all just my small daily amplification. But now I think I need to do a weekly amplification. I want to consciously lift up one woman a week. I want to expand someone’s fan base, if only a little. I want to lift up my friends, sure but also artists, writers and journalists that I wish had a larger reach.

I’d love for others to join me in raising the tide for the un-amplified voices. I’d love to see #AmplifyWednesday become as common as #ThrowbackThursday. If there’s one thing that writing/podcasting on the internet has shown me, it’s the effect of just one person advocating for something. I’ve seen big spikes in my views and/or listens just because one person decided to share it. And then when two people share it, my reach doubles. And so on and so on. Social media is weird. I acknowledge all the freaky things that go on here, all the ways we’re manipulated and sold to but we’re all still here – I think because we like one another, and we like being connected. We like supporting one another.

So I’m advocating formalizing that a little bit. If you feel like joining me, here’s what I propose: Every Wednesday post on the social media of your choice someone’s work you want to amplify and maybe say why. Pick on article, a painting, a song, link to it and give that person a boost. That’s it. #AmplifyWednesday

I’ll be amplifying mostly women, inclusive of trans and non-binary folk. I’d love for others to do the same. Even if you don’t want to post, click on links that you see posted, like those updates. We live in a click, like, share world and you can amplify by doing those things as well.

I think it’s time for Conscious Amplification.

No disrespect to Justin Timberlake but he doesn’t need your clicks and likes. His voice gets heard no matter what you do. But there are those for whom you can turn the volume up, whose lives you could change just by amplifying them.

One of the reasons I’m glad to see my Twitter following growing is not so much for my own work but because it amplifies the people I amplify more. The rising numbers of followers I have on Twitter has made no difference whatsoever on my views or downloads. None. But I expect it has made a difference in boosting the numbers of some people and/or causes I care about.

Turn up the volume on someone who is not getting heard. It’s not difficult and a great way to be an ally. You don’t need to insert yourself into the conversation, just turn up the volume on the people who are already having it.

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you’d like to listen to me read a previous one on Anchor, click here.

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Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

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Want to really amplify my work?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Maybe It’s Something. Maybe It’s Nothing. Or, Much Ado About a Black Square

Last Saturday, women began to message one another about a social media blackout “tomorrow.” The message included a little black square to use as a profile picture. This was the message:

“Tomorrow, female blackout from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Its a movement to show what the world might be like without women. Your profile photo should just be a black square so that men wonder where the women are. Pass it only to women … It’s for a project against domestic abuse. It is no joke. Share it.”

 

I was instantly suspicious. First, because of the timing. In the middle of a profound protest movement developing among women, at the apex of women’s rage, suddenly we are being asked to go dark on social media all day? To disappear? Just stop the outpouring of rage and movement building so men will “wonder where the women are”?

 

Huh?

 

My first red flag was: No one EVER notices an absence on Facebook. How many times have you seen someone pop up with a status that says something like, “I’m back! It’s been a crazy year! What did I miss? Did you miss me?” Um…nope. Hadn’t noticed that you were gone, to be honest. Not because I don’t care about you, Mr. Example Person, but because the algorithms that Facebook uses mean that I don’t see all KINDS of people all the time, whether they are there or not. So – strategically, this plan seemed dumb and self defeating.

Next: It wasn’t connected to any particular idea – not A Day Without a Woman or A Day Without Immigrants. It was not connected to any organization nor to any movement.

And that’s not even getting into the problematic use of the word “female” here.

I began to investigate because something about it smelled super fishy. From the vague “project” to the phrasing of the message, to the fact that it was unsponsored, to the strange air of secrecy around it, something just didn’t seem right.

 

I copied the message and googled it. Turns out, this exact same wording has been used multiple times before in the last few years. I couldn’t find any debunking or source of it – but its strange repetition was enough to confirm for me that I would not be joining the black out, no matter who told me to.

