Thursday, January 19, 2017

Social me-dia

There is already a wall. Well, there has historically been a wall, but it is crumbling, and I'm not talking about the one between church and state. I mean the wall between our personas. Who we are behind closed doors, or within our heart of hearts, or with those we trust, vs. who we are in public.

Maybe I'm talking about the facade we adopt in certain situations and the code changing we engage in when presenting ourselves to different viewers. Maybe I'm talking about the lyrics to Billy Joel's The Stranger (or, to a lesser degree, The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby). But whatever it is, it is a sense that we draw a line between what the world sees and what we are. Is that a good thing? Yes and no -- I'm not advocating insincerity and dissimulation. I am encouraging a sense of privacy which helps distinguish between what is open for all and what is for a select few, or none.

I saw an article online today about a girl whose mother threw her a party for the onset of her menses. My concern there isn't that the family chose to celebrate a milestone, but that the family publicized their decision on Twitter and Facebook. [BTW, a quick google of "the death of shame" didn't bring up what I was thinking about, but I vaguely recall an article from years past about "isn't anyone ashamed anymore"] I am not saying that people need to feel embarrassed of their bodies or their bodily functions. I don't want people to feel vilified because of their physiology, but it just seems to me that not everything is automatically for public consumption. I don't need to know if your bowels are regular, or what color your phlegm is. I don't need to know your ovulation cycle or your sexual predilections. These things aren't bad, and, yes, they define who you are, but they are subjects to be shared with a select few -- not the whole world.

That wall protects us. It is bolstered by words like "overshare" and acronyms like TMI. That wall keeps us as private people and prevents us from overstepping bounds on a first date. Some things just aren't fodder for conversation in polite society -- SNL is satire, people, not a trendsetter deciding what makes for acceptable small talk. It points out what is wrong, not what should be right. It pushes boundaries so that we remember that they exist, not so that we abandon them.

Under the law there is an important distinction between public and private people. If we make it a practice to tell the world about every sneeze or the quality of every time we pass gas, how can we expect any right to privacy or to maintain our claim as a private person? We bemoan colleges' or prospective employers' practices of reviewing our online presence when making decisions about our fates. We tell our children not to post embarrassing or incriminating statements or pictures because "the internet is forever" (which, by the way, it isn't). But we put every selfie out there when troll for likes. We want public approbation and validation while still expecting that we have a right to be left alone.

I work hard to craft a public character. I have to decide what you will know about me and what you won't. You see what I want you to see and it may or may not be identical with the person I "really" am when I show myself off in various stages of real life. Different people who see me online from different angles will see a different person; at least that's my intent. And sometimes I fail at that. But I have not dropped all pretense and decided to publicize my every move, meal and mood. If it looks that way then I am doing a good job at shaping my own PR. But I get the sense that other people are not trying to be as wilfully crafty in their selection of detail to fly high for all to salute.

If and when I meet the girl for whom the menarche party was thrown, can I ask her about her period right off? She has chosen to make her privates public. When I see someone who has taken a selfie to promote her prominent backside, can I start the conversation with something focused on her appearance? She has chosen to make that what I see and how I should judge her, so I'm not the misogynistic pig, right?

The advent of social media has given us all a voice, and that's fabulous. I can rant about the trivia which annoys me. You can post a video of a goat saying "I love you" and another person can post news about his experiences in a totalitarian regime -- news that would be choked off by official news venues. But having a voice also means knowing when not to speak, or at least, when to whisper.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Separated at birthday

In the midst of a world rocked by the horrific and driven by the substantial issues of our day, I continue to focus on the trivia. So that you won't have to.

You're welcome.

In my local paper, right near the comics and he crossword puzzle there is a curious listing. Celebrity birthdays. The paper lists all the celebrities who have a birthday on a certain day. And I read it.

I don't like birthdays. I find them silly and useless. I'm sure I have ranted about them somewhere and if you see me in person, be assured, I will bring it up. And yet, I look at the list whenever I happen o read a local paper. I just don't know why.

