The Internet & Technology

Essays concerning social shifts and societal changes with the rapid progress of the digital age.

Camera Obscura: How We Lost Our Way

I find it funny that I sometimes ask, “Who gave these people a camera?” I actually seem to ask that of nearly everyone on the planet today, and especially those on Facebook and Instagram. I remember a time when pictures meant something and people invested time in setting up shots. I’m not advocating we go back to the old flash pot explosions and the hour long exposure time of yesteryear.We don’t need to bring back the daguerreotypes to appreciate pictures again. (Although, I have no doubt hipsters would love that! Ha!

Nowadays, every idiot has a camera phone, and somewhere along the way, that person was led to believe that 104 of the same selfie was a good idea – replete with sucked in cheeks, duck lips, reflection in the bathroom mirror, and from above with gratuitous cleavage. That’s 104 to add to the 4238 on Facebook already. All of the same thing. Or the filters of dog’s tongues and whiskers that Snapchat allows you to do to your photos. There’s no such thing as scenery anymore. Landscapes have been usurped by the far more interesting…US. You can’t properly tag a mountain after all. And thanks to Instagram, we’re all graphic designers, carefully trained in blurring the edges or adding a sepia tone to that shot from last night’s club. We have become a nation of self-professed photographers and self-pomoters, while we somehow devalue the serious artists who have been trained and spent years working in the field. I’m not saying that in order to own a camera, everyone should have to go through formal photography training. Camera phones have democratized the pastime, and if anything, it’s encouraged a whole new generation to pursue a career in the field or become more serious about their art.

And what’s wrong with everyone being an amateur photographer? That’s like discouraging people from doing community theater, even though they may be bad actors and the shows are likely terrible. Even if it doesn’t cultivate a love of the theater that leads to a career, those people are having fun and doing something they love and enjoy. What’s wrong with that? We need to allow people to have their pleasures and actively pursue whatever interests them. Life is cruel and unpredictable in so many ways, so why should anyone deprive themselves of a pastime, however poorly I may think they are at it? And why am I – or anyone else – the arbiter of taste?

In truth, my frustration and blame does lie with the ubiquity of cameras and the staggering explosion of amateur photography, but with the deeper and more insidious effect those realities may be having on our collective psyches. The information age has irreversibly imprinted itself on every aspect of our lives. Unfettered access to high speed internet has changed the way we interact with the world around us. Since everything’s faster online, we were forced to speed up the pace of our lives. Since the internet allowed us to access unprecedented amounts of raw data, seemingly everything was at our fingertips. And certainly at the snap of them. Such instantaneous data retrieval undoubtedly made our lives easier, but it also bred unflattering new behaviors in us. We were now spoiled by access and ease, and we demanded our computers get faster, our connections got speedier, and websites be designed for maximum efficiency.

Our prayers were ultimately answered, but at what expense? We now anthropomorphize the internet, and see ourselves in its functions and maneuvers. Conversely, we began to assign computer traits to those we loved, the people we worked with, and the people that served us in some way. We were not only driving ourselves even faster, but we held those around us to unrealistic standards of success. Our bartenders had to be skilled in small talk, tend bar quickly and efficiently, possess encyclopedic knowledge of mixing drinks, and flawlessly craft the perfect martini. Why? Because the internet can do all those things in a fraction of the time. Metaphorically, if nothing else. Our colleagues at work must draft blueprints with expert precision. The Priest must deliver the sermon you’re meant to hear and grow from. Your husband promised your anniversary would be exciting and romantic in ways it never has been. Your best friend better not invite that girl he’s dating, because you don’t like her, no matter how happy he may think he is.  This is your special night, and if he’s truly a friend, then he’ll know better. You’d be hard-pressed to make it in this world without the help and support of others. Some of those people are going to be the rock and foundation you plant your feet on. They are steadfast and true, and worthy of your trust. The reality is, the majority of people you meet in life are going to be apathetic to your existence, and take no active interest in your life—however nice and/or exciting you may be. A small portion of people jump from the don’t care list, to the mildly interested and just enough to make modest efforts at connection. These people are often referred to as acquaintances, and they make up the lion’s share of your friends on Facebook, and likely every other social networking site. They may only make contact once a year – to wish you a happy birthday, but then again, they may not even do that. These are liminal friends, waiting on the doorstep, but not entering your home. We look at our friends list, and boast that we have over a thousand friends. But honestly, how many of them would attend your mother’s funeral? Loan you money? Donate to your GoFundMe campaign? Or go beyond wishing you a happy birthday, and actually buy yo a gift? When you count your friends in quality, as opposed to quantity, the numbers dwindle to less than a dozen.

With cameras at our fingertips, we seem to capture every moment of our lives, but never truly live them. How present are we in a transitory moment in time, when we’re too busy setting up the shot and trying to capture beauty that we only can enjoy through a screen? Not to mention the thousands of people who die while trying to capture the “perfect” shot. We live our fast-paced lives at the speed of the Internet, and then when we have genuine moments to reflect and take in nature’s beauty, we feel the need to immortalize the moment in a picture. As if we have no faith in our memories and our “mind’s eye” as Shakespeare coined in Hamlet. Even the expression, “Pics, or it didn’t happen” perfectly encapsulates the mentality of a society so obsessed with images and capturing every moment of our lives – like collecting ships in bottles for our future selves and for posterity.

