Lazy Luddite Log

30.5.13

Is This The Right Booth For An Argument?

I have been in the world twice as long as on the Internet. It is hardly surprising then that I will get more confused by the Internet than the world itself. Mind you my preference for slow consideration of things and using the written word compensates for this a lot. I think I use the medium more effectively than many. I can and do set limits like "be careful making controversial statements if tired" or "read what you have written then hit send". However I can still make some sloppy moves. One thing it has taken me ages to understand is that only some parts of the Internet are forums.

In this post I will make reference to different kinds of human spaces that are historically face-to-face settings. All of them are analogous to different parts of the Internet. And it will end with a pub - everyone loves a pub.

It the past I have assumed that the whole Internet is a forum. My exposure to it while still at uni involved discussion groups that were open to pretty much anything. Robust debate sometimes ensued. Sometimes however it got too much. There was a particular list I eventually left because the subject matter alternated between boring (computer programming) and frustrating (too many bold pronouncements on political topics from those with scant understanding of the topic). It was my decision to depart and I assume that happens all the time. There are always others conversations to be had. Still I was left with the impression that if you enter a space then you must be prepared to engage in debate. But there are all sorts of different spaces online.

Some spaces are fora and in these there is the assumption that everyone has a similar level of confidence and competence to debate. There will be some accepted rules of engagement regarding politeness and focusing on arguments rather than personal characteristics. There will be the ability to express an opinion and understand contrary opinions. There will be disputation but also some sort of semblance of respect. You will be given a chance to make mistakes and ignorance rather than malice is assumed to be your shortcoming. These and other criteria limit how many spaces online can be regarded as fora.

Many other spaces online are more akin to sheltered workshops. Opinions need time and space in which to safely be formed before they can enter into the sphere of debate. Many spaces online are incubators for particular perspectives in which the focus is on sharing a common perspective and imparting tools of argumentation. Wander into such a space thinking that it is a forum and you may get a nasty surprise. In the face-to-face world there is usually writing on the door to say what kind of support group is meeting. Sometimes there is even a lock on the door. Online there are sometimes locks too. Or even if you can blunder in there will still be signs if you pay attention to them. However it can be tricky - sometimes the signs are written in group-specific jargon. Beware words and phrases unusual to you. They may in fact indicate that this is an exclusive space. The debating society is further along the hallway and it is best to move on.

There are even some spaces online that are akin to shrines. Here words are uttered in reverence to particular statements of assumed truth or received wisdom. If you talk here it is best to do so as a mimic of others there and recite the same mantras over and over. It may seem as if I am mocking this kind of conduct but such things have existed for a long time and surely serve some sort of entrenched human need for comfort or security or predictability. If you wander into a shrine you observe quietly and keep your opinion that the fallen warrior interred here was a warmongering moron to yourself.

In a lot of cases these spaces are distinct and well-marked. They are discussion groups or weblogs in which the purpose and rules-of-engagement are stated in the banner or sidebar. However in other parts of the Internet these distinctions bleed together into a confusing cacophony of chatter. Some parts of it are fora and the assumption is then made that all of it is. I'm looking at you Facebook!

It seems almost everyone comes to FB but they do so with all manner of motives. Everyone has a page and that is a space for them but all these spaces intersect. And while I can choose my friends I cannot choose the friends of friends. Suddenly I can be exchanging opinions with anyone and some of them will have very different concepts of communication than I do. Is this a forum or a sheltered workshop or a shrine? It is all of these things and none - it is a public bar and every booth behaves differently. As you walk in and survey the scene I suggest you observe closely what is happening.

On that booth in the corner over there a handful sit and nurse drinks and stare into the mid-distance. The football team they support was thrashed today and they have nothing much to say. They just want to be together. Best to just let them be.

Closer there is a rowdy group who seem happy discussing anything and everything. There is bawdy humour and some of that good-natured insult-swapping that confused me as an adolescent (sometimes still does). Things are rarely what they seem however. They happily discuss anything except for that Summer Solstice party in 2001. Everyone pretends it never happened because of all the shaken egos and fractured emotions arising from that night. Luckily you have been told this (they will say that much). You will be fine here as long as you observe that taboo.

There is someone wandering from booth-to-booth cracking tired one-liners. Sometimes they are allowed a seat. More often they receive blank stares and move onto another group. There are also sometimes whole booths that behave in a manner that serves to keep themselves small. They glare at anyone who walks too close. I think that is a pity but some deem isolation better for them than mingling with a crowd in which there is too much difference. If you cannot have the pub just as you want it you can still have a booth exactly to your liking.

