Archive for Facebook

Dead Men Tell No Tales; They Drop Beats

Posted in All the Things, Everything Else with tags , , , , on February 21, 2014 by trivialpunk

I know you were expecting a Part 2 for Remember Me: Human Revolution, and you’re going to get it. But, not today, and, you’ll shortly understand why. You see, among the things stewing in my brain is an ongoing fascination with our digital lives. There are so many aspects to it that aren’t readily apparent. For instance: a lot of the things we say hang around longer than we realize. Pictures we put up, videos we up-load. Comments we make. At one point, I almost lost a job over a frustrated post about bureaucracy in the work-place. Many people have lost jobs because of the aforementioned. There are many famous cases, you can look them up at your leisure, but just take my word if you’re not privy to it all. (If you want phrases to Google, go with “teacher fired for” or “woman fired for” and you’ll find your controversy)

Just the other week, I watched a Twitter snafu develop between two individuals over a new comment on an old, old Tweet. Totally understandable, I’m not here to judge one way or t’other, but I will note that it has to be incredibly jarring having someone comment on something from over three years ago, especially if social media is second nature to you. You get used to just tossing thoughts into the aether when you think they’re worth sharing. So, this situation would be as if you were approached in the street by a stranger and questioned about an off-hand comment you made in a bar one time, word-for-word. I’m not sure if we have any etiquette for that sort of thing, but we might consider starting a conversation about it somewhere. Or, joining in on the on-going one, whatever’s your style.

That right there was going to be the heart of a discussion I was going to post next week about how permanent a lot of the stuff we throw into the annals becomes when computers are involved. There are pictures of me drinking absinthe in a questionably smokey room floating around on-line somewhere. Not incriminating in the least, but if I were to be competing for an important office, you know someone would dig it up. There’s more out there than your voluntarily posted stuff. Google Search Histories, old e-mails, posts in random forums from when you were 14, off-handed remarks from the early days when Godwin’s Law was hammered out… Some of it’s still out there.

We don’t tell children this enough; we don’t tell adults this enough. The internet being a fairly new thing, it’s hard to tell exactly what the long-term ramifications are going to be for our culture and, quite honestly, our very being. How you understand yourself is morphing as you use the internet. Don’t worry, your understanding of yourself morphs all the time, so it’s nothing new. But, it is important that we consider how we’re changing, not just acknowledge that it’s happening.

All this would have been fascinating conversation fodder, but something else came up just last week. A good friend of mine, an incredibly creative, unquestionably kind man, died of a gun-shot wound outside of the town where we met for the first time, many years ago. Now, I have to approach this thing from another direction, because I can’t think of anything else. I’m going to try to keep this light so it can escape the black hole that my heart has become. That’s not to say I don’t have one; it’s just pretty heavy right now. Bah-ZING! Don’t go off on me about density and weight being different things; now’s not the time to look for the truth in puns.

I discovered that this terrible tragedy had occurred via the internet. In fact, we had done most of our interacting through the internet over the past few years. We’d both moved around a lot and only saw each other about once a year. Your standard long-term Facebook Friendship. You know, the people you keep around because they’re too precious to lose, but your life is too insane to comfortably accommodate. I went to his page, because I felt I had to confirm what had happened. It was immediately strange; it held the muted calm of a graveyard in brightly lit text-boxes. It had become a shrine.

The life that my friend had lived had come to pay its respects. Pictures and videos poured in from people that had known him. They posted their favourite memories and said their farewells. It was touching. I kept scrolling, a tear fighting its way through the mounds of cynicism and unreality that were protecting me from realizing that he was actually gone. That is, until I scrolled down far enough to reach his final post. It was a link, posted two days before his death, to an album he’d just uploaded to sendspace. I finally felt his death with his final post, and, yes, that’s the link to the album. Dead men tell no tales, I’ve realized; dead men drop beats.

