Saturday, December 31, 2011

The World Beyond The Screen

Often, around New Years time, many become prisoners of the moment and make resolutions their will can't maintain, myself included. In fact, I didn't find the clarity to even make a resolution until I grew more secure in who I was and what I wanted, something my travels have given to me, little by little. This year, with everything I've gone through and all the growing I've been blessed with, I'm certain I've find one I'll commit to long after the moment is over and the normal world stares me in the face.

If there's anything crucial I've discovered as I explored the world around me, it's that despite how easy technology has made it to keep in touch with others, the ability to convey our thoughts to the people we meet everyday is still vital to becoming more connected to our world and creating the desire to contribute positivity however we choose to do it. The fact that my in person skills still need much sharpening has shown me the resolution I want to keep with me as a new year begins and I grow older and more aware of what I want to leave behind: to refine my handling of small talk and become more deft at face-to-face communication.

As it is for many out there, there've been people who've made my life suck, sometimes to the point of emotional breakdown (e.g a fetus-position-on-the-floor, make-it-stop kind of breakdown), and in those times, I wanted nothing more than remove myself from them and never see their face again. Technology has made it easier than ever to do just that and tune out the people who would bring us to this point of mental stress, but the truth is that no amount of advancement will completely eliminate that from our lives; in fact, because we've tuned it out so often, many have grown less able to deal with the daily stress of the day, which means it has much more power to shake us down to our foundation when it starts to pile on.

When I started to interact with the world outside my computer screen, it was like relearning how to talk, more so because I had much less time to mull over my response to someone separated by 3 feet of air, compared to a few miles of fiber-optics. As I see things like smartphones, video conferencing and social networking become more common place, I can notice this effect growing more and more prevalent as people isolate themselves from the world of purely physical interaction, finding more of their voice, sense of friendship and power coming from using technology to communicate.

As a writer, it fascinates me to witness the very way we connect to other change so dramatically, but it concerns me how people are losing touch with the base skills we use to forge relationships and become connected with those we care for. Even before my hands touched a keyboard, I knew that communication is only complete when we can see the person in front of us, their every tendency, tick and odor there for us to take in and analyze as needed. Phones, chatting and so on were only meant to be supplements to face-to-face interaction, but the greater dependency on these things to keep us in touch as our lives grow 'busier' is making them the main method and face-to-face, the supplement.

In time, the abilities to read someone's body movements, separate genuine criticism from harmful language, keep things in perspective and build our self esteem through contributing to the world around us falls and falls fast, as it did for me when I made the net my main method. As contradictory as it may be to use a blog to say this, people have to balance themselves out and make the world beyond the screen a bigger part of their day to day routine; the more we do that, the more we can appreciate what technology does for us and use it to its maximum potential.

I certainly won't say the process is easy, but all the experiences and knowledge my time away from the net gave me have let me know it's a worth while effort. Awkward communication is better than no communication at all, isn't it? Beats going through life with the desires of your heart falling silent, leaving you to wonder 'what if?' as you think about all you could've done, had it been given a voice

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Unforgiving Minute

Recently, in one of my lazy days roaming the net, I came upon this question: Why are adults so lonely when they're so social as kids? This became far pertinent given that all the new tech meant to help us keep in touch isn't doing much to help the cause, even as it becomes more integrated into our daily life.

This isn't to say it's a whole new problem each of us struggle to grasp; I mean I was an awkward loner way before my first time on the net, and the only thing it did was connect me to other awkward loners. It certainly has done much to change the way people define a friend, a lover and a relationship, but really, the thing it made easier for people to do was the same thing they did when they grew up and got into their established 9 to 5's: keep perceived threats from laying a finger on the us that lies behind the mask made of carefully construed words, stories and grooming.