At my booth you can say different things as long as you play nice. We all have our own backgrounds and tales to tell. As a result we have our own flaws and shortcomings and some of them are well hidden. I hope you will keep that in mind as you sit here. You only ever know so much of the story of those sitting with you. You are all different. And yet try to remember you are also all the same - just human. Nobody is technically better or worse. Luckily this has pretty much always been the case with those I invite to my booth. I do have some buttons here that allow me to turn your chair into an ejector seat. Or I can lower a one-person cone-of-silence over you. Very rarely do I feel compelled to use them. And even if I do chances are I will still have to tolerate whomever I did that to coz they will soon be seen frequenting that booth across from mine.

Whoops - they just went and mentioned Summer Solstice 2001! Sometimes the fun comes from just watching what happens next.

Cross-posted here.

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21.5.13

Taking Care

I have recently had need to actively contemplate the things I can do to take care of myself. I had a cold but the mild kind that still allowed me to go to work. A lot of thinking (while sitting on buses) involved keeping track of what I needed to buy to ensure I was well-fed and medicated (even if just on comforting placebos). Now my temp work has ended and the care regimen has to shift focus somewhat. Rather than rushing to fit everything in, my focus is now on making sure I overcome inertia and get things done. Luckily a lot of the things that are good for me are things I enjoy. Or is that what defines the things that are good for you? Here is a list of some of the things I try to do to keep well (in a whole person way rather than just bodily)...

* Rest including sleep is paramount. While working I was focusing on this more than in my younger days by cutting short time with friends. I figure that some company is better than none even if it takes an act of will to draw yourself away from the dinner or party or whatever. Now while between work I'm getting more sleep and so the focus shifts to other things.

* 'Colour And Movement' is my phrase for walking out the door and experiencing the world. I feel that helps define any day. Even just a walk to the corner shops allows me to experience good things like sunshine and a larger body of atmosphere than you can fit in a house. It allows me to observe things in the neighbourhood which stimulates curiosity and contemplation. For instance the children of some neighbours had a model town (complete with railway line) constructed from junk in the front yard. I love seeing things like this. It also allows me to interact, even superficially, with humanity as I buy an iced coffee from a shop keeper.

* Exercise is always something I have been a bit suspicious of. The parts of our culture that promote exercise and sport are ones I had to be wary of from a young age. Making an asthmatic kid run round an oval in the rain to turn them into a more robust person can have the opposite result of making them averse to such punishing behaviour. Nonetheless I recognize that if I want to do particular things in my life then I have to keep at them. I rely on public transport and in the middling suburbs I frequent that involves a degree of walking - quickly and over distances. Fortunately I also love walking. And I have a bushland-shroud creek I can walk to. I also love swimming once I'm in the water. It is the freedom of movement water affords that I enjoy. The getting to the pool via the change rooms can take another act of will. Meeting a swimming buddy motivated me to do that most recently.

* Human Contact is utterly vital for me. I belong to a species that has evolved in groups. For me frequent and prolonged interaction with others is most gratifying. The Internet helps as communication is a form of contact and I regularly exchange information with many. However face-to-face contact is better. In any give week I average three to four chances to be with friends and this is a deliberate plan of mine. Talk is part of this but so is the engagement of expressions and gestures using faces and hands. So are hugs of greeting or parting with the right friends. The odd massage (whether giving or receiving) is good to. Of course that can come from professional non-friends too. Lunch and a massage at a shopping centre anyone?

* Food is tastes and textures and that feeling of satisfaction in your tum. Even the most basic of things are a joy. And then there is the creativity of cooking which I need to do more of. Once I make the decision to do so and have the right ingredients and tools (including the right playlist) then it can be all the fun of making mud pies in the back yard but with a reward at the end. And if Transformers ever told my anything of value it is that energy is precious and what is food but our Energon?

* Skills And Interests are the things that keep me happy while I'm alone. If I'm allowed to engage in these then I will rarely be bored in those times I am alone. Once more the Internet is a boon for me because almost anything can be interesting and sites such as Wikipedia tell me all sort of wild and wonderful things. Other relatively passive acts include consuming shows like Dr Who. Then there are the more active past-times such as writing and sketching.

I could structure this entry different and go on much more. But I have to go off to meet an old friend for coffee in a distant suburb soon so I shall draw this to a close. I have described things that I do to keep me well and noted that I enjoy them. To elaborate I enjoy the variety of them. Any one of them for too long would pall. All of them regularly keeps me happy. But am I happy because I do them or do I do them because I'm happy? Time for an anecdote:

I walk into a grocer I regularly visit humming a tune. The shop keeper says that my singing indicates I'm happy. I say that it is the singing that makes me happy. She smiles. I make my purchase and go.

Who was right - me or the shop-keeper? Do I wisely act in ways that make me happy or am I just configured to be happy with whatever I do. The longer I live the more aware I become that much of what we are is determined by biology. I may like to think I am prudent but possibly I'm just lucky to have an effective economy of happy hormones in me. I'm tempted to expound on my philosophy of happiness but - once more - is that something that will only work for someone who is similar to me? It is on that sad note that I will end this post about happiness.

Cross-posted here.

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