Sense of Self

The advent of personalized devices, such as smartphones and tablets, has resulted in some noticeable culture changes. It’s almost as if these devices have allowed for us to have too much customization resulting in selfish and self-absorbed behavior. We’re often too immersed in our own tech bubbles, oblivious to how we are impacting those around us. This has ultimately led to some strange changes to our behavior, especially in public settings.

On some level, it’s resulted in a real decline of manners and civilities. One time on the subway I observed a woman practicing her singing along to an audible beat coming from her phone. I watched her in fascination as she went through the same passage repeatedly without a hint of self-consciousness that others were listening in. She was acting uninhibited as though she were by herself in a practice room, or maybe in the shower. I’m not sure if she persisted because she really didn’t care if she was bothering other people, or if maybe she secretly wanted to be “discovered.”

I’ve been taking public transit for decades. And to be fair, subway etiquette has always been questionable. While listening to a radio program about this topic recently, I was surprised to hear so many stories of people witnessing other passengers clipping their finger and toe nails on public transit, along with all kinds of other horrible things. People get so absorbed and zombie-like with their devices that they become even less aware of their surroundings, resulting in even more unacceptable behavior in public.

For the last several months I’ve been working at a college campus. I’m constantly surprised at how many students I hear answering phone calls and continuing conversations while they’re in the bathroom stalls! Yuck. Even worse, the students emerge from the stalls, phone attached to one ear, without even a glance around, or a hint of self-consciousness that they’re in a shared area. It’s as if they don’t even notice their behavior. Maybe I’m old fashioned about this, but I don’t answer phone calls when I’m in the bathroom. And that applies even more strongly when I’m in a public, or shared, bathroom.

I remember when cell phones first started to become popular how self-conscious we all felt about answering phone calls in public. And now it’s become the new “norm.”




Trusting Tweets

Even before all the articles appeared about Twitter bots and fake news, I always felt slightly irritated when reading articles that featured a bunch of tweets from other people, most of whom were unfamiliar to me with their cryptic twitter handles and abbreviated messages. I used to wonder, why were the tweets part of the article? Were they there to support the author’s message?

I read the news to learn what’s going on in the world. Unless I’m reading an Op-Ed column, I don’t expect to be reading somebody’s opinion. If I want to see readers’ reactions to a piece, I check out the comments section, or maybe social media. So I feel annoyed when I see screencaps, or links, to tweets in news articles that seem to only be there for opinion or commentary purposes. The exception is when the tweet content is being reported on directly (e.g., the president’s tweets).

You will always find somebody on the internet who agrees with you. It’s not difficult to find, but that doesn’t mean it’s based on anything accurate or factual.

For example, in a recent article from CBC news titled, “‘They’re trolling the trolls back’: How Parkland survivors are responding to conspiracy theorists,”(read here) the first tweet displayed is from somebody named Mike (@mike_Zollo). I understand the article is about trolls and that the Zollo tweet is likely there to emphasize a point the author is trying to make, but at the same time, I’m wondering why would any reputable news source post or repeat something from someone whose credentials are so dubious. Who is this person? And what makes his Tweet a significant “troll” tweet?

According to his twitter profile, he is “America, politics, & TRUMP. Trumps [sic] biggest supporter. I destroy liberals. Trump is my President & hes [sic] yours to for the next 8yrs. WE’RE TAKING OUR COUNTRY BACK.” How can we even know there is a legitimate person behind this Tweet?  Maybe he’s a bot. And yet his message has become woven into the reporting of the article. Are tweets now being used instead of getting quotes from a person directly?

Later in the article, the author posts another tweet from a TV & Radio Host sharing an article from the Wall Street Journal. So why not just share a link to the WSJ article directly instead of sharing it through a tweet from somebody else’s twitter feed?

Disconnect to Connect

How ironic that we now need to “disconnect” to “connect.”  By disconnect, I mean disengaging ourselves from the addictive hold of our devices and social media feeds. When social media started to become a “thing” about 10 years ago, I think it was largely seen as a way for people to bond and form meaningful connections across time zones and varying interests. Social media offered us ways to communicate with loved ones and link with others who shared our interests.

At brunch recently I was shocked to see a child wearing headphones and watching a tablet in a restaurant at a table of adults. The kid remained quiet mesmerized by the screen and the adults had their social time. But at the same time, something was missing. The child lost out on the chance to connect with others, to observe the subtle nuances of non-verbal communication, and to learn basic manners about interacting socially.

Recently Facebook (FB) announced that the news feeds on an individual’s account will now focus on content from friends and family. Facebook wants its users to spend time on the site to create “meaningful interactions” with loved ones, rather than being inundated with advertisements and auto-playing videos. (Read more about it here.) My first thought was if FB really wanted to create more meaningful experiences for its users, why doesn’t it encourage users to have face-to-face interactions with friends and family?

Instead, FB decided to modify its algorithms to prioritize content from friends and family. And here is where more problems started to develop for me. If you’ve read any of my past posts on Facebook, you’ll know I’m neither a big fan, nor a big consumer. I was curious about the changes and read about them on the FB site directly. Although the news feed will emphasize posts from friends and family, it also focuses on those that receive the most attention or generate activity. So essentially the friends/family that know how to get the most results will rise to the top of the news feed, or maybe appear there more than once.

How does popularity equate to meaningful? Many of my most significant experiences are from being intimate and vulnerable in a private “disconnected” setting, not with something displayed for anyone’s comments.

