Testing, Testing….

Hello, friends!  Esse Diem is trying out a slightly new look.  You may notice things look a little different, but not much.

It’s so easy to keep things static, but embracing incremental changes that make the blog better and more user-friendly over time is what we’re all about.

Like it? Don’t like it?  See no change?

Do tell.  And thank you!

On This Day for Women, Look at Yourself

Today is celebrated as International Women’s Day.

I really wanted to pull out of myself something relevant and meaningful connected to one sit-com star’s notorious public meltdown, because I believe our collective reaction to him is telling.  The bad news is it’s not telling about him — he’s pretty clearly an open and shut case.  It’s telling about the rest of us.

He’s hilarious.  He’s sad.  He’s an addict.  He needs help.  He needs understanding.  Wow, wouldn’t it be cool to live that guy’s life?  He’s like, he’s like, he’s like a rock star from Mars!

Actually, no.  He’s a drug addict.  He may be depressed.  He’s a man with an extensive history of violence towards women.  He shows not one shred of respect for anyone, not even himself.  And we have made him the god he believes himself to be.

Anna Holmes does an excellent job in her op-ed from March 3, 2011, The Disposable Woman – NYTimes.com, of holding up the mirror to our co-conspiracy with the warlock against women.  Who has said he’s not funny?  Who has said to the women who find themselves on the wrong end of a gun or a knife in his presence that they are deserving of compassion, of understanding, of help?

As Jennifer Pozner points out in her recent book “Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty-Pleasure TV,” misogyny is embedded within the DNA of the reality genre. One of the very first millennial shows, in fact, “Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire,” was notable in that it auctioned off what producers called the “biggest prize of all”: a supposedly wealthy B-movie writer named Rick Rockwell — who was later revealed to have had a restraining order filed against him by a woman he’d threatened to kill. According to Ms. Pozner, the reaction of one of the producers of “Multimillionaire” was, “Great! More publicity!”

On reality television, gratuitous violence and explicit sexuality are not only entertainment but a means to an end. These enthusiastically documented humiliations are positioned as necessities in the service of some final prize or larger benefit — a marriage proposal, a modeling contract, $1 million. But they also make assault and abasement seem commonplace, acceptable behavior, tolerated by women and encouraged in men.

What are we watching on television?  Who are we paying to reinforce these ideas?  When did it become entertaining for good people to watch others cry, and hurt, and be embarrassed, and degraded?  Perhaps as long as we’ve bought into the idea that certain classes of women are disposable garbage.

The warlock is crafty, that is hard to deny.  He has an attraction, probably not accidental, to women who are unsympathetic and who some consider not quite fully human.  He likes marginal actresses and models, prostitutes and porn stars.  He gathers up women who possess a fragile sense of self and then proceeds to play nice until the next bender.  Then, if we are to believe one of his ex-wives, it’s literally off with her head.  Get involved with this guy?  You get what you deserve.  Plus, he’s hilarious.  If you can honestly say you haven’t colluded in this in any way, you’re a better person than I.

On International Women’s Day, I’m looking at myself and doing the hard work of addressing how much I play into all this.  It’s more than I care to admit.

“You’re entitled to behave however the hell you like as long as you don’t scare the horses and the children,” Mr. Morgan said at one point. Scaring women, it seems, was just fine.

During the interview, a series of images played on a continuous loop. One of them was a defiant and confident-looking Charlie Sheen, in a mug shot taken after his 2009 domestic violence arrest.

Image credit: Deviant Art

ABC: When YOU Are the Product

You probably have considered the points covered in the following link before, but depending on what you do for a living you may not have considered it in as open and clear-cut a manner as you will after reading For Sale On the Web: You! : All Tech Considered : NPR.

