The Book of About-Faces

Because I can count on one hand the number of my close friends who don’t use a social network, and because Facebook has been a dominant online presence for me for some time, Facebook’s announcement last week caught my eye.  I’ll say up front that I’ve been disillusioned with Facebook for some time, and each of the “improvements” that they make to their user interface and website design leave me grumbling and trying to figure why they, like Microsoft, never actually improve anything, but merely make it more difficult to get to.  Now, I’ve read several opinions about how positive this latest overhaul of Facebook will be, and I’ve heard at least one colleague say that this is the best thing Facebook has ever done. However, as I’ve come to use Facebook less and less (at least as far as my personal page is concerned, if not so much this blog’s Facebook page), I’m struck by the rationale behind this change.

Karen is much less of a sharer than me. I readily post details on Facebook about myself and us, including “checking in” to particular spots that I frequent.  However, I post less intensely personal information on Twitter. Part of the reason I have chosen to use Facebook for this purpose instead of Twitter is because Facebook is a “walled garden;” that is, I have (at least until recently) had careful control over who sees this information. I know that my Twitter feed is open to the public, so I filter the information I post there more carefully. When we were in the hospital last week delivering our baby, I kept family and friends updated via status updates on Facebook in detail, but gave much less detail on Twitter. This is because I knew exactly who was going to see my Facebook updates, but not my Twitter updates. Part of Facebook’s overhaul, as I understand it, is to make sharing more automatic. I hear this to mean that my online activities will be fed into Facebook without my thought or ongoing permission. There is such a thing as too much sharing. I post a lot of the books I read,  but not all of them. I share several links I find interesting, but not all of them, and certainly not all of them on Facebook. I want to give more awareness to what I share, not less. This seems to place me at odds with Facebook’s new strategy.

And, honestly, that form of sharing wasn’t the reason I set up a Facebook profile to begin with. Real-time sharing has always been Twitter’s strength, whereas a Facebook page, for me, is a static place to be able to communicate with friends and family even though their phone numbers of email addresses may have changed. I began to dislike Facebook when it began trying to copy Twitter…that is, when it tried to become a stream of real-time updates like Twitter was. I’ve always been a fan of a business being good at its specialty, and not trying to spread into multiple specialties. At some point, things become diluted until nothing is done well.

What grabs me more than disagreeing over the approach of Facebook, however, is the culture of sharing that has launched the changes. The mentality of our culture, and apparently of Mark Zuckerburg, seems to be that true happiness is only found when we’re completely transparent with everyone around us. As an introvert, I find the idea of everyone around me knowing everything about me to be remarkably similar to hell. Perhaps this is another way in which our culture rewards extroverts and prizes them as the examples of “good people,” but there is such a thing as too much sharing. I resonate with a comment that I read on Google+ recently to the effect of transparency being a good thing with politicians because we pay them, but opaqueness for the rest of us being an equally good thing. I think we forget that anything we post online has no expectation of privacy, and that its online forever, somewhere. Still, I have no obligation to be transparent to my neighbors. I only share what I choose to share, and I don’t like the idea of someone sharing things that I don’t agree to being shared.

My fellow-blogger, Ami, recently said that she intentionally never posts pictures of her children online, for any reason, and becomes upset when others post photos of them and tag her in them. As my daughter joined the world last week, I thought about this. I shared photos of her with my friends on closed networks, but not here, which I leave open to anyone who wants to read, and not on my Twitter feed, where I do the same. And, I was specific and careful about which photos I shared. When she’s old enough to make the decision of how much of her life she chooses to share, then she can, but I’m not going to rush that for her. Perhaps, after all, she’ll be an introvert like her dad.

My answer to the whole thing? Move away from social networks that don’t protect and respect my privacy. I’m over Facebook. I’ve found myself using Twitter much more fruitfully for some time, but I have to recognize that I use the two networks for different things. Earlier misgivings aside, I’m particularly taken with Google+, where I can meld my pubic and private sharing with a much greater degree of control than Facebook permits. I’m also considering creating a Tumblr page, and would gladly remove myself from the Facebook world altogether and make Google+ (and potentially Tumblr) my primary network(s).

Here’s the issue with that strategy, however, and its one that concerns me: Facebook, as a sort of patriarch of social networks, has achieved a “too big to fail” status. This manifests to me most readily in the fact that I find myself forced to keep using Facebook because that is where most of my friends remain. A social network, after all, is only as effective as how many of your friends, family, and colleagues with whom you can be social. So, for now, I continue to touch base with my Facebook page, but with much less frequency than I have in the past. I’m waiting patiently until more (or even most?) of my friends begin to use Google+, in the hopes of leaving Facebook behind forever.

