Tag Archives: technology

Life Envy: The FOMO

 

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I want to be living that life. By myself, late at night, sitting in the dark of the back yard with my phone, the dog, and a drink, I actually heard myself say this out loud: I want to be living that life. It’s crazy, I know, but looking sometimes at pictures of people on Facebook doing things you would like to do, having experiences you would like to have, you get this feeling, an inescapable feeling that you are missing out. We call it FOMO. I must admit that I have experienced the FOMO. I try as best as I can to massage my FOMO into something like happiness for the person in the post: I am so glad they get to have this experience. Then, I take it a little bit further by thinking that I am so glad they decided to share this moment with their friends, of which I consider myself one. Then, the conclusion of the exercise is to think or actually say out loud how grateful I am for the experiences I have had, the luck, and the privilege. I know, in these moments, I have had experiences that some of my friends have never had, and I know that I am super fortunate because of that. In 95% of my waking existence on the planet I would not trade my life for anyone else’s. But on this last occasion, when I caught myself expressing the FOMO out loud to no one in particular, to the trees, to the dog in the yard, to the martini I was sipping, to myself, I panicked for a moment. What is it about this that I desire? The person in question may be beautiful. It may be that they seem extremely happy or content. In all likelihood, they are in a place I have always wanted to go, seeing something I have always wanted to see, learning something I have always wanted to learn, successful at something at which I too would like to succeed, or doing something I know I would enjoy but find I have not yet had the opportunity to enjoy. It is ridiculous and ridiculously human, a tendency we have always had, to be envious of others, but now exacerbated by social media because we are not only hearing ABOUT the experiences of others, we are seeing them in photo, or seeing and hearing them in video, ALL THE TIME. And that pushes the buttons of desire and envy. But . . .

It’s like meditation. You don’t beat yourself up when your mind wanders. Instead, you simply notice its wandering, you pay attention, and then you come back to the breath or the mantra and you continue. Maybe that’s why I said it out loud: I want to be living that life. I was paying attention. It was kind of an alarm set off by my internal brakes to the wheels of envy and desire. This is better than what I suspect a lot of people do: they see their friends and acquaintances living a great life and they begin to feel anxious and sad without being aware of the connection. And we have to remind ourselves, don’t we, that our facebook personalities are self-curated. Some people select only the happiest moments and ignore the trauma and sadness, others, in an effort to be authentic, balance the joy and the suffering, while still others use social media to essentially suffer in public. While the middle way seems most admirable, none of these strategies are inclusive of a life. They’re still just snapshots. Judging me from my facebook posts, it might seem like the only thing I ever do is play the drums and listen to music and that I am an extremely cheerful guy. Only partly true. There are things that make me fearful or anxious; there are issues that need attending in my own inner and outer work; I sometimes question, as William Stafford does, if “what I have done is my life.” It is pointless to haunt one’s self with What If questions. If one is haunted by a What If question, perhaps some action is necessary. But if one is suspicious, self-reflective enough to recognize the FOMO for what it is, sure, go ahead and say out loud, I want to be living that life. In the next moment, though, allow the gratitude to bubble up for this one–and then put your phone away, write a poem or read a book, or have a drink outside with your dog.

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Diary of an English Teacher in His Penultimate Year, Redux: Kids These Days, Part the Third–On Being and Unbeing

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This is e. e. cummings

I’ve been writing lately about student behavior. In one blog I commiserated with my elementary school colleagues about young children who cause violent disruptions and I bemoaned the high school apathy I saw at my own school, and in another blog I wrote about surprising teenage shenanigans, you know, like bringing communion wafers to class. Today I want to write about an essay I’m studying with my 9th graders, an excerpt from “Nonlecture Two” by e. e. cummings. In this essay, cummings makes a number of assertions. One, that our idea of home is commensurate to our idea of privacy. Two, most of us have no conception of what privacy really is. Three, our “walls” are full of “holes.” Four (and there are more, but I want to linger here), we have difficulties being here, now, ourselves, and alone, in part, because we are terribly distracted beings, and here I have to quote directly and generously from the essay:

Why (you ask) should anyone want to be here, when (simply by pressing a button) anyone could be in fifty places at once? How could anyone want to be now, when anyone can go whening all over creation at the twist of a knob? What could induce anyone to desire aloneness, when billions of soi-disant dollars are mercifully squandered by a good and great government lest anyone anywhere should ever for a single instant be alone? As for being yourself–why on earth should you be yourself; when instead of being yourself you can be a hundred, or a thousand, or a hundred thousand thousand, other people? The very thought of being oneself in an epoch of interchangeable selves must appear supremely ridiculous.

