Thursday, February 9, 2012

Facebook, Electronic Town Square

Facebook (FB) is the new town square. It’s an electronic town square where you can live out loud. FB is where I have brief exchanges with friends I’ve met in person and friends I only know through our online relationship. We chat about current events and share what we’re up to by posting comments, links, photos, video, etc.

People ask for help, from referrals for a plumber to resources for designing a community garden. You can also view FB Friends’ pages, even if you don’t do any posting. Folks who only peek and don’t post are known as lurkers. Social media has generated new vocabulary to describe its milieu.

Some people disparage FB and other social media as time wasters or addictive. Yes, but no more so than hanging out aimlessly at the mall or coffee shop, or watching television nonstop. As with all things enjoyable and psychically rewarding, you have to have your priorities straight and exercise moderation and appropriate use. FB can be mindful and uplifting for participants if they're engaged in dialogue and sharing life stories.

FB launched in February, 2004, and I’ve been on FB since February, 2009. I was slow to embrace FB, being the laggard in the family, behind my 26-year old daughter, who’s always first, and my 42-year old son and 73-year old husband, all three of whom typically jump in months before I embrace new technology. I still don’t use an iPad, but they all do. I have as much technology as I can consume for the moment. Adam Ostrow reported in September, 2011, that "Facebook Now Has 800 Million Users". I now have 1,015 FB Friends.

I signed onto FB when I realized that I was missing out on my friends’ online conversations. As I’ve become adept at FB, I’ve come to value it as a source of maintaining connection with family and friends, building relationships, and reconnecting with old friends like high school classmates. FB has been a bonus source of new learning, because FB Friends turn me on to authors, news, and music I wouldn’t otherwise discover.

Age is not a barrier to adopting social media. Young users enjoy it as much as older users. Young people are Digital Natives or Netizens, who were born into an age of computers and the Internet. For us older folks, an adaptive attitude willing to try new things is necessary. One must overcome not only a technology barrier, but also an intellectual and emotional one to live out loud.

Privacy concerns about living out loud are real. One does need caution because of the potential for criminal acts like identity theft and stalking. However, one must likewise exercise caution living in the world even when not online. For some 800+ million users, the benefits of being online with social media outweigh the downside.

Life is full of risks, and one has to be informed, up-to-date, alert, and cautious in all of life’s endeavors. Living out loud on FB is no different. As one develops experience, one does gain a sixth sense about who’s legitimate and who’s iffy on FB. An analogous situation is how an experienced driver has a sixth sense about the iffy driver in front of her and anticipates a sudden lurching into her traffic lane.

How did she know? She had never met that driver before, maybe hadn’t even followed for more than a few minutes. Yet, the sum of all her driving experience gives her a gestalt about noticing minute cues, many of which exist at the subconscious level, that add up to an internal warning system that says, potentially dangerous driver ahead. Netizens possess that acumen online.

Social media are tools, vehicles for human interaction. The fact that social media exists online makes it new and different, not bad or lesser than in-person human interaction. Not everyone will get it, but not everyone likes to talk on the telephone or meet for coffee either.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Don't Blame the Actress

A Huffington Post article yesterday morning reported that Lawrence O’Donnell had a lot to say about former Michigan Representative Pete Hoekstra’s blatantly racist and xenophobic Super Bowl ad. You can replay the ad here.

On his Monday night television show, O’Donnell replayed the ad, and the Huffington Post reports that he also said, "It's one thing for Pete Hoekstra to buy 30 seconds of television time to tell us, if he can in clear English...what troubles him about this country's relationship with China. But it is quite another for him to hire an actor to do his dirty work for him."

Then the Huffington Post went on to say that O’Donnell “harshly criticized the actress for playing a character in a political ad that cast her as a racial stereotype, and said he would like to know ‘what exactly she was thinking.’

I agree that it is unfortunate that the young Asian actress took the job. I think that the focus of all discussions about the ad must be on Hoekstra and his racism and not on the actress' complicity. Hoekstra had the economic power to offer a job that the actress took.

When individuals like the actress participate in their own oppression due to racism, they haven't yet learned to look at systems of oppression and are only thinking in terms of me, the individual, which is, of course, the American value and meme.

Perhaps the actress regrets taking the role now. She probably didn’t envision that she would be the subject of criticism from so many people, including on-air commentators, for accepting a paying acting job. But we must place the blame for the egregious racism of the ad and the accompanying Website squarely on Hoekstra and not deflect any of it onto the actress.