What are your social network preferences? Are you tired of Facebook’s privacy abuses? Tell me what you think.

Photo Attribution: Nikke Lindqvist

Looking Different

There are these occasional moments in life that are simply and absolutely too surreal to ever just forget. They are the moments that are inscribed onto the parchment of our memories in permanent ink in the instant that they happen. You’ll never lose them, at least not normally, and you know that. Some of them are events that were momentous or tragic, and unexpected…you know, the ones to which you can immediately answer the question, “where were you when (fill in the blank)?” Others are things that you knew were coming, and that you were anticipating, but that you had no clue how they would cause your entire life to go sideways. As much as you sort of knew that you would never be able to wrap your brain around the rest of your life afterward, you just didn’t know to what extent that you wouldn’t be able to do so, or how little, in that instant, you would care that you couldn’t.

When Karen called me at my day job nine months ago as she was leaving her doctor’s office and told me we were expecting, something happened that rarely happens with me. I was speechless. I was, in fact, stupid for several minutes, unable to do basic tasks like talk on the phone with any sort of proficiency. I remember driving home that afternoon, and thinking that life literally looked different to me. As strange as it sounds, the vehicles in traffic around me looked differently, the people around me as well. And here any skills I have as a writer fail me, because I couldn’t describe how they looked different, only that they did.

Last Wednesday, after a long and arduous labor, I was sitting at Karen’s side, able only to see her face among all of the accoutrements of the operating room as a C-section was performed to deliver our little girl.  I’ve jokingly told some friends since that night that, up until then, our daughter had sort of existed only in theory in my mind. That is, all the business and painstaking care of preparing for her arrival had busied our schedules, brought our friends rallying, and taxed our bank account, but, not only have I never had a child before, but neither have I spent any significant time around them in my life.  Not only did I not know what to expect, but I didn’t even a referent for what this could be like, outside of the stories of others.

The cry came out of the blue that night, piercing the room while yet being melodious, and I saw my tiny little girl for the first time. I’ve experienced my share of moments in which I felt the Divine reach into my daily life, and certainly that was one of them. I was exhausted, with no more than three hours of sleep out of the last twenty four, and had honestly become emotionally flattened until that moment. Then, all at once, all of those months spent talking to my Karen’s stomach paid off, because my daughter knew my voice! Due to some complications, I went with our daughter for her physical, and stayed with her for the nearly three hours of recovery until Karen could join us. In that period of time, she came to trust my voice, to calm when she heard my voice, to focus her wide and inquisitive eyes on her daddy, to orient immediately to the sound of my voice. Since then, when no one else can console her, I can. As overwhelmed and maddening and stressful as the last few days have been, as poorly as I have coped with the chaos that has descended on the household despite my best attempts to curtail it, the protective instinct that I have for my daughter is at times overwhelming. I have had, and continue to have, moments in which I’m irrevocably convinced of my own ineptitude, as well as the knowledge that I cannot possibly continue this for another day. Yet, I know her face, I can discern her cries, I let her grasp my  finger in her tiny hand, and I get to know her better daily.

For the rest of my life, I will be getting to know her. She isn’t just a theory anymore.

I don’t think I have to describe a faith metaphor about this…I think you can get there from here. I just know that while I knew my life would never be the same upon returning from the hospital as it had been when I left for it, I didn’t have any way of predicting that it would be this different. And, if I thought that everything looked different on the day I found out, that pales compared to the way things look today in a such an extreme as to be nonsensical.

I have a daughter. I’m a father. I’m not just married now, but I have a family of my own. There’s so much that goes with that, that I can’t even begin to unpack it yet. And I’m not sure that I ever will.

And, somehow, I’m beginning to be okay with that.

Making Statements

Everyone wants to make a statement, right?

Now, in high school, I would have assumed that to mean something about the way someone dressed, or  styled their hair. I think there’s something deeper behind this statement about a statement today, though. This thought-provoking post over at Transpositions, the title of which grabbed me immediately, as Tillich has long been one of the most influential theologians to my thought process, is an exploration of how fashion sense portrays the perspective on worldview of the wearer or designer. So, in an introductory way, perhaps what I’m writing does start with thinking about fashion sense, but doesn’t stop there.

