Personal Post #3: The More Things Change

In Uncategorized on December 7, 2010 at 3:20 am

First, you should be aware that I just finished writing Christmas cards and am kind of half-heartedly dance-sitting along with my beloved Merry Christmas…Have a Nice Life Cyndi Lauper album. So I’m sort of emotionally inebriated. Second, you must know that this post is terribly biased by the fact that I think I might be in love with William Powers. And not the kind of anthropological love I discussed in the last post. The kind of love where I am cursing his wife and ignoring the existence of his child.

For the record, I have, at various points in my life, been in love with all of the following men: Zooey Glass, Sam Weir, William Miller, Mufasa, Kenneth Parcell, Rick Blaine, Indiana Jones, the Cowardly Lion, and Mister Rogers (I like a man who knows when it’s time to switch cardigans!). Thus, William Powers already has a competitive edge, what with being a real person and all.

How do I love William Powers? Let me count the ways…

He begins his book with an allegory of a flying convention center/stadium hurdling through space. His allegorical self decides that jumping into the unknown black hole of the atmosphere is preferable to staying in a room plagued by constant connection. He feels like society is losing depth. He named his boat after a line from Great Expectations. He says things like, “The air is full of people,” and “…the burden of knowing that everyone everywhere is just a few clicks away.” He idolized Don Quixote in high school. He cited a line from one my favorite books of all time, Here is New York by E.B. White. He dropped his phone in the ocean it only took him ten minutes to be happy about it. He describes the advent of the iPhone by saying, “A revolution was under way and people were sleeping on sidewalks to be in the vanguard.” He is frequently sarcastic (“A person is just another person and there are so many of those, blah blah blah.”). He talks about the loss of creative thinking that has resulted from computers in every cubicle, talks about not being able to remember what it is you really do for a living, about human industry originating in the mind, about the beauty of a hinged door, about a ailment called the Hunted-Mind Syndrome, and all the while has Hamlet’s inanimate table whispering lines like, “Don’t worry, you don’t have to know everything. Just the few things that matter.

I could continue this litany easily. But I’ll spare you and whatever modicum of sanity I can still convince you to associate with me (if any). Bottom line: This man spoke to me. I loved his book. There is a line from the movie The History Boys in which one of the characters says, “The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – that you’d thought special, particular to you. And here it is, set down by someone else, a person you’ve never met, maybe even someone long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.”

This is exactly how Powers’ book made me feel. It’s so easy to convince yourself of the isolation of your thoughts when topics like “the many ways in which technology is denigrating our relationships and lives” don’t come up at the water cooler. The reality that Powers reminded me of, though, is that many people feel similarly – I’m sure many of you have at points both before and during this course. And not only do I find that comforting, but I also think it’s essential to our continued ability to balance our use of online resources with attempts to maximize the depth of our lives.

Powers also prompted the epiphany that so much of what I’ve blogged about this semester – my hatred of cubicles, my love of bus rides through tunnels – is really just a reflection of something else all together. I hate my cubicle because while in it, I am forced to stare at a screen all day. I love the bus rides because they force people to disconnect and reawaken awareness of the wonderment inherent in the most pedestrian of activities.

So many of the conversations I had with my parents while home for Thanksgiving are mirrored by Hamlet’s Blackberry (or, more accurately, vice versa). Upon landing and being picked up at the airport, I told my dad how baffled I was by the guy sitting in front of me on the plane. It had been a morning flight, and then entire time the plane followed the East Coast shore. As we flew over the rivers emptying into the ocean, the sun hit the water in tandem with the plane’s speed and made it look as if electrical currents were being lit and snaking fuses through the land underneath us.  The guy in front of me, however, shut his window shade and plugged in his laptop to get on Youtube. I was both flummoxed and oddly offended by this. As much as I fly, the process never seems natural to me, and with each flight, my amazement grows instead of waning. And here we were, tiny human beings suspended in the atmosphere against all probability with a view money can’t buy, and this guy SHUTS HIS WINDOW TO LOG ONTO HIS COMPUTER. If you need to sleep, that’s one thing. But to shut out that kind of view in favor of YouTube is a waste of life. My opinion, of course, but one I feel strongly about.

While at home, I didn’t log on once, and didn’t it a second thought. Because I was spending time with my family, and even when bickering, I’ll take that any day.  Like when Powers dropped his phone overboard and then felt suddenly free, I love not being “connected.” Admittedly, I still had my Blackberry for use in connecting with my friends and arranging movies and dinners, so I wasn’t debilitated. But still. It feels so, so good not to be socially networked. And sometimes I just want to sever the cable permanently.

