Facebook: a Foggy Intersection of the Personal vs Political

I don't really know how to choose a picture for a post like this, so here's a selfie.

I don’t really know how to choose a picture for a post like this, so here’s a selfie. Like an author byline pic or something.

On Facebook you might make a personal statement to discuss as friends often do. You may not expect the vitriol, the name-calling, the war of opposing linked articles. Some people take themselves way too seriously.

On Facebook you might publish an important political or philosophical thought. You may not expect the sophomoric joking, the name-calling, or even disappointing silence. Some people just seem to stumble into fires without realizing how much their ignorance hurts others.

Facebook is a paradoxical scrapbook bulletin. Is it a self-help message board, or a public debate forum? Friends and strangers eavesdrop on conversations which only seem private. Yes, there is a difference between a personal and a political statement, but to “post” either makes it visible to an ever-more difficult to filter list of viewers.

The mixed-message, or even missing, interface metaphors don’t help either. In this serious debate we can “like” with a cheeky thumb. In this string of jokes no one can hear the timbre of our laugh, our indecipherable (are you being sarcastic??) “LOL.” This flexibility can lead to gibberish.

What I see is a stream of consciousness. What I see is a reflection of my own thought process, the way ideas snag each other, the way I flit from a picture memory of wearing Charmander pajamas at last night’s party to the Atlantic article on protesting in Baltimore.

But it is so political to “share.” Leveraging your private thoughts onto others is a political act:  a decision by the few (or one) on which content should be consumed by the many. “But I was just thinking out loud.” If you don’t want to be held to your word, then why say it at all? I could try to end the argument there, but I’d be a hypocrite. Sure, my personal Facebook philosophy is “make it interesting or funny, or else don’t bother.” But I’m an out-loud thinker in life. And I have so many avenues to be heard, which others might not.

Oh Facebook “friends.” We are apparently not all chums who know each other. We have different backgrounds and needs. You let me glance your wedding photos, and that is perhaps how I mistake our intimacy. But I can only keep your name with your face because everything is so efficiently indexed and hyperlinked.

As with most things, I return to the analogy of a party. There are strangers here just as there are best friends. Not all of us are interested in drinking. Not all of us are interested in sex. Not all of us are interested in laughing. Some may debate our constitutional rights. Some may cry over ex girlfriends. Some may write what they see in tiny notebooks. We all seem to want something. In this wild collage, this rowdy jumble, this grasp at boredom’s death, we might find it.

Or just avoid getting any work done ;)

Advertisements

Inclusion: Practical Strategies

This is a followup to Responsible Friendshipping: Inclusion v. Exclusion.

What does inclusion look like, practically applied?

Strategy: Opacity in Invitation

For the past three kickbacks I’ve hosted, I’ve skipped creating a Facebook event and instead invited friends individually via text, private message, or in person. Alternatively, I could have created a Facebook event and unchecked “show guest list.”

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 9.23.05 PM

 

There was something organic about sending the invite via text. If I created the Facebook event, the set guest list does still exist, even if invisibly — and there is the issue of visible comments in the event page. If I use text, it is unclear about how people ended up at the party, and I found that it was easier to communicate to friends or even allow them to assume that they could bring others.

Either way, obscuring the list seemed to have an added side effect of reducing my stress. If my friends did communicate with one another about whether or not they would go, I did not see it (well, one friend asked who was coming and I told him “people I like” stop asking). I enjoyed spending less time organizing an event (Facebook makes me feel like I have to write a description, set a start time, add a cover photo….) and more communicating with friends directly to answer their questions.

What time are people coming?

IDK after 8, staying late. I’m here now.

I invited people first who I had recently chatted with, and then did my best to remember anyone else I may have missed. I enthusiastically responded yes to anyone who wanted to bring a friend, and I did my best to be welcoming to friends who heard of the gathering by word of mouth but who I had forgotten to invite. One thing I might do differently next time is reach out to close friends to help me spread the word, so I am not just relying on my own memory.

Strategy: Time Pressure

In all cases, I sent the invites the afternoon or night of the event. This reduced one of the major disadvantages of inclusion, and that is that events and hosting locations have limited capacities. Many people already had plans or otherwise couldn’t come, and so I avoided accidentally causing a rager.

If I had a particular friend who I knew had higher-than-average difficulty making last-minute plans, I might give them the curtesy of advance notice at least for a couple of parties, in order to be more inclusive to them. I’d have to, of course, let them know that’s exactly what I’m doing and others will not have heard of this “party” yet.

