“Social Media Scare Mongers”
(unpublished article from 2010)
     Another week, another idiotic article about how social media is allegedly pulling people further apart. Well, let me sound the bell now and say that this is the most absurd thing I have ever heard. I don’t know if they think it makes for good copy or they are genuinely alarmed, but these pundits are constantly trying to portray us all as slaves to technology; it never seems to occur to them that the technology exists because people overwhelmingly want it.
     As a teenager during the 80s, I seem to remember a great deal of grumbling and hand wringing over how much time kids were spending on the phone. Episodes of certain treasured sitcoms focused on the plight. It was a very modern crisis. Nowadays texting is the common boogeyman, as it purportedly “ruins” a person’s ability to spell properly or grammaticize correctly, what with its abbreviations and acronyms and all. Right.      If you really cared enough to research it, I guarantee the same hysteria was waged toward telegrams in the 1800s:
or whatever. And in between the phone pandemic and texting armageddon, of course, we had the whole email scourge, which “destroyed” traditional letter writing.
     Call me a nut, but I’m up for written expression in virtually any form. All vilified in their time, who would dare say now that rap, punk, and pop lyrics don’t serve a valid societal purpose, or for that matter, graffiti? In an age where we’re all supposedly becoming more illiterate, magazine sales are higher than they were ten years ago and the average book size is at its all time largest. Texting has allowed me to break out obscure words like subterfuge that would either never come up or would pass without notice when spoken, obscure words that I then have to explain. And if email to some extent supplanted letter writing, well, so what – it’s easier to write, send, and store, it’s cheaper, and there’s no conclusive proof it has made anyone into a grammatical nimrod. On the contrary, I would argue that at the very least a great deal of workplace conversations have been replaced by email, and that these are very thoughtfully and professionally composed, thus improving my letter writing skills.
     All of which brings us to Facebook. This doomsday nonsense that it and its kind – Twitter, MySpace, Linked In, and so forth – are alienating people somehow. I read one laughable article just the other day that stipulated we don’t know how to make real friends anymore because we have hundreds of virtual ones. But let’s take my own experience, which I feel is a fairly average one. Right now I have 181 Facebook friends, again somewhere around the statistical norm. Of these are a bunch of close friends, a few minor ones, some people I haven’t seen since high school, my girlfriend, a whole slew of family members, a few women from my past whom I’m still on speaking terms with, and two people whom I seriously do not know.
     Such a wide array of people from such diverse backgrounds, and I’m always amazed at how everyone by and large knows how to conduct him or herself. We are much more sophisticated than we think (which should further consign the notion that we are “controlled” by technology to the dustbin). You have few worries that someone is going to post inappropriate pictures or say something he shouldn’t. There are messages you can send in private, and those that are public, and everyone seems to grasp without saying so or asking what belongs where. It provides a forum for harmless clowning over a video or a comment, and check out what’s going on in people’s lives if you care to.
     Meanwhile, it isn’t as though my relatives in Ohio that I have always seen about twice a year, that I suddenly started saying, “oh well, I have them on Facebook, so I don’t actually need to visit them now,” which is the picture naysayers are continually trying to paint. On the contrary, we catch up with one another just as often and when we do, there’s much more to talk about because we’re brushed up better than we were in years past. Kids from my graduating class were added because they were kids from my graduating class, with the expectation that this is what they always would remain – kids from my graduating class. They are neither any more nor any less interesting to me than they otherwise would have been. You could make the case, well, why bother, except wouldn’t that attitude be the antisocial one? Certainly adding them on Facebook is not.
     Bottom line is that social appliances either catch on like wildfire or they die, based on their degree of usefulness in our lives. You get what you want out of it, which may be nothing at all. I like the delayed response texting allows, when I am not always available by telephone. As stated earlier, I like being able to dash off an email in lieu of speaking with someone at the office, if only for the documentation that a certain conversation transpired. And yes, what I get out of  Facebook is a place to post pictures, state my travel itineraries, and occasionally jot down a comical observation or two. If there are a couple of well meaning but somewhat annoying folks whose relentless posts about every eyebrow twitch led me to permanently “hide” them, so be it. I see no difference between that and the routine social maneuvers we humans have been performing for centuries.
          Instead of all this endless bellyaching about what a menace social media is upon our lives, maybe everyone’s time would be more efficiently spent analyzing why these phenomena caught on, and what this says about us – that we are a sophisticated people who have found better, newer models of communicating.