But. There is always a “but.” But at the same time, there are things that the internet and social media offer me that can’t be accessed or replicated elsewhere. I couldn’t reduce my academic stress by watching the entire fifth season of Bones on Netflix Instant Play, for example, an activity that I enjoyed immensely. I wouldn’t be able to browse people’s amazing photos on Flickr. There would be no weekly McSweeney’s transmission. Or spontaneous small postings from friends that do much to improve my days.

And, then there’s this: The comfort in the bottom line — some things will forever remain in the realm of the real world and cannot be placed behind a www.

No matter the age, the trends, the consumerism, we all still make turkey on Thanksgiving and take great pleasure in the feel of a scarf on a cold day. We all still thrill at the sight of a giant crystal ball being lowered down a pole to mark the passage of time, all still nibble our bottom lips in concentration. We still find good endings to bad days and move hats and cars over cardboard Monopoly squares, wanting nothing more in that moment than to own the railroads. We still pat the heads of dogs, infantilize our language talking to our cats, and stub our toes on uneven chunks of earth. Our breath still emerges as smoke when the thermometer hits 40, and we still crank our cars ten minutes before driving anywhere in February. We still express desire to learn things we don’t yet know – speak a language, sail a boat, paint a picture. We still drop plates on kitchen floors, still sneak one more cookie when no one is looking, still eat the dough raw when we know we’re alone. Our arms still rise with goosebumps when the water turns cold; our eyes still tear when confronted with a freshly sliced onion. We can drive with Mapquest and Garmin and still get lost. We can “own” thousands of songs and still not be able to place a note. We can use our fingers to tap out messages, enlarge a word, or turn a page and still not be able to touch the tips of our own noses after a glass of wine.

We can celebrate, bemoan, and question all the things that have changed, all the while forgetting all the things that never will.


That’s all, folks. Keep being as you-ish as you can possibly be. It’s been swell. And because I really like you people, I leave you with this…

*Image from: http://wynkendeworde.blogspot.com/2008/07/hamlets-tables.html

Blog Topic : This is the Way the World(Wide Web) Ends

In Uncategorized on December 6, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Regis: So, Kate, was exploring social media this semester worth it?

Kate: More than anything I have done thus far in the grad school.

Regis: Does this whole world of social media do more harm than good?

Kate: Absolutely. Definitely not.

Regis: What do you think of the social media will you still be using in six months?

Kate: Well, Rege, six months is a long time, and I almost deleted my Facebook account last night (Kelly gasps and looks faint.).

Regis: Talk about switching costs! (*cue cheesy audience laugh track)

Kate: Well, there are other costs to consider, I think.

Kelly: Tell ‘em, girl! My son asked me for $10 last night to save his best friend’s pig from imminent death on Farmville! (* Audience is now in stitches. If only I could be so easily amused.)

Kate: Well, that definitely one kind of cost.

Regis: But not the kind of cost you’re talking about?

Kate: Not quite. I was really referring more to the toll social media is taking on the richness of our human experiences, and the way it is altering the amount of living we get out of life.

Regis and Kelly: …

Kate: But I’ll save that for my blog. For now, all I’m willing to guarantee is that in a year, I’ll still have a special place in my heart for Wikipedia.

Regis: Final answer?

Kate: Final answer.

Regis: Well, there you have it, folks. The kid likes Wikipedia.

Kate: (nodding in affirmation) The kid likes Wikipedia.


So I lied to Regis. But who doesn’t?

I appreciate so much more in my online life than just Wikipedia. I love YouTube (especially this). I see great value in Google (though, as much as I hate to admit any kind of intimidation, I am also now very leery of it). I am no gamer, and probably never will be, but I can appreciate the entertainment and enjoyment others derive from it.

But let me tell you something: I truly, passionately, and dedicatedly loathe Facebook, and am waiting for the moment in the next few weeks that I work up the nerve to scrap the thing, or at the very least strip it bare and pledge not to log on until I receive a message from a long-long friend in Prague or my long-lost twin, á la Parent Trap. I am all-too aware that until I do so, I loathe it as a hypocrite. But loathe it I do. I hate everything about what it has become. There is a reason why Facebook has consistently been the first example to be vocalized every time we have discussed betrayals of acceptable bargains.

In my mind, Facebook is the outlier of the course that skews everything away from the long tail that I so appreciate and admire and towards the bulky head. While this isn’t exactly on-point with long tail philosophy, it’s the only way I know to describe my feelings about it. And unfortunately, the head of the tail is so huge and overwhelming that it outweighs the small, quirky pleasures residing in the tail. I feel as if Facebook is beating me over the head daily. Yes, it’s partially masochistic because I’m the one choosing to log on. But at the same time, the stress of not logging on, not knowing what my friends are doing this weekend so that I can join them, not having seen the most recent viral video, not being “with it,” is equally as debilitating. Or is it? Is it really?

