Beaches vs. Blizzards: A little story about 2010

Timehop can be a pretty enlightening app during its first year of use.  If you’re unfamiliar with Timehop (looking’ at you, Dad), the app displays all your social media posts and pictures taken on the current day, each year back in time.  It’s fun to check in the morning, usually to say, “Hey, another cat picture!”  But there is one particular year, especially around January, that is hard to look at: 2010.  Because despite the fancy Instagrammed photos of my feet on a beach and palm trees along the Western coast of Florida, I know what is behind each photo, and very few others do.

I started thinking about this when I woke up this morning to the stunning snowstorm outside our window, only truly stunning because we have no responsibilities to go outside today.  The only reason I’ve put on pants so far is to bring a pot of pumpkin seeds to my squirrel-friend, who looked very cold and miserable on the tree outside our bedroom.  I don’t think he has quite warmed up to our friendship yet, but I have hope.  Anyway, after sitting for a bit with Ben, cups of coffee on hand, flanked by cats in purring comas, I checked my Timehop for any fun insights into the past.  I first realized that this is me and Ben’s “half” anniversary of meeting, something we excitedly celebrated early on, and honestly still think is fun, because why not? Five and a half years today!  But I also saw a gorgeous photo of a sunset off Lido Key Beach in Sarasota, where I was living during an internship in 2010.

Now in one universe, the one where I play into social media misperceptions of reality, I would have posted the two photos side-by-side, beach and blizzard six years apart.  I could have said something about wishing I was on that beach, warm and happy, mixing sand through my toes.  Or I could have chosen option B, (my go-to approach with pictures from that trip) which is to ignore them, and never allow them to see the light of social media again.  Or C, write a blog post all about the photos, just to make a point about something.  Ah C, you’re a great option for a day stuck inside.

I wasn’t into hashtags at the time, I can’t honestly remember if they were a thing yet, and if they were, if I understood what their point was.  I later learned their purpose is threefold: some people use them to tag the obvious (#feet #sand #beach #toe #metatarsals #heels); others use them to attract a group to check out their post (#actor #dancer #corporateofficeworker #brainsurgeon); and others, and this is my personal favorite for creativity’s sake, use it for subtext (#soblessed #ilovecheese #mycatisajerk).

Honest posting during difficult times however, is a tricky thing.  Because in the end, who is it really for?  I know when I posted my photos during that bumpy period of my life (understatement of the year), I was doing it just for me.  And yet, ironically, by posting how awesome everything around me seemed, I may have alienated people I desperately needed to connect with.  Was there a better option?  I don’t know.  But I get thinking about this whenever I see these photos come up on Timehop from that year.

Let’s back up a bit.  If I’m going to allude to a crappy time of my life, I might as well at least touch the surface of what was going on.  Essentially, I had recently graduated college and just finished walking the Camino.  My six-day trip to London, after walking 500 miles across Spain, sent my inspired, enlightened, and motivated mindset plummeting into a sharp nose-dive to Depression-land, something I had warded off since my early teens.  A relationship I had thrown all my energy into, dramatically and humiliatingly came to an end four days after reaching Santiago.  As an older adult, I now know that relationships end for a reason–it’s hard, and life goes on with the support of your loved ones.  But add the layer of being 22, graduating college without a solid plan, growing family issues, digging through all of my emotional layers that had been suppressed since childhood during a 5-week hike, and jumping back into a job with hostile coworkers, and that’s where you’d find me at the end of 2009.  The history of anxiety and depression did not help, something I didn’t yet realize should be treated as a physical illness as well as a physiological one.

The sunny posts I see from these days usually do not have descriptions or hashtags, simply because I couldn’t lie as much as I would have needed to without sounding like a I was reaching out for help.  In reality, these photos would have said (hashtags/comments added)….

