Theory: Facebook insecurity “real” relationships

This post is directly prompted by this article on narcissism, insecurity, and Facebook (hereafter FB). It got me to thinking about several different things. What I post on FB, why I post it on FB, and what I look for in others’ posts on FB. I disagree with this article some, but I think that is also because I treat FB friends in what seems to be an unusual way.

I am only FB friends with people I know in real life. Period. And generally, the word “friend” or “family” (hopefully both!) must be applied. I don’t want a bunch of strangers or I-met-you-once-at-a-thing “friends” on my FB. This is a tool for me to connect to people. Both people I see/talk to regularly and even more, it allows me to keep in touch with the people I can’t see regularly. A dear friend in Canada. A cousin or two on the west coast. People I can’t imagine not having in my life in some form or function.

I purge my FB friends list pretty frequently and over my FB tenure I’ve slowly crept up to about 120 people who are pretty much safe. I know I’ve never cracked 200 “friends.”  I’m not that social.

First, I do post things in my life to let those who are not local (or at least I don’t get to meet with/talk to often) to keep up with what’s going on. Even if it’s just a little picture about my cats, or a plant or the latest changes in my ongoing home-improvement attempt(s). I want them to see it not for their approval but to know they are important enough in my life I want to include them.

Secondly, I do like to post my opinion (you know, similar to the reason I have a blog where I can rant on politics, religion and whatever else). This will include articles like Ruth Bader Ginsberg or Elizabeth Warren being bad-asses in Washington D.C. I know I do some of this for approval that I am not a crazy person. But I have enjoyed more than one debate with people who are far more conservative than I am and can actually be intelligent about it (up until the point when they say something like “poor people are just lazy.”)

Similarly, I use Facebook to stay connected to people I can’t talk to very often. A different rant on how we fill our time with work, commuting, and living adult-like lives explains why letter-writing is not terribly useful anymore. I don’t mind when I find out on Facebook that the friend I only see every 6 months or so got engaged. I love seeing pictures and videos of life-moments, whether it’s children, pets, plants, or events. A picture of a child standing the first time and the picture of someone who just finished a mud-run allow me to celebrate with my friends when I can’t see them all the time.

Even people in Atlanta, sometimes our schedules just don’t match up. They work weekends or nights. The one weekend they are free is the weekend I promised to visit my parents. Facebook allows me to stay in touch with people globally, allows me to connect to friends and family in ways that took hours and hours of time before.

I struggle with Facebook. It’s lack of privacy. There is a sense of invasion of privacy when random people try to send me friend requests (or worse, people I’ve known and don’t want to know better). I struggle with what I want to share, what I feel pressured to share, and the “image” of Barbara. I want to be authentic, but I also know it’s inevitable that I will limit embarrassing moments and highlight the qualities I am proud of.

But don’t we all wear personas at work, church, specific personas for specific groups of friends, and one for family? Does that make the Facebook persona any more narcissistic than the persona of the popular kid/adult in school/work? Does that Facebook persona make someone MORE insecure or more likely to see validation? How different is the person with 5,000 Facebook friends from the [fill in activity] in high school who wants everyone to love them?

I think the article makes it sound like Facebook made these people narcissistic and insecure. I think they were narcissistic and insecure and Facebook gave them a new platform. I think Facebook also gave these researchers a lot of data that before had to be tediously gathered. I do agree that Facebook doesn’t replace face-to-face meetings. Nothing can match a hug for love and acceptance. I don’t like that the article makes it sound like Facebook has little-to-no possible positive or healthy use.

Life: Atlanta broke my speed limit

I drove to Baltimore last week (Thursday and Friday) and spent the weekend with a friend. I quickly realized that one particular thing stressed me out – speed limits.  I know Georgia cops love to catch out-of-staters and give them tickets, so I assume cops everywhere feel the same way.  So I don’t want to speed (too much).

Miles go by and I realize I haven’t seen a speed limit sign. I get antsy. I go whatever speed seems to be average for the traffic around me. I drop from the 60-70th percentile to the 30-40th (as in instead of passing 6-7 out of every 10 cars, I might pass 4).  An exit! Where is the speed limit sign? Where is it? It should be here? HOW DOES ANYONE AROUND HERE KNOW THE SPEED LIMIT?!?!