It made me reflect for a minute on all of the things we leave behind. The great works left for us by fantastic masters of craft. Lives bottled in miniature. Books that let us see with fresh eyes the days long past. Music that sums up swathes of human history. Movies had hold in a suspended mixture the essence of a moment. Games, like SH2, that let me stalk the streets of my fondest memories. Each life leaves something behind, though, even if it never leaves a discernible mark on our social fabric. I know it can be hard feeling heard on this massive planet, but we do have voices. And, now, we all leave echoes.

What happens to our Facebook accounts when we die? How long should they be maintained? Do we pay to preserve them like a memorial in a graveyard? More disturbing… to me, my friend’s life was revealed through an on-line profile that came to represent him. Now, he’s gone, but the profile remains. His life, to me, at least, has left a distinct stamp that I can still access. Everything about it for the last year has been shared with me digitally. All the information about his life and death were represented in a similar manner. I have no proof of that life one way or the other, except his Facebook profile. Which says to me that it’s a pretty important part of life.

How many MySpace pages exist in this fashion? How many memorial pages persist in the annals of Facebook’s digital library? What is Facebook’s responsibility here? What do we do with those pages, as a people? On the one hand, they’re a disturbingly visceral reminder of the past, like having a corpse you can visit from your screen. Unmoving, dead. On the other, it’s alive with the memories of the people who can visit it. Because, when someone has moved on from this life, a digital symbol is as valid a representation as a physical one, albeit, arguably less sacred. Don’t believe me? You have on-line banking, don’t you? You should really get it.  Memories locked in vines? True enough for me.

If there’s this much of you left on the internet, the record of your life, and, if the internet can destroy something as fundamental as your livelihood with its digital memory, then we must conclude that the internet, and Facebook in particular, is an integral part of your life. But, it is unlike any other part of your life. It leaves a trail of the changes you make, unless you unmake them. Information that you’ve completely forgotten existed is in an old e-mail somewhere or on a weird back-woods forum. How do we deal with the implications of this? Do we put a statute of limitations on these things? You change a lot in five years, but the words you wrote then are just as fresh and accessible as they’ve ever been. Albeit, inconvenient to find, unless stumbled upon accidentally. Which happens, because internet.

People discover old works by artists that were posted over five years ago, and, if questioned, how should the artist be approached? That’s a long time in a life, really. Hell, when I was 13, I thought I was assembling a harem. As it turns out, I was just cheating on a load of people at once. But, if you questioned me, now that I have a brain more in control than my testicles, I would say that I acted like a complete prick. I can’t go back and change that, or anything that shook out of that, but I’m a better person now. Although, if we’re being 100% honest, I’m going to leave you doubting that that story ever happened. There, that’ll do it. Let’s say it did, though.

If I was doing it on-line, there’d be a record of it. People could come by later, see it for the first time, and judge me all over again. They don’t know me; they haven’t been privy to my life so far. As far as they know, today, I’m a pimp in Paris dealing cards at a mob game. Worse still, what if I was being rhetorical? Or joking? Taken out of context, the Sochi Problems meme seems really arrogant. Just first-world people complaining about first-world problems. What about the people who have to live under these conditions? What about the lives that go on within Russia that have to deal with these problems first-hand. Tainted drinking water isn’t a first-world problem; it’s an everyone problem.

Then, you realize, that that’s the purpose of the Sochi Problems meme. How do you get people to pay attention to something on the internet? You make fun of it. Make it cute, marketable and readily understandable, and hope it catches on. With the attention of the global community focused on Sochi, it was going to catch on. Russia is a country that’s a massive player on the world-stage, and maybe we need to pay it more attention than we have been.

And that’s what I’m kind of doing here. Reminding us to pay attention. My friend was a really good person. To me. To everyone I’ve ever seen him interact with. I don’t know what happened to him exactly. I don’t know what his life has been like for the past few years. All I have are the things I saw and the life I let slip by me. Maybe I should have spent a little more time with him, but that’s a regret we always have. So, I put forth, maybe we should concern ourselves with the physical problems masked by the Sochi Problems. I don’t know; I’m not a politician.

