Tag Archives: getting along

Living in a bubble–more thoughts on social media

“Broadcasting: The fastest, simplest way to stay close to everything you care about.”  (Vintage Social Media Twitter parody © 2010 6B Studio
“Broadcasting: The fastest, simplest way to stay close to everything you care about.” (Vintage Social Media Twitter parody © 2010 6B Studio)
Lots of people have been talking about bubbles, lately. People who lean left politically are accused of living in an elitest bubble out of touch with hardworking ordinary folks. People who lean the other way are accused to living in a faux news echo chamber devoid of information about the real world. I’m not going to argue that both of those perceptions are equally incorrect. I’m sorry, I can prove statistically that one side ignores more facts than the other. But it is true that everyone has blind spots, and everyone is susceptible to confirmation bias.

But there is a difference between an unconscious blindspot and willful ignorance.

For example, there’s a complaint I’ve heard a million times from many people, most recently it is usually directed at social media, but I remember as a kid hearing it directed at newspapers: “I already know the world is full of bad things, I don’t need to read/view/listen to {fill-in-the-blank} to be reminded.” Another popular variant is, “How can you look at {fill-in-the-blank}? It’s just a cesspool of hate and drama!”

So, for instance, not too long ago I was commenting about a really wonderful comic series that I had discovered thanks to Tumblr, and several acquaintences felt compelled to explain why I shouldn’t look at Tumblr because everything they saw there was inter-personal drama and hate and outrage. And they didn’t seem to understand when I said, “You must be following the wrong blogs, because I never see that?”

Okay, so never is a slight exaggeration. There have been a couple of blogs that I followed because the person running it posted several cool things that I really liked, and then later the blog devolved into the person posting angry rants about people I’d never heard of, but you know what happened next? I unfollowed that blog. Similarly on a lot of other internet services. I make liberal use of blocking, muting, and unfollowing functions.

On social media that is sometimes a tricky thing. But social interaction always has the potential for awkwardness. We meet someone in a particular setting, have a wonderful time chatting about something we’re both enthusiastic about, and everything seems wonderful. Then, after we’ve known them for awhile, sometimes an incident happens and we discover this person we thought was the life of the party is actually just another version of that awkward uncle that everyone tries to avoid getting stuck sitting next to at family gatherings because he’ll spout off his embarrassing racist or sexist or religious opinions, right? And just as you can’t simply tell Uncle Blowhard he’s not welcome at the next Christmas Eve get-together without upsetting a bunch of other family members, you can’t always block a social media contact without experiencing a little blowback. So sometimes there is a trade-off to be considered.

That’s not the only kind of trade-off you have to consider. While I am a firm believer in making choices about how you spend your time, I’ve always been frankly baffled at people who make the blanket decision to never pay any attention to the news. Sure, no one wants to hear about bad things all the time… but blocking all news altogether is like putting on a blindfold before you drive somewhere because you don’t want to see any of the bad drivers. You’re exponentially increasing your odds of having not just an unpleasant experience, but a disasterous one!

And before you say my analogy is flawed, remember: humans are social animals. Working together and taking care of each other is a survival trait of our species. Unless you’re living as a hermit in some distant part of the wilderness and not using any resources ever produced by another person, and never interacting with another person, you’re taking part in society. You’re on the road, behind the wheel.

Does this mean that I think you are an irresponsible member of society unless you pay attention to as much news as I do? No. A responsible driver doesn’t just watch the road, they also take pains to eliminate distractions. Just as I unfollow blogs that I don’t find valuable, I try to exercise some discretion in what news and politics and science and other types of information I do pay attention to. And I think other people should do that as well.

But I do know that it’s unwise to blindly ignore entire swaths of the world. And it’s a mistake to pretend that ignorance is a virtue.

More social media thoughts

© 2010 6B Studio
Vintage Social Media. © 2010 6B Studio
One of the things I listen to semi-regularly is The Blabbermouth podcast sponsored by Seattle’s own snarky weekly alternative paper, The Stranger. In my most recent Friday Links post I included an article from the Stranger about former Stranger contributor Lindy West’s decision to leave Twitter, as well as linking to Lindy’s article written for the Guardian explaining why she had decided to leave Twitter. Lindy’s writings for various publications have appeared in many editions of my Friday Links over the last few years. She’s funny and insightful and writes about topics I like.