Alec Baldwin's memorable speech in Glengarry Glen Ross

The writer, Dave Pell, is a San Francisco based, self-described “Web-addicted insider, investor and entrepreneur.”  He has been blogging for more than a decade.  The NPR post actually first appeared on his blog, Tweetage Wasteland.  DANGER, Will Robinson:  Unless you are so far geeked-up that it does not hurt your feelings even a little bit to be called geeked-up, be careful going over to Pell’s website.  He is on a level of techno-mania I have not heretofore encountered.  But that may be a good thing…..it’s up to you.

I digress.  (I’m sorry, I blame Pell’s website.)

Perhaps the best line in the NPR piece linked above – which is considerably good — is a comment at the end by a reader named Bruce Smithhammer:  “If you aren’t paying, you are the product.”

Let’s review:  If you aren’t paying, you are the product.

Social media is for all intents and purposes free; that is to say, it is without financial cost.  Many people I know regularly throw out the question to their connected universe, “Will you stay on Facebook if they start charging?”  The results I’ve observed are usually evenly split.

In July 2010 I wrote on this issue on Esse Diem (full post here):  “I worry that any language commoditizing human beings is destined for moral bankruptcy and ultimate failure.”

There is much to love about social media, blogging, and our brave new world; but never forget it is not free.  How do you find yourself responding to the dynamics of using the easy and free techo tools Pell describes?  No joke, a serious reflection on these issues may be the most important ethical and spiritual thing you’ve done for yourself in a long time.  The long-term effect of these incremental dynamics is staggering.

As Robin Williams said in Dead Poets Society (see the previous post), “This is battle, a war gentlemen, and the casualties could be your hearts and souls.”

Just promise me you’ll think about it.

Image credit:  WebLink Blog

MTV’s “Skins”: Has the horse already bolted?

If you are a parent or child advocate, like it or not you should be aware of this program: MTV’s “Skins.”

I worked for a few years as a sexuality educator and advocate for adolescent pregnancy prevention initiatives.  I find I am generally much more comfortable than most adults with the reality that teenagers are sexual people (well, actually, we all are from cradle to grave, but that’s another post).  Where I have always found discomfort is in the lies that marketers tell society in general and kids in particular in order to make a buck.

The video clip linked above is from an interview done by Anderson Cooper with a former reality TV star on MTV and with a representative of the program’s writers and marketers.  As when I did work directly with adolescents, I stick by my philosophy, if you want to know the truth about what’s going on with kids, listen to the kid before you listen to the adult.

The young woman in the interview is in fact no longer a teenager, but she has a perspective on the show that I believe trumps what anyone currently trying to make money off the program would put forth.  I am interested in anyone else’s opinion about the possible value of this program.  Truly, I like to think if I had a teenager in my family right now I would be bold enough to discuss the show with her.  While I am generally grossed out by the ongoing exploitation of children for money on every level, I have a feeling this is not all without value.

Rather than bunch up in outrage, we could see this as an opportunity.  When I watched the clips of the show, I had an unexpected feeling of flashback to my own teenage years.  It was not so much the specific situations as the feeling that now, as an adult, I was getting a look at a private world that I vividly remember wanting to keep under wraps from grown ups when I was that age.

Maybe as a parent thanks are in order.  Kids, MTV is not your friend, but it might be mom’s.  I think you were just busted.  Now turn off the TV, come over here and give me a hug.

“The Vault” – Seinfeld and WikiLeaks

Remember the Seinfeld episode where Elaine says, “You can tell me.  I’ll put it in the vault.”  Jerry says, “No good.  Too many people know the combination.”  He then makes a motion with his hand as if having a drink.  Elaine protests, but later — naturally — we find out Jerry was right.  Elaine can’t keep a secret when she’s drinking.  And Elaine enjoys a drink.  (“The Vault” shows up in several Seinfeld episodes.)

I love the concept of “the vault” because Elaine is rock-solid sure she can keep a secret.  She’s a character of many delusions, that’s part of her charm.  For some reason I keep thinking about Elaine Benes every time I read about WikiLeaks, and I know that’s silly but there it is.  This is certainly a much higher-level situation than old boyfriends or office gossip, and yet I suppose I will forever be of the generation that views bizarre situations through the Seinfeld interpretive lens.  It’s probably just a coping mechanism.

