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It All Seems to Come Back to Medium

it_all_comes_back_to_mediumWell, not exactly “all” but for anyone writing online, yes, all roads seem to point to Medium. And I keep asking myself why that is?

At first, people were excited about the visual elegance and simplicity of the platform (that is, after it was opened up to the general public). Easy to use, beautiful, free—just log in with your Twitter or Facebook account and start writing. And with Medium, the focus has always been on the writing.

But with other platforms, especially WordPress, anyone can easily set up their own blog with an elegant, simple theme and start writing. So why Medium?

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Engaging for Mental and Social Health

ConnectingThere are two obvious indicators of the level of stress in my life: how long my beard is and my presence (or lack thereof) on social media. When I’ve got a lot of projects at work, someone in the house is sick, extra family appointments/obligations—or D, all of the above—I can’t seem to make time to trim the beard or bring myself to carve out time for the socials. Those two things, for whatever reason, are the first to go.

It’s a little complicated because part of my job is actually managing our social media accounts. I have a small team now to help with that, so during times I’m overwhelmed, I lean on my fellow team members, just making enough time for quality control, but not much else. And my personal accounts? Forget it. Basically comatose.

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And About This Facebook Thing…(again)

facebook_againLately—probably because I’m on vacation and find myself with a little extra time to think (I know, not good)—I’ve found myself wondering why I haven’t been checking Facebook. I still post stuff there occasionally, but I haven’t really scrolled through my News Feed in months. If you’ve noticed my absence in your likes and comments, which seems unlikely since no one’s said anything, this is why. I’m just not drawn there anymore.

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Out of My Cage for Personal and Professional Growth

f2fI love working from home. Yes, it has taken some time to figure out and define boundaries with the other occupants of my “office,” especially the three shorter ones, but I’ve gotten better at shutting doors and using my noise-canceling headphones without feeling cold or neglectful. And, of course, you can’t beat the dress code.

That being said, I’ve discovered that while I often feel more productive at home than in the “real” office, there are times I miss the face-to-face interactions that being in a traditional office affords. My work teams have been doing much more video conferencing via Google Hangouts, but it’s not quite the same.

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Facebook: Toying with My Emotions

I may be old fashioned, but I like things to work the way they seem to work and prefer ease-of-use. I know. Wait, what? “Work the way they seem to work”? Easy to use? You heard me. And this brings me to the topic: Facebook.

I seem to remember a time when one could post something to Facebook and depending on your privacy settings, it would appear in the timeline of whoever should see it. That’s expected behavior and pretty simple, right? But I’ve recently discovered that this isn’t the case and maybe has been for some time. Much of my content I’ve been posting to Facebook hasn’t been displaying in my friends’ News Feed even though I’ve “allowed” it. It’s probably been happening for a while, but these things are hard to notice. How do you know you’re not seeing what you’re not seeing? Depending on the number of friends you have, the amount of content, and the frequency/regularity that your friends post to Facebook, absence isn’t abnormal. But what’s started happening is I’ve been getting comments from my Facebook friends that they’ve missed me or wondered where I’ve been—and I post daily. But at some point, my stuff just stopped showing up for some of my friends’ News Feeds with no change in settings from me or them. This is something that Facebook made the default without much fanfare or notice.

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Just A Bunch of Monkeys

As I go through this world I am constantly amazed at how much like monkeys we really are. Sure, we’re slightly evolved, but if you strip away the inventions and higher-level talk, we’re just a bunch of animals. Maybe I’ve been watching my kids too much, who are evolving from basic primates to sophisticated humans, but I think my observations stand.

While I was studying music in college, we were exposed to some really outside shit. Of course there was twelve-tone music and atonal music, which were actually not so strange to me. But imagine listening to pre-pubescent boys screaming, played backwards and looped, over church bells (of different sizes) ringing, also played backwards and looped. Yeah. Creepy. Anyway, with a lot of this “new” music, we debated whether this was basically a monkey at a musical typewriter—like it was so random, basic, or so strange it took no skill or creativity to make—or it was really a product of genius. I used to sit in class and imagine myself and my classmates as monkeys banging away in the jungle, scratching and screaming when we found something that tickled our fancy while the others hollered and hissed back. Mind you, we thought pretty highly of ourselves, as many 18-22-year-old-undergrads tend to, so I often found great amusement in this exercise.

This thought has recently resurfaced in my little brain but has been transposed onto social media. Are we really thoughtful, intelligent, enlightened humans, connecting with each other through advanced forms of social behavior and technology? Or are we simply a bunch of monkeys scratching ourselves and hollering to impress each other? I think it’s really both and I think it should be, after all, we are still basically monkeys. We can’t take ourselves too seriously but I think we’re obligated to share our knowledge, perspective, and experience, and with these somewhat new tools, it’s all pretty easy to do. Obligations aside though, I still find great amusement in being a monkey myself and playing with the rest of the herd.

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I am brave (behind my computer screen)

I love to observe and “study” human interaction. What’s really interesting is to watch how insecurities affect body language, tone of voice, and behavior, especially in social settings. And since the rise of social networks, I’ve always been curious how others handle potentially awkward situations in these online social spaces. The big difference I see is that online, all of sudden people are brave. People you only sort of know or knew, who would’t even look you in the eye or say “hi” on the street, all of sudden want to be your “friend”, want to know what you’re up to, and actually comment on your life.

