Karma has a way of working itself around. ‘Nuff unpleasant vibes on this place lately I think.
I’ve been reading Netsmart, by Howard Rheingold, in response to a suggestion by Sally Jackson (one of the founding gods of the Fab Lab!). It serves as the motivation for much of this post, but also a worthy bit of literature for the dissertation pondering process.
I’ll start with a happy snippet. I’ve been hanging out with these hydro engineers lately and they’re great. One reason I like them so much is that they’re very willing to proactively accept and support people despite their flaws and differences. One of our friends forgot to buy a bus ticket to get to Chicago for a flight and realized this about 6 hours before at 1am on a Saturday night. Almost without hesitation a trio stepped up to drive him directly up to the airport, crashing on a family couch before heading back the next day. They were only hung up on his mistake and forgetful personality for a sum of about two minutes, and actually really saw the ride as an outstanding opportunity to hang out. The group hasn’t even known each other that long, a year or so, and they’re willing to go to bat for one another like this.
Books on Bicycles
Rheingold identifies five literacies that together constitute a view of digital literacy (of a kind; he says they’re in process of changing the world):
- Critical consumption of information
- Network smarts
Most of what he mentions is nothing particularly new to the canon, but it does partially address what has been an open question for me for some time. I’ve asked many students and scholars what attitudes and perspectives they believe facilitate a person’s ability to effectively learn and employ digital tools. It’s easy to get a myriad of answers, and really it all depends on your granularity, but I’ve been particularly keen on patience, persistence, curiosity and independence. Motivation and confidence underline all of these, but the reason I bring any of them up at all is that they illustrate the cultural and personality-oriented dimensions of digital literacy – we learn, perform and express ourselves in contexts that shape our interpretations of meaning. Anyway what’s notable about his arrangement so far is attention. He suggests readers rethink how they direct attention, what they place it on, and why they do so.
For instance, multitasking often isn’t actually what it’s often named – if you’re driving in the car listening to music you’re probably actually multitasking, but most of the time we’re using computers, switching rapidly from screen to screen, we’re actually quickly task-switching – and there’s a cost each time we do so, which may vary by individual and circumstances. To be digitally literate might also include being cognizant (critical) enough of your own tech-toy uptake to mindfully direct your attention. I don’t think this means simply not being on Facebook or refusing to use Wikipedia. I do think this means taking a step back, examining your behaviors, goals and generally what matters, and then acting in accordance. My decision to read Rheingold’s book on an exercise bike instead of via audio book is actually a result of this process for me: I’m scribbling on the pages.
Tom Fairbank suggested I read the book Nonviolent Communication (Marshall Rosenberg) a while back and I’ve finally started to dig into it a bit. Besides being useful for determining how to better talk to people like my mother (and also wonder if when Tom talks to me with these methods if I am becoming my mother) it relies on a set of principles that matches Rheingold’s concern for attention:
- Make observations
- Take stock of feelings (yours and others)
- Pay attention to needs
- Make requests to proactively facilitate needs
An example the book gives is a teacher complaining about how she hates giving students grades. She states it as “I have to give grades because the district makes me” but this doesn’t actually recognize that she really has a choice. If she replaces the language that implies a lack of choice it comes out something more like “I give students grades because keeping my job is important to me, I’ll lose it if I don’t.” Note how the emphasis of ownership of problems, honesty and, ultimately goals and needs changes form between these two. I think it goes hand in hand with the bit about how we place attention on technologies.