 

I decided to post my decision and my research because someone had asked me what I thought about it and I figured others were also likely in a quandary. My quick post about this was shared about as widely as one of my most popular blogs. I was not expecting that. And having suddenly been put into a position of authority on this topic by virtue of a couple of google searches, I felt obliged to think about it even further. I saw a lot of comments about it on my post that others shared and those of others as well.

 

One thing that stuck out to me was the notion that the message was received from a trusted source. This meant, I came to realize, that they got it from a friend they trusted. And those friends got it from friends THEY trusted. It came in our messages, not on our walls. The messages are where the real friends are, where there are no advertisements, even. (Yet.)

 

It occurred to me that this notion of receiving something from a trusted source is something that someone who wanted to spread mis-information on social media might exploit. People spread that pizzagate nonsense because they got it from a trusted source. That is, their friend. Everyone assumes the person before them vetted the thing. I have been guilty of it as well. I don’t have time to be vetting everything I see on the internet! But I do TRY to vet everything I POST on the internet. That’s why, even though I received the invite from my most trusted source, I still investigated it. Have I done this every time? No, I haven’t. But this experience with the black square will make me a lot more vigilant.

 

But – if it’s something as easy as changing a profile photo and taking a little break from posting things, what’s the harm? We could all use a little social media fast, couldn’t we?

 

That’s the other comment I saw going through. Something along the lines of: “What the big deal? So what if it’s politically motivated? Or another Russian manipulation of Facebook? It’s just a profile pic. I won’t go silent, as suggested, now that I’ve seen people upset about that idea. But just posting a black square won’t do any harm!”

And maybe it was all totally harmless. Probably it’s just a harmless little meme in support of “domestic abuse.” Probably. Or it could just be some random meme that cycles through occasionally. Forbes says it was spam, basically. Big deal. What harm is done?

 

Now – I don’t know. I’m just a struggling artist. I’m not a cyber terrorism expert. But I do have an imagination and pay attention to just enough tech news to know that few of us are as savvy about the way we’re technologically vulnerable as we should be. I can imagine a scenario wherein bad actors* try out a “harmless” support meme that targets large groups of women at a time. Given that the Resistance is something like 85% female, someone figuring out how to throw women into silence or disarray could be an important goal.

 

I heard a lot of women say that their “trusted source” had been a prominent, active women’s advocate. That is, I suspect, the top line of the Resistance, the especially active, the organizers, the leaders. It is not a stretch to imagine that bad actors* from several angles would be interested in manipulating large groups of women on Facebook – the place where large groups of women center their social movements. It also makes sense to me that those same bad actors* would know who to target at the top of the pile to make the thing travel as quickly as it did. I mean, have you ever tried to get thousands of people to do something? Millions of people? Or even just, like, dozens? I am chilled by the fact that in the space of a day – someone could orchestrate an event for the NEXT DAY. That is extraordinary.

 

I don’t want to be an alarmist on this point, it probably is harmless. It’s probably just spam, as Forbes reported. But I do think we have to learn to be a little warier.

What’s amazing about the message is how it exploits two major triggers for women. It speaks to our desire to help other women and to be finally appreciated, or even just acknowledged, by men.

 

It reminds me of a workshop I took in self defense. We had to learn how to say “No” really loudly. We role-played so we could practice saying no in real life scenarios. The man in the role of the attacker was so skilled, though. He knew how to manipulate each person so well that even when we knew we were supposed to say “No” it was still incredibly challenging. With me, I remember he tried to get me to help with his kids who were in trouble outside. Oh, I wanted to help. But I eventually found the strength to say No and then later learned how to say No while kicking him in the balls and poking him in eyes. (He had a protective suit on, don’t worry.)