We use social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram because we want to chronicle our lives, as if they didn’t matter or had no substance if they aren’t documented online. We use pictures to help us create a narrative of how we want our lives perceived by others. We curate our lives, so as to choose the perfect selfie, the ideal family portrait, and the most picturesque holiday photo to tell a story we want others to hear. We rarely talk about our bad days, and when we do, we rarely get likes. Perhaps some virtual hugs from time to time.

They say that a post with an image is 75% more likely to get comments and likes than one with just pure text. Instagram is so popular because it doesn’t allow its users to write much, and never in the body of the post…always as a comment underneath. IG is a visual medium, and it’s wonderful for photographers and artists, because it allows them to showcase their art and network within a vast community of consumers.

Lately, it seems that Facebook is becoming more like Instagram, and turning into a depository of pictures, memes, videos, and occasionally articles. It’s rare to see people write anything anymore, and when they do, it’s almost always short and to the point. When I write a long and thoughtful post, I’m lucky to get three likes. There have been times when I’ve posted a verbose story and not gotten a single like. My friend, Jeremiah, often tells long and entertaining stories connecting history to his personal life, and weaving contemporary society into events from the past. He’s lucky to get ten likes, and he has over 3000 “friends!” No one wants to read anymore. I absolutely detest the notation: TL/DR. Too long, didn’t read means that you’re too lazy and/ or don’t have the attention span to digest anything longer than a three sentence Facebook status. As a society, we have been moving away from books for decades. We no longer want to read anything of length, so we warn others if an article or essay is too long by slapping ‘TL/DR’ on there. Sometimes, some brave soul will read an entire article and write TL/DR and then provide a cursory summary of what the essay was about. As if an eight sentence summary can capture the voice, the art, and the wordplay of a well-written essay. We have lost our ability to pay attention, and I cannot help but blame television, the Internet, and the technology sitting in all our pockets right now.

Having said all this, I am just as guilty as the next guy. I take tons of photos and post them on Facebook and Instagram every day. I see a thing of beauty like a sunset, and rather than take it in and reflect on the moment, I pull out my camera to capture it. I chronicle my life through carefully curated pictures, and always try to show my best side. I often write comments that demonstrate how liberal and open-minded I am. I post articles that show how egalitarian and non-racist I really am. My articles, posts, and pictures all tell the story of a progressive and tolerant citizen of this world, who strongly believes in social justice, climate change, women’s reproductive rights, equality, and more. And those are all genuinely held believes that I have. But they don’t tell the whole picture.

President Theodore Roosevelt

The truth is rarely black and white. We live in a time that has become so divided and polarized that if you don’t tow the line of your party’s orthodoxy, you are somehow an enemy of the cause. The expression, “You’re either with us or against us” has never been so true as it is today. People rarely see in shades of grey today, and rarely embrace the nuance and contradictions inherent in human nature. I can support Black Lives Matter AND still recognize that many of the victims of police brutality were committing a crime when they were assaulted and/ or killed. That doesn’t take away the impact of their murders. It just doesn’t lionize them as victims or demonize the police as pure evil. The truth is almost somewhere in the middle between these divergent narratives. To praise a man like Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, or even Abraham Lincoln doesn’t mean you cannot accept and process their flaws and shortcomings. TR was an imperialist and bigoted brute in his younger days. Jefferson had the audacity to write “All men are created equal” while owning slaves and believing in their innate inferiority. Lincoln initially wanted to preserve the union more than outlaw slavery, and for many modern critics, was too slow to embrace abolitionism. What we fail to do when we put these men (and women) in boxes, is embrace their multitudes, as Walt Whitman once said. We don’t allow them their complexities or peccadillos, as we either paint them as Gods or Monsters. Human beings are complicated specimens, and rarely – if ever – fall into one convenient box. We are neither all evil or all bad. Hamlet says, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” And that’s true. We assign blame and strip humans of their nuances and layers when we try to distill their personalities down into cookie-cutter categories.

Another problem with lionizing or demonizing figures from history is that it divorces them of their times, and we fail to provide cultural context. Teddy Roosevelt’s early attitudes towards Native Americans in the late 19th Century was abhorrent, but hardly unusual for the time. And that attitude changed and improved over his lifetime, as he grew and matured. What WAS unusual for his time period was his progressive politics. In the 1912 United States Presidential Election, Roosevelt ran under his own third party – the Bull Moose Party. Despite the limitations of his time, his party’s platform called for suffrage for women, universal healthcare, a protection of federal lands, a livable wage, free education, and many more of the same things we are still fighting for today! Bernie Sanders essentially ran on the platform proposed by TR over a hundred years ago!

And yet, we have many liberals who want to cancel Teddy. And Jefferson. And astonishingly, even Abraham Lincoln. Statues have been removed, and schools renamed. At what cost? Who will be next? Who will be left? Even Martin Luther King was an unrepentant womanizer. Shall we cancel him next? If we have no figures from our past to look up to, how will we learn from their successes and failures? Isn’t it more educational to learn the full complexity of a man in order to understand that kind of nuance and depth within ourselves? We cancel our forefathers/mothers at our peril. If we have no giants to stand on the shoulders of, how will we ever see past ourselves and our own shortcomings?