#lidokey #icomehereafterworkbymyself #ittookme45minutestowalkhere #ifeellikepoo

#honesthashtag #icomehereafterworkbymyself #ittookme45minutestowalkhere #ifeellikepoo #sunset #walkingbackinthedark

Or…

Honest caption: These are the seashells along my bedroom windowsill, where I spend most of my time! I have nice roommates but my tour mate is trying to get me fired and harasses in the afternoon. Apparently she thinks I'm racist, which makes no sense whatsoever! Hooray! What a fun sexy time this all is!

Honest caption: These are the seashells along my bedroom windowsill, where I spend most of my time! I have nice roommates but my tour mate is trying to get me fired and harasses me in the afternoon/doesn’t let me sleep. Apparently she thinks I’m racist, which makes no sense whatsoever! Hooray! What a fun sexy time this all is!

Throughout the experience, I constantly thought about how I was in a such gorgeous setting while constantly standing on the edge of falling apart. During performances, I stood in the wings, usually getting nasty glances for Ms. Friendly during the show, while taking deep breaths to put on the cheery face I wanted to share with children.  Looking back, I should have gone home, but had never faced a situation like this, and didn’t want to let her win.  Why this girl hated me so much is beyond me, but it sure was the icing on the cake.  She was very small, we probably should have just duked it out once and for all.  But that’s not like me.  And we all know how karma works, now don’t we.

As you can tell, especially compared to my other posts on this site, thinking about these 6 awful months of my life put me in a pretty bitter place.  And so I go back to the image that inspired this post in the first place.  Snowed-in with my husband and cats, blizzard going full-steam outside, nowhere to be, and nothing to do but write and watch SAG screeners.  Six years ago I couldn’t have predicted this turnaround.  I couldn’t have predicted that 7 months from these photos being taken, I would meet Ben, move to NY, start this blog, and forget about petty people that make you feel smaller than them.  Which is hard to do when they’re already quite tiny.

We have no idea what anyone is facing when they post online, and often it’s hard to know how to reach out unless you do know.  As much as I would love that every happy photo I see is genuinely from a place of joy–we only have the visual, the other senses, and more importantly, the storyline behind the photo, is left off.  There may not be a way to be truly honest on social media about our emotions, nor do we really want be, but recognizing that we are only skimming the surface of that person’s life, is important to remember when comparing it to our own.  We only see the feet, or the cats, or the sunset.  It’s better to reach out to find the rest.

#blizzardof2016 #snugglykitties #betterthanthebeach #nowheretogo #gonnagomakelunchwithBen #actuallyhappy

#blizzardof2016 #snugglykitties #betterthanthebeach #whoneedssand #nowheretogo #gonnagomakelunchwithBen

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Blogher Publication and a Post about Tigers!

What Peeple Totally Got Wrong About the Internet

Blogher is the best!  They have featured my recent post that railed against the upcoming app Peeple.  I’m very happy to play a part in getting the word out there, especially to an audience for a website I deeply respect.  Feel free to check out the article above.

 

And then the part about the tigers…

Creative Commons Photo via Paula Borowska

Creative Commons Photo via Paula Borowska

Last night I had a super funky dream.  My husband and I were driving through the woods on a piano (apparently a motorized piano) with all of our belongings strapped to it.  Here’s the kicker- the woods were filled with escaped zoo animals.  Like, large angry ones, especially Tigers.  I kept yelling, “Hey look, another tiger!” as I tried to get the piano-car to speed up.  Seriously, brain?

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Social Media for the People, Not the Peeple

 

Recently featured on Blogher!

Over the past several days, more and more backlash has been surfacing regarding the hoopla around the impending launch of the app Peeple. It’s pretty rare that I become publicly riled up about something, and I’ve found that often is due to my lack of control of the situation. I will sign petitions, donate money, whatever is appropriate for the cause- but it’s rare that I take to social media to join a cause. In this case, however, I have a place in the debate. The main goal of maintaining this blog over the past five years has been to elevate the viewpoint of negative situations. Suddenly, an app with a great deal of financial backing is on the horizon- and it essentially stands for the opposite of my goals on social media. As much as the founders would like to believe otherwise*(see note below), I believe this App will only promote an outlet for under-regulated personal attacks and the general approval of emotionally-driven judgments about people in our lives. In other words, I am not a fan.