She was on the Blabbermouth podcast after writing about her decision to leave Twitter, and one of her comments there hit on a topic I’ve found myself thinking about a lot. “One of the things that makes Twitter so useful is because it’s the place everyone is.” I made a similar observation about LiveJournal last week. It was so useful for many years because it was the place everyone was. To different degrees and Facebook and Twitter have supplanted that particular aspect, but they’ve done so in very different ways.

Facebook has become, for many of us, a place we’re obligated to be on if we want to have any hope of getting news from family members. Facebook in particular has some serious drawbacks in this regard. A few years ago I missed my niece’s wedding because rather than send out invitations of any sort, my niece mentioned the date on Facebook. And she expected everyone who she wanted to be there to see it and attend. When I tried to explain later that Facebook only shows some of the things you post to some of your friends, she didn’t understand, because other people saw it and showed up. One of the professional writers I follow on Twitter recently pointed out that her official Facebook author page has 8000+ followers, and those followers have lately been sending messages asking when a particular new book is coming out. But the announcement answering the question which she put up on that page was only shown, according to Facebook’s own states, to 136 of those 8000 followers. If she wants more of them to see it, she needs to pay Facebook to promote the announcement. And maybe for something you’re trying to sell that’s a not unreasonable expectation, but the same sort of distribution algorithms are applied to people’s announcements of deaths in the family, weddings, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

And both Twitter and Facebook have issues of mixing all of our communities together, so we wind up offending each other whether intentionally or not with various political and religious comments.

Not that this is something new because of social media. We have a tendency to blame the new technology for dysfunctional behavior that are simply manifestations of human nature. For instance, two times recently things have come up that reminded me of a particular instance of dysfunctional family communication:

Back in the late 80s, when I was still mostly closeted as a queer man, I was informed by at least three relatives (one of my grandmothers, an aunt, and my mom) that one of my cousins (specifically, a first-cousin-once-removed1) who I hadn’t seen in years (but we had spent a lot of time together as kids) had died. Which was a bit upsetting on its own, more so because we were the same age, so he was in his late 20s. But the other upsetting bit was that both mom and my grandma told me, in very hushed tones, that they had heard it was from complications of AIDS, which of course we weren’t supposed to mention to anyone outside the family2. My aunt went much further, telling the lurid tale of how the cousin had been incommunicado and secretive for a few years, and then how his mother (who lived in northern California) had gotten a call from a hospital in San Francisco, and she had barely made it to his death bed before he died, and isn’t that a horrible scandal?

As if I needed more reason to be worried about how my family might take the news that I thought I might be gay, right?

Over the years, any time I happened to mention a story from my childhood involving that particular cousin, various family members would either say what a tragedy it was he had died so young, or change the subject, or in at least one case act as if they didn’t remember his existence4.

Then a few years ago this same aunt posted an old photo on Facebook of a whole bunch of us cousins from a big family get-together that happened in the 70s, and she tagged all of us that were in it with our Facebook accounts. Including D–. To say I was confused is an understatement. So I sent a friend request to this person with the same name as my supposedly dead cousin. And he accepted and the next thing I know I’m looking at photos of him and his husband, along with recent pictures of a holiday get-together with some other members of that branch of the family, including a few who had talked to me personally about his tragic death years ago.

What actually happened? (You’ve probably already guessed.) He came out of the closet back when we were both in our 20s. His immediate family did not react well, at all. At least one of his parents begged him to essentially go back into the closet. When he refused, a decision was made to disown him and treat it as if he had died, and some of the family members went along. Others thought he really had died (and since many of us lived far away and hadn’t been in touch for a while, it was easy for us to believe). He lived his life maintaining contact with those few immediate family members who were supportive.

As time went on and attitudes shifted, less effort was made to maintain the ruse. Until now another form of denial has set in, where almost none of the family members (who are still alive, anyway) who went along with the original ruse wants to even admit it happened.