I don’t really feel that it’s Metcalfe’s Law that has ruined Facebook for me. It’s not the sheer bulk of users, nor the fact that my own Facebook universe has ruinously exceeded Dunbar’s Number. Facebook ruined Facebook. Facebook ruined its own tool. And by ruining the tool, it ruined the way people use the tool. And now I have a hard time not feeling great antipathy towards both the tool and the way people use it. In other words, I dislike the tool and the people it is turning my friends into, the person it is turning me into.  People who used to seem wonderfully mysterious and complex to me have ruined their mystique by doing things like “checking in” to Whole Foods and inviting me to pet their cow. Goodbye, Holden Caulfield. Hello, Cher Horowitz.

And accordingly, I fear that with every damn article I stream to Facebook, every insipid status update I am inspired to post, I am ruining a tiny piece of something that was once discoverable about myself by rendering it searchable instead.

I used to drive my dad insane by taking so long to unwrap each present on Christmas morning. To my mother’s disappointment, I didn’t do so out of appreciation for the beauty of the wrapping paper. The beauty I saw was in maximizing the discovery, heightening the anticipation of what lay within. Because until it was revealed, anything could be in that box. Sometimes the present was better than that feeling of possibility. Sometimes it wasn’t.

And the same goes for people. The greatest gift I have ever received is the opportunity to unwrap others (get your mind out of the gutter!) who fascinate, intrigue, and enchant me. I used to fall in love with people so easily – not the kind of love that leads to two rings and a picket fence, but the kind that renders you captive with each revelation and story shared. My gratitude for these stories used to be so great that it could make my throat hurt.

But in the past few years, it strikes me that I haven’t felt this way very often. I don’t think I have enough opportunities to unwrap people anymore. Before I really know a person, their life is offered up on a platter to me – for free – on Facebook. And I am expected to reveal mine in return or suffer the consequence of losing the opportunity to get to know anyone at all. Because God knows my chance of getting to know someone is now greater on Facebook than it is at a dinner in which everyone’s concentration is more on their Blackberries than the faces in front of them.

God, ourselves. Of all the commodities to just give away.

I don’t want to go too much into what Powers discusses Hamlet’s Blackberry, as the majority of my final personal post revolves around these themes, but I will say that I have agreed with him for some time, and his book was a great comfort to me. As embarrassing as that is to admit, I have to. After all, I was seriously nerdy before nerdy became cool (and I’m not sure that real nerdiness ever made the cut…call me when watching Bill Nye the Science Guy while reading Sideways Stories From Wayside School doesn’t earn looks comparable to having a second head) so it only goes to reason that I be seriously concerned by all of this awesome technology that, in all likelihood, most people will never find reason to be concerned by. Ironically, many of these unconcerned people likely fall into that large and dangerous category of Americans who are using the internet badly, people who are so affected by it that they take on the belief that the moon landing was filming in a California basement. But that’s a problem for another day, and another class — #MPPR 851: Elements of Unstable Paranoia and Conspiracy Theorizing.

This post has circumnavigated what I am supposed to speak to, what I want to say: This course has been of greater utility to me than any I have taken thus far in my graduate career. Not just because it informed me of tools I didn’t yet know of, and not just because it taught me to more effectively use and understand those I already did. The best part for me has been this: We have spend a good deal of time discussing how all of this affects what it is to be human in this very modern world of ours. And isn’t that what we should really be talking about in every class? Isn’t that the most important thing? Not just what this means for my communications plan, or what that means for my job prospects. What the technologies of this world mean for humanity. For our identities. For how we relate to one another. For revealing how we’re different and how we’re the same. For connecting us. For disconnecting us. For helping us not lie on our deathbeds wondering why we spent so much time sending IMs.

And one more thing, classmates of mine: I love all of you. A million thanks for allowing yourselves to be unwrapped.

* Image from: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3343/3479491687_6fb8b34835.jpg?v=0

Response Post #3: The Child Inside Us

In Uncategorized on November 29, 2010 at 10:00 pm

This is going to end up being a strange hybrid response-personal post, as it will likely transcend its original intended scope (trés typique, Koza).