It wasn’t until I was getting back to Atlanta I realized something. Our perimeter, I-285, has these new digital speed limit signs so they can adjust during periods of heavy traffic. These signs are probably every 1/4 of a mile. Long stretches might be 1/2 a mile. I’ve gotten used to this.

In Atlanta, the speed limit can change so often they have to post it frequently. And these digital signs have added a new layer of insecurity that the stretch of road that was 65 yesterday is 35 today (yes because traffic is going 15, but STILL).  Driving in an unknown area of the country, in a place where I expected to be the victim of out-of-state-discrimination, and expecting the speed limit to potentially drop to 35 at any given 1/4 mile…

Atlanta broke my ability to trust speed limit signs.

Writing: To the Ex-Best Friend

Dear Ex-best friends;

There have been people over the years who came into my life and for some period were my “best friend.” You made those times of my life better – richer – and made me who I am today. Very few of you ever got a thank you for helping to support me in pain or celebrating with me the joys and triumphs.

You have shown me the love and support I needed at the time I knew you. You loved me for who I am already and challenged me to be more than I was before. You listened to me be smart and stupid without mocking me (much!). You let me into your crazy life so I know my life is normal in its craziness.

I am an introvert. I don’t know how to maintain “acquaintances” very well. I value these close and profound relationships. So when I have told you that you are a best friend, understand that I value you immensely. Enough to make efforts I don’t make for anyone else. I call you. I make time to hang out with you. I come to see you instead of making you come to my “side of town.” I remember your birthday (thank you Facebook!) and comment on it. I want to see you and talk to you.

I also want you to know, I have never filled the void you left in my life. No other best friend ever filled it. It’s still there in my heart – that’s your place that I carved out and gave to you. I’m glad because knowing that it is out there with you, I can’t forget you. I can’t forget the light you brought to my life. I hope you know that you are not alone, because I gave a piece of myself to you and it’s with you. I think you are amazing. Really, truly amazing.

Review: Stranger in a Strange Land

I went through a Heinlein-obsession in high school. Surprisingly, I somehow missed Starship Troopers (no idea how!), but I recently tried to start Troopers. I was struggling, so I thought maybe I needed to get my appetite with a Heinlein I enjoyed. So I listened to Stranger in a Strange Land on audio book. Maybe it was because it was in audio. Maybe it’s because of who I am today versus who I was in high school. I didn’t like the book.

  • Premise: “Seeing humanity through alien eyes to have you question ‘accepted society’s’ mores”
  • Message: If I never read anything Heinlein wrote about it, I would say he wrote “free communist love is the right path”
  • Characters: flat. opaque.
  • Plot: At times, plodding

Let me start by saying I love the premise of Stanger. However, I found I didn’t like the characters. And I didn’t understand them. The reader is clearly supposed to feel Michael Valentine Smith to be alien – I get that. The women are all flat. They have exactly two aspirations in life: marriage or babies. Even Jill, who has strong potential to be considered as a protagonist really doesn’t seem to think for herself: following Bill Caxton and then Jubal and then Michael with nary an opinion, much less an original one… She never seems to struggle with herself or her decisions (the rare ones you could classify as “her decision”). Most of the other female characters are utterly interchangable (Ann’s only feature is that she is a trained Fair Witness with nigh-perfect memory, otherwise just swap her out with the others!). I understand he published in the 1960’s and women getting to vote was still pretty radical, but the at-times blatant sexist portrayal made it very difficult for me to relate to any of the female characters.

I think I was supposed to relate to Jubal Harshaw, but frankly I felt he ran right across the line of “Perfect Protagonist” (or Gary Stu). He can do no wrong. His flaws aren’t so much flaws as quirks and ain’t he just a cutey-pie. I feel like Heinlein was trying to write himself as the protagonist in the worst of ways: doctor, lawyer, gourmet, art critic, political aficionado, theologian, and successful/famous/beloved fiction writer… oh and potentially an amazing lover (hinted but never outright stated).

There is also little sense of danger after about the first 1/4 of the book. Once Jill and Michael reach Jubal’s house, there is no more threat throughout the book. It becomes (at times) a plodding foray through Michael’s transition from Martian to Man. Yet, as a coming of age story it fails completely because instead of Michael truly accepting humans and the struggles of the adult world, Michael seeks to make humans more Martian (it’s impressive how completely communist Heinlein was writing in the 1960s). Apparently, Heinlein said he was just trying to make people question some of the accepted “facts of life,” but at least in this audio book, it came across more in a “you are all doing it wrong” sort of tone. Something about the “this is the only logical conclusion anyone should come to” when Bill and Jubal are discussing the ‘society’ (let’s call it that) that Michael created in his ‘church’ (in quotes because it’s clear Michael doesn’t think of it like religion in a traditional sense).