I came out of the closet in my early 30s, and so far as I know no one on this side of the family told people I had died5. But there was a period of about six years or so when I was estranged from most of my closer family members. The main parallel to my cousin’s situation is that a narrative has been adopted with a bunch of the family that I’m the one who cut everyone off for reasons none of them could fathom, and it was only after my first husband died and I became involved with Michael—who many of them now adore6—that I came back.

Cousin D– and I have had some interesting conversations since all this. It’s been particularly weird this last year during all the election hype where some family members have been saying and sharing extremely homophobic things, while expressing shock and dismay that we don’t feel loved or safe around them because of it8.

All of which is to say: it isn’t just social media algorithms that hide information. It isn’t social media that makes humans react irrationally to news or opinions or decisions we don’t agree with. It isn’t social media that makes some people gaslight others by insisting something we experienced together never happened, or didn’t happen the way we remember it. It isn’t merely because of social media that we put ourselves in bubbles where we never see information that challenges our assumptions. Social media and modern communication in general can make some of that happen faster and have further reach. But our tools have these sorts of functions (hiding information, proliferating misinformation, et cetera) because those are things that we humans sometime chose to do to ourselves and to each other.

And when I say “we” I am very intentionally including myself. There’s more to say on this topic, but I think I’ll try to tackle that in a separate post.


1. I was lucky enough to have all four of my great-grandmothers live until I was at least in my teens (one actually lived until I was in my 30s!). And all of my great-grandparents had rather large families that tended to try to keep in communication. So I knew most of the siblings of all of my grandparents, as well as their kids and their grandchildren. Some family gatherings when I was a child were huge!

2. The reasoning being that because dying of AIDS meant that he was probably queer, and having a queer family member was something to be deeply ashamed of. There was also an uncle who died of complication of AIDS in this same time period, but anytime that Uncle B– was mentioned after that, someone was quick to point out that he had contracted the virus through intravenous drug use3, which was also a shame and a tragedy, but clearly, since we were allowed to talk about Uncle B–‘s death and the drug use, but not this cousin, not nearly as shameful.

3. At least that’s the family story. Uncle B– served time in prison more than once in his tragically short life, and he was a much smaller than average man, and if you know anything about prison rape culture, you know there was more than one probable vector for B–‘s infection.

4. There was one particularly weird moment about 15 years back when we were going through great-grandma’s photo albums that had been in storage for a long time. We happened upon a picture of the cousin and someone asked who that was, and I said, “so-and-so’s youngest son, D–” and my aunt listed off the names of all of the cousin’s siblings and said, “That’s the only kids they had! They never had a son named D–.”

5. On that side of the family. On my dad’s side of the family people weren’t allowed to mention my name within earshot of several family members. I had this confirmed by multiple sources, but mostly just ignored it for a variety of reasons, not the least being that I was already persona non grata long before I came out for the incredible betrayal of telling the judge overseeing my parents’ divorce that I didn’t want to live with my physically abusive father.

6. I honestly don’t understand why their brains don’t explode from the cognitive dissonance. They do genuinely seem to love my husband, and claim to love me, but they actively pray that we’ll somehow magically be cured of our queerness and leave each other to marry nice christian girls. They also mention us by name as proof they aren’t homophobic while explaining how we’re going going to burn in hell for eternity and deserve any hate crimes that might befall us7

7. That was literally the last post I saw on Facebook from one relative before I blocked her in November—not even being metaphorical.

8. I understand the concept that we can disagree about things and still be friends. But that depends entirely on the nature of the disagreement. When the disagreement is whether I get equal protection under the law, or whether I’m allowed to get health care or any other service, or whether it is okay for me to be the victim of hate crimes, or even whether I have a right to live9, then no, you aren’t my friend.

9. When you post or endorse statements that homosexuals are deserving of death, or if you claim that merely allowing us to live openly and enjoy some legal rights is going to cause god to destroy the nation, you are giving encouragement to gay-bashers to kill us. And then when juries refuse to convict our murderers (which happens a lot) on various flimsy grounds, that just proves my point.