Cathy‘s personal post spotlighting Cookie Monster’s attempt to have a viral video hit inspired a great deal of passion inside of me. I love Cookie Monster. If I had been a boy, I likely would have aspired to be Cookie Monster, professionally speaking. As it was, I aspired to be Snuffleupagus, whom I found to be maddeningly androgynous when I was five. Was Snuffy a girl or a boy? I chose to think of it as a she, as the only other overt she (Oh, the phonetic irony…) was Zoe, who was overtly lame (and looked as if she were a  bit more familiar with Percocet than a Muppet should be). I later found out (thanks to Wikipedia), that the gentle woolly mammoth is indeed a boy whose proper name is Aloysius Snuffleupagus. God knows, if any name ever screamed “Monday night football! Beer! I am man!” it is Aloysius. What a fool I was. But I digress (Told you!)…

Cookie monster is a hero of mine because of his childlike enthusiasm. I posted this YouTube video of Cookie’s appearance on Martha (Hallowed Ruler of All That Is Good Despite a Brief and Heretofore Never-to-be-Mentioned Stint in Federal Confinement) earlier in the semester, and do so again now, if only because it is indeed my most-viewed YouTube video ever and the repetition is therefore appropriate:

One of the reasons I so adore Cookie Monster, and Sesame Street in general (Except Zoe!) is that it is a welcome reminder to all of us of our childhoods. I am childhood’s Number One Fan. If Childhood had a content in which whoever kept their hand on its rear axle longest would win a lifetime supply of it, I would totally win. As it is, no such contest has yet been held, and I am forced to rely on my own recreative ingenuity in attempting to turn back the clock.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to be five again. Well, that’s a lie. I do. But I am quite content acting like I’m five instead. And I don’t mean wailing in the cereal aisle when my mom refuses to buy me Lucky Charms because of the sugar content. I mean swings. My dad and I visited the swings in my parents’ Florida neighborhood just last night. Swings are awesome. So is ding-dong ditch (known in some circles as Knock, Knock, Ginger, which sounds completely ridiculous). Have you ever played? I highly recommend it. My friends and I spent a good amount of the summer of 2008 figuring out which L.A. neighborhood was most conducive to successful execution of ding-dong ditching (Pacific Palisades, if you care to replicate the results). Such behavior would have been grounds for corporal punishment during actual childhood, and at 23, it is likely an even greater offense. But the benefit of playing such a game at 23 is a heightened capacity for STRATEGY and SPEED (critical to a successful getaway sans pesky police involvement).

It makes me sad that so few adults value the brilliance of children. And I don’t mean IQs and gifted programs. I mean kids’ abilities to recognize obvious truths and derive whimsical enjoyment from life. Kids inherently understand that just living in the world is a pretty great position to be in. There are great things about being an adult (freedom being chief amongst these), but there is no reason why we shouldn’t incorporate more childlike wonder into our adult lives, lives that often teeter perilously on the bring of blandness and disenchantment.

The success of the Harry Potter books (Shout out to Tara!) were encouraging to me for this very reason — it indicates that more adults have a taste for childhood than I had previously imagined. Admittedly, I began reading these books when I was Harry’s age in the first book, but at the same time, college kids were picking them up, and my own parents were snatching them from my tiny paws the moment I hit the last page. That adults even retained the ability suspend their disbelief long enough to wander Diagon Alley is one of their greatest triumphs in the last twenty years. Yes, they may simultaneously have been embezzling, offshore accounting, sub-prime mortgaging, and a variety of other offenses that make ding-dong ditching look like child’s play (Oh wait! It is!), but as long as they can find it in themselves to love Harry Potter, I fail to believe that all hope is lost. There is still something in those adults that is good. Even if it’s Slytherin good. In a world in which it’s becoming increasingly hard to find people who will humor me with a go-round through the kids’ section of Barnes & Noble every once in a while, I’ll take what I can get.

Think of all the things we don’t have in our bedrooms any more: Lincoln Logs. Polly Pocket (when she still fit in your pocket). Legos. Talk-boys. Skip-its. Floam. American Girl Dolls. GI Joes. Lite-Brites. Operation. Marble chutes. Pogs.

Good stuff, right? I bet I made you nostalgic just thinking about it all. And I didn’t even mention the soundtrack!

Well, here’s the secret: It’s not just for kids. Modern Polly Pocket may look like a lady of the night, and you may have some trouble finding a Talk-Boy á la Kevin McCallister, but you can swing. Or play Knock, Knock, Ginger. Or read Harry Potter (…and Goosebumps if you really want to go rogue from adulthood). Or just support Cookie Monster’s attempt to go viral.

Because the bottom line is this: We all ditched childhood way too soon in favor of something that seemed more fun. And now it’s up to us to make sure that it is.

*Image: http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/beacon/spring07images/spring07images/20-mercogliano-childhood/childhood.jpg