As I wrote in my essay on cancel culture, we risk losing our very soul as a nation if we continue to throw our ancestors under the bus and refuse to place them in the context of the time periods they came from. We need to stop making those that came before us or our own contemporaries into “heroes” or “villains.” Humankind is too smart to be doing that. We have come too far, to backslide into such adolescent behavior.

Our technology has sped up our lives, but has it improved them? We can capture a sunset in seconds, but can we even take the time to enjoy it? We refuse to read anything of length and substance, but rather choose to watch 30 second clips on Tik Tok. Our attention spans have been irrefutably altered by the media and our technology, and its creating a society full of people suffering from severe ADD and the inability to focus on anything textured or profound. What happens when everything becomes so superficial, and we are so entrenched in our divided camps that we refuse to even talk with our opponents? If a picture is worth a thousand words, the portrait of America right now is not pretty to look at. We need more grey in that picture!

What’s Past Is Prologue: Why Verifiable Reality Can’t Even Stop Donald Trump


I was just having a conversation with my friend about how unbelievable Donald Trump is in denying he said and did certain things, that are so easily proven otherwise. Like…um…there’s a paper, video, and audio trail, sir. Nope. Doesn’t faze him. Some might think that he is completely disassociated from reality. I’d like to think that, but I think it’s even worse. At least in that case, he’d have an excuse beyond just being a complete narcissist.

To me, I find it unfathomable that someone who is so skilled at using social media and the press to his advantage, could be so defiant in the face of demonstrable video and audio that is irrefutable and damning. I don’t think he’s disassociated from reality. I believe he knows that cameras have caught him in lies and ensnared him in inconsistencies. I just think he’s a man that has gotten his way his entire life, and flies in the face of reason and doubt, that would most certainly make the rest of us apologetic and contrite. His reversals and refusals would cripple anyone else, but in Trump, they only make him MORE resolute and defiant. He ALWAYS doubles down. He has such a force of will, that he is defiant in the face of inarguable truth. I have never seen an actual human being demonstrate the concept of Hubris more than Trump — like you would find in a Greek Tragedy. He puts Oedipus to shame. He puts Nixon to shame. He is so proud and singularly focused, he doesn’t need physics and reality to get in his way. It’s stunning.

Donald Trump is so convinced of his own greatness, he honestly believes that he can will facts and evidence out of existence. He believes his cult of personality can honestly erase all of his many flaws and inconsistencies. And why not? Despite a media that constantly point out his many gaffes, his own supporters see him as flawless and always consistent in reinforcing his message of hate. Those who love him refuse to hold him accountable, and therefore, he never has to contemplate change, self-reflection, or regret. As he has said repeatedly, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” I honestly believe there could be video of him raping, torturing, or killing someone, and he would probably still not lose any voters. It’s unprecedented.

Trump has the ability to make US all feel crazy for trying to use HIS words against him, and prove that it’s not us who are insane. My friend, Tammi, put it best: “It’s like Donald Trump is Gaslighting the entire nation.” Yup. That’s exactly it.

Colin Kaepernick & Captain America: Two Caps Fighting Their Own Civil Wars


Have you ever thought about the similarities between Colin Kaepernick and Captain America, who are both referred to as Cap (Kap)? Stay with me. I know it’s a stretch, but if you’ve seen Civil War, you know that Captain America defies popular public opinion, and defends a known criminal, openly defying Congress’s call to register all superheroes and “profile” America’s defenders. His opinion is not a popular one, and this once popular superhero becomes labeled a traitor and demonized by a large portion of America. However, he does have his commited defenders, and this is why the superheroes are split, and the reason the film and comic story arc is called “Civil War.” How appropriate. 

Colin Kaepernick was once a hero of the NFL, and he has decided to stand up to police brutality by taking a knee. He has had an overwhelming majority of negative press, and people calling him a traitor and un-American, but he also has a large group of supporters, not unlike Captain America.

Whatever you may think of Colin Kaepernick or Captain America, they both represent the best of America. It just depends on what you see when you look at our nation. Do you see it as a perfect and flawless nation that we should make great “again” or a great nation in need of improvement, and the ongoing effort to “form a more perfect union” — for every American?

I think they are both superheroes, and saying I support Colin Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter does not mean I hate cops or don’t support “all lives” or “Blue Lives.” 151 years later, we are still fighting the Civil War.


Photo Credit: Drawing by Dave Rappoccio

The #NoFilter Hashtag & The Masks We Wear Online

The #NoFilter hashtag embodies everything I hate about Instagram and social media. Everyone’s so f–ing special these days — yet also so f-ing sensitive too — so we end up patting ourselves on the back for those rare occasions we peel back the artifice, shed our false masks, and actually post those rare and untouched photos. During these infrequent flashes of vulnerability, we actually reveal a glimpse of our true selves — double chins and all — and feel both naked and exhilarated at the same time.