Is it me, or is there something really strange about the alleged amazement that U.S. taxpayers fund child prostitution for military recruitment in other countries, or that diplomats talk trash behind each others’ backs?  I don’t think anyone is genuinely surprised.  I think we are genuinely angry that now we have to deal with it.

In college we had a joke that you could pass a two-year course in Humanities by simply writing, “Knowledge = Responsibility” on your final exam.  If no one can substantiate suspicions of the worst kind, the world will keep turning and we can go about our merry way.  It is those moments when the blinders come off that for a moment the world stops turning, and we all have to take a look at where we will put down our foot that’s in mid-air.  The beat is disrupted.  Nothing looks or sounds the same, and there is a real danger of falling down.  Hard.

Julian Assange is like the rest of us.  He is not all good, and he is not all bad.  At the end of the day my chip is on the bet that we will be very glad he forced the world to deal with serious issues of transparency and truth, and with the reality that words and actions have consequences.  Too often we seem to operate as if it doesn’t matter what’s going on as long as “it’s a secret.”

Shhhhhh…….the Internet can’t hold its liquor.

Hashtag: Lincoln

Yesterday there was a thought-provoking post on The Miller Times.  I read it, tweeted it, marked it as a favorite post, and moved on; at least I thought I moved on.  I woke up at 2:40 a.m. and these lines were still roaming around my brain looking for a place to rest:

I can’t help but think massive political protests/rallies/marches/shindigs/soirees have become arbitrary. We’ve got social media now, and sadly, a hashtag on Twitter goes a lot farther than 1,000,000 people standing united at the Lincoln Memorial. I admire the dedication, but the whole process is kind of antiquated.

This idea lingers because in just three short sentences it did more to jar my thinking about the impact of the social media revolution than anything I’ve heard anyone else say, including Bill Gates, the Google boys, and the rest of their ilk.  It helps me process why, even though I’m on board and the train has left the station, I’m still not sure where the trip is taking us.

The massive cultural shift that came with our super-connections and constant availability must be something as seismic as the dawn of safe, affordable, socially accepted forms of contraception taking root in the United States in the 1960’s.  It is nearly impossible for me to imagine an America where couples didn’t sleep together whenever they felt like it out of  the fear of unwanted pregnancies, and yet I know it’s the world where my grandparents grew up.  The tentacles of social change are elaborate and far-reaching from this single event, and of course not everyone thinks it’s all good.  I think it’s fundamentally great, but would agree that there are new dynamics in people’s lives that are not as simple as “great.”

This is much like I feel about the changes to everything we do now, with such a huge portion of life lived online.  The communication and education opportunities are incredible.  The avenues for better understanding remote corners of the world are expanded.  Many aspects of life are safer and more secure.  Used well, social media tools allow for phenomenal new levels of productivity.  And yet….there’s that pesky Lincoln Memorial thing.   It woke me up before the crack of dawn, and I’m guessing this morning won’t be the last time.

I’m glad I don’t have to get on a bus and go to Washington, DC, to be heard.  To be perfectly frank, I don’t have the time, money, or energy to participate in a march of any kind right now.  But as the last Esse Diem post about Good Will Hunting explores, I know what it’s like to stand at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial.  I’ve stood there more than once, and it is an experience unlike any other.  I expected to feel small, and yet I felt enormous. 

Many people joke that Abraham Lincoln was fortunate to live in an age without television.  He was quite an unusual and some say unattractive combination of proportions and physical features.  History suggests he was soft-spoken, humble, and concise.  The words of the Gettysburg address are some of the most well-known, beloved, and nationally signficant words every spoken in the United States’ history.  From that address (emphasis is mine):

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Our world of online political and social action is real, and it is here.  We are not going back.  But if you doubt that Americans standing — being physically present — at the Lincoln Memorial still means something, I would say go.  Go alone.  It’s not necessary to get caught up in a demonstration or event.  Go when you can, and stand there with the image and yes, the actual presence, of the man who saved the union. 