Zoinks! Trying to break some verbal habits

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
I don’t remember when I first heard “duuuuuude!” As a word intended to communicate anything from, “Hello, friend!” to “I agree!” to “Don’t panic” to “I can’t believe you just said/did that! What were you thinking?” and a million things in-between. Before I looked up the linquistic history of the word, I had hazarded a guess that it was late in high school, which would put it roughly in the year 1978-79. And while that particular sense of the word seems to have arisen in several different American subcultures in the 50s and 60s, it didn’t really begin the move into pop culture until the early 80s, so it was more likely in college (which began as several years of attending community college part-time while working to save up for university, before three more years there) where I acquired the habit.

I know in the 90s I used the word with friends and acquaintances of both genders. One butch lesbian friend was very fond of using “Dude!” to mean, “You can’t be serious!” for instance. So even though I knew that the word originally meant (back in the 1800s) a foppish young man who dressed in overly-fashion-conscious clothes and affected a sophisticated manner, and then later had morphed to describe a man from the city visiting the western countryside who was unfamiliar with physical labor and the necessities of life on the range, I thought of it as a gender-neutral term.

But it’s not… Continue reading Zoinks! Trying to break some verbal habits

Confessions of a part-time jerk

Years ago a very good friend pulled me aside and asked me why I had verbally bullied a mutual friend… again. It was the first time that someone had called me a bully. I had never thought of myself as a bully. I had spent my childhood and teen years being the victim of bullies. Not that I even used the word “victim” back then. It had taken a therapist quite some time to even get me to admit that being the child of a physically abusive father meant that during the time I was living with him I’d been a victim of abuse, for goodness sake!

I protested—specifically alluding to the years of abuse and bullying and how I would never treat someone the way I hated being treated—but my friend didn’t let me deflect. He repeated the question. The truth is, once he had labeled the behavior for me, I realized he was right. I had been treating the mutual friend exactly the way I hated being treated myself.

And I hated myself for it once I forced myself to look at my behavior objectively. I apologized to the friend I’d bullied. I resolved not to do it again. I tried to make changes in my behavior—not just toward that friend, but to everyone. I didn’t always succeed.

I still don’t always succeed.

One of the lessons I took away from the self-examination and my subsequent struggles not to bully people or otherwise be a jerk is to extend other people slack when they are jerks to me. And not just to extend the courtesy others have extended me, but more slack than I have received. Or I should say even more slack than I am aware of, because I’m sure that I don’t notice all the times I’ve behaved less than kindly to someone.

Friends, family, and casual acquaintances had remained friends even when I was a jerk. The least I could do was to forgive other people’s occasional lapses. This doesn’t mean turning into a doormat and letting people walk all over me. Like many things in life, it’s about finding a balance. Recognize that some unkindnesses are inadvertent, but don’t enable abuse. 

The last several weeks has been difficult. Several little things have going wrong in my personal life. I’ve misplaced a bunch of unrelated things, for instance. Our car was rear-ended, and then almost exactly a week later, someone broke into the car and stole an iPod, a hand truck, and a bunch of smaller things. Something has gone awry on the car stereo and it won’t stay paired with my phone, which was how I was going to stream music in the car since the iPod was stolen. My husband has come down with a cold that either won’t go completely away, or he’s caught a bunch of unrelated bugs one after the other. My own health has been a little weird lately… I could go on.

Most of it is minor annoyances that we’ll sort out. It could be a lot worse. I know and love people who are going through a lot worse. Which makes me feel whiny for even mentioning any of it.

I know I’ve been having trouble not acting all cranky on everyone. I suspect I’m failing more than I realize. I also suspect that other things that irritate me are not nearly as bad as I think they are; I’m just already cranky, so I overreact.

This isn’t a bid for sympathy. Nor am I trying to excuse anything I may have said or done or will say or do. It’s more of a reminder that everyone is dealing with so much that we don’t know about. Often they don’t even realize how stressed they are. So allow people to make small, non-harmful mistakes. Allow yourself to make non-harmful mistakes.

Everyone is a jerk some of the time. Sometimes with good reason, sometimes less so. Most are just trying to survive. Other people give us a pass every now and then. 

Return the favor.