The post started some great thoughts churning about something that happened this weekend. An epiphany, of sorts…kind of a religious experience, if you will. I was navigating through the parking lot at the local Barnes & Noble in an attempt to find a parking space, and yielded to oncoming traffic. That oncoming traffic caught my attention, coming in the form of a petite and pretty blonde woman behind the wheel of an enormous SUV, a GMC something-or-other that looked as though it took up most of the parking lot and needed to drop anchor rather than park. I found myself caught in a moment of disgust. Not at the woman driving…this was not a judgmental, “who do you think you are?” sort of thought process. Rather, it was a glimpse into the error of my ways.

I’ve always hinted to my wife that one day, should we ever find ourselves in a position to afford such a thing, I think I would like to own a Hummer. I always thought that they were a creative sort of expression, somehow…urban chic, I guess. In that moment in front of Barnes & Noble, though, I repented of my desires, because the absolutely un-necessary excess of such a huge vehicle left me completely sick at my stomach. The wasted fuel, the obnoxious amount of space required to simply move through traffic, the failed attempt at intimidation to other drivers, the mis-spent money (I can only imagine what that titan cost). The woman looked like a young professional, perhaps a mother. The SUV was a luxury vehicle, not what you would use to transport equipment or goods for a business. In short, it was one of those situations where the SUV looked like a status symbol or a false sense of safety, rather than a necessary implement.

Fire departments need huge vehicles. The average suburban housewife really doesn’t. Such a waste.

Along the lines of the post I mentioned above…in congruence, I think, with Tillich’s theology of culture…our choices of things to purchase make a statement about us. I mean that, like the blogger for Transpositions, not just as a statement about us, but how we think theologically. And all of us think theologically at some level, because anytime we think those sort of existential questions like, “why am I here?”, or “what’s the point in all of this?”, we’re thinking theologically.

I tend to be loyal to certain brands, and I think that the brands that I buy say things about my worldview. Three examples: I like clothes from L.L. Bean. I use Apple computers. I like Subaru vehicles. I purchase all of these brands for the same reasons: they represent excellent craftsmanship (that is, they’re reliable and high-quality), and they have an attractive visual aesthetic. What this says about my value system is that I believe that quality and visual aesthetics matter. This reflects my view of the Divine, as well: I think that quality and beauty matter to God. So, a cultural theology asserts that the fact that you like a certain label of clothing or type of food isn’t simply a “consumer” choice; its reflective of your view on life, your role in life, and your view on God (even if its your view as to the presence of absence of God).

I can see fashion design (although its not really my thing) as a creative expression of beauty, sort of along the same lines as costume design in the theatre (which, again, was never really my specialty). Because we’re all creative in some capacity, the things we create speak about how we see life. We really can’t keep that from happening. It flows out even if we attempt to prevent it from doing so.

So, my sudden epiphany that I can never, for the rest of my life, force myself to own an SUV, is a statement of my values (and, of course, of my bank account). Which is fine, because, while people are cruising around in enormous vehicles that they can’t afford, I’ll have saved something for our retirement, and be perfectly content parking my Subaru in compact car spaces, all the while valuing the visual aesthetic and the dependability of the vehicle. I’d like to know why the woman I saw on Saturday chose the vehicle that she did, as well, because I would be genuinely fascinated to have insight into her worldview. And discovering her rationale for buying (or letting a spouse buy, perhaps?) the huge SUV would reveal a glimpse into her worldview, her metaphysical perspective.

We really don’t do anything for no reason. And there’s a reason for that.

Photo Attribution: deltaMike 

Climbing the Walls…Again…

It happened on my last outing to the movie theatre. I scratched my head. I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t alone. Several members of the audience turned to each other, and asked out loud things like, “Didn’t they just do that?” or “Again??”

These comments weren’t in response to the movie. They were in response to the trailers preceding the movie. Specifically, a trailer for Spider-Man. A new Spider-Man, telling the origin of Spider-Man. Except, we’ve only just recently been treated to three excellently-written and filmed Spider-Man adventures, all of which more than took us on a journey with the iconic character. Now, while the trailer was shot from an interesting perspective (i.e.: the point of view of Spidey as he swings and climbs), the fact remains that Spider-Man’s origin story is already well-developed. And, while I’m all about new explorations, I simply don’t see the draw of exploring it again, however well done. Even Batman wasn’t done better until several years after the fact.

And Spider-Man isn’t the only blast from the proverbial past to which we’re being treated. Take the Smurfs, for example (like we needed them the first time around). Or Winnie the Pooh. The explorations of origin stories began some time ago; I actually first noticed the trend with Batman Begins, then Superman returned, then we were treated to Wolverine’s backstory, then the X-Men’s…and that’s just within the context of the superhero genre. I can’t help but be curious as to why. Jeffery Overstreet attributes the phenomenon to nostalgia, which, I agree, can’t be underestimated as a moving cultural force, especially during a time of (perpetual) war.