 

Anyway, I’m not writing this to shame anyone for posting a black square or going dark. Your intentions were sweet and good. You wanted to help. You were like me hearing that there were kids in trouble out in the car! And I’m not even saying you SHOULD have said “No!” to this and punched it in the balls or poked it in the eyes. I’m just suddenly keenly aware that to really look out for each other, sometimes we need to investigate for each other. We need to have each others backs by being willing to be skeptical sometimes, by being willing to change our minds. One of the things that I watched happen over the course of this black square day was a kind of digging in of heels. I saw women fiercely defend a thing they’d only heard of hours before. It was as if, in having made the choice, they took any skepticism about it as a personal affront. There were some serious rifts happening between women and communities over something as seemingly minor as a profile pic. (I mean, wouldn’t this be exactly what you wanted if you were trying to disrupt a democracy via Facebook?)

 

This particular post may not have been nefarious. Maybe it wasn’t an attempt to distract furious American women and cause dissension among them. Maybe that photo they sent to everyone wasn’t encoded with some sort of virus or malware. Maybe it wasn’t practice for future nefarious plans. Maybe it was just nothing. No big deal.

 

But. The thing is. If it WAS an attempt at cyber manipulation (and we know this is a real thing that happens on Facebook in particular,) it was targeting women specifically. And, I fear that by talking about this to you, by making you aware of this possibility, I may have made myself a future target. So I’m gonna need you all to watch my back and if you see me heading outside with some guy I’m supposed to say no to, I’m gonna need you to shout “No!” really loudly and kick him in the balls. You know, in a digital sense. Thanks in advance.

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*Note: I’m using “bad actors” in the sense that the tech industry uses the term, that is, people with bad intentions. Of course, if you’re like me, you just picture bad actors, like, saying lines in a wooden fashion and being totally awkward in their bodies on stage – but in tech. That’s not what it is though. It’s bad guys. Evil doers. Tech villains.

This blog is also a podcast. You can find it on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

If you’d like to listen to me read the previous one on Anchor, click here.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs, an album of Gen X Songs and More. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Like the blog? Want to help me keep doing it?

Become my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog (but aren’t into the commitment of Patreon) and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 



What People Click On

One of the side activities of having a blog is watching the stats roll in. My host, WordPress, keeps track of views and clicks on my blog and they share that info with me. This means I see when a post is traveling through the internet (usually Facebook) and when it does not.

The bulk of my views tend to come through Facebook (WordPress shares where the click originated.) And I can see what posts people read on Facebook, what caught people’s attention and what did not. Based on that (admittedly limited) data set, I might determine that people are the most interested in sexual harassment. My big viral hit a few years ago (four thousand views one day) was on this topic and the subsequent follow-ups were also in my top most views.

In the recent wave of discussion on this topic, triggered by Weinstein, I found my blog getting more views again. It makes me think about the following possibilities: people are very interested in sexual harassment or I just happen to be a better writer on this topic than I am on other ones. Another possibility is that Facebook likes to promote topics in this vein as it hits two of their algorithmic favorites: things that generate outrage and sex. (Not that sexual harassment really has anything to do with sex – but it does have the word in it!)

Based on the data, I might, if I were a person who was interested in following the market, be inclined to write more about sexual harassment and less about, say, arts education. But I don’t trust the data. I’m interested in it but I don’t trust it.

Social media companies make money on outrage. They promote posts that stir up controversy (controversy means more comments and more time on the platform) and are disinclined to promote posts that take people outside the network. I’d imagine they’re not so keen on posts that are critical of their platform either (unless, of course, they trigger a lot of comments.) I wrote a post a while back about how “discussion” on social media isn’t really discussion – about being reflective about what these platforms can actually do for us and it got, like, no views.

This could be because it wasn’t that interesting to people (fair point – very possible) but it could also be because Facebook isn’t that interested in being reflective about itself. Because it’s an open question, I really cannot and should not base what I write about on my stats – and I also need to be careful about making assumptions about people based on my stats. These sorts of data can make me feel like people are only interested in hearing from women when we’ve been the victim of something and I have to hope that that’s not true.