What I do know is that the life we create on-line is non-trivial. Even a punk like me leaves a mark, but what happens when I’m gone? How much of me is even real to you? With over a hundred posts on this site, you could, theoretically, re-live my entire blog for a long time before you ever had to face the fact that I wouldn’t be writing any more. I may be here, right now, typing in a room, but there’s a lot of me out there, too. To you, that might be all I am. Surely, each line is infused with a bit of my essence at the time it is written, but I am not that man any more than I’m still the child who soiled his diapers. What happens when those servers go dead? Do I die with them? No, but what if I’m already gone? Do I live in those pages or just in the memories they evoke? For how long?

Do I die with my history? Does my history die with me? Does silencing my history kill a portion of the living person? If you destroyed my Facebook account, I would be diminished. If you trashed Trivial Punk, I’d lose all I had written down. Those memories would die in your head and in mine. The difference being, those memories are MY history. These are strange questions that we must consider. Or, you could let them pass you by, but they will affect your life. Might as well join in the conversation.

R.I.P. Dear Friend. I’ll see you on the other side.

Why We Secretly Live in a Horrifying Dystopia

Posted in All the Things, Everything Else with tags , , , , , , on November 4, 2013 by trivialpunk

Hello! So, the week of Halloween saw the release of another video and two new stories by yours truly: the longer Unfinished and the shorter While You Weren’t Looking. This week, in honor of my favourite holiday, and because I was sick through the whole damn thing, I thought I’d bring you, personally, a little of the horror that haunts my nightmares. The truth is that movie-monsters aren’t as frightening as they once were. I’ve simply watched too many movies. Right now, true horror lies in interactive experiences and real-life, which is, in a way, an interactive experience, except it’s unbalanced as butts. I mean, if we’re going to be doing open-world PVP, shouldn’t we balance the zones a bit better? Whatever. I’m sure there’ll be a balance patch any day now.

For me, horror lies in the little truths of life. The things we take for granted and try to forget always apply. Things like: We’re all going to die someday. I’m a bag of flesh-bones. My consciousness is a complicated illusion. I will never again feel as invincible as I did when I was a child. Every moment of my existence is part of the process of degradation that will eventually rob me of mind, mobility and metabolism. BUT, most terrifying of all: I live in a terrifying Dystopic Nightmare.

Oh, you don’t agree? Well, here, I’ll show you Why We Secretly Live in a Horrifying Dystopia. First, it helps to know that we’re all on the same page. A Utopia is a perfect civilization living through benevolence and love. Its attributes include: unending sustainability, a perfect balance of humanity and necessity and a loving, accepting society of equitable opportunity. A Dystopia, on the other hand, is a perversion of the idea. Yes, it’s perfect, but it’s not always benign. The advanced technologies and organizations that might have been used to create a Utopia are instead used to indulge vice and greed. Maybe you get to live a perfect life, but it’s only for 25 years (Logan’s Run). Maybe everything seems perfect, but that’s only because of the powerful hallucinogenic drugs you’re constantly being slipped (Futurological Congress). Maaaaybe it’s all actually amazing, but it lacks a certain je ne sais quoi of personal agency (Brave New World).

Whatever the reasons for a Dystopia, it’s here, it’s bleakly soul-crushing, get used to it. The path to the realization of our personal Dystopia lies in the city. I know people romanticize country living all the time, and I’m right there with you: it’s silly. Living off the land included brutal winters, sweltering summers and the very real threat of starvation or sickness.  Naturally, we must be doing much better than our forebears did on farms, right? In some ways, perhaps we are, but in others…I’m going to be talking about my city in particular, but I’m sure you’ll be able to extrapolate.

First, I rarely interact with nature at all. When I go down town, or to the University, I’m walking on solid pavement or cement 90% of the time. The streets form, basically, a huge concrete island. Just think, for a second, how often you interact with any portion of nature for any amount of time. I’m not saying that we should throw off our clothes and flounce into the wilderness… actually, that’s kind of what we do on vacation. We’re so eager to feel anything natural– to interact with the Earth at all– that we’ll sacrifice time, money and dignity for a brief respite from the solid concrete borders we’ve erected.