It may not change the world in that moment, and it can’t be meaningfully hashtagged or blogged.  It can only be lived, that feeling of being so big inside yourself at the feet of President Lincoln.  Promise you won’t miss it — in real life.

Photo credit: Library of Congress on Flickr.com

Twittiquette

As I am still puzzling over a recent “event” I experienced on Twitter, I thought I’d blog it out and see what anyone else thinks.  The event was an emotional backlash to one of the posts on Esse Diem from a new follower on my Twitter account.  As he followed me first, I naively assumed he had positive intent. 

Twitter: The etiquette is unwritten, but it is real.

Positive intent for me does not equate with agreeing with everything I express; in fact, some of the most helpful comments I get from readers of this blog have been critiques and questions about my thought process and conclusions.  This Twitter thing was something different. 

Rather than ask questions on the blog, this fellow retweeted my post with nearly hysterical questions, accusations, and sarcasm.  There were lots of exclamation points and question marks.  He managed to focus on one illustration of a larger argument and avoid the real point of the post.  In essence, rather than engage me directly he chose to advertise me to his followers as a nitwit.  When I asked him about it later he told me he was not upset — which is odd, because he certainly came across as very stirred up and angry.  I would not like to encounter him when he is actually troubled. 

I’ve since spent a little time trying to figure out why he uses Twitter, and I detect a pattern of doing to others what he did to me.  He likes to follow people he doesn’t agree with and then use that connection to try to discredit the ideas rather than to build rapport and understanding.  In fairness to him, this is a common use of Twitter among many people; it’s also disappointing, but it is a risk people take when they publicly “own” their work, especially online. 

This is not a media empire (yet).  It is one thing to RT (retweet) faceless corporations with whom you never have a prayer of actually communicating and hashtagging their tweets with smart aleck phrases.  And this is the United States of America — anyone is free to RT my tweets and label them any way they choose.  That is the game, and if you don’t know it when you engage you will learn it sooner or later.  It does seem, though, that when individuals engage there ought to still be an understood environment of respect everyone can reasonably anticipate.  It seems even more reasonable to expect this from others who live in your tiny state of 1.8 million people. 

If you are looking for accounts that demonstrate the very best professional execution of Twitter, I can recommend @bobcofffield (health care law blogger + local interest advocacy), @createwv (statewide grassroots organization), @CartneyWV (social media strategy + politics + fashion), @DanSchawbel (big time millenial personal branding), @lineberg (personal + marketing + fitness), @DUKEPress (academia + publishing + humor) and @mistygirlph (social media + reciprocity) for starters.  Each of these people have figured out what they want to do with Twitter, and they do it well.  They all use Twitter differently, but they are each professional, organized, and effective. 

There are many great accounts, and it is worthwhile to follow people who know what they are doing and just watch and learn.  Much of what you can learn is style-driven as much or more than content-driven — how do you feel when you read their tweets?  What words in tweets make you bother to read or RT versus just scan by?  A great tweet just today from @mistygirlph included “15 Reasons to Love Twitter,” with number 14 being “Receive kindness and love 24-7.”  A-HEM……….. 

As a professional, I like Twitter because it is an opportunity to discover new people who can teach me things and to find new resources that can enrich my life.  I also like the general environment of civility and etiquette.  It’s odd, but it’s pervasive in my favorite accounts.  Lots of please and thank you, lots of credit given to others and return favors delivered.  It’s a community of strange P’s and Q’s.  But in a world that has lost nearly all of those kinds of things, it’s a pocket of politeness and professionalism that I enjoy.  

Of course, I was never following John Mayer .  It pays to choose wisely.