How I want to look at online media during terrible events

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I think the latest Ask Amy video covers a some of my thoughts about how we view stuff online, and how to find better images to fill our minds and brains with. It’s hard not to seek out news stories when something happens, but it also felt wrong to me at the same time. I’m aware that a lot of the media coverage of the Boston bombing was probably very distorted – the facts on the ground weren’t known completely, and people tweeting and video posting events from their point of view can be a window into events or a fun-house mirror that tells us more about ourselves than it does about what’s actually happening. If people need information on how to grow their online media, they can visit here and get help.

I think stepping back from the flood of information online – especially when I don’t know the veracity or relevance of it – is a good idea. I think a lot of my fascination with and time spent on the events in Boston was in observing how social media was spreading information around (that has gained 1k views recently), which is an interesting inquiry, but I’m not exactly a viral expert (it’s not my job to watch these patterns of information), so it’s an exercise in navel-gazing that isn’t exactly productive or enriching to my psyche.

In contrast, though, I’ve started to see the “I don’t want to know who he is or why he did what he did” meme going around facebook already. I’m uncomfortable with that reaction. I agree that we don’t want to glorify people who do terrible things with a spot in history, but I also hate the idea that we just accept that things happen without assigning blame on the responsible parties. If we listen to the guy’s manifesto, we can counter it with messages about why he’s wrong, which I think is important.

Because I don’t believe we have to just accept that “bad things happen,” or that we can’t create change because we clearly can. I think holding people accountable is important, and proving that they are wrong in their wrong beliefs advances us culturally to be more civilized and to have opportunities for more rewarding lives. If you had told me 15 years ago that our country would accept and allow gay marriage in our lifetime, cynical me would not have believed it for a second. But change is coming on that front, and it a good way. We can change the way the world thinks, the way they believe. It may be a long and arduous process, but we have done it countless times in the past, and we can do it again.

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Window Watchers in a City of Strangers

Window Watchers in a City of Strangers –

The ability to observe the private lives of strangers from the windows of our homes — and the knowledge that they can often watch us, as well — has long been a staple of city life, one that was immortalized in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 film “Rear Window.” It has provided material for countless movies and books since then, most recently “The City Out My Window: 63 Views on New York,” a book of drawings by Matteo Pericoli that asks well-known New Yorkers to describe what they see from their windows, and is the subject of “Out My Window NYC,” a new series of photographs by Gail Albert Halaban.

This often inadvertent voyeurism gives rise to relationships that can be deeply meaningful, although the people involved may never actually meet, said Ethel Sheffer, an urban planner and past president of the American Planning Association’s New York Metro Chapter. “One doesn’t always know their names, but it’s a connection of some sort and it becomes part of the fabric of your life,” Ms. Sheffer said. “The density and the closeness, even if it’s anonymous,” creates a sense of intimacy, she added, and “makes for an understanding that we’re all here” together.

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links for 2011-09-01

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The importance of solitude

I linked yesterday to an article in the Boston Globe about studies on the importance of solitude. I read that article and re-read it and wanted to say some things about my reaction to it, because I’m still thinking about solitude, social interactions and how I relate to loved ones and friends. And I’m thinking about how much alone time (or lack thereof, actually) I have in my life regularly.
For the first 18 years of my life, I was never alone at all. I grew up with four brothers and a sister, a mom and a dad and a cat and a dog. There was never alone time in our house, or in our lives. There was always discussion, always noise, always activity, always engagement with other people. We were at home, we were at school, there was little opportunity to be by ourselves for any of us, and I think that affected everyone in the family to some degree as we developed.

An interesting point from the article:

That study, led by graduate student Bethany Burum, started with a simple experiment: Burum placed two individuals in a room and had them spend a few minutes getting to know each other. They then sat back to back, each facing a computer screen the other could not see. In some cases they were told they’d both be doing the same task, in other cases they were told they’d be doing different things. The computer screen scrolled through a set of drawings of common objects, such as a guitar, a clock, and a log. A few days later the participants returned and were asked to recall which drawings they’d been shown. Burum found that the participants who had been told the person behind them was doing a different task — namely, identifying sounds rather than looking at pictures — did a better job of remembering the pictures. In other words, they formed more solid memories when they believed they were the only ones doing the task.

… Burum leans toward a different explanation, which is that sharing an experience with someone is inherently distracting, because it compels us to expend energy on imagining what the other person is going through and how they’re reacting to it.

“People tend to engage quite automatically with thinking about the minds of other people,” Burum said in an interview. “We’re multitasking when we’re with other people in a way that we’re not when we just have an experience by ourselves.”

I used to regularly lock myself in the bathroom to get away from my family members, so that I could just be by myself. That’s also one of the reasons I loved to read – curled up in the corner of my bed, buried in a book, disengaged from the cacophony in the house – that was heaven to my brain; time for me, time away.

And traveling with my family as a group – oh my god. Chaos. Anarchy. Like being on a chain gang with batshit insane people whose only aim is to poke you in the eye, literally and figuratively. And these are people that I love, that I’d walk through fire for.