Actually, I shouldn’t say solid, because the really creepy part of the city is how honeycombed with shops, rail-lines and maintenance entrances it is. If you stop for a second and look at an office, if you squint reeeeal hard, you can see it as an ant-farm. Glass windows open up onto hundreds of individual workers that scurry about important, personal tasks, running between cubbies and dens. Buildings themselves are like the artificial dens we constructed, because we’re too ashamed to dig in the dirt. Sometimes, when I stop and look, the entire landscape seems like an alien hive, honeycombed with chambers and passages. The hive is alive with us, but each building, each sign, is constructed with the sole purpose of directing our movements. They’re pheromone trails made manifest in print.

That’s not to say that each individual doesn’t direct his or her day-to-day movements, but if you step back, it’s eerie. Also, why would we dig in the dirt to build warrens when houses go up so easily now? No reason, it just sounded dramatic. But, that’s all just the surface layer of perturbing. Yeah, yeah, people live in a city like it’s a hive. We all knew that. To really get a Dystopia going, we need to denigrate the very foundation of our shared humanity: the value of human life. Did you know that there is an actual dollar amount associated with your life? What that value is varies depending on who you’re asking and what condition you’re in.

In America, before Obamacare, if you had a pre-existing condition and didn’t qualify for medicare, then you couldn’t get an affordable rate from an insurance company. In fact, you’d be lucky to get any rate at all. Yet, when reforms were put in place to make it so that anyone could have access to medical insurance, huge waves of people fought back against the idea. Obviously, it wasn’t the majority of people, but some did. Why was that? Well, many reasons, ranging from the ideological to the financial, but, at the end of the day, the real take-away is that human lives aren’t as valuable as money to a lot of people. Usually, it’s those people in control of a lot of people. Like insurance companies (man, they come up a lot), they’ve got to make some pretty tough decisions about what is acceptable in terms of realistic possibility. If they know that the cost of paying off accident victims is lower than the cost of doing a recall, then they won’t alert anyone. It’s a fairly well-known story, but it illustrates my point beautifully.

Of course, money can do many things. Things like feed the poor and educate the people (IF, you know, that’s what it’s used for). Money can build empires and destroy countries. So, it’s easy to see why it might get a privileged spot, if one sum can kill a million and another can save a thousand. Yet, it’s not just the money thing I find perturbing. It’s the commercialization of every aspect of our lives. I mean, as a blogger and part-time YouTuber, I accepted that notion a long time ago. It comes with the territory. But, the social media tools we use everyday– Have to use everyday –are just as invasive. The people who say you can just go without aren’t really considering the implications of not using social media. I got my last three jobs with Facebook posts and my current dorm through a Tweet. At the same time, though, we are being surveyed. And, I don’t just mean with surveys.

Did you hear about the kid who was arrested, thrown in prison and beaten to concussion because of a League of Legends chat post? How about the people that were fired because their Facebook profiles had pictures of them using elicit substances? What about the woman whose on-line soft-core-porn life totalled her teaching career? Yeah, we laugh at them and say they’re stupid, but are they really? If this was anything but our way of life, we’d be thoroughly disgusted by the surveillance and the level of penetration that the internet has into our lives. Between phones keeping track of your location when you post and sophisticated deep-web-trawling technology that can produce and organize a vivid portfolio about you and your buying habits with no prior tracking required, using the internet basically means you’re being watched. Maybe not actively, but this information doesn’t just disappear most of the time. Hell, our search histories alone would be worth their weight in gold to a marketing firm. Our Facebook Likes. Our Tweets. Whatever.

A lot of interaction happens on-line now. In fact, a large portion of our life is lived through social media. It’s a poignant expression of who we are. I’m sure you can see people’s personalities emerging through their profile usage. I know you and I have, at one time or another, posted something just a little too personal in a passive-aggressive Facebook rebuttal or a lonely-night hate-fest. It happens. It’s part of being human. Normally, that would be acceptable, but it’s not, because Facebook removes context. On-line, we’re rarely afforded the emotional states or extenuating circumstances that are the Hallmarks of understanding in personal interactions. That’s the other creepy thing: how well do you know the people you’re spilling your life to?