Alternate Strategy: Revolving Lists

Another strategy I’m considering experimenting with is masterminding a small groups rotation pattern. I will make it clear to friends that, to limit the size of the party, I will invite smaller portions of my larger friend base. If they are not invited to the current party, rest assured they will be invited to the next. This strategy will only be helpful if I have frequent parties, and if no event gets so much acclaim that missing it would be upsetting. I could see using this strategy for weekday hangouts. It will probably require spreadsheets.

Conclusions

These are by no means the best models of inclusion. I have seen better ones with semi-public Reddit events or smaller communities that utilize public Facebook pages to advertise their events. These strategies are instead a middle ground I am reaching after a habit of overly-curating events, as I have done and witnessed in 2014.

Responsible Friendshipping: Inclusion v. Exclusion

There are a lot of words in this post, so I will break them up with pictures of cats.

There are a lot of words in this post, so I will break them up with pictures of  my roommate’s cats.

I have the great fortune to have some influence on my social space(s). By blogging and participating in a lot of group conversations, I think I’ve tricked my friends into thinking I have a good moral compass. My primary externally-assigned adjective is migrating from “redhead” to “thoughtful.” Well, let me invite you into more of my thoughts, because I’m loving this.

This year, especially, I am deciding what to do with my influence. I’ve always liked to think of myself as an enabler, but perhaps now I’m really interested in “directed enabling.” Or, you know, leading.

Recently I’ve gotten myself into a situation where I have a space and the agency to throw my own parties, so that’s added immediacy to my Responsible Friendshipping goals. I get to say who comes to the party and what the theme is! I’m also interested, however, in the bigger picture. Am I helping my friends move in a healthy direction in their communities?

IMAG0276(1)My main issue right now: Inclusion v. Exclusion. Practically speaking, this is a result of figuring out how to maximize needs fulfillment. For parties, that need is primarily “fun.” For friendshipping, that need is feeling like you’re not all alone in the universe (sad face). On the inclusion axis are motivations to demonstrate to community members why they are included and why their inclusion is guaranteed. On the exclusion axis are motivations to just be damn efficient and not waste time supporting members who are really just going to bollocks up everything for everyone (or just be really boring).

The failure I’m seeing in my friend group right now is buying into the idea that gatekeeping (exclusion) also successfully supports safety. I get why they’re doing it, and it took me a long time before I stopped thinking this was the best idea. Keep the baddies out, welcome the goodies in, right? Anecdotally, it’s actually true that this strategy didn’t work (a long time friend hurt a lot of people, not some stranger), and yet we kept using it.

Kitteh says: don't exclude me I luffs youThe converse is not easy, either. Opposite of gatekeeping, you can promote safety with behavior policing. I mean, that’s how mainstream society does it — you know you can’t hurt people because the law will hurt you back, harder. Unfortunately, this strategy requires a lot of difficult things that we’re ideologically opposed to doing. We don’t want to dial-down a list of accepted behaviors, we don’t want to be tasked with enforcing these behaviors, we don’t want to create laws. Sure, if we could do those things, then we could know we are technically safe despite any member who might come or go. But we’re rebels! We’re lawless!

Behavior policing doesn’t have to be done with laws; it can be done with culture. Case-study: my dirtpunk/goth friends manage an open-door policy, for their parties at least, by cultivating a particular vibe. Their hard edge intimidates away the people who really probably shouldn’t roll with them, while reminding members there is a real threat for people who misbehave. (Misbehave is a relative term, as a fair amount of trainwrecking is tolerated. I mean, there’s a reason the sink is always stacked with dishes.) The benefit is that no one is sweating over if they got the invite (besides people who are intentionally banned) — they instead make the decision based on their own evaluation of whether or not they really belong. Of course, self-reliance is heavily required to survive in this kind of environment.

IMAG0271My core friends have been instead operating their friendship collective as a sort of “romantic relationship.” You choose the right person, you trust them to benefit you and you return the favor. And you do NOT need to invite the public into your private relationship space.

I’ve seen some good moves towards developing a healthy micro-culture in this context, but a lot of these efforts have been co-opted by the “relationship insecurities” in such an exclusive group. People are worried the friend-blob doesn’t find them sexy anymore, instead of knowing the friend-blob treats all people equally (doling out rewards and punishments for behaviors as needed).

