Results tagged “fear”


July 19, 2012

My brilliant friend Caterina Fake wrote about the Fear of Missing Out last year, and the FOMO meme took instant hold amongst those of us who love the digital life. We're keenly aware that our constant connection to those who are doing things that are exciting, engaging or novel can make us feel let down with our humble circumstances.

But Caterina's piece came at a fortunate time in my life, just a little over a month after my son Malcolm was born. When I read Caterina's piece, I'd been mostly offline for more than a month, and during that time had barely checked in on anything online, and seldom even left the house. It was wonderful.

So the FOMO lament didn't particularly resonate with me; I wasn't missing anything. I hadn't realized that I was not only not in fear, but actually in a state of joy, until talking to a recent NYC transplant the other day.

New York City, Just Like I Pictured It

When people move to New York City, I tend to give them a few bits of advice that I learned the hard way in my first few years living in the city. There are the usual truisms about using public transit and how to save money and getting the most out of our public spaces. But inevitably, I tell people: You're going to miss stuff. On any given day, in New York City, there's an event going on that would be the best event of the year back in your hometown. And most of the time, you're not going to be there.

You miss a wonderful event or a really special moment because you're too broke to go, or because you couldn't get tickets in time. You stay home because you weren't going to know anybody there, or because you were going to know everybody there. You stay home in case she calls, or in case he shows up. You get halfway to the party but turn around because you're underdressed or overdressed or still hung over or because you have to work in the morning.

Sometimes, you don't go to that amazing event because you're just going to stay home and read a book or watch TV or flick away idly at your phone, only realizing you've missed the moment when it's already too late. And then, when you get old and wonderfully, contentedly boring like me, you stay home because you'd rather be there for bathtime and bedtime with the baby than, well, anywhere else in the world.

This is the Joy of Missing Out.

Missing Peace

There can be, and should be, a blissful, serene enjoyment in knowing, and celebrating, that there are folks out there having the time of their life at something that you might have loved to, but are simply skipping. Anyone who knows me know that there are few events I care about more than going to a Prince concert, even after doing so more than a dozen times in my life. And the night my wife went into labor, just a few hours before we left for the hospital, Prince was in concert at Madison Square Garden, site of one of my favorite of his shows ever. Needless to say, we missed the show. It was joyous.

So often, we point the finger at our technologies for creating the fears, the insecurities, the tensions that arise in our social lives as they get increasingly run by social software. But if tech is to blame for our feelings (and I'm not sure I want to concede that point), then certainly we can make apps and sites and software that makes us joyously celebrate for the good time that our friends and loved ones and even complete strangers are having when they go about living their lives.

I've been to amazing events. I still am fortunate enough to get to attend moments and celebrations that are an incredible privilege to witness. But increasingly, my default answer to invitations is "no". No, I'm not going to go. And when well-intentioned hosts inevitably point out "You're going to regret not coming!" I won't say it out loud, but I'll probably think, "No, I really won't."

Being the one in control of what moves me, what I feel obligated by, and what attachments I have to fleeting experiences is not an authority that I'm willing to concede to the arbitrary whims of an app on my mobile phone. I think more and more people are going to retake this agency over their feelings about being social, as well. That's a joyful thing.

There's No Such Thing as "Cyberbullying"

October 1, 2010

For more than a decade, an intellectually bankrupt habit of maligning new media has reared its head in traditional media outlets, perpetuating a false impression of technology being bad for society. Worse, this tendency masks the actual social ills that are to blame for these awful actions, by creating the facade that technology is to blame when it is more likely the fault of racism, homophobia, classism, or intolerance.

Some recent examples:

  • The Associated Press wrote about the suicide of Tyler Clementi after a dormroom hookup of his was broadcast by some of his acquaintances. Geoff Mulvihill and Samantha Henry wrote:
    The Associated Press found at least 12 cases in the U.S. since 2003 in which children and young adults between 11 and 18 killed themselves after falling victim to some form of "cyberbullying" — teasing, harassing or intimidating with pictures or words distributed online or via text message.
  • The New York Times extends the demonization even further, with a six-person debate on cyberbullying that never once questions the rhetorical premise of the word "cyberbullying" itself. Searching the New York Times archive generates no results for "bibliobullying" or even "telebullying", despite their own definition of "cyberbullying" including text messages sent from phones.

This isn't new territory; danah boyd covered the dishonesty of this term thoroughly on her own blog years ago. But the persistence of this descriptor demonstrates a consistent agenda focused on blaming these horrible displays of intolerance or inhuman unkindess on technology.

When I had my own nose broken by a bully who assaulted me when I was in the seventh grade, it took me some time to figure out the source of his enmity, since the attacker was a guy I barely knew. As it turned out, he had misheard a phone conversation that several kids had conference called in to. I've either forgotten or never knew most of the details of what the conversation was about, but at no time did the school administrators refer to the incident as telebullying, or blame the phone for causing it. They also didn't blame the locker that my nose was smashed in to, presumably because school lockers are a technology of sufficient vintage as to be immune from idiotic epithets.

Why They Made Up This Word

It's important to note that blaming technology for horrendous, violent displays of homophobia or racism or simple meanness lets adults like parents and teachers absolve themselves of the responsibility to raise kids free from these evils. By creating language like "cyberbullying", they abdicate their own role in the hateful actions, and blame the (presumably mysterious and unknowable) new technologies that their kids use for these awful situations. Somehow, when I was frequently cross-dressing or wearing makeup or identifying as queer as a high schooler, I was still able to be threatened with violence, even though my tormentors had no mobile phones or laptop computers. (I will point out, for nerd cred, that I was the first person in my school to bring a mobile phone or laptop to class.)

I was thinking of this obliquely when Jose Antonio Vargas asked me a bit about my perspective on Hollywood's take on social media as exemplified by the new Facebook film. Despite my own misgivings about many of Facebook's social impacts, I still think old media as exemplified by the Associated Press and the film industry has a concerted agenda to demonize new media and social media, and Facebook and its creators bear the brunt of that in The Social Network. There's also the ugly reality that coining bullshit words like "cyberbullying" will sell papers or page views. I put it more broadly in the Huffington Post piece:

The movie is written in the abstract, based on what they feel Facebook, and the social Web, represent. It's exoticism. It's the 1940s, when you had a white actor in yellow-face play a Chinese character, you know? Those foreigners talk like this, and it's why they're inscrutable and evil.

The truth of it is, calling the cruelty that kids show to one another, based on race or gender identity or class or any other imaginary difference, by a name like "cyberbullying" is a cop-out. It's a group of parents, school administrators and lazy reporters working together to shirk their own responsibility for the meanspirited, hateful, incomprehensible things their own kids do.

And it's a myth. There's no such thing as cyberbullying. There's only the cruelty in all of us, and the cowardice of making words to hide from it.