Now, we’ve read a biographical sketch of our poet, and have read and probably even recorded the years during which cummings was alive. We’ve maybe even glossed over the publication date of this essay. But in our attempt at a close reading of this piece, that information does not resurface. Not right away. So here’s a tale of two different classes responding to the same text:

In my first period today, one student, in response to the above passage, in particular to the “pressing a button” and the “twist of a knob,” says, “He’s talking about our smart phones.” At this point in the discussion I am so excited that I can remember nothing of what was said afterwards verbatim, but I clearly remember talk about how our smart phones allow us to go “whening all over creation,” allow us to be “a hundred thousand thousand other people,” and perhaps most ominously, prevent us from being alone, from being and knowing ourselves. And I specifically remember the priceless look on another student’s face as she begins to understand. These moments are the moments I live for as a teacher. And when someone asks the question, “When was this piece written?” Our mouths all fall open with amazement when we remind ourselves that the book i: Six Nonlectures was published in 1953. The knobs and buttons cummings refers to are likely radio tuning knobs, rotary dials, and if one was lucky enough to have a television, the channel selector. The poet saw and (perhaps) exaggerated (maybe) the dangers of his technology but managed to predict with perfect precision the powers and the dangerous reality of our own. Our addictive use of smart phones epitomizes the point he’s making.

Second period. I try and fail to recreate the epiphany from the period before. I fail for a couple of reasons. First, I move against the tenets of this particular strategy that students must construct their own knowledge while the teacher simply records their observations, questions, and conclusions. Instead, I ask a guiding question: “Do you notice in this passage the images of pressing a button or twisting a knob?” Then I admit, “This absolutely blows my mind.” Then I follow up, having already established that the piece was published in 1953: “What knobs and buttons might he be referring to?” In response, students talk about their knowledge of 1950s technology, radio, maybe television. I ask another question: “What do you think of his claim that radio or television might be having these adverse effects on us? Why is your teacher blown away by this?” Crickets. And as I scan the room, I notice a different kind of failure: a number of kids, a much larger number than I would care to admit, stare intently at their smart phone screens. They are, in this moment, “whening all over creation,” distracted by others, being anybody else, incapable of being alone, incapable of grasping the fact that they are the subject and the object lesson of this essay. We are indeed in an “epoch of interchangeable selves.”

Five (I’m continuing here, with the list of the poet’s assertions): poetry is being, not doing. Six: and if you’d like, at whatever distance, to follow “the poet’s calling,”

you’ve got to come out of the measurable doing universe into the immeasurable house of being.

He continues with his seventh, eighth, and ninth assertions, expressed in these two glorious sentences:

I am quite aware that, wherever our so-called civilization has slithered, there’s every reward and no punishment for unbeing. But if poetry is your goal, you’ve got to forget all about punishments and all about rewards and all about self-styled obligations and duties and responsibilities etcetera ad infinitum and remember one thing only: that it’s you–nobody else–who determine your destiny and decide your fate.

I love it that he says that this is what you must do if poetry is your goal. I love that, because I don’t think it’s really what he means. Or, rather, he’s not being literal. Poetry is my life, or, poetry can be your life even if you never write a word! And that’s what my greatest hope is for my students, not that they run out the door with a burning desire to write poetry (although that would be nice), but rather, they live their lives as if they were poems, they recognize that poetry is being, that it’s difficult to be, much easier and “rewarding” to unbe, but that somehow they  gain the wherewithal and the self knowledge to regain their privacy, their aloneness, their sense of self-identity unclouded or polluted by the never-ending noise and distraction of the stupid smart phone, to determine their own destiny and fate so somebody else doesn’t do it for them.

 

 

 

 

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#236: Media Fast, Anyone?

no_social_media

I cannot help it.
I can’t look away.
It’s a train wreck,
a complete cluster,
and every morning
begins with the same
question:

What’s the outrage of the day?

And now that I’m on
a holiday break I’ve got
something like free time
to keep checking in on
the downfall of my
civilization.

I think I need to stop.

While it might make me
more informed, this incessant
checking of the news, it does
nothing for my present
happiness. I remember a
time, about 16 years ago,
before Facebook was a thing,
when I took a break from watching
the news. I perused the paper
at work so as not to live
completely under a rock,
but I spared myself from
the pictures and the talking
heads and the bullshit
advertisements, and I think,
for awhile, it made me feel
better, smarter even, and
certainly, less anxious.

It might be possible to skip
the stuff that makes me anxious
and only do those social things
that are pleasurable or that
create connection with loved ones,
but even these things, as
necessary as they sometimes feel,
can drive me a little drunk
with dependence.

The power and the influence
of the internet has changed
everything. It’s a bombardment
of the senses and its making
me, I fear, senseless.