There’s a loss of autonomy in this arrangement. I think we’re exceptionally inter-dependent. Decisions become bogged down by the requirement of having consensus with the rest of our relationship-organism. Some of this is exciting and good, but I think it stops recognizing the discrete individuals who make up our membership body (beyond their worthiness as members). Sometimes it feels like I’m in a cult, you know?

So, I think what I want to do is help my friends know there are more ways to curate the direction their friendships are headed than just maintaining a really sweet guest list. I want them to understand that they can grow a core group of friends and behaviors that will prepare us for multiple environments, and carry us through multiple adventures. Let’s let down the walls a little, and let people and new ideas pass through our kingdoms.

IMAG0167

 

Analyzing the Sh*t out of Parties: Creatives vs. Nostalgics (Which are you?)

by 

Sometimes I am inspired by my friends to write, but they might not want to recognize themselves when they read my blog later. Please forgive me while I go off in abstraction la-la-land in lieu of the usual juicy details.

Long story short I went to two different parties and found them to be drastically different. I’ll let you figure out which one I thought was more fun (nvm guessing games are tedious; I’m a “Creative”). Anyway, consider this thought experiment:

I’m beginning to identify two major structures in which a party group can operate. I’ll call them the Creatives and the Nostalgics. If the ideal goal of a party is Fun, then the two groups differ primarily in *how* they attempt to achieve Fun.

How Fun is Achieved

The Creatives are generative, operating much like an improv troupe — simultaneously approaching and redefining Fun. Imagine that a party is a collaborative art piece, and all its members riff endlessly to cascade moment after delectable moment in a very loose and self-reflective jam sesh. They don’t really know what it means until it’s up there on the canvas, and even then it’s up for interpretation.

the-fun-creatives-style

The Nostalgics assume an ideal and seek to return to it. Basically, they’re trying to recreate a Fun they once had. End-goal in mind, for each event or even as the entire basis of their group culture, they will follow, reinforce, or bushwhack a path to the Fun. Their notion of Fun is probably just as fuzzy as that of the Creatives, given that the act of remembering makes it more or less than it actually was. The important point, however, is that they treat the goal of Fun like an ideal, regardless of their understanding of its nature.

the-fun-nostalgic-style

Now, the Nostalgics aren’t always literally pining after the past. While I’ve encountered groups with a nasty infestation of the “remember whens,” there are other frameworks which can be used for this backward-sort-of-seeking of an ideal. Generally the group adopts a tradition. This could be a geek tradition or a greek tradition.  It could be as focused and specific as a “What if we re-imagine Dr. Who in the pony-verse?” fanship or as vast as heteronormativity. They are fond of set activities, such as drinking games, sports, or dungeons and dragons matches, and will replicate the same activities endlessly with no truly intentional variations.

The Creatives certainly adopt frameworks, and traditions do result as a side effect of the same groups of people meeting each other repeatedly, but their understanding of the former is less permanent. Frameworks are borrowed to streamline the communication of a particular idea, and are quickly discarded when the point is made. In other words, frameworks are temporary tools.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Using frameworks can actually be considered a key strength. The inclusivity of the Nostalgic group is only limited by its frameworks. So long as an individual can follow and adapt to a specific framework, they will be able to operate within the group.

In the Creative group, inclusivity is more related to performance, in the artistic sense of the word.  An individual is valuable to the group while they are able to provide fresh perspective, enriching content, desirable challenge, or whatever is up in that group’s particular market. The Creatives are seeking talent, rather than submission to a framework. This hefts more of the responsibility onto the individual’s ego, and will often create insecurity for newcomers (or, really, everyone involved). Creatives risk collapse when they are not able to foster a healthy environment for tinkering with fun the way they do.

The strength of improvising is that submission to such frameworks is not required. In this way, the group is able to be more inclusive of truly non-conforming identities. The nerd might seek the nerd-focused Nostalgic group, the lesbian just the same with her own. The Creatives eschew such outward-facing identities, except as they are necessary to invite new members, and can be a good home for those with more fluid personalities. Overall, what I enjoy most is the freedom from submission.

When the nostalgic group attempts improvising outside of their frameworks with any kind of real fluidity, the result is the surreal. Some individual will get some notion to try on a new behavioral hat, and his friends will respond with, “Whoa, what’s going on right now?” or “Did that just happen?” or “Did I take drugs?”

This surreal effect is a symptom of this weakness: There’s a paradox of looking backwards in that one cannot truly enjoy the moment one is trying to create. The Nostalgic evaluates passing moments (simultaneously looking to future moments) as candidates for the great scrapbook of Fun. What’s missing? The present.