Even before color and sound, people knew the power of lighting, make up and training to transform a plain Jane into the next big image for people to adore, revere and throw their money at, like a Jane Fonda, Clark Gable or Beyonce. With the phone, folks had to work hard, if they wanted to keep the content of their words and the tone of their voice from revealing the hidden truth, the computer making that process even easier, since it's a lot tougher to read too deep into words on a screen without your mind leading you down twisty roads and dead ends. Naturally, this breeds questions like 'Why would people want to hide who they really are?' in the back of the mind, those thoughts growing stronger when a deception is uncovered and the desire to avoid the hurt increases.

Before, people simply learned to suck it up and hide their intent behind small, vaguely worded statements-or what my Damage Estimation teacher calls 'weasel words'; nowadays, the relative space and anonymity the net allows leads people to unleash how they feel in the heat of the moment without fear of repercussions, since few are knowledgeable enough to trace the origin of someone's statement (which is very possible, as is them using that info to impersonate you and get stuff from the people you've worked with). That, paired with cultural considerations reinforcing the behavior-like the lone maverick mindset valued in the States and the distaste for flow disruption linked to Japan-make it highly desirable to tune out the outside world and condense the nonsense. This keeps folks from getting too close and having a clean look at the real us, whether they want to help or hurt it.

To ensure people never have the time to get close, we do different things to look busy and show them we can't engage them in a meaningful way (See the guy who answers a call when someone says “Hi, how are you doing?' to them). All the while this creates the 'I don't wanna be alone, but I don't wanna risk being hurt again' cycle within us, which takes us on a long, winding road to the same spot we were at when we took our first step. Ultimately, we need to be a friend in order to find any, and that means opening ourselves to the chance of getting hurt and taking on what I call the unforgiving minute-or however long the moment of action lasts. For those who've dipped into the poet's realm, they'll know the phrase from Rudyard Kipling's If, and for me, the line that comes from is best viewed like so.

“If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds of speaking without pretense,
Yours is the Earth and all that's in it”

In this case, the unforgiving minute is when we get to know someone in order to better understand them, a moment which easily veers towards false personae being brought out to leave a positive impression and maintain it, should we ever meet them again. It is a scary thing to chance that kind of hurt with anyone, but is the alternative of never connecting to those we speak with worth avoiding all the potential hurt? For those who bear deep emotional scars, the answer is often an emphatic yes, but having walked that path for many years-on top of feeling its ups and downs-I'd like to pose this question: is avoiding the unforgiving minute worth abandoning the chance to know life's riches? For me, the answer has been and is sure to stay: What're you, nuts? No! Life's too short for that crap

My question to you: how would you fill The Unforgiving Minute?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Could It Have Been an Echo

I saw this recently and thought a lot about what the person behind the original poem was trying to say. After a bit of work and editing, I created my own translation. Here it is, along with the original poem in it's original language, for those curious

こだまでしょうか[Kodama deshou ka]
(Could It Have Been an Echo?)

「遊ぼう」っていうと ['Asobou' tte iu to]
「遊ぼう」っていう。['Asobou' tte iu]
 (If you say 'Let's play'
  I say 'Let's Play')

「ばか」っていうと ['Baka' tte iu to]
「ばか」っていう。['Baka' tte iu]
 (If you say 'You're dumb'
  I say 'You're Dumb')

「もう遊ばない」っていうと ['Mou asobanai' tte iu to]
「遊ばない」っていう。 ['Asobanai' tte iu]
 (If you say 'I'm not playing no more'
  I say 'I'm not playing')

そうして、あとで [Soushite, Ato de]
さみしくなって、 [Samishikunatte,]
 (And then, after that
  I get all lonely)

「ごめんね」っていうと ['Gomen ne' tte iu to]
「ごめんね」っていう。['Gomen ne' tte iu]
 (Then, if I say 'I'm sorry'
  you say 'I'm sorry')

こだまでしょうか、[Kodama deshou ka]
いいえ、だれでも。[Iie, daredemo]
 (Could it have been an echo?
  Nuh-uh, it was all of us)
-Misuzu Kaneko

*language note:  さみしく[samishiku] is likely the author's intended mispronunciation of さびしい[sabishii], the word for being lonely