So I am entertaining the idea
of a fast with little confidence
that I will be successful at its
implementation. I am thinking.

I am thinking.

And with me, that’s how it always
begins: a desire or a thought,
some words spoken or written,
a visualization in repetition,
and then finally an effort
to make something happen.
What mysterious gifts might
take the place of the ubiquitous web?
How long could I stay away?
What will I miss?  And will it matter?

 

 

 

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#149: Unspeakable

Night

Unspeakable

I’m trying to find words
to describe how I feel
when, during a reading
from Elie Wiesel’s Night,
I look up and see students
looking at their phones.
One student, in particular,
looks at me, and without irony,
without hesitation, and without,
I would say, consciousness,
says, as if it were a legitimate
explanation, that she was looking
at the new emoji images
now available to her for instant
texting gratification.
In moments like these,
it is hard for me not to simply
scream bloody murder;
it is impossible for me
to be magnanimous,
or tolerant, forgiving,
impossible not
to single out a move like this
for special public humiliation.
And so I say,
Really?
This is more important
in this moment
than the extermination
of 6 millions Jews in
Nazi concentration camps?
–to which, of course, she
cannot respond and we
move on as if it never happened
and she moves on as if it never
happened and continues to be
distracted by minutia and incapable
of attending with any seriousness
to human suffering.
These are the soul crushing
moments in a teacher’s life,
when the material seems
personally so monumental,
so absolutely engrossing in
its unspeakable horror,
and real, and true, and relevant, too,
while all around the world in the 21st
century people continue to suffer and die
in the wake of oppression and hatred,
that one is rendered mute, impotent
in the face of indifference and ignorance,
grieving and furious at this invasion
into our lives of these technological bobbles
whose sole purpose seems to be the
prevention of thought and absence of mind.
I have to remind myself
that she was one kid–and taken with
the two or three other boys I’ve caught
in the same unit of study playing
Clash of Clans, she is in a tiny minority
careless and thoughtless in the face
of the Holocaust. Conscientiousness,
though, prevents me from dismissing it,
from letting it go, keeps me going
over and over the scene, at first,
obsessively in counter productive circles,
until finally, it becomes a simple commitment:
No one, no one gets off the hook.
Everyone puts down their phones, must look.

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#138: A New Stupid Smart Phone

iphone-5s-08

1.
Stupid, perhaps.  But I bought a new iPhone today
because my wallet case broke, you know the one,
the wallet case I bought two years ago
to hold my i.d., some cash, and a 3G phone
I bought for $50 that was already two years
out of date. The old phone was fine, still,
but the wallet was now in two pieces and
there was no way I was going to carry
around two separate things in my pockets,
a phone and a wallet. Now I have this new
phone on which I can have meaningful
conversations with someone named Siri,
but the at&t store didn’t carry wallet cases,
so now I carry two separate things in my pockets,
a phone on which I can have meaningful
conversations with a person named Siri
in one pocket, and a wallet in the other.

2.
I hope it wasn’t a mistake; I have my doubts.
The at&t people sure did make it easy;
having  lowered my monthly phone bill
by 30 or 40 bucks, having rolled the price of the phone
into that lower payment, they sent me away
feeling like I had spent exactly zero dollars,
walking out of that technological zone with
a phone through which I can have meaningful
conversations with a person named Siri.
What’s worse, I think, is that before,
I really couldn’t give two shits about my 3G,
but I like my new phone; it’s pretty, it does
things, it’s fast, and I can’t quit fondling it.
I’m an adult.  I can handle it.  I am conscious.
This infatuation will pass.  Otherwise,
I have sold my soul to the cell phone devil.

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#54: The School Year Begins with a Crash of the Hard Drive

hard-drive-fire

The School Year Begins with a Crash of the Hard Drive

on which my entire life’s work
as a teacher was “saved.”
My technology guy, bless him,
was able to retrieve nearly
every last god-forsaken item–
except any kind of organizational
feature previously attached.
So all perhaps one thousand
assorted folders, documents, presentations,
audio files, images, film clips,
spreadsheets, and graphics
are identified now only by random
numbers in no particular order
and that makes me feel suddenly
like my teaching life is now
identified only by random
numbers in no particular order
and I don’t like it.
I could be planning, inventing,
decorating, creating new stuff
in this first week of work
before the kids arrive, but
instead, my technology guy
and I will be sifting through
all these thousands of files and naming them
and putting them back into folders
where once again they might be
useful, and where once again,
my life’s work as a teacher,
in ones and zeros, might be
protected and saved
at least until I can retire, please.
Then perhaps, the hard drive
can burn, burn, baby, burn,
because my legacy will be
carried by those who walk out my door
and not what sits, in ones and zeros,
in a box on my desk.

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