This isn’t to say the book was horrible and ALL bad. Heinlein’s description of the political aspirations of the Martian venture are really good. The struggle for personal independence, recognition of different competencies, and the need for society to accept people who might break the mold are all explored. Bill Caxton’s struggle to accept or reject Michael’s powers (and teachings/’society’) felt like one of the most genuine scenes in the book (only foiled by Jubal’s omnipotent wisdom of religion, human nature, etc. instead of Bill being able to find it himself).

Now, I will be the first to acknowledge my feminist side is quite tender at the moment. There is a lot going on in the world that has me looking very critically at everything. I remembered largely enjoying Stranger in a Strange Land in high school and I was surprised by how… yes, angry… I was getting while listening to it this time. I think Heinlein was pushing boundaries and asking questions. Keeping the book in a 1960s context he was crazy-radical (hell, it’s still pretty radical). It is definitely a piece that attests just how much science fiction can push social concepts.

Writing: Successful one-soul tales

I have been trying my hand at the one-soul tale. I totally botched it and couldn’t make it interesting. To discuss this failure in writing, let me begin by defining the one-soul tale.  Examples include:

  • Island of the Blue Dolphins (Scott O’Dell)
  • Hatchet (Gary Paulsen)
  • Julie of the Wolves (Jean Craighead George)
  • My Side of the Mountain (Jean Craighead George)
  • The only movie I can think of is Cast Away – but I’d expect there to be others

These are the examples I know of. For more than 90% of the book, the protagonist is alone. I almost added Coraline (Neil Gaiman) because he does such a good job of making you feel alone (with the character) but there is actually quite a cast, so it isn’t really a one-soul book any more than Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll).

What makes these books successful? Are they coming-of-age stories in some way? Blue Dolphins isn’t, the woman spent almost 20 years alone on that island (by the by, did you know that was based on a real person? I didn’t until recently!)

I’m not sure I would say Julie is either, although I think she is in that “young teenage” stage she isn’t really “discovering” herself. She is defending her lifestyle. Granted, it’s been years since I read it, but that is how I remember her. She isn’t questioning what she wants to be and do – no more than Aragorn in Lord of the Rings questions himself (or is his actually a coming-of-age tale?). In fact, I think none of these really are “coming of age” but more of the “defending individuality” which is a different message.

I think a large part of the success of these novels is their approach-ability. In none of these do we have sweeping landscapes described for pages and pages. I’d be shocked if any of them were 50,000 words (bare minimum for “adult” novels). They don’t use big flowery words, they are straight forward to read and understand (another reason I’m sure teachers love them). At the same time, they don’t talk down to the reader.  This is a very difficult line to walk, and one I think I got lost in (I got very happy describing landscapes…)

Secondly, there is something a little timeless about the pioneer story. Oh, I know Blue Dolphins is not a pioneer, and Hatchet wasn’t a willing pioneer… but look at ancient literature. Anyone ever hear of a pioneer story named Odyssey? How many know the story of Gilgamesh? It isn’t a new trope to put someone (prepared or not!) in the midst of a tough situation and relish in their simple survival. I think my failure was focusing on “survival” not “pioneer.”

Lastly, the authors made sure to really get their information right. This isn’t true just of the one-soul books, but each of these has to have their facts sounding accurate in a way that something like Redshirts (John Scalzi) wouldn’t need because mistakes can be shuffled into a conversation and lost in the character interactions. Without those interactions, details about the natural world have to fill that gap.  Even when I read what I wrote, I write like someone who has never had to survive by their blood, sweat and tears. I write like someone who has read about survival. I know research, tone, etc. can compensate some for that (I don’t know that O’Dell ever visited the island setting he described, but the fact I can’t differentiate that is important!).

Madeline L’Engle is quoted as saying, “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” and I think this might be why most one-soul novels are written for a young(er) audience. Because let me tell you, I’ve tried and writing a one-soul short story is about the hardest thing I ever tackled.