Personal privacy and the like are all on one hand. On the other hand, how often are we that personal… in person? If you’re anything like me, you’ve got a small cabal of close friends and a larger extended social network. Thinking back, it’s hard to remember spending the time to make the memories I have with them. A lot of the lives I’ve had brush up against mine have been experienced through pictures, videos and posts. My Facebook account does way more socializing and keeping up than I do. If it ever went rogue, it could ruin my life. Honestly. Also, you know, because A.I. My point is that we let machines handle a lot of our personal interactions. Even videos seem, to me, at times, terrified cries from lonely people locked within 1920×1080 collapsible screens.

One of our greatest advancements in medicine and general well-being was antibiotics. Unfooortunately, we really went to town with the stuff. Now, many of the most common diseases are producing antibiotic-resistant strains. Most often in Hospitals. I know, the place you go to get better. Worse than that, though, is that the antibacterial soap we’re washing into our streams in massive quantities is creating strains of similarly resistant bacteria in the wild. Whoops. Fear not, though, because bacteria is not the greatest health risk we have (Yet), Obesity is.

We’re a race of beings that is so successful that we can literally experiment with the fundamental elements of existence and life. We can shape our surroundings to a fine edge. In fact, that’s the only reason we can feed and support the population we have. So, what do we use this incredible power for? Letting our rich countries eat waaaay too much. Of course, over-consumption isn’t the only source of obesity. Inactivity plays a big role. Aaaand, what technology keeps us tapping keys to type in: “plz, can I haz reason not to move for 4 hours?”

Okay, let’s break it down a little faster now. Racial inequality. Sexual inequality. Class inequality. The mad pursuit of profit. People reduced to viewing figures. Rampant unemployment. Access to enough weaponry to destroy all life on Earth. Insane Dictators ruling through fear and power. The constant impingement of technology into every aspect of daily life. A complete lack of silence in most major metropolitan areas. Extreme levels of pollution. Artificially-induced climate changes that could be irreversible with our current level of technology…

Let’s recap: We’ve used our technological might to enslave people through force of arms and subtle, head-throbbing indoctrination. We’re so out of touch with the natural environment that it seems normal to rarely touch the Earth and to communicate the most important moments of our lives through digital renderings on social media sites. Our medical technologies have been over-used to the point of redundancy, and we don’t use them to treat anywhere near the number of people that need it. Homeless people are nearly forgotten, despite their singular humanity, because they don’t have… well, money. Our abuse of fossil-fuel-tech has created spiraling climate changes that could wipe out humanity, and we’re still fighting about whether or not it’s happening. We’ve destroyed our atmosphere. We’re never unimpeded, but we’re usually alone. Our most powerful, earth-shattering weapons are in the hands of the only people who would care to use them. We could end our global food shortage, but beef just tastes amazing.

It loooooks bleak. Well, it LOOKS bleak. I’m not sure it’s actually as bad as it looks, because I’ve got faith in people. Yeah, we can be stupid at times, but we never did wipe out all life on Earth during the Cold War. That’s something. A Dystopia is the nightmarish warping of something perfect. But, that’s just life. Nothing is ever actually perfect. It’s always just to the right of perfect. And, I think that’s fine, because we change with the world. Sure, we may live in a 1984-esque Dystopic digital Penopticon, but that was 1949’s definition of a Dystopia. We live under very different circumstances. Thus, the things we think are insane are a little different. I mean, when I was a human worm-spawn, the idea of an iPad would have blown my Trekkie mind. Yet, today, I’m using one to play videos while I write.

Tablets are just another fact of life, now. It’s easy to sit back and accept the way things are, because that’s usually a pretty sound strategy. However, every now and again, it’s worthwhile to compare our world with unchanging literary exemplars. It gives us perspective on just what our world means in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes, it can make our world look a hell of a lot more terrifying than it actually is. Other times, it shows us exactly how horrifying our lives really are. Either way, sometimes, it’s refreshing to take a step back and make an ant-hill out of an office building. Enjoy your Dystopic ramblings.