Of course, you may have caught on to my distaste for quasi-spiritual hippie-dippie assertions, but let’s try “situational awareness is important” as a less-cheesy alternative to “you have to live in the moment.” There might be something wrong with me for not putting a whole lot of value in reminiscing. Maybe I had a shitty middle school experience, have no patience for memorizing trivia, or got a 2 on my AP US exam…but I find I’m having the most fun when I keep myself present. The Creatives understand this intrinsically.

the-fun-gallery

How do you know which group you’re in, or — if we assume groups are fairly flexible — how do you know which modality your group is operating within at any given moment?

Signifiers of the Creatives & the Nostalgics

Well, one way to figure out which group/modality you’re in is pay attention to what everyone is doing with their iPhones. Nostalgics use cameras and social media as recording devices. The Nostalgic group meta-analyzes through a rear-facing gaze. Seeing everything through an iPhone lens makes perfect sense, because these groups are very interested in curating a shared history.

Creatives are guilty of the same, of course, because that’s the current norm. But they’ll push the boundaries of social technologies by using them to augment the generative processes. They are interested in finding apps which enrich their environments, or challenging the functions of these devices by using or discussing them in a novel way.  I think this is the only group which is capable of getting together for a group picture (but something crazy-rad like a human pyramid) and then entirely losing interest in the resulting image before it ever makes it to the social media. 

Also, I’ll return to the idea of inclusivity and examine who really qualifies as an outsider in each group. The outsider in a Creative group will feel like the behaviors of the group are “arbitrary” or perhaps “don’t make sense.” Why has everyone decided to pass around a picture from a catalog and treat it like a piece of forensic evidence? And now they’re suddenly having a contest for the best dinosaur stomp? He’s expecting a set framework that doesn’t exist, and, in fact, as soon as he begins to identify one of the temporary frameworks, he may find that it has already been abandoned. He may be the one in the group who is asking “why don’t you want to play [this game] anymore?” The Creatives will seem to him like they idealize randomness, when in fact they focus on some unnamed goal of Fun in the same way a sculptor approaches a wet piece of clay with just the faintest glimmers of an artistic vision.

The outsider in a Nostalgic group will identify with self statements of not “fitting in” because she is “weird” or she may feel “impatient.” She is butting up against the framework which she has already rejected (or maybe never engaged with in the first place). She is out of touch with the realities which inform their interactions, and may even find some of them to be repulsive. If she takes this moment to be arrogant, then she’s already missed the point. And that is, the Nostaligics are seeking comfort on their own terms. There is an ease in their interactions which, if you can swallow the frameworks they choose, gives a sort of consistency to reality that does not quite exist among the Creatives. Being weird all the time is actually quite stressful!

Kitty-leggings-patterned-tights

Qualifiers and Exceptions

I shouldn’t pretend there’s a clear delineation between Creatives and Nostalgics, though there is such a thing as only pretending to be the former. Many times the frameworks which the Nostalgics choose are based on getting “creative,” which is not the same. Though the Nostalgics may decide to really “get out there” and “try something new,” they will treat this style of Fun as an isolated activity. E.g. Let’s All Go Rock Climbing Guise!! Also, do not confuse an entire framework of “acting creative” for Creativity, such as friends who base their entire micro-culture on getting together to throw pots and Raku (they could be either Creative or Nostalgic). 

Of course, since people (me!) ricochet between various groups, they frequently experience both styles depending on the swing of the pendulum.  People show up to a party and change its atmosphere (or disappear in some back bedroom). Entire groups go through changes together. I could even envision a group unit which modulates between Creative and Nostalgic modalities based on some regular change: day or night, sober or intoxicated, winter or summer.

Pushing a Group Around

With this understanding, could I feasibly push a Nostalgic group towards my preference for Creative? Like I said, I’ll see the “this is surreal” reaction if I do this. And while there is some fluidity between the two, in general they are based on competing assumptions about reality. If I try to reject a framework, the Nostalgics might feel like I’m attacking everything they hold to be good and true. Or just, like, you know, making it real tough to have a good time.

I’ve decided I’m going to push Creativity whenever I can, and when I cannot, treat whatever Nostalgic party I’m stuck in like an inside joke in my own greater pursuit of Fun. I also will be more patient during the Nostalgic moments (which build security) within typically more Creative groups.

And, always, a good Pimm’s cup will set the mood in any situation.

pimms_cup_like_in_Archer_no1