Politics: Minimum Wage is a Living Wage

Last week thousands of fast food workers protested for a raise in minimum wage.  “Fight for 15” has now been going on for a few years, and I’ve been listening to the arguments.  Unfortunately. the people who most need to understand what I want to say are the ones least likely to listen to me. A phrase I hear some say is “minimum wage was never supposed to be a living wage.”  I see red. I have literally had to leave a room when someone said this.

Let’s start with excerpts from FDR’s speech in 1933 when he signed into law the National Industrial Recovery Act:

It seems to me to be equally plain that no business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country. By “business” I mean the whole of commerce as well as the whole of industry; by workers I mean all workers, the white collar class as well as the men in overalls; and by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level-I mean the wages of decent living.

It is greatly to their [businesses’] interest to do this because decent living, widely spread among our 125, 000,000 people, eventually means the opening up to industry of the richest market which the world has known. It is the only way to utilize the so-called excess capacity of our industrial plants. (FDR Library Online Record)

Seems pretty clear to me… it’s good business to pay a living wage. He goes on to basically tell businesses not to be assholes – if we don’t immediately raise the price of things, we’ll actually see profit and benefit of a higher minimum wage. Does anyone need stronger language that the minimum wage was created to be a living wage?

Do you know why this if a problem? Let’s look at some scenarios throughout history:

  • At 100 BCE (considered a height of Roman Republic Power) 1.5% of the population controlled about 20% of the wealth (as best we can tell from their census records)
    • Julius Ceasar came to power about 50 BCE – ending the Republic and beginning Imperial Power/Rule (whether he was ruler or not – he started it!)
  • Is there really an doubt that in 1790 France Marie Antoinette was hated because of the disconnect of the nobility?
  • In 1935, 39% of land was owned by the top 5% in China
    • In 1911, the Xinhai Revolution ended Imperial rule – one of the commonly cited reasons was inequality of wealth
    • In 1950, (1 year after Mao came to power) records show the top 5% of landowners controlled about 35% of the agricultural land
  • In 1943,  in Argentina, the top .1% controlled 11% of the income just before a coup d’état (ever heard of Evita, yeah her husband was sorta part of that stuff)

It frightens me that people think history is an unnecessary subject – just memorization of dates, people and places. If we today don’t learn from history – ancient and modern – we will repeat it.  I don’t want to repeat the cost that comes from income inequality.

California is in severe drought and a lot of our national food (especially fruits, nuts, and vegetables) are grown in CA. If those crops begin to fail, food prices will rise. Hungry people are desperate people. Desperate people take desperate action.

I don’t want to see another bloody revolution. I don’t want to see the hungry, desperate masses dragging people out of their houses. Looting the rich to buy food for the poor. I don’t want to see our military called out to decide between which citizens they are supposed to protect.

I want the leaders of corporations to recognize the worth of their workforce – and anyone who is working full-time should be making enough to live. A living wage is the cost of doing business. If you can’t afford to make your product the price to support your employees – you shouldn’t be in business.

Religion: Learning from Lent

Easter has just passed. Every year, Lent reminds me of the one year I gave something up. I was a sophomore in high school and I gave up wearing pants. Not that I went naked, but I wore skirts and dresses during lent.

I know, weird right? I remember that I knew it was what I was supposed to give up well before lent started, like two or three months. I talked to my parents and arranged with school to allow me to wear skirts in gym class.

It taught me several things. First, it taught me that wearing a skirt doesn’t have to stop me, prevent me, or even slow me down. I could be as feminine as I wanted and still be a feminist. Secondly, it taught me some humility. I only had a handful of skirts and dresses, so I had to repeat my clothes a lot more than I had before. Something I think every consumer-driven-Christian should make sure they do sometime in their walk.  Lastly, it gave me insight into something new I could be, that I could remake myself and become the person I want to be.

God had me give up wearing pants to get me to see that I can be me no matter where I am or what I am wearing. Nothing so silly as pants vs. skirts to make me feel like I am doing it wrong (whatever “it” is!). So when I see my guy friends wear utilikilts, I cheer. When I chose to start wearing pants to church, I knew it was because God doesn’t care what we’re wearing. What he wants is our hearts and our hands.  So I don’t have to wear skirts. Or pants. I can keep walking towards God and following God’s plan no matter what I wear.

Or as Herbrew 6:1 says “[…]let us go on unto perfection[…]”