There once was a time when we all lived unfiltered, and actually looked like we do in pictures — ugly warts and all. Our amateur photos were clumsy and artless, and no one expected our pictures to look like they were shot by Ansel Adams or your selfies to look like Giselle. We were short, we were tall, we were skinny, we were fat, and we were all painfully average and awkward. We didn’t all have manicured public personas, managed as an agent might style and craft a Hollywood celebrity. Nowadays, we’re all stars of our own biopics. We’re always crafting and shaping,  photoshopping and editing, and endlessly touching up our messy life stories and making them neat and glamorous.


I’d like to think I try and live a #NoFilter life not because I don’t desperately care what other people think of me, but because I care about what I think of myself. I try to be a good man, but I am deeply flawed and fail often. I am not always proud of my actions, but I’d be even more ashamed to not own them. I am painfully human, and cannot live my life any other way. That means I do a lot of apologizing, and invariably depend upon the kindness of friends and strangers. I’ve lost a lot of friends along the way, and I regret that sometimes. At other times, I realize that if they were true friends, they would have stuck around and given me the benefit of the doubt. I can’t look like I’d like to look in a selfie, but not because I can’t suck in my cheeks or add a clever filter, but because I’d know that wasn’t me. You might not. But I’d know.

We live in a society which increasingly demands us to be skinnier, grow taller, have higher cheekbones, and craft our online personas to comply with what society expects of us. These days, we must all be models, professional photographers, gifted writers, star athletes, and of course, have adorable children and cute pets. Our marriages must be happy and visibly vibrant. While single men over 30 are broken and suspicious, childless women are objects of pity. We all have fascinating and well read blogs, clever Pinterest walls, professional and elegant websites, sexy and endlessly interesting online dating profiles, and humble-brag status posts which remind the rest of Facebook that we’re still winning the Internet and always happy always. Happy. And damn, do we look good…

This is me with #NoFilter and perhaps it is why I am single and childless, but I don’t know any other way to live. If that means I fail the Internet, and am a dinosaur of the digital age, so be it. I still manage to sleep at night.

Link & Learn: How to Click Your Way Thru History


So I was reading a chapter from my friend Sue’s autobiography, and it covers the summer of 1956, when she worked at a drive-in theater in Missouri. She kept mentioning ‘ramps’ and I had no idea what those were. (It’s been awhile since I’ve been to a drive-in!) So I ended up looking up ‘drive-in theater ramps’ and that took me to a page on the history of drive-in theaters. I soon learned that ramps were essentially what they sounded like — the graded dirt or paved spaces raked so that cars could drive their front wheels up, and arranged in a fan-shaped design to best see and hear a movie. It’s ground plan is similar to an amphitheater, where the seats are replaced with front-elevated cars. Simple enough. Of course, I couldn’t stop there. I read on, and half an hour later, I knew everything there was to know about drive-ins. Of course I also learned that drive-ins have all but disappeared in this country, and there are several theories as to why that is. One of the most popular reasons was the adoption of Daylight Savings Time (DST).

As you might expect, my curiosity did not stop there, and this led me to the Wikipedia page on the history of DST, and an introduction to each of the countries that use it, those that have abandoned it, and those that have never adopted it. I learned that most of the world doesn’t use DST, most prominently in the parts of the world on the Equator or with temperate climates. It makes sense that climates that experience very little change in the amount of sunlight during the day and with little variability between the seasons would not benefit from altering their clocks. Of course, this irregular time system from country to country wreaks havoc on scheduling, from flights to videoconferencing, and has led to much confusion over the last near-century.  In America, DST was briefly adopted during the two World Wars, repealed after both, until finally become law under the Uniform Time Act of 1966. DST became more widely accepted and supported during the energy crisis of the ’70s. However, it remains controversial to this day. Arizona doesn’t use it, but the Navajo Nation does on their reservations across Arizona, and three other states. That’s not confusing at all. I would have never imagined I could be so interested in Daylight Savings Time, but it was absolutely fascinating to compare the countries that adopted it and how controversial an issue it has been since its inception. As I often do, I consulted maps to help me understand the breadth of this issue, and the countries that failed to get on board. I was spiraling down the rabbit hole, and one click led to another, and my synapses were firing rapidly. The descent continued.

While reading about DST, I came across the British Prime Minister who was serving while an English member of Parliament first proposed the adoption in England. This led me to read about every Prime Minister between 1800 and 1916. Of course, this led to me to researching Parliament, and the division of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. This brought me back to the history of the British Parliament, as well as a thorough reading about Torries and Whigs. By way of internal links throughout each article, I found myself reading entire Wikipedia articles about topics such as the Thirty Year War, the English Civil War, James II, Charles I & II, the Habsburg Dynasty, Roald Dahl, the Glorious Revolution, and somehow, two fascinating articles on TP – toilet roll orientation and the great toilet paper debate. This last one was so interesting, I had to post it on Facebook.

By the time I looked at the clock, I had read dozens of pages on global history, and on a wide variety of topics. I was shocked to realize I had lost six hours. It’s probably good that I don’t have kids. It’s remarkable how easy it is to surf the Net and lose all track of time.