My interactions with people that are mediated by electronic mediums are many but often cause frustrations – I’m great at observing how people miss emails or imply things through action (or more often lack thereof) but I don’t think I communicate my feelings and needs about it as much or as poignantly as I ought to sometimes. One observation, as of late, is that in-person interactions are downright more successful for me, I’m seeking them out more often. Which leads to the next item…
OkCupid sucked for me. I mean granted I was trolling the website from the getgo – my user name was “JeffGinger” and eventually I became so disillusioned with it that my profile actively read “I’m probably using this website wrong. If you message me I’m just going to invite you to do something in person.” Anyway I kept finding myself crawling around on there at late hours of the night when I was feeling lonely, hoping there’d be a new girl hiding or, by god, a response to any of the messages I sent out. It was demoralizing – nobody ever answered and people didn’t pay attention to me because my profile wasn’t mysterious and I’m not generally all that handsome. Even when the site worked and I went on a date with someone I quickly realized I can’t handle getting to know someone who lives 50 minutes away and has no natural intersections with my life.
There are many reasons people find online dating troubling. It’s a kind of shopping mall effect – so many people to choose from, and yet so many reasons to not like them. Everyone is neatly categorized and identified and yet they’re all idyllic representations of self that probably don’t capture actual (or critical) dimensions. And, after it all, if you can’t find a person on the site, with its millions of choices, then by god there must be something wrong with you.
Clearly it does work for some people. I’m told in Chicago there are so many people who use it that are comfortable with casual dating that it’s functional. Down here in Chambana, a town teeming with single youth of all kinds, my observation was that it was a place for people who have comfort issues or trouble getting to know others. At one point I counted 8 people from GSLIS on there.
Funny interlude story – a professor from my department used the site. She was very mature about it – sent me a message saying hello, establishing a kind of friendly “there’s no shame don’t worry I won’t pay attention to you” kind of rapport. Very good of her. I then tried the same move with a fellow PhD student (who I know finds me extra annoying) and she never answered, despite being active following. To this day I am terrified of her.
Anyway I don’t mean to hate on it too bad. I know some people have success with the site and really need it to facilitate their personality. Or perhaps they’re a single mom, whatever. Point it I think it’s terrible for my personality type. I am infinitely happier meeting people through friends in real life and letting the mystery and interest be organic, rather than declared or implicit from the start. Rheingold (see, he’s back) also offers a perspective on this I really like:
I found Baron instructive regarding specific ways social media challenge traditional definitions of sociality. Baron is right, in my opinion, to urge us all to cast a critical eye on any form of socializing that can be turned on and off at will. In my own life, volume control has been a net benefit, but it’s not without its shadowy side. My craft as a writer demands that I spend my days mostly alone in a room. Given my circumstances, gaining the power to click into a virtual community increased my daily social interaction, since I was already isolated. After twenty-five years of online socializing, however, I understand (and caution others against) the danger of confining myself exclusively to communities I can click on and off. I’m healthier, and so is my society, because I’m embedded in family, neighborhood, hometown, campus, and social cyberspace. The people I’ve met online as well as mostly communicate with through virtual means have come to my rescue in times of peril, bought me lunch in Amsterdam and Istanbul, showed me caring, and shared the fun that any kind of community worthy of the name strives for—but I learned long ago that I also need to maintain my face-to-face connections.
I think with something like dating and relationships you’ve gotta be able to be exposed to that person – fully, in their real life context. I’m friends with a lot of people at the Fab Lab that I would have never ordinarily found if I didn’t just get exposed to them by working and being present around them. Every relationship I’ve had that’s been successful has been in a context where she knows me through seeing me around my friends, actively engaged in life. It may be just a way to get past my lack of Ryan Gosling good-looks, but more likely it’s a way for people to reveal the categories OKC will never capture.
And, in the meantime, when I’m feeling lonely these days I reach out to people who aren’t romantic interests that I haven’t been investing enough in. It’s a much healthier response
By God, That’s Coincidental
Okay, last one. There’s been an oddly large amount of coincidence (good fortune) in my life lately. It’s kind of wanting to make me believe in God. I mean, I guess I already do, in that I see God as love (and also a social construction that has very real human-shaped-second-order agency!), but this all seems too convenient to not be the result of something more personified. Who knows, I’m just gonna keep working on extending the positive event chain.