As much as I love my family, I LOVED college because I had free time away from other people, finally. I had a lot of creative endeavors when I was single. I got a lot of cool shit done. But it was also way too much free time alone – I was lonely for the first time when I was single. I wanted to be in love, to be in a relationship, to build a home and a life together with someone. Growing up with a big family means that you know what it means to be part of a team; to collaborate, to work together and to share everything. That is something I longed to have in my life regularly again, and was so happy to get. I’m so fortunate that I now have that. It’s tremendously valuable to me.

And because I’m so happy to have a collaborator, Stephanie and I spend a heck of a lot of time together – so much so that the only time we’re not around each other outside of work is when she’s skating — and usually I am at home with the dog and cats. Sure, they’re not people, but they do command a lot of attention. Because I was so happy to finally have the life I wanted for so long, I don’t think I really paid that much attention in the last few years to how little down time either of us have from interacting with others.

But I think it shows up for me in lots of little ways – my frustration with not feeling like I have a creative outlet, my irritation while planning vacations and travel, my annoyance with some of the day-to-day responsibilities of my job. I think both Stephanie and I need to have a few hours every week to just get away and think, and then to go home and be part of a team again. It seems like a little bit of alone time is a good thing:

Solitude has long been linked with creativity, spirituality, and intellectual might. The leaders of the world’s great religions — Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Moses — all had crucial revelations during periods of solitude. The poet James Russell Lowell identified solitude as “needful to the imagination;” in the 1988 book “Solitude: A Return to the Self,” the British psychiatrist Anthony Storr invoked Beethoven, Kafka, and Newton as examples of solitary genius.

But I also don’t want to spend too much time alone… I love my wife and family, too.

The nice thing about medicine is it comes with instructions. Not so with solitude, which may be tremendously good for one’s health when taken in the right doses, but is about as user-friendly as an unmarked white pill. Too much solitude is unequivocally harmful and broadly debilitating, decades of research show. But one person’s “too much” might be someone else’s “just enough,” and eyeballing the difference with any precision is next to impossible.

Research is still far from offering any concrete guidelines. Insofar as there is a consensus among solitude researchers, it’s that in order to get anything positive out of spending time alone, solitude should be a choice: People must feel like they’ve actively decided to take time apart from people, rather than being forced into it against their will.

Maybe at times that Stephanie is out skating, I should get out of the house and go for a walk, take my camera, take a notebook and write, photograph and think. And when we’re traveling and on vacation with others, I should find some time to get away and shop or explore so I can regroup. Maybe I’d have some better balance that way – happy time alone and happy time with family, too.

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Ruining It for the Rest of Us

I only follow a couple of podcasts regularly because my drive to work is relatively short, and I otherwise can’t keep up. But I happened to read about one particular episode of This American Life – entitled Ruining It for the Rest of Us – on a blog somewhere, and was interested enough to loop back and get caught up with that show. The Prologue was particularly interesting:

A bad apple, at least at work, can spoil the whole barrel. And there’s research to prove it. Host Ira Glass talks to Will Felps, a professor at Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, who designed an experiment to see what happens when a bad worker joins a team. Felps divided people into small groups and gave them a task. One member of the group would be an actor, acting either like a jerk, a slacker or a depressive. And within 45 minutes, the rest of the group started behaving like the bad apple. (13 minutes)

A very interesting study — one person with a bad attitude can indeed spoil the whole barrel, even for people who have a good reason to want to succeed. Bad apple behaviors tend to pull the whole group down, and groups were only as successful as their poorest member. And one of the interesting things is that only one particular type of person was able to short-circuit the bad apple behavior in their study — one of the participants was the son of a diplomat, and was able to diffuse the behavior of the bad apple and lead the group.

I’d strongly recommend listening to that podcast – It made me think about my own behavior and how I react to others, both at work and at home.

I did some additional research and found the Journal where Felps published this report — Research in Organizational Behavior, Volume 27. Dunno if I’ll go ahead and order it, because I have lots to read already, but I thought it was really cool.

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Don’t Be That Guy

Cool Design Guy Brian Veloso has a fun forum called “Don’t Be That Guy” where you can post stories about the people who step on you in traffic, at work, as clients, etc.
It’s a funny idea, but I’m afraid I’m too often “that guy” (or girl, if you’re hung up on the gender of it) to go around pointing it out in others, except as a cautionary tale for myself. I strive not to be, and I’m a lot more conscious lately of where I’m automatically negative about something, when there’s no need to be. Being in a relationship has certainly helped me recognize where I’m inappropriately negative, and where I need to smooth out my communication skills to explain what I’m really thinking so as not to upset the charming, lovely woman who’s sweet enough to go out with me.
Another thing I’ve started doing, or rather stopped doing, is reading so much political news, which does nothing but make me angry about stuff I can’t change. And I have a whole Newsfeed category of “Positive Thinkers” — people who come at things from an optimistic, “how can I make this better” approach. I hope I can eventually put my own feed in that group.
So the “don’t hire negative people” slide at the Getting Real Workshop really struck home. Not that they’d ever hire me, but if I were rejected by them, I’d want it to be because of my work, rather than my personality. That’s a tough thought to express, I hope it came out right.

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