I am no scholar on any of the topics I read tonight. However, I have demonstrated how easy the Internet makes it to know a little about a lot of things. Naturally, at some point, there needs to be more comprehensive and rigorous learning, but there’s also virtue in being able to lose six hours to learning a few new things. I certainly know more than I did a short while ago.

Dating Now Vs. The ’90s: A Blog Inspired by the Buzzfeed Video of the Same Name

Dating Now Vs. The ’90s.


I am that guy in the video, still hopelessly stuck in the ’90s and pining for that lost age before the internet and texting. Whether you accept it or not, the rapid and unprecedented explosion of high-tech innovation and market saturation has fundamentally changed the way we date and meet new people–romantic or otherwise. The ’90s were a doorway, if you will, between the traditional ways we had courted for centuries, and a brand new, fast and easy way to practically custom-order romance in lives filled with commitments, but short on time. In the Buzzfeed video, Dating Now Vs. The ’90s, a woman and man debate the merits and shortcomings of dating in the ’90s vs. today. One subtle idea that the video raises is that now, more than ever, we slavishly adhere to the silly notion that progress has delivered us into an age of skills and solutions unquestionably superior to everything that came before. Perhaps it is human nature to render the accomplishments of the past as quaint and/or something always to be improved upon. We must be careful not confuse the word ‘easy’ with ‘better’ or ‘faster’ with ‘successful.’ We must frankly evaluate the tools we inherit, and recognize when not to reinvent the wheel or throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Was dating in the ’90s better or worse than today? Does it have to be either or? For the purposes of this essay, my aim is to probe both sides of the debate, and draw conclusions based on how the scale tips and favors.

I contend that the ’90s were an instrumental transitional decade for the world–America, in particular–and that during these years, dating began to change some, while mostly staying the same. It was a decade on the cusp of something big, and thus, it had little responsibility to the decade before it, and could only wait anxiously for what was to come after. During the ’90s, there was a certain frivolity and abandon that changed dating from its more traditional past, while still holding onto much of its old-fashioned charm. At the very least, people had to use more traditional means to meet someone–a mutual friend referral, the bar scene, shared activities, academic flirtations, work affairs, etc. What dating sites there were were organized by phone, or in pre-arranged singles events. There were matchmaking services that tried to match personalities based on likes and dislikes, but there was nothing as nuanced and precise as an eHarmony, for instance. Finding love was a lot more analog and chemical, rather than digital and algorithmic. This all changed when the Digital Age arrived, and had no problem easily brushing aside the slight and quaint angst of the ’90s–a decade who anxiously sowed the seeds of a technological new world order, while being completely unprepared for how quickly they would be forgotten, and how thoroughly irrelevant those Grunge-filled years would be compared to the future of a second and more far-reaching Industrial Revolution. The world changed in an instant.

Now I’m the first to admit that I sometimes have an uneasy feeling about the ubiquitous role of technology in our lives, and am quick to observe the negative consequences it may have, despite its many obvious virtues. But we all know those, right? I don’t have to write an essay about how cool it is that I can send a text with directions to my house, rather than call someone from my old-fashioned landline to their old fashioned landline, and thus eliminate a two-minute conversation about nothing more than directions. We all know the innovative miracles we hold, touch, hear, and see everyday of our relatively new digital world. We know that, whereas I waste everybody’s time trying to raise questions and start conversations about what we can do to safeguard ourselves and our children from the potential harms and pitfalls inevitable in any new technology. Think about it: for the first time in history, we have an unprecedented amount of processing power in our hands, with little to no guidance on how to use it morally, responsibly, peacefully, altruistically, harmlessly, etc.  We have the divine at our fingertips–whether you belief in God or not, you can at least follow my metaphor–and with such power, we can actually (literally) give life or take it, depending on the device. I may sound hyperbolic, but honestly think about the myriad uses of your phone–to call, text, save information, take pictures, take video, surf the internet, do online banking, write reviews, etc, etc. All those things can be used for great good, neither good nor bad (most of life), or dastardly deeds like bringing down world banks and committing fraud, while taking a video of a car wreck and capturing a burning baby inside to post on YouTube later. Okay, that was meant to be dramatic, but you get my point. These are loaded weapons we all are carrying, and when we bring them into our dating lives, we always run the risk of having our technology unintentionally work against us, and even burn us quite sorely.  We just need to think about the role of a third and objective computer or digital program being a mediator / facilitator between singles, and how much we want a mechanical and inorganic presence to figure into the most intimate and organic of all human rituals: love. Love is already a fickle arena, and one might find technology adds a whole new set of unforeseen complications and difficulties. Then again, so does the barbaric and often fruitless mating ritual performed at bars and clubs every night, involving poorly worded and roughly uttered pick-up lines and come-ons. Does anyone really expect to meet their future spouse in a place like that, and in such a crude manner? Obviously they (we) do. That’s probably why half of us are there.  Although, I suppose we dream of something a little more sophisticated — we probably all have dreams of James Bond chatting us up with his urbane wit and roguish good looks, and buying us martinis til our head spins. I mean, duh.  I’m not even gay, but I have some variation of that dream myself. Shaken, not stirred, thank you very much. Haha.

