Some days it just seems colder than it should.
Some days it feels like all that’s wrong with the world just keeps seeping through the cracks no matter what you do to try and stop it.
The anxiety, the pain, the loneliness.
The numbness that wants to overtake you.
All those times that you tried to get up on your feet, but you just kept slipping on the ice.
Some days you just want to give up.
But you don’t give up.
Because it doesn’t matter how many times you fall down.
There is a hope and there is a dream and there is a power within you that can warm the coldest nights.
But you’ve got to keep moving. You’ve got to stop telling yourself that you’ll never get it right. Stop telling yourself that you’re not good enough.
Because you were made for more than failure… and you’re stronger than this.
And you’re not alone.
Sometimes we have to experience the cold before we can really appreciate warmth.
And sometimes it’s the cold that teaches us why we need to help bring others in from it.
The young man who’s checked out.
The young woman sitting in her closet having a panic attack.
The middle aged man staring at himself blankly in the bathroom mirror of some random hotel.
The woman sitting alone in her condo pouring herself another shot of vodka.
Anything to shut the voices out.
A web developer in Silicon Valley is allowed to dedicate all of her time and creative energy into coding because she doesn’t have to do anything else. Someone else built the apartment she lives in. The food she eats and the clothes she wears get delivered to her door. The electricity that powers her lights comes from the power grid. The water in her shower comes from a reservoir. Her trash gets taken away and never seen again. Each month her salary is direct deposited into her bank account and her bills automatically get paid online.
She’s not required to produce anything but income in order to live. She doesn’t even have to leave her apartment.
The rise of the Internet and communication technology has created a fantastic infrastructure that working and acquiring the things needed for life may be done from home. But it has also created a loss of shared experience and a loss of accountability and a disconnect in the physical domain.
In the early 2000s, during the infant days of social media, the big buzz word at the time was “tribe.” It was a technology that would allow people to find others like them. It wasn’t about physical proximity anymore. You could make connections with people from all over the planet. Which, if you grew up in small town somewhere and didn’t fit in very well seemed like a dream come true. People were able to find their tribes.
They then began working on is how to grab and maintain user attention and engagement. The more time you spend on their platform the better. And so software was written that plays on human psychology to make sure you keep coming back. Things like intermittent rewards, where sometimes you have little red notification that somebody liked your thing or messaged you and sometimes you didn’t. It’s the same technology that keeps people dropping money in slot machines. Sometimes you win but most of the time you don’t. So when you do, you get a shot of dopamine which makes you feel good. Next thing you know, you’re checking more and more often even though you logically know there’s no reason to. But you’re getting that dopamine shot and that feeling is addictive. You think it’s the winning that keeps you coming back, but really it’s the losing.
But there was something that the architects of this technology did not consider. Tribes have a habit of going to war with each other. And the architects’ algorithms are soulless. They aren’t concerned with something is good or bad. They just start pushing things toward users that generate the most time on the platform and user engagement. As it turns out, one of the biggest is rage.
Politics have always been ruthless. The Arkansas legislature in the 1800s was famous for its knife fights on the floor of the house. Attack ads, work because they generate hot emotions and hot emotions generate action. So mix politics with social media’s insatiable thirst for user engagement and you get a perfect storm of fabricated anger.
Social media keeps the human condition overdosing on synthetic rage.
One of the thing I used to drive home to my students is that the art and science of communication is extremely advance and extraordinarily powerful. As humans we’ve been studying science in its modern form for roughly 500 years. In that time scientists have learned some amazing things about how the universe works. And using that knowledge they’ve created technologies that were science fictions just a few decades ago.
As impressive as that is, the thing to remember is that humans have been studying the art and science of communication for over 2,000 years. And in those two millenniums we’ve become very, very good at it. Kind of like special effects in movies, you know it’s really good when you don’t notice it all. And because so many of us don’t really understand it we don’t treat it with the respect it deserves.
Humans are hardwired for narratives. We need stories to help us understand what reality is. We use stories to help us make decisions. The great teachers of history have always used stories. The worst, just lecture. But, because story is powerful, it’s also dangerous.
And we’re living in an age where the architects of our society are playing with the power of story while underestimating its danger. It’s like a fool playing with a gun.
The more distance I put between myself and the earth the more likely I am to pollute it. The more distance I put between myself and other people the more likely I am to pollute those relationships. The more stories I consume about how good or bad someone or some place is, the more likely I am to believe it. It doesn’t matter if I’ve actually met them or been there. I have an opinion and that opinion is my truth.
[South Padre Island – January 2019]
It was one of those nights that draw people to the south in the winter. 70 degrees with a salt air breeze coming in off the gulf. It’s the off-season and the island is laid back and quiet. He was sitting next to me, half drunk and chatty. One of a half-dozen men around the bar. I was nursing my Shiner Bock while I waited on my supper. We were all talking about the things guys talk about at bars and casually watching the game on the TV. On the other side of the mostly empty restaurant a guitar picker was playing Tin Cup Chalice and playing it well.
He closed out his tab and said he would probably be back later but he wanted to hear what Mr. Trump had to say. I told him that I was going to watch too.
“Where you live?” he asked me.
“Ah hell then you know what’s really going on down here”
“There’s a real problem down here. They don’t want to admit it, but it’s here. I can feel it. Everybody down here is a Mexican and don’t think I don’t notice the way they look at me. A gringo. I see it. It’s reverse racism, can’t tell me it’s different. Hell, now I know how the nXXXXXs feel. If you ask me, I want that wall, we need that wall.
You know what they should do? Build a theme park on that wall. Put some water cannons on it! Hell, I’d pay to go there. It’s better than shooting them with bullets isn’t it? Yeah, I’d pay to spray some.”
I asked him if he lived down here.
“No man, I’m from Missouri. Alright, I gotta go. Ya’ll have a good night.”