I recently got a friend request from someone I knew in junior high and high school, and if memory serves, she annoyed the hell out of me. This led me to not always be very nice to her. I’ll be the first to admit I have the potential to be a total asshole, and when I was a cocky, figuring-the-world-and-relationships-out-teenager, I didn’t have a whole lot of tact or patience at times. Now with this particular girl, I don’t think I ever made her cry, but I know we weren’t friends. We were in band together and we didn’t exactly ignore each other…but maybe it was a mutual annoyance that sometimes flourished into “words”. Anyway, here she is now, 13 years later, sending me a friend request on Facebook. Unlike many people, I usually only have friends on Facebook that are actually my friends, or are people I care about, because I don’t have time for fake relationships anymore. In fact, long before Facebook or even Friendster (remember that one?) came out, I had started weeding people out of my life that were just too much work to keep relationships with.

So I put a post up to my Facebook friends and asked what they’d do. There were basically two approaches that were recommended: ignore the friend request or add her as a friend to a list that doesn’t show any updates (so she would be my “friend”, but she wouldn’t see anything). I followed up asking if sending a note would be an option, asking why she’d want to be “friends” after all these years (and after our not-so-great relationship). No one really liked that idea.

As many of you know, I’m sort of on a quest for an authentic online representation of myself (see Social Censorship). I mean, if we’re expanding our social circles beyond face-to-face, why should our online self be so different from what people get face-to-face? Why mask or mute aspects of ourselves, just because we can? Why not just use social spaces online to amplify our our true selves? Of course, our persona would translate accordingly. We all act a certain way with coworkers (which could be one list in Facebook where you wouldn’t post that Onion article about how many pounds of pubic hair are being shaved this Valentines Day), and we all act a certain way with our close friends (another list in Facebook where that Onion article would be happy to live).

That being said, I don’t feel comfortable just ignoring friend requests. I’m not the type of person that will pretend I didn’t hear you if you say “hi” to me in person. Sure, I’ll avoid you if I see you across the street and I don’t like you, but only if I know you haven’t seen me first. If I know I’ve been spotted, I won’t run away. I’ll probably even be nice now that I’m not an ignorant, cocky, insensitive teenager. Also, for the people I’ve gotten friend requests from that actually were friends that just sort of faded away, but I’m interested in what they’ve been up to, I accept the request but always follow up with a note saying, “Hey, wow, been a while. Good to hear from you. What’s up?!” as a way of saying, “Glad you found me and I care about this relationship we just (re)started, even if it is online”.

I think we sort of owe it to each other as humans to be respectful of one another, even from behind our computer screens. We shouldn’t do or say things online that we wouldn’t do or say face-to-face. Sure, maybe it’s easier to work up the courage to reconnect with people electronically, which I think is fine, but then don’t be afraid to follow it up with a conversation. Don’t just friend someone and let it fall by the wayside with your other 543 “friends”. What’s the point of that? How do we benefit from having hundreds of connections that we either block or hide from? On the other hand, don’t “friend” people you don’t really want to have a relationship with. Save that person the agony from over-thinking it (as I have here).

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Mind Altering

We sought shelter in coffee shops and later in bars. Same idea, different drinks I guess. We had our inner circle but being in public opened up possibilities; connecting with people that weren’t part of the original plan, as if we actually had a plan. It was before text messages, Twitter, My Space, and Facebook, and our social networks were old school. We rolled down windows, shouted out, made eye contact, and used tongues, not finger tips. But I was always eager to move beyond these confined social spaces. I guess I felt our spirits went beyond what was being served. I always craved the open spaces or the ocean and the sand to absorb what we had.

My drug was the night. The inner circle left the coffee shop and drove to the over pass. We parked and walked under, into the open reserve to open skies and stars, cool air, and heightened senses. I didn’t want to dull my senses, I wanted them turned on. I wanted our minds to be stimulated by what we heard and smelled and felt, not just what we saw. We used to tread over grassy hills and under oak trees and our only concern was the night ranger that rarely came. Being outside gave us the opportunity to really hear each other which led us to really talk to each other. It was as if we had to get out in the open to be open. I learned more and shared more on these nights than I did in a year of daytime conversations.

Then the spaces changed. There were house parties, more drugs, and of course bars. And though I enjoyed the social lubricant of alcohol, I was still drawn to something larger. I didn’t want drugs that made me see colors or images that weren’t normally there. I didn’t see why I needed that when there were plenty of naturally occurring mind-fucks like fear and love and people you didn’t understand, and I knew I hadn’t even begun to experience these.

I used to drive around in the early morning hours by myself, listening to The Roots, and when I thought of something that I was afraid of I went to it. I would drive to the beach by myself and walk across the sand, defenseless, with my sight dulled by darkness and my hearing rendered useless by deafening waves. I would walk to the water line and imagine all the scary shit out there, then walk slowly into the freezing water up to my knees. I would stand there, alone, the ocean swirling around me and only the stars to watch over me. I imagined jelly fish and sharks and weird squishy things. I would stand there even though my whole body was screaming for me to run back to the dry sand, up the hill to the safety of the street and my car. But I resisted cause I was high; I was fucked up on fear. I was afraid as shit but I stayed with it and then calmly walked away. Talk about mind altering.

Just about everyone I know has done more drugs than me and I really have no problem with that. We still go to coffee shops and bars, and some of us still do plenty of drugs. I know that has its place. But as I watch my kids grow up I’m constantly reminded of how rich reality is and I’m not ready to let it go or be afraid of it or start living distantly. I want to really be in it, right up to my knees, with the ocean in front of me and only the stars above.

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