Yet somehow, with all these devices to help us today,  I still got more play in the ’90s than I ever did since. Even taking into consideration all our poor choices and low standards during the Grunge Age (Haha!), there was still something…dare I say ‘better’….at least more organic, that my personality craves and thrives on still today. I wonder at the ubiquity of technology in dating today. Where does the device stop, and we begin? Are we in a post-talking and meeting naturally age? We’re obviously not going to turn back the hands of time, and nor should we. We are living in an age of great promise and technological wizardry, which naturally renders the past quaint and obsolete, as the automobile did the horse.

There is nothing wrong with using our instruments to help us in just another area of our lives: romance. However, I wonder if it’s possible for technology play a supplemental role or even a significant one, while not being the primary instrument of connection. This has always been the root of my dilemma. Can we use our tech safely, efficiently, and smartly, in a way that enhances and aids our lives, without supplanting the human part of the equation? We must always tend the store, and be vigilant that our servants and instruments of ease and convenience don’t become our masters, and enslave us. Mentally, of course. Our increasing dependence on them does put us at risk of becoming enfeebled and unable to endure pain, loss, failure, or defeat. It seems like technology has a way or bringing people together, while simultaneously dividing them apart. We are closer, but perhaps understand each other less. When we are in physical proximity of a person, we have a greater degree of success at judging and evaluating a person based on their body language, voice, actions, etc. We are globally closer, but in some ways, personally further away. People are encouraged to intermingle and find topics and groups of interest, and are often drawn in by the safety and connection engendered by similar interests and like-mindedness. But we must always be careful that we don’t allow ourselves to be duped and fooled by a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Of course, the Internet is full of wolves. If only this gift we all received had come with a guide book, disclaimer, or preferably, directions. We are set adrift in the Wild West of our day, and it is an often rough and tumble lawless place, where it often seems like the best and brightest of us are scammed and bamboozled by every fifth person we encounter. Or personality, rather. There are no people on the internet, but personas, avatars, and carefully constructed constructs. Now everyone knows that even the Old West had swindlers and flimflammers, who were always looking to scam another sucker. The Internet simply has a more sophisticated version. And sadly, you can’t see these ones. The Internet Dating Industry has probably satisfied over half of its subscribers. It’s a multi-billion dollar business, so someone’s getting happy (while most are getting sad, of course). I’m not suggesting that the dating industry is a racket or loaded dice game. I think they probably want to find you a match. Of course, then they lose a customer. But your happiness spreads to everyone you know, and you are suddenly’s new ad campaign. Ten new customers. It’s an algorithm, but it ain’t rocket science. These sites know how to match people, because they have complex processors and data bases able to process innumerable scraps of data about you and everyone else on the site (and probably the information of other non-members, which they’ve bought off a third party)  They are in the science of matchmaking. But humans are well-equipped with their own built-in gadgetry. The human pheromone is still not fully understood, but that only seems appropriate, given its ineffable and wily charms and potency. This clever, but elusive foe, has been adding and canceling out potential mates for…well…let’s just say tens of thousands of years. We are made of it, and secrete it, and in an ideal world, we’ll expose each other to it, in person. Naturally, we still have pheromones as we type away at our computers, but part of me can’t help but think that the first time I meet my next partner, there is something chemical in, as Star Trek would say, ‘First Contact.’ Are we losing the potency of naturally produced chemicals intended to work as a cocktail in conjunction with those we first meet? For that matter, perhaps everybody we meet is subject to our love litmus test, regardless of whether they are a suitable or desirable mate. Therefore, I cannot help but wonder whether First Contact made over the Internet is stronger, weaker, or about the same as a more organic face-to-face encounter. I don’t know the answer to that. It’s probably unquantifiable. However, it does seem like something is lost when a potential couple plays this back and forth messaging, in which they divulge everything (see: as much as they’re comfortable with) about themselves, but have only laid eyes on probably outdated pictures of their amour potentiel. Now, in full disclosure, I have dated online and even met an ex-girlfriend through a dating website, but that only seems to make me more unsure of my feelings of their efficacy. To me, there does seem to be something inorganic, fake, hasty, shallow, deceptive, and simply ineffectual in pairing people together through algorithms and thinking that having enough mutual foods in common is going to somehow make us compatible. There’s simply something fundamentally unsound about pairing people based solely on a binary series of 1s and 0s. I am not suggesting that technical wizardry such as that, has no place in romance. I just wonder whether it should be a starting point. In the course of several weeks, we think we know everything about a date we’ve never even met, but we all understand that websites and screen names can only go so far, and the most important ingredient is the first date. Such rites of passage have always been nerve-wracking, and probably were from the dawn of time. I can easily picture a cave man on his very first date…terrified to meet Krag at a club, and then terrified to club her if it’s a love connection. First dates were no easier in the ’90s or any other previous decade, however, there was a kind of bare and exhilarating anticipation that can only come from a) meeting someone for the first time; b) essentially knowing nothing about the person across from you and a wealth of topics to explore; and c) the physical intoxication of pheromones, other libidinous chemicals, eye contact, body language, comportment, courtesy/chivalry, politeness, ability to communicate, etc. that we can only experience in person. There is something more charged, dynamic, and unknown in not having communicated by email for weeks, not having shared pictures and playlists, Yelp suggestions, and silly cat videos. Those are all wonderful little perks to being a human being in the 21st Century, but those are simply more 1s and 0s, and when added all together, even the aggregate doesn’t begin to define who we are, and how we carry ourselves as human beings. Sure, you can find that out in various dates that follow the digital foreplay, but it will never be that same spark that can only exist when you start to see a mate in the eyes across from you, or conversely count the minutes until you can politely (or not) creep away. In the ’90s and past decades, that often meant men paid for a lot of dinners that were either enthusiastically devoured, or left hardly touched. What I’m describing was often painful and undesirable by every stretch of the imagination, but the reward came in finding pearls where you weren’t even looking. Of course the destination was the most important goal, but it seemed that there was virtue and payoff in the journey there. The work and sometimes strife was a reward unto itself. Although I rarely abide by my own belief, I do think there is much benefit in how you get there, and the work you put in. Those turbulent and uncertain years of my late teens/early 20s were not always easy, but I’d like to think they built character and made me the person I am today. I cannot help but think that the ease and efficiency of online dating and all the devices we use to court each other (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc) are poor imitations of the beautiful complexity that is the human mating ritual. I know it’s a new method or take on an old theme, but there is something fundamentally different about this. Meeting a girl you’ve been set up with at the Sadie Hawkins Dance is A LOT different than sending naked pics of yourself, via Snapchat, to a guy you’ve just met online. For one thing, as my grandmother would have said, ‘Why buy the cow, when you can get the milk for free?’ Indeed, we are all getting very candid glimpses of each other, but nobody knows anyone any more deeply or substantially. Are we all giving away the milk for free, without the experience and satisfaction of milking the cow ourselves? Okay, that was a mixed metaphor and a flagrantly unsubtle sexual innuendo. I apologize. You see…if you only knew me from my blog posts, you would falsely assume that I have nothing but dirty entendres and cheap laughs in my arsenal. In fact, I have many witty and high-brow bon mots, jests, rejoinders, jibes, and quips. All still dirty though. 😛