And the same thing happens on Facebook -- celebrity birthdays are marked and become trending topics and I am too much of an idiot to ignore them. Today is Jimmy Page's birthday, by the way. But it gets worse.

Every year, when my birthday rolls around, I either find a newspaper or check a website to see who shares a birthday with me. Like it matters. like it will change one year to the next. I'm not getting a card from these people (and the ones I send don't seem to reach them, as each on is filled with reasons that they should call me, and yet none has), nor do I subscribe to any sort of zodiacal significance which would make me, in any real sense, similar to others who were born on the same day as I. Also, the odds that a new celebrity will emerge who shares my birthday is low, and even more meaningless, not just in part because I find the entire concept of celebrity to be a sham at best and a meaningless bit of idol worship at slightly less than best. So why do I check?

Does the shared birthday reflect some unspoken, unconscious, uncanny bond which makes us, in a room of strangers, more likely to speak, become friends and shower me with gifts? Does it confer some referred power (at least on one day a year)? Am I then to be judged for the positive or negative based on the behavior and successes of "my" celebrity? Are those celebrities (a meager bunch, might I add) judged by my behavior? Do they even know I exist? Why is my name not listed in the newspaper? Why does their birthday matter more than mine?

So many questions, all because we think that the day on which someone is born matters. Or because a newspaper had space to fill one day.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

On the Surface

My computer broke. I don't know how else to put it -- my computer broke. I was using it to write the wrongs of the world, it lost connectivity to the internet, I tried to restart it, and then did a hard reset. So hard, it seems, that the computer refuses to turn on. Broke.

I have been using a Surface Pro for about 3 and a half years now. I got it because I wanted a small computer that could use native Microsoft RDP technology so I could work from home. Geeky, but it all worked out. I love the Surface. I don't love that the Surface now refuses to turn on. I have been holding it together (it being my fragile mental state) but just barely because I realize now just how reliant I am on that computer. It isn't that I can't access my music without it -- most of the songs I have spent the last 20 years stealing are stored in a cloud site so I'm ok.

It isn't even about many of the pictures: many are on Snapfish and the like. True -- it is the uncertainty because I don't recall exactly which pictures I haven't uploaded so there is a fear that I will lose what I can't remember. It isn't about my online presence -- I am using my wife's laptop now and will be back at work in the morning, using the ol' Netbook running XP that RDP's just fine into the work system so I am pretty solid there as well. It might not even be about the miscellaneous data files that exist only on my Surface -- bits of writing and other work that I never felt the need to back up. Yes, those are the most serious losses, but it isn't really about that.

It is about a little file called "things I do."

I keep track of all the websites I have memberships to, ID's with and passwords for, so that when I go to a new computer or have to log in again and have forgotten the website or password (or security question, or PIN) I can go to this one file. I just never considered what would happen if the computer on which I have that file was inaccessible.

And with ye olde tyme computers, at least I knew that, worst comes to worst, the hard drive could be taken out and attached as a slave via a ribbon cable and the data exported that way. I know nothing about the inner workings of the Surface but I suspect that it has no hard drive so I don't know if the tech people will be able to perform any data transplant. It isn't even the passwords, but more, the websites that I don't frequent frequently -- their names. I try so many things and then I export the job of remembering to a computer. This way, I can keep my local brain cells focused on the task of remembering my name and how to tie my shoes. So now, I fear not losing vital information (yes, that is daunting) but losing trivial information that I can't reconstruct.

I can find other ways to pick fights with virtual strangers. I can utilize other technology to tell the world about every time I sneeze, or look at pictures of a tuna sammich. But once I have lost my electronic mind, I am afraid that I won't be able to be fully myself anymore. My identity is wrapped up in the second tier bits; they are the over-tones that give the vinyl of my life a richer sound than a simple CD copy of my brain has. So I'm going to go to the mall tomorrow and beg that some kid one third my age can perform electronic CPR and bring my Surface back to life, at least for long enough that he can zap all the information into a new host.