And what is a Facebook friend? I know who my friends are in real life, but on social media it’s a different thing.



All the President’s Tweets

When President Trump first started using Twitter to broadcast messages, it generated a lot of discussion about the content. People (e.g., citizens and journalists) wondered if they should take these 140-character messages so seriously. And then they wondered if they could afford not to take them seriously. After all, the tweets were  coming from the President directly, or from someone in his office to whom he delegated the task.

Over a year into his presidency, Trump still relies on Twitter to broadcast messages and communicate. As a publicly-elected official, if Trump decides to use social media to disseminate messages it’s as valid a method as anything else like web content, public speaking, press conferences, articles, interviews, memos, etc. However, where it gets sticky, at least from a records and information management (RIM) perspective, is how Trump specifically uses Twitter.

From a RIM perspective, using Twitter, or any form of social media to broadcast messages and communicate can be valid for any government. What causes the problems are Trump’s lack of regard for content and failure to follow any sort of process to publish messages. Messages coming from the government should be trustworthy, authentic, verifiable, and proofread! They should go through a routine process to ensure content is accurate, valid, and acceptable. Trump misspelled the word “honered” in one of his first tweets as President. This should have never happened.

Also problematic is Trump’s usage of two separate Twitter handles, a personal one and a government one, to post messages. He blasts out tweets as both @realdonaldtrump and @potus (President of the United States). As President, he should only be using his @potus account for official communications. His @realdonaldtrump account should be reserved for messaging when he is not acting in the role of president, which isn’t really possible for someone in such a high position. So if Trump’s going to continue to use Twitter, he should only do so as the President and not as himself. However, this doesn’t seem possible for him leading to all kinds of confusion about whether or not we should take the tweets seriously, and if so, which ones.  The ones he writes as the “President” or the ones he writes as “Donald Trump.” The answer, because of who he is and how he uses Twitter, is both.

Now that tweets can be 280-characters, perhaps we should be taking Trump’s tweets twice as seriously.

The Bane of the Backspace Button

I learned how to touch type over 25 years ago. I type fast, but I’ve developed a terrible habit of hitting backspace while I’m typing to correct mistakes on the go.  Rather than typing continuously and fixing mistakes later, I interrupt my flow to backspace and correct. It’s worked into the rhythm of my typing. Even while typing this paragraph, I’ve hit the backspace several times to correct a few tiny things!

Many computer apps now autocorrect spelling while we are typing, but even that hasn’t done anything to deter my habit. I can tell I’m not the only one who does this. If you ever listen to other people type, you can distinctly hear the percussive click and break in one’s typing rhythm as they hit the backspace, rather than move ahead and fix mistakes later.

It’s puzzling how I developed this deeply ingrained habit. Even my awareness does little to deter me from backspacing to correct. It slows me down. Sometimes the disruption to my flow causes me to lose thoughts mid-sentence and I still keep doing it. Why?  Why is the impulse to immediately correct a mistake so strong?

I’ve been playing music for 30+ years. When learning to sight read music, I remember how hard it was to break the habit of going back to correct mistakes. Sight reading is a skill many musicians develop that enables us to play music we’ve never seen before and that we may, or may not, have heard before. We read music on the page similar to how we might read words on a page.

In the beginning, it was hard for me to sight read music without stopping and/or going back to fix mistakes and replay a passage where I had missed a note or played a rhythm incorrectly. With practice, I learned to keep moving forward and leave mistakes behind, mostly because I was sight reading in a group. If I went back to correct mistakes, I would get lost and mess up everybody else.

The most important thing with sight reading is to keep up with the other musicians, even if it means playing the wrong thing at the right time. I can always fix things on a subsequent reading, or not, and that’s okay too.

Why is it so hard for me to break this habit when I type? Maybe it’s because typing is done in solitude.


Running Free

One day in the locker room, after a particularly rigorous aquafit class, my friend and I were chatting with one of the other participants. The woman was in her 80’s and enjoyed her weekly deep-water aquafit. When doing aquafit in the deep end, participants wear a flotation device around their waists to keep them afloat while they do the exercises under the water.

I love aquafit for many reasons, but it was inspiring for me to hear this woman’s story. She told us how she used to love running when she was younger, something that she was no longer able to do on land because of various physical limitations. Supported by the water (and the flotation device) she could run! Her eyes lit up as she described the feeling of the movements, the ease with which her body could move, and the fluidity of her legs churning underwater. She was able to recreate the sensation of running in the water.

It resonated with me strongly as I often feel seal-like going through my day-to-day activities. Awkward and ungainly on land, a graceless hump moving through space (ok, slight exaggeration). But in the water, I can swirl and glide, moving unimpeded and freely. The water supports me, enabling me to move in new and wonderful ways. My arms become powerful pinwheels propelling me through the water. I feel the strength of my legs powering me ahead. Or I can float peacefully, drifting quietly with no particular direction in mind.

Technically this is a sea lion and not a seal, but the sentiment is the same.

I was inspired by this octogenarian’s spirit and creativity.  Her resilience and adaptability to recreate the sensations she craved and the things she loved.

It’s an amazing thing when we allow ourselves to run free of our own limitations and constraints. To move past the pressures and restrictions we so often place on ourselves. And if we let our imaginations go with it, we can be transformed, maybe even into one of these magical, graceful aquatic animals, at least for a brief period of time.

Feeding dolphins. They swim fast when they’re hungry.

Sea turtle resting.