On apologizing

Apology-acceptedThere are so many situations that would be improved if only people knew how to apologize. A good apology isn’t really that hard to make. When the author known as Lemony Snicket recently made a strange comment at the National Book Awards after Jacqueline Woodson won in the young adult category for her memoir in verse, Brown Girl Dreaming, he apologized as if he meant it. He characterized his comment as “monstrously inappropriate and yes, racist.” He said he shouldn’t have said it, he realized he shouldn’t have said it, and he’s sorry he said it. And he recognized that his words didn’t just hurt Woodson.

Then, noting that he made this remark under a circumstance where what he was supposed to be doing was help shine a light on great books, he donated $10,000 to a campaign for diversity in publishing, and asked everyone else to donate, noting that for the next 24 hours he would match all donations received up to 100,000.

None of which makes is comment retroactively all right, but because he didn’t go with the typical, “if people were offended, I apologize,” or “my comments were misunderstood,” or “anyone who knows me in daily life knows this isn’t the kind of person I am.”

When people go one of those routes, they aren’t apologizing, they’re making excuses and trying to get out of trouble. They don’t really believe that what they said or did was wrong. And they don’t believe that anyone who is offended is “legitimately” hurt.

It isn’t fun to admit that you’re wrong. Most of us are not socialized to admit that we are wrong about something. We’re taught that being wrong is bad—not just a mistake, but that there must be something seriously wrong with us if we are wrong.


Continue reading On apologizing

Somepony Else’s Friends

I wore this t-shirt, featuring camping unicorns (Campy-corns!) to this year's Pride Parade and Festival.
I love this t-shirt, featuring camping unicorns (Campy-corns!)!
As the song says, sometimes you just want to go where everyone knows your name. Sometimes, you just want to hang out with friends in an environment where you can kick back, be yourself, and not worry that people are judging what you say and do. That’s one of the reasons that those of us who are really into things such as Doctor Who or Stargate SG-1, or My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, or Magic User’s Club attend conferences dedicated to our favorite movie/book/series and hang out with other fans.

It’s a lot of fun.

It’s especially fun when our involvement in a particular enthusiasm is new. One of the reasons why is that when we first discover a new book or series or band that we really like, often most of our existing friends have never heard of it. And we may try to get them interested, and it doesn’t grab them quite the way it does us. And we may think that maybe this new thing isn’t as cool as we think it is, or maybe worry that we’re boring our friends. So if we then find some people who are as enthusiastic as we are about the new thing, we suddenly feel validated. “Yes! I’m not alone!”

But the sweet spot is where we have found a new thing, found new people who seem nice and like this new thing as much as we do, and where at least some of our closest friends also like this new thing as much as us. That’s a win-win-win!

Sometimes that triple-win can be misleading. Let me explain… Continue reading Somepony Else’s Friends

Confessions of an absent-minded whatchamacallit

I lose my keys, all the time.

Not just my keys. I regularly misplace my wallet, my phone, my glasses, my hat… Almost every time I prepare to leave the house, I spend a few minutes trying to figure out where something that I need to take with me is. Several times every week my poor, long-suffering husband has to help me figure out where I left something.

And I hate it!

I have tried to fix this for pretty much my entire life. My mom used to tell the story of the day she found me wandering the house in tears, looking under papers, inside drawers, under the furniture, and so on, because I couldn’t find my glasses. I was seven or eight years old at the time. I told her I had looked everywhere. I was angry at myself for misplacing the glasses. I was afraid of what punishment my dad might mete out if they were broken or lost permanently. I was nearly hysterical. Continue reading Confessions of an absent-minded whatchamacallit

No one hurts us like family can

Four lynxes
“Everyone smile for the camera!”
One of my least favorite holiday traditions is the annual sharing of familial outrages. Similar to (or counterpoint of) the Festivus airing of grievences, it is the way we attempt to regain our sanity after the stress of holidays with difficult relatives.

Goodness knows I’ve vented about crazy family members many, many times.