Want to keep up with me without the mediating force of Facebook?

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become my patron on Patreon.

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.

screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs, an album of Love Songs and an album of More Songs. You can find them on Spotify, my websiteReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Is It More Than a Thousand?
January 30, 2018, 12:43 am
Filed under: Feldenkrais, music, podcasting, Social Media | Tags: , , , ,

A podcast I’m a fan of had a Facebook group and on the show they were often talking about what a lovely group it was and how the people on it were the best, so I joined it. It was a place where women asked each other questions, where they vented about sexism they ran into and shared stories. It was a feminist space where you could sensibly participate in a conversation about vibrators without batting an eye. It was pretty cool.

As the podcast became more popular, the group got bigger. And slowly but surely the group became more and more contentious until eventually they shut the whole thing down. A lot of people were shocked but I could see it coming from a mile away. While many mourned the dissolution of their “safe space,” I’d known from the beginning that no space is truly safe on social media. I know enough about the way these companies operate to know that anything I post could become public – that anything I post is really Facebook’s property, not mine. Sometimes these kinds of groups are fun but they’re never truly safe. (This skepticism may be a property of my Gen X identity.) And something I’ve noticed about on-line spaces is that the bigger the group, the less civil people become.

I don’t know what the civility threshold is on a Facebook group – but I suspect it’s somewhere around a thousand people. Once it gets bigger, somehow someone is always going to be offended and then pile-ons ensue. It doesn’t have to be ABOUT anything in particular – it could be something small – but after a thousand people are in the room, it’s bound to happen.

This happened recently on a professional group I’m a part of (2,735 members in the group.) Someone asked for tips about how to deal with a particular brand of troll and I offered a suggestion of a metaphor which featured classical music. And before I could blink, angry comments started to spew. There was a pile-on of angry classical musicians like you would not believe. The last I checked on this post, someone had said, “I find this metaphor offensive.” Which you know, I’d understand if I’d said classical music is dog poop and anyone who plays it is stupid. But I did not say that. Nor did I intend anything of the sort. (Some of my best friends are classical musicians!) All I said was that the Alexander Technique might be said to be more like classical music and the Feldenkrais Method might be said to be more like jazz. It’s not a particularly controversial thing to say. Unless you’re in a social media group of over a thousand when everything is potentially controversial and pile-ons seem to happen all the time.

In this case, too, I noticed on this thread that two comments down from me, a man had used this same analogy – but curiously, his post received no angry responses. So…I have to assume that this issue may be gendered. It did not escape my attention that every angry response was from a woman and that none of them challenged the man who had asserted the identical metaphor.

Now – here’s what I’m wondering. Is it possible for groups of over a thousand people to be productive and civil? And what happens to large groups of women in particular? Why is this devolution of civility so common?

A misogynist might say that women are petty or get upset about nothing. And my own inner misogynist thinks that very thing about all those women who were mean to me without even knowing me!

But. If I pull back my focus and look at the big picture…I think of this situation as a plugged up sprinkler. Like, the sprinkler is full of fury and if it’s thwarted, if all of its outlets are stopped, it’ll shoot that fury out of the side of the hose or wherever it can find a crack. When I’m feeling generous, I can see these dumb responses this way, as just misplaced fury – and women sometimes shoot their anger onto other women because they’re afraid to express it to men. They’re mad at me about my classical music metaphor because they can’t go yell at Harvey Weinstein or whomever the Weinstein figure of classical music is.

Or maybe it isn’t gendered – and any group of more than a thousand is just bound to devolve into constant spats. I don’t know. It’s a new world. These are not problems we had twenty years ago.

But I’d love to read any sociological studies about groups like this. There is probably a predictable formula for when people start to behave badly. I think it might help us all to know what that formula is. As for me, since I get knots in my stomach in response to conflict, I’ve just unfollowed pretty much every large group I’ve been a part of. And I breathe a LOT more easily now.