Apart from online business ventures, Internet dating is one of the most dangerous and deceptive areas of the internet. Should we not do it? No. I’m not suggesting that. I currently have dating profiles out there myself (with little success). Everyone today knows that the Internet is a place that can be fraught with danger. Parents know this better than anyone. I’m simply suggesting that we have to do double-duty, by not only looking out for deceptive and dangerous individuals in the dating world, but also understanding that even the best ones are only a flimsy representation of themselves. Perhaps their photos are not them or woefully out-of-date. The bio is impressive, but actually is untruthful thru omission, and sounds a little too good to be true. We all do it. As I alluded to earlier, our avatar is only a snapshot of us, in all the right lighting and on just the right day. What I’m saying is that we must be careful that our online personas don’t become us. I know this all too well, and have pushed the envelope in the past and sometimes tested the patience of those who read my words–both family and friends alike. And I am remorseful for some of the things I have written online in the past. I was always passionate, albeit sometimes a bit misguided. Again, that was a snapshot of me at a particular time–a bad one, at that–but not representative of all that I am, and everything I believe.  Just as I don’t deserve to be judged for my ‘worst’ day, nobody online deserves to be praised or worshipped for their ‘best’ day. Internet profiles are just that — us in profile. We can only see a very limited perspective of a person, and what we see isn’t always what we get. I’m not suggesting that we throw away internet dating. I think it is valuable, in its own special ways. For instance, in a time of challenging workloads, increased distractions, and personal pursuits, we have very little time to date the bygone traditional way. The Internet provides a very efficient means of meeting people. I’m simply saying that we need to be wary of some magical silver bullet, that is going to solve all our romantic needs. Sometimes being introduced to someone, meeting somebody out in the world, or pursuing someone more organically, might be more satisfying than trying to narrow your searches down to the type of food a potential partner might eat. There is something to be said for the good old fashioned face-to-face interaction I described above.

In addition to safety concerns and misrepresentation (either purposeful or inadvertent), I sometimes find this whole high-tech-dating business to be cold and inaccessible. For instance, I can’t think of anything creepier than that software that uses your cell signal to find people in your proximity at a bar/club who are also into [fill in the blank interest]. I know it’s a digital way to find like-minded people, but there’s still something unnatural about the whole thing. There’s something to be said for all the failure that comes before romantic success. We’re becoming so allergic to failure and do whatever we can to insulate ourselves from its contagious effects.

Of course, I sound like I’m blaming the digital age, when in reality, I just got old, lost my hair, gained some pounds, lost my game, and became obsolete. LOL. It’s probably easier to blame technology than myself or circumstance. Like the guy in the video, I’m nostalgic for a time and a way of life that just doesn’t exist anymore. Although, in actuality, that guy is young enough to be my son, and the beloved ’90s he pines for actually belonged to his parents or older siblings, and therefore he is only arguing a theoretical idea, not a tangible nostalgic memory. Ergo, this non-emperical premise is untested and especially weak in the hypothetical. Sadly, that young buck is not even old enough to remember MY mad, mad, mojo game of the most fabulous Grunge Epoch (his loss).  😉

The Internet is a curious place of extremes and contradictions, and seems to be a place where people come to gorge themselves, and want to know everything about a persona…to a point. In truth, most of us don’t really want to see anything too intellectually rigorous, starkly substantial, or emotionally vulnerable or confessional. With all of these, I mean them in their purest and most dense form–a mile deep, you might say. However, at its worst, the internet is a mile wide, but only an inch thick. It has seemingly everything you could possibly desire, but more often than not, only gives you soundbites and headlines, and rarely digs deeper. Of course, I am generalizing, and there are plenty of great hard-hitting sites that address topics, news, events, people, etc. in full and with probing inquiry. But by and large, the vast expanses of the Internet are filled with news, entertainment, special interest, and other similar sites, all devoted to providing all the latest and hottest headlines of any given area.