I also wonder if there’s really a shortage of original ideas in the medium of film. Or, if business interests are driving writers and film-makers to produce origin stories. Perhaps to capitalize on our nostalgia? Whatever the case, I’m going to be honest: I’m sort of over the origin story concept. I’m as nostalgic as the next guy, but not nostalgic enough to watch Spider-Man’s origin again so soon.

Do you think the new Spider-Man film is capitalizing on nostalgia? Are we out of new ideas? Are you tired of re-makes of classics? Tell me…I’m interested to hear.

Photo Attribution: JD Hancock 

Paper Treasures

I grew up in a small town. There was this little, locally owned store there, a craft store, as I recall, that my mother frequented, as she was a creative, arts and crafts type. I don’t really remember so much about that, because I remember the second half of the store, in which, in the back, was a section composed of bookshelves that took up two entire walls. Each shelf was crammed with books, floor to ceiling. They formed a corridor of books. These were old books, books or editions of books that you didn’t find in the new book chain stores. I found some treasures there.

A few months ago, I was walking around a local bookstore. In the back, in the pre-owned section, lost in a similar floor-to-ceiling book environment, I found an old copy of a Pulitzer-winning play by one of my favorite playwrights.

I suppose I’m sort of tackling a subject yet again that I’ve talked about here on more than one occasion, but this is back on my radar, so to speak, after this poignant article that I read Monday about the closing of Border’s first bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan. You should take the time to read the article, because it says something that’s worth saying. I found myself appreciative of the public’s sense of loss, about how the passion for the knowledge of literature became lost as the company transitioned to a “big box chain store.” I particularly love the story about how someone could stand in a spot at the front of the store, and call out the sort of question that we would type into Google today, and someone within earshot would know the answer. I’m left thinking of the loss of knowledge and growth of illiteracy in our culture.

I’m also finding myself re-exploring this conundrum, though. I love that, as ebook selections grow, I can find more and more obscure titles that I can read wherever I happen to be when I have time to read, without having the physical book with me. I love that I can find most of my book club’s monthly reading choices and download them virtually instantly. I’m enamored with the idea of being a doctoral student and having a semester’s worth of textbooks in a slim little device weighing less than a pound.

Yet, all the while, I remember my undergraduate days. There were no Borders in my college town…there, it was their imprint, Waldenbooks. I knew the manager of the Waldenbooks well, because I spent a lot of time there. He nearly always found the books I needed for papers and my own reading. He loaned me books that I needed for papers but couldn’t afford on his own account. I even got a friend a job there on my recommendation. Being connected to that bookstore was part of an experience. Regardless of how much I love the convenience of digital reading, part of the experience is missing. Even though I use a Nook, and thus receive special incentives to go to my local Barnes & Noble, there’s still something missing from the complete experience. It’s more present than Amazon, but still not totally complete.

So, here I am again. I love the progress of technology, but somehow I see more to lose as we move books to our digital realm. I have a friend who insists that you should treat books like friends. I think what he’s saying there is that there’s a different sort of relationship that we have with books than we have with music, for example. The time commitment is different, the intellectual engagement is different. I’m not placing one over another, I’m just saying that it’s different.

I’m sort of in this place where I want to have my proverbial cake and eat it, too. I want to buy books by downloading them to my Nook, but I want to go to local bookstores and find treasures in back corners in which I’ve lost myself. If the transition that the music industry made is any indication, this will likely not be the case. Record stores, after all, have vanished. I just don’t think we’ve lost with that what we stand to lose if bookstores suffer the same fate.

I’d like to see this ideal solution: Frequently, special edition DVDs include a code that can be redeemed for a download of the same film via iTunes. What if publishers included a code with new, hardcover books, that would give me an ebook edition to accompany the physical purchase? As a writer, I plan to publish my first novel as an ebook, and I’m thrilled about the self-publishing opportunities that are available now. I don’t want to do that exclusively, though, because I really want there to be physical copies of my book to pass on to my daughter.

Sort of like how Karen and I spent time in a local bookstore this weekend…the same bookstore in which I found that old play…purchasing physical books for our soon-to-be-born daughter, carefully choosing the editions in anticipation of when she’s old enough to read.

Sort of like how, some months ago, I entertained the idea of one day buying a Nook Color for our daughter, so that could enjoy multi-media children’s books. Karen scoffed at that idea, thinking that there’s just too much to lose.  Somehow, I think she was right.