Hoekstra’s campaign has already tried the ploy of playing victim by claiming that this entire racist campaign is satire and that those of us who are calling attention to his racism and xenophobia just don’t get it. Hoekstra’s spokesman Paul Ciaramitaro is quoted as saying “I think the viewer of an ad is going to recognize satire” in a story.

Spreading the blame to the actress or feeling sorry for Hoekstra reaping what he has sown are deflections from the focus on his racism and his unsuitability for a Senate seat. It is unacceptable to denigrate Asians by portraying us speaking broken English and inciting fear and hatred of China and Chinese people as the ones to blame for the ills of the American economy. The economic story is so much more complex than that. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Living With Accelerating Change

In the church circles where I participate, we’ve recently engaged several conversations simultaneously that were triggered by an incident about the use of Twitter in an open meeting. Contrary to what some might think, the inciting incident isn’t what’s important. It was merely a timely catalyst for other conversations about much more relevant issues, some of which are also very important.*

Let me set out a few thoughts that illuminate the stage on which we are all living and participating in our daily lives, whether it’s at work, at home, among friends, at church, in a legislature, having lunch, at school, or at the mall.

In an article entitled “Are You Acceleration Aware?” on The Futurist Web site, this point is made:

“. . . the world of 2100 will be more different from 2006 than 2006 is different from 8000 BC.”

Think about that:  the world of the approximately hundred year period from 2006 to 2100 will be more different than was the world of the approximately ten thousand year period from 8000 BC to 2006. Put another way, the rate of change in the world has increased one hundred times in that ten thousand year period! That means the rate of change in the world we live in today is accelerating exponentially from year to year and decade to decade within our lifetimes.

It is no wonder that we are flummoxed as individuals, and that those of us who are older are more flummoxed than those who are younger. The pace of the world into which we are acculturated as children and as students establishes a sort of baseline of the rate of change to which we become accustomed and consider our norm. My 26-year-old daughter’s experience of a rate of change as being normative is different than mine, even though I work hard to keep abreast of changes in technology and in society. I am bogged down by my memories and experiences of the way things used to be, going back 63 years. She has no experience before 26 years ago.

There is a tendency among us older generations to be nostalgic as we reflect upon what we’ve seen and experienced over a lifetime that spans decades, major world events, and technological advances and inventions that are now part of our everyday lives.** We older citizens have experienced major historical events that have changed our worldview going forward. In many cases, our emotional selves have been less agile at keeping up, and not all of us have the intellectual curiosity and/or capacity to acquire familiarity, much less facility, with the new technology. The younger generations are no longer merely citizens, but they are netizens, members of an online world based in the Internet that is real, whether we say so or not.

I have often said and reiterate now, that what keeps us young is not merely staying physically active, but also staying intellectually and emotionally curious and experimental.

Being experimental is key to staying relevant. How can anyone know without trying? And before anyone marches out the old, tired rationales of how it is foolish to try everything, let me state clearly that I am not suggesting that everyone try everything. But what if you, and I, tried a few new things that are outside our comfort zones, because the young people in our communities care about those things, obviously find value in them, and spend time and money doing them.

We just might learn something new. We might even like some of those new things. We will be less likely to be judgmental about why those new things are automatically wrong-headed, and much less likely to legislate against them and place barriers to the younger generations doing their thing and to those of us oldsters who want to join them.

*Among the topics that have been raised and that require much more conversation in wide open spaces that intersect and include church circles are the following, which I will blog about in the coming days:
  • Communications in an online world: The tensions between old modes of communication and new modes of connectivity.
  • Balancing tradition and the leading edge: Respecting our history, traditions, and old wisdom juxtaposed against embracing new visions of community and breaking innovation.
  • Breaking out of the binary: Issues of authority and tradition versus living with ambiguity and liking it.
**Some examples of these major world events in the last hundred years include the Great Depression, World Wars I & II, the moon landing, the televised assassination of JFK, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the dismantling of the U.S.S.R., 9-11 and the destruction of the World Trade Center on camera, embedded press in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street Movement. Technological advances and inventions of the last century include television, transistor radios, decoding DNA, silicon chips, miniaturization and work at the atomic level in diverse scientific fields, personal computing devices, and microwave transmitters to name but a few. My list is puny compared to the catalog of the momentous events that have transpired and the gee-whiz technology that has been invented.