Creative Commons Photo via Wilfred Iven on Stocksnap

Creative Commons Photo via Wilfred Iven on Stocksnap

The Power of Social Media

Though social media constantly gets a bad rap, I give it a great deal of credit for its ability to gather communities. Just look at the unbelievable movements created by Humans of New York, The Ice Bucket Challenge, and countless other crowd-funding campaigns that have launched companies, built web series, and even saved lives—all of which are forces that have rallied communities together for a greater cause.

Now, I do also understand the debate against the rise in social media dependency. We are given a digital wall to hide behind, a place to cower when we feel the need to spout diatribes about social and political topics, of which, quite often, we are not fully informed. And yet, even these promote the process of discovering one’s beliefs and protesting tactics.

Peeple, however, the upcoming app that allows you to “rate” your peers, provides none of these qualities. Here are three reasons the existing social media platforms have succeeded in a supportive culture:

  1. Peeple lacks emotional connection: Hitting “Like” on Facebook can mean many things: I support you, I believe in you, or even, Yes, your brunch really does look delicious. Thought it can be abused, across the board, Facebook is often a place to celebrate yourself or others. Peeple, however, removes the human connection. Instead of seeing one another for our careers, our hobbies, and our life events, we are encouraged to see each other as a tangible score, a confusing subjective opinion– without any humanizing details to back it up. The culture on Facebook has been set- I would never imagine writing a personal attack on someone’s wall. And if I did, it could be deleted by its owner, or defended by a peer.
  2. Facebook/Twitter inspires debate: Though I have chosen, for my own mental health, to unfollow several friends on Facebook who often rant about politics, I give them credit for starting the conversation. Even when things get out of control, these debates will often ignite the pursuit of the greater knowledge. If things become personal, as mentioned earlier, the user has the option opt out or delete the conversation. Others also have the ability to come to your defense. What is perhaps most frightening about Peeple is the inability to opt out the service. The CEO has stepped forward to say that the opt-out situation has changed, though I am still very unclear about whether someone can write the post about you in the first place. If you have a clear explanation of this, please feel free to comment.
  3. It promotes lack of accountability: I work in a middle school. I can only imagine the terror this would create, not only for children, but also for people of all ages who find themselves in situations when someone’s emotions have gotten the best of them. In a society that promotes living up to a particular, pop-culture-approved standard, millions of people who suffer from even the slightest social anxiety would now have a “number” to connect to that fear. This is wrong.

And a step beyond that? We are adults, and therefore have experiences overcoming cruelty and negativity. But for children and teenagers? What does this tell them? That yes, there is standard created by your peers, and if you do not abide by these rules, you will be publicly shamed.   And to the people doing that shaming? Here is place for you to release your judgments out into the world without remembering how someone else will be affected. Realizing the way our words can upset or encourage another human being is one of the most crucial stages in personal growth — without this imperative step, our society grows even further apart.

Using what we have

So what can we do? Let’s use the tools provided by our current, functional social media platforms to lift everyone up. We are not numbers, we are not ratings, we are not Yelp reviews. We are human beings trying desperately to connect to one another and feel that we have a place in our day-to-day lives. We are trying, and we do not, be any means, need this effort to be diminished to a meaningless number.

#Boycottpeeple and other similar movements are currently gaining momentum on Twitter and Facebook. Let’s continue to support one another.

 

*Final note about the CEO’s recent post: If the message from Julia Cordray is genuine, which I would like to believe it is, I hope she begins to understand the reality of the program she is building, and where our frustration is coming from. I never condone threats or attacks on a person- no one should be doing this to the owners of the company or anyone connected. If their intentions are to create a platform for positivity, then I applaud their hopes, but remind them that they may be, unfortunately, a bit disconnected. And, yes, it is a shame that people will use this app to write negative posts about one another, but it is simply a truth that cannot be ignored. It is our responsibility to protect the young people of our society (and one another) from those who will abuse an app of this kind.