I think we’ve all been there, at least once. For some the ordeal happens at every visit home and every holiday. Others only experience it occasionally. Venting about it afterward can be a valuable means of relieving stress. Better to share some stories with sympathetic friends than to strangle your racist uncle, homophobic brother-in-law, or Bible-thumping sibling, at Grandma’s dinner table, right? Continue reading No one hurts us like family can

Bleak midwinter

Cat hissing.
Having a bad day?
It’s been a while since I heard the old myth, so I was a little surprised when a detective show I watch had the medical examiner character refer to Christmas as “Suicide Season.” That myth (based on the notions that the cheerfulness {forced or otherwise} of the holidays the makes depressed people more starkly aware of their situation) and the associated one that the stress of the holidays literal drives people crazy, have both been debunked by numerous studies.

It’s not just that suicide rates don’t go up, nor merely that psychiatric admissions don’t go up. The studies show that suicide rates actually go down at each major holiday, and that psychiatric admissions reach their lowest point in the weeks immediately before Christmas.

Continue reading Bleak midwinter

If you meet them all day…

Cartoon: If you see an asshole in the morning, you've seen an asshole. If you see assholes all day, you're the asshole.In the opening episode of season four of Justified, Deputy U.S. Marshall Raylan Givens tells a criminal he has locked in his trunk, “If you meet an asshole in the morning, you met an asshole. If you meet assholes all day, you’re the asshole.” I had never heard that saying before, but I had become familiar with the principle.

I have seen it again and again. Many times, through the various fandoms and other activities I’m involved with, I meet people who are always saying that most people are awful. Most of their co-workers are incompetent or are constantly undermining them. And this experience is repeated every time they change jobs. Every relationship they get into falls apart. Most of their former friends betrayed them or let them down in some way, and they have almost no long term friends. They like to go on about all the reasons that they would be a good catch, and they don’t understand why no one will date them. They grumble about the fact that no one likes nice guys.

And just about every time when I get a chance to get to know these people who have all these horror stories, they act like jerks.

The problem is that they have confused “being civil in expectation of being rewarded” with being genuinely good. They have confused “what can this person do for me” with being genuinely interested.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that everyone who has bad experiences with friend, dates, or co-workers is a jerk. Everyone has bad things happen to them. We all have had to work with or be around people who are less than wonderful—sometimes even quite awful people.

However, if nearly every person you have ever worked with at every workplace is incapable of completing tasks correctly, or is uncooperative, conspires against you, is unappreciative of your skills, takes credit for your work, or always unfairly assigns blame to you, you need to take a good hard look in the mirror.

If virtually every person who have ever been romantically involved with cheated on you, or was “crazy,” or never appreciated you, or always demanded sacrifice from you without any reciprocation, or caused all the problems in the relationship, you need to learn to take an objective self assessment.

If time after time nearly everyone you befriend turns into a demanding jerk, or never has time for you, or is only available when they want something from you, is always critical, is never supportive, or otherwise betrayed you again and again, you need to re-evaluate your choices.

Experiencing such a string of similar bad situations isn’t proof positive that you’re a world-class jerk. It’s possible that you are a really bad judge of character. It’s possible that you have such low self-esteem that your opinion becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s possible that you are sabotaging yourself in some other way.

But when everyone is letting you down in every situation, there is no chance that you aren’t contributing to the situation in some way.

Many jerks are sincerely unaware of just how badly they treat others. Being a jerk isn’t just about calling people bad names, or stealing from them, or physically assaulting them. There are so many ways you can disrespect people.

For instance, a friend might hear that you’re looking for a new job, and puts in a good word for you at their workplace when you apply. Then you blow off the interview because something else came up, or you forgot what day it was, or whatever. You think that it didn’t cost your friend anything, but they’ve now lost some credibility with their employer. Now any time they recommend anything, or simply report about an issue at work, there will be a tendency on the part of their supervisor to doubt them, because they were wrong about you. You do something like that to someone, and they are going to be very reluctant do extend any favors to you again.

It was most strongly driven home for me when, after dating a bunch of guys that kept not working out in very similar ways, I finally had to admit that the only thing they all had in common was that I had picked them. I couldn’t control how a guy was going to feel about me, but I did have control over who I asked out or who I said yes to.

Everyone vents. Everyone shares frustrations and disappointments. I am as guilty of that as anyone. But when all you have is frustration and disappointment, when there is never any redeeming friendship, acquaintance, or association, you need to stop complaining, stop blaming, and figure out what thing about yourself needs to change.