“Confessions Of A Mellowed Out Northerner”

(an unpublished article written in 2009)

          What an education my time down here has been. Two years into this relocation from Ohio, and only recently has it struck me how much I’ve learned without seeming to learn anything at all. But this is just the south in general, I guess: it creeps up on you, like kudzu.
          Granted, some jarring disparities between how the south is perceived and how it actually is hit me right away. People from the north, and especially the east, their whole shtick is how “forward” they are, how they “tell it like it is.” Which is odd, considering they actually play a lot more games socially up there. Whether you’re talking about happy hour, work, or dealings with the opposite sex, you can easily observe the incongruities between image and reality. Down here, a person is far more likely to come right out and say he or she is just not interested in you. Those of you who’ve never held a job elsewhere might scoff, but there’s a lot less behind-the-backs gossip at work in these parts as well. Here, your boss might speak a little more slowly as he’s telling you such, he might be spitting dip into a can, but he will look you in the eye and say, “boy, I just don’t think you’re worth a damn.”
          You’re not going to get this brutal honesty in New York.
         What you will get, however, is a lot of eye rolling, a lot of “pssch,” loads of mumbles. Only to confront the person, demanding, “what!?” and have that person say, “oh nothing, nothing,” as he/she looks over to someone else with a smirk. And yet should you ever suggest that whatever northern city you’re in isn’t the almighty center of the known universe, you’ll find yourself face to face with a rabid native foaming at the mouth – defensive, anyone? Whereas a southerner would just shrug and let you think whatever you want on the subject.
          I have become a much nicer person since moving here, but that has nothing to do with southern charm. Up there, you would find yourself getting an attitude over everyone else’s attitude. Clerks in record stores pretending you weren’t the only person shopping there, dismissive and rude because they read somewhere that they’re supposed to be. Truly, ‘tis the land of the passive-aggressive. Or the just plain aggressive – a friend of mine from Jersey has been living down here for ten years, and still can’t seem to wrap his head around how he’s supposed to go about picking up girls. “That whole northern aggression thing does not work down here,” he said to me recently, “but I haven’t figured out what I’m supposed to be doing instead.”
          I don’t dare tell him that the solution is as simple as sitting at home doing nothing, calling no one, because that vein in his forehead might finally pop. Everything north is twice as complicated, but often only for the sake of being so. I will admit, though, that this has made for a much more interesting culture. I was always embarrassed by Columbus’s art museum, until I caught the Mint. And is there really only one micro brewery in all of Charlotte? Try as they might, too, the local music I’ve witnessed just can’t seem to muster the same warped intensity I’m accustomed to. But every city has its own particular foibles, regardless of region: Columbus also had no writer’s club to speak of, despite being a bigger city now than Boston. Columbus in the end, when I left, had one writing group of about seven rotating participants, and I had to co-found that, even, nine years into living there. Whereas my participation in Charlotte’s equivalent has been eye-popping: a well organized ARMY of all ages, at least 50 strong with every single meeting.
          Even the city streets offer an interesting case study. My favorite street in Columbus was always Henderson Road. Its western edge dead ends into the winding, California-style highway of Riverside, and overlooks the lovely Scioto River. Tracing its route eastward, Henderson rises up a hill past a few pseudo-mansions, moves through the dignified suburbia of Upper Arlington, into Columbus proper and a strip mall/sports bar zone, briefly accelerates and becomes a 4 lane highway, dips down underneath a freeway, crosses the Olentangy River, creaks along cracked sidewalk terrain into the hippie neighborhoods of Clintonville, crosses High Street, curves sharply to the right, is mysteriously renamed Cooke at this point, straightens out due east again, bobs along a hilly, heavily wooded and sparsely populated 25 MPH region, before coming to an absolute halt at Indianola Avenue. But at this point Cooke merely jogs one block to the south, just long enough to creep beneath I-71, then hooks and ascends – legally, I assure you – up the right hand lane of the interstate’s southbound off ramp, hangs a 90 degree turn right at the apex, thus regaining Henderson’s original rough latitude as it moves east through a fading but still semi-respectable and quiet series of residential inner city blocks. Finally, at Cleveland Avenue, it jogs one block yet again, ending shortly thereafter for good in the heart of a north side ghetto.
          My favorite street in Columbus, yes, and certainly one of the most bizarre anywhere – or not, as this pretty much sums up every single street Charlotte has.
          Yet I look to the strange streets as a positive signpost for the future. Ditto names that change at random in the middle of a block, and all these weird, unpredictable angles.  I see some connection here, that they portend an emerging downtown scene, better concerts, increased attendance at sporting events. There’s that bus lane in the middle of Independence which is a really forward idea, as is the quietly humming well oiled machine of light rail. A traffic system much more conducive to bicycle riding. My opinions of the dreaded NASCAR hall of fame notwithstanding, and the unfortunate use of that “Queen City” handle (everyone knows that this belongs to Cincinnati), things really are on the upswing here. And if I can handle the orange barreled, Mario-Kart-on-psychedelics aspect of driving uptown – which I could, now, blindfolded – then I might make it here after all.

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