**

You can support the blog

by becoming my patron on Patreon.

Click HERE to Check out my Patreon Page

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This blog is also a Podcast. You can find it on iTunes. If you’d like to listen to me read a previous blog on Soundcloud, click here.screen-shot-2017-01-10-at-1-33-28-am

Every podcast features a song at the end. Some of those songs are now an album of Resistance Songs. You can find it on Spotify, ReverbNation, Deezer and iTunes.

*

Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist



Generation X – Part 5 It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

On the Stuff You Should Know podcast about Baby Boomers, the hosts (both Gen X-ers) pointed out that generations are often characterized by events that shake their collective innocence (e.g. 9-11, JFK, Challenger) They then suggested generations might as well be characterized by the technology that unites them. Boomers were the first generation to grow up with TV. Gen X was the first generation to grow up with video and videogames. Computers, too. And Millennials grew up with more ubiquitous computers and the spread of the internet. Generation Z is growing up with smartphones. So…we somehow define our humanity by the technology at hand. Probably cavemen were like, “Yeah, our young ones are the Fire Generation. They’ll never what it was like for us before we got that life changing Fire stuff.” Probably the Fire Generation and the House Building Generation got together and sang songs at each other right over the head of the lone representative of the farming generation, who declared that all this generational thinking is bullshit.

Time magazine called us the Video Generation in our youth. Which is a little bit comical now that there’s something called YouTube (invented by Gen X-ers.) Given the amount of video in our lives now, it is hard to imagine that people were once worried about us watching a couple tapes on VCRS or music on MTV or hanging around in arcades playing Ms. Pacman. It seems quaint now.

Were we the computer generation? While I did learn to program a little triangular turtle in grade school, the only computers I ever touched until college were the ones at school. I went to college with a typewriter and left with a Mac Classic II. I understood that computers were powerful and a little bit scary. The bad boys with keyboards could both start a nuclear war AND prevent one. And neither computers or videogames were really for girls.

There was an interesting anxiety in the air as we watched the Computer Age roll in. Before we all had our own, computers were sort of magical and mysterious, dangerous and exciting. In a movie a lot of us saw, two nerds created a fantasy woman in real life by programming their computers. What would have once been a magic spell was now Weird Science. The nerds of Real Genius used their good computer skills to save the world from evil weapons computer stuff. It was good versus evil but with computers.

I re-listened to Kate Bush’s 1989 song “Deeper Understanding” which was about computers and found myself astonished at how directly it relates to all of us now. In an interview about this song, Kate Bush said she was surprised by how many people assumed she was into computers because she wrote a song about someone into computers. But this is the funny thing about that: at the time, we used to think about computers like this. Computers were an interest, like parasailing. Some people were into them, most people weren’t.

But those that were into computers were busy imagining a wide open world. I didn’t know it at the time (because I was one of those who weren’t that into computers) but Gen X computer kids were full of possibility. They imagined a world in which we could talk to anyone anywhere in the world, in which anyone with the skill could build anything. Gen X kids who were into computers were talking to each other on their computers long before the rest of us. They made virtual spaces made out of their imagination that were endlessly flexible and modifiable. For Gen X computer kids (and some OGx-ers like Jaron Lanier) the way we use our technology now is anathema to what they intended.

While those of us who weren’t into computers were fine to have our options streamlined, to have our websites more user-friendly, to not have to learn the skills to make our own, those who did have the skills were horrified as they watched the wide open world of tech be reduced to a “click yes or no” world. They aimed at freedom and we got convenience and those of us who “weren’t into computers” don’t even know what was sacrificed for that ease.

An iPhone will only let you put apps on it that are Apple approved. And many of the websites that are changing the world aren’t customizable at all. They create paths for us to walk down in which we can only make one choice at a time. For example, Facebook makes most decisions for its users. It gives you only six options for your feelings when it would be just as easy to have you create your own reaction emoticons. Its algorithm chooses which posts you see when Facebook could easily make it possible for you to design your own. But it doesn’t. Its algorithms remain a closely guarded secret and it controls which of your friends you see and which you don’t.

