Sunday, June 26, 2016

To my shame, Brexit and the Idiot Platform

I spent a coach journey home in Radiotopia, listening to Benjamen Walker's Theory of Everything and Love+Radio; specifically, The Future, Platform of the Real, and The Silver Dollar. In Platform of the Real, John Herrman refers to sites like Facebook as platforms, and, as the episode closes, says they're now the venue for culture - it's a nuanced point, detailing the changing relationship between creators, the media industry and audiences, but it was that simple statement that struck me, and, as the title of this post states, shamed me.

For the past two mornings, I'd been wallowing, laying in bed, scrolling through Facebook on my phone, sinking lower and lower. Where normally there'd be a stream of banality and babies, the algorithm was now full-on Brexit. But, disturbingly -- though, unsurprisingly -- it was populated by the more reserved of my 'friends', being anything but; the anguish, regrets, and pledges for the future were hard to read, reflecting much of what I'd been dealing with since Friday morning.

We were staying with friends in London this weekend, in close quarters, and the scenario of us all on phones, "Did you read this?" "Yes, did you see that?" between rooms, all on the platform, just exacerbated these feelings, from my point of view.

Then I cracked. Lamenting to those around me wasn't enough.

I too shouted at the void.

I had posted late Thursday, blandly, reliving the horror of that other recent election night, sick with it afresh, and, in retrospect, assured that tomorrow would see the sun rise on the status quo. Now, I attempted to redact that with fresh sentiments, in one of those posts of a few lines that takes an hour to write, such is glut of things to say, that no words can keep up with the inner diatribe.

And then I got called out. From another circle, outside the EU, importantly. Nothing awful; just a question: what's the matter with you?

I felt embarrassed. What was the matter with me? I needed to get a grip. I'd listened to BBC Radio 4's More or Less five-part program on the referendum on the coach trip to London. I knew it wouldn't be the end of the world. And yet I was one of those people. And others -- many others! -- had seen. And, worse still, as I tried to justify myself -- both the initial statement, and subsequent shout -- the enormity of my ignorance began to sink in. The frequency with which I consume traditional news sources has been dropping for years, but I looked upon the current state of my knowledge with fresh, ashamed eyes.

Loathe though I was to admit it, the platform was my culture. I was one of them. To be summed up by one hardly-insightful statement on a podcast. And, even more disturbing, many of the people I respect were doing the very same thing, from a more informed position, undoubtedly, but there just the same.

As I listened to the rest of Platform of the Real, this sense of dread, about the future of media in particular, started to take hold. It seemed to be a problem slipping beyond the control of any of the traditional checks and balances. Then my mind drifted back to The Future, and, referring to the mid 2000s, what they called the Rise of the Idiot. I could see post after post in a gallery someone had shared that morning: absolute vitriol, and in the real world as well, with people sharing their coming face-to-face with hate, just days after what many now clearly see as a mandate to hate.

And how can we safely oppose them? Daryl Davis, interviewed for The Silver Dollar, recounted unquestionably-great successes by, one on one, giving people a platform to be heard, and replying in measured tones, over time. But that was a long time ago, and this Rise of the Idiot seems a problem on an entirely different scale. What to do, in the face of this mob? I too want to stand beside my friends in a pledge to do more, but feel woefully ill-informed and awash in the hate.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Potential versus fame, or Be all that you can be versus Be more of a somebody

I just finished listening to Episode #9 of Millennial, entitled "Becoming More of a Somebody" and it's brought up a lot of conflicting emotions. Right at the top of them is that this is the sort of thinking that comes from growing up believing that you can do anything, which seems so much more prevalent today than it was in the 80s. (Which is the broadest of generalisations, I realise. I feel like stereotypes were so strong back then, with real power.) I found myself thinking that Lee, one of the three awarded the much-sought-after Kroc Fellowship, got it because he'd done something else; that NPR didn't want another enthusiastic, but -- in terms of varied walks of life and work -- inexperienced voice on the radio. Lee'd taught. Maybe something in his pitch or his approach was new to them, and they liked it.

The idea that everyone is a somebody is something I live now, every day. Working for a SEN charity, it's a given. What follows from that is helping people reach their potential - another phrase I don't think I really understood before seeing how people can be beaten down, through actions and words, obviously, but also through simple assumptions, to the point where they don't even know what they're really capable of, let alone believing they can achieve it. So you're helping them recognise and reach for that, and, ultimately, hoping they'll find a place in a community, and some happiness.

But it can also be a crippling idea.

For years I didn't have any strong feelings about what I wanted to do. I chose Computer Science as a field in my last year of high school, and accepted the first position I was offered upon graduating. I was earning good money in a stable job before I really had time to worry about it; something that the Millennial podcast has helped me appreciate, in retrospect. But that lack of strong feeling persisted, and then the "Be Somebody!" platform of the Internet arrived. Things like Geocities were almost exclusively soapboxes. And that's the danger I'm referring to. For me -- and Megan Tan obviously, given the title of that episode -- being somebody meant being somebody with something to say, and recognised as such; someone to stand out from the crowd; that there are somebodies and then there are SOMEBODIES, which, while obviously a contradiction, I found insidious.

It's the wanting to have something to say, wanting that creative spark, that put me in such a quandary for so many years. I was taking vocational tests, worrying about the colour of my parachute, searching for my passion, for my 'thing'. (Unfortunately, I didn't actually try anything, like joining clubs or volunteering my time.) I think a big part of why much of that has quieted in recent years is that I've finally come to realise that life isn't just about creating. It's also about doing; about, well, living. (Call it living by example if you want, although that makes me feel a bit uncomfortable, like I'm in church again.) For example, just by being there for someone, every day, or even once a week, gets that message across, that they're somebody, in a way that I could never express through essay, poem, short film, etc. And it gets played back to you, of course: I know I'm somebody because I see it in the faces of the people I help, the people I love. I don't know why it took me so long to understand that. Likely, it's that I wasn't doing enough, to get that positive reinforcement.

And it isn't that I'm now free from doubt. After listening to an episode like that, I'm still going down rabbit-holes: "I've experienced so much," "I could bring so much to a radio show," "What should I create?" And then I laugh and hop on my blog.