As the years have gone by, we have been trained not to wonder about what it is behind the technological certain. We trade our privacy for connection and ease. We leave the decision making to big corporations or big data.

The promise of a wide-open world where anyone with know-how can do anything has become a world full of walled gardens. From meadows and mountains and plains and oceans, our technology became a series of small plots of land, gardened by a chosen few, on the estates of big corporations. And while the gardens inside have clear paths to walk down and very specialized flowers and hey, all our friends are here! – the walls don’t seem to help keep out the jerks. Now instead of wide open space where we might run into a jerk sometime, we are locked up in the garden of Twitter, for example, with torrents of jerks. As one Gen X-er who has always been into computers said, “The people who weren’t into computers won.”

That is, while we now all have tiny super computers that fit into our pockets, the computers in our pockets are often structured to limit our choices instead of expanding them.

We all have computers but we don’t know (or care) how they work or which corporation has access to our data. The Gen X-ers into computers are understandably a little upset about this and it would appear that Gen X-ers are at the forefront of helping us figure out how to integrate technology into our lives responsibly, wisely and consciously. Gen X-er Manoush Zomorodi hosts a podcast that leans into these issues with a characteristic Gen X questioning of accepted norms. Gen X takes nothing for granted. We know that infinite possibilities include some possibilities that are a real bummer.

Gen X programmers built new virtual spaces – things like Friendster, Google, MySpace and Twitter. This may not have been what they imagined back when they first got into computers but they have changed the world. I think we need Gen X technologists more than ever to help us return to the idealism of the Open Source dreams, even as we adapt to the inventions Gen X let loose on the world. Gen X may have been seen as nihilistic and cynical but that is partly just the shadow side of the deep vein of idealism that runs through most of us. If we’re cynical, it’s because we think people can and should do better.

While most generational discussions I’ve seen point to the Challenger explosion as the most influential historical event in Gen X’s youth, I have yet to meet anyone for whom that event loomed particularly large. We remember it, sure – but it doesn’t seem all that formative. What I do think may have been formative was the constant very palpable threat of nuclear war. I was reminded of how real this was for me after I watched the episode of The Americans, in which the family watches the TV movie, The Day After. I don’t remember the movie itself but I do remember the feeling I had that I would not be safe anywhere. I could not be safe under my desk or in my bed. I remember hiding under my covers for some time, knowing it would never be enough – that if someone pushed a button (and it seemed very possible that someone would), none of us would be safe.

The events of the movie Wargames felt like a very real possibility to me and I think most of Gen X had to adapt to a world that might explode at any minute. We had to acknowledge that it might be the end of the world as we knew it and we had to find a way to feel fine. Recent political events have brought this feeling back to the surface and Gen X finds itself once again in a world where some guy pushing a button could end it all for all of us.

When I started watching The Americans, it was an exercise in nostalgia for my childhood. (They used that “Nobody bothers me” ad! We sang that all the time in the 80s in Virginia!) Now watching a show about Russian spies undercover as Americans in the Cold War feels like current events.

I understand the impulse to categorize a generation by its technology or its unique historical events but I suspect that what binds a generation together more is the atmosphere that pervades – it is a collection not just of the music we hear, the movies and TV we watch, but also the politics and the objects that surround us.

Generation X was surrounded by some meaningful bullshit and we thought the world was probably ending but we felt fine. In a world of infinite possibilities, there was a small chance we might get out of our youth alive. And if you’re Gen X and you’re reading this – Congratulations! We did it! We already lived much longer than we ever imagined.

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This is Part 5 of a multi-part series. and

You can read Part 1 here Part 2 here  Part 3 here

and Part 4 here.

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Social Media and Discussion
June 29, 2017, 5:25 pm
Filed under: Social Media | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

One of the weird things about sharing my writing on Facebook (which is where I collect the bulk of my views on the blog) is that, when it’s shared by others, I can sometimes see how people respond to my work without responding to me directly. On my own page, my friends are generally respectful and look at my work in the context of the person that wrote it, since they (most of them) know me. On other people’s posts of my work, I have seen some rather startling assumptions pop up. The most vivid example of this was a response to my Single Gender on a Train post. While most of my post was about being a woman in public, there was a bit about the distinction between that experience in NYC and in smaller places. The comment about the blog on my friend’s page seemed to be mostly in response to a single line in the piece, the one my friend pulled as a headline – a line about HRC and the urban/rural divide. A thing, by the way, that there have been endless think pieces about.

What was interesting about this response was how much of it depended on an assumption about my identity. The commenter seemed to think I was exhibiting signs of “urban paternalism.” She painted me as a sort of elitist liberal city snob with no idea what it was like out in the country. Her comment seemed to suggest I was one of those city slickers always being judgmental about those country folk.

If you know me and my history, you might already be finding this as hilarious as I did. Because, while I do currently live in NYC, I grew up in the hills of Virginia. My childhood home featured no telephone and no running water. I grew up with an outhouse. One of my chores was to fetch water from the creek. I had to walk half a mile on a dirt road to get to my nearest neighbor’s house to play. I think my rural credentials are pretty rock solid.

But that’s the thing, this rural/urban thing is such a knee jerk response. Folks read one sentence about the existence of a difference between these two places and suddenly we’re in a flame war. And I suspect that if this particular commenter had actually read the piece rather than the pull quote, she might have found we had more in common than she thought.

The divides we perceive are not as extreme as they seem on social media. Social media comments are not discussion; we get into trouble when we start to think they are. People post articles they haven’t read, videos they haven’t watched and other people comment based on those headlines and comments. And outrage ensues, with no one fully aware of the thing they are outraged about. This isn’t conversation. This isn’t discussion. I heard a comedian describe “discussion” on the internet as being a lot like shouting into traffic. It’s loud, it’s noisy and everyone’s busy trying to get somewhere else.

This makes me think about academic seminars wherein we read controversial material. For example, we read Freud in my Freshman Studies psychology class in college. One student was very upset that we were being asked to read the father of psychoanalysis, due to some of the sexist thinking he brought to the table. She couldn’t believe we’d been assigned to read this “monster.”

But, as my teacher pointed out, we have to read him to respond to him. We can’t ignore his ideas or get furious about the things he was wrong about without actually reading what he said. This was an important lesson for all of us – that we have to actually grapple with the content of something before we can argue with it and before we could argue with each other. We couldn’t just dismiss something out of hand. The most significant factor of those seminars was that we were all present for them. If someone said something controversial, we were in a position to investigate it, to explore it or to walk our own statements back, if we needed to. Behind every statement, behind every question was a person, a full human being.

I think it would behoove us to remember that this is also true about every article we read on line, and every video, and every comment. It is easy to forget the complexity of our humanity when we are looking at statements, or content or words that trigger us. I am as guilty of this as anyone. I have had intense emotional responses to seeing headlines or articles I haven’t read. I have felt their impact hours after seeing only their titles go by in my Facebook feed. It is natural to have reactions to information, especially when it is disconnected from the people who created it or shared it…but even so, it does feel like my responsibility now to fully read anything I feel inclined to respond to, either in the public forum of social media or in my own private space. I have had to discipline myself to only comment after reading, to only share after viewing, to remember that each and every person that posts, that writes, that comments is a human being and try to imagine what it would be like to be in a college seminar with them, human to human, idea to idea.

 

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Writing on the internet is a little bit like busking on the street. This is the part where I pass the hat. If you liked the blog and would like to give a dollar (or more!) put it in the PayPal digital hat. https://www.paypal.me/strugglingartist

 




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