It may be helpful to accept that even the most sophisticated algorithms and matchmaking engines cannot make a dating site any more than what it fundamentally is — an unfathomably fast database and search engine which pairs people based on mutual interests, dislikes, philosophies, beliefs,  etc. Such a machine is impressive, but is innately flawed by its one overwhelming deficit: it can’t smell. I mean that it can’t smell your favorite type of flower, the perfume you wear the most, the musky and intoxicating scent–really undetectable to the untrained nose–of pheromones and other libidinous chemicals that inexplicably capture that prehistoric and reptilian part of our brains. Such time-tested and evolved human engineering has improved upon itself for millennia, and is the instinctual barometer and thermometer we use to measure the pressure and temperature of the room and exactly how our date is affecting that–for good or for bad. It’s in the smell, and in the eyes, the touch, and even the taste that we find love and stake proverbial claims on optimal partners. It’s savage and prehistoric, and it’s the animal still in us, that no computer will likely ever be able to truly replicate. So of course, it’s all right and good to subscribe to a service that tries to use numbers instead of the senses we were all born with, but we have to accept that one is not properly a substitute for the other. eHarmony may have all the tools and wizardry, but the sleek efficiency and numbing effectiveness of a human being at this stage in our evolution is unparalleled. We are the most impressive machine. And when the day comes when that changes, we better all be looking over our shoulders. Haha.

Now that I’m practically culturally irrelevant in this youth and tech-obsessed age, dating sites for guys pushing middle age might seem like the perfect place to hide all my inescapable flaws and all the things I’ve inevitably lost since I was a younger man. Or gained, as the case may be. Haha. Yet, I would rather be as digitally candid as I can be, while hypocritically admitting to having old and glamorous pics of myself up and of sculpting my words carefully to craft a profile that stands out. Guilty as charged. At the same time, I have always been painfully honest and outspoken (as my friends, family, and frequent visitors painfully know), and that often applies to my dating profiles or other means of technology I use in the dating game. My words are often flowery, overly articulate, intellectual, and undoubtedly intimidating. And of course, I seem to find it necessary to mention my three degrees and all the places I’ve lived and traveled. Clearly, I’m trying to impress would be partners, but I often think I only end up poisoning the well. Even as I carefully craft and manicure my online persona to be the most attractive and engaging profile out there, I realize that I am at odds with my slavish devotion to telling the truth and my insecure tendency to draw attention to it. Meanwhile, even as I come across as boasting and superior, I am, in reality, not representing myself accurately or effectively. In person, I may sometimes come across that way, but never would someone take away those negative impressions, if they heard it from my lips directly. No matter how hard we try, there is a filter (or lack thereof) that doesnt perfectly capture our tone, meaning, voice, and humor. Of course, there is the oxymoron of me loving words and language as a tool for communication and expression, but not always knowing how to wield them successfully. It is also that toxic blend of insecurity mixed with the very real pressure and expectation to be attractive, fascinating, and engaging to all your readers. It is that perfection paradigm that has permeated our social consciousness. I know I’m not alone, because I see such conflict and poor communication in most people out there. In posts, profiles, dating bios, blogs….everywhere. Sometimes it is due to insecurity, but often it has to do with shockingly poor writing skills, not helped by fast and abbreviated texts, a reliance in spell check/autocorrect, and inadequate or ineffective grammar and English language education. What I am saying is this: I have three degrees, have taught AP English, have taught at the middle school, high school, college, and adult education levels, and yet I still have spotty grammar, often fail in capturing a conversational and accessible voice, and constantly over-edit myself–often with worse results! If I struggle and fail so epically, imagine what many other people with less education or more uneven training are doing, and how they are mangling words and misrepresenting themselves left and right. No wonder we have become an increasingly functionally superficial and shallow society, when we conspicuously lack the grammar and language skills to support a world suddenly overrun with devices whose primarily function is to transmit the written word!!! If language is the currency of thought, that puts us in very real danger of bankrupting ourselves intellectually. And I don’t mean writing theorems on relativity, but the basic higher level cognitive skills we need to survive and thrive. If our words fail us, so will our ability to make meaning and express ourselves deeply. We went from people talking on phones and in person, with very little need to write daily, to suddenly all these platforms that function through the written word. We simply did/do not have the skills to maintain and engage in lengthy, substantive conversations. Twitter wisely limits us to 140 characters. Texts are really only effective and welcome in small chunks and grade-school simple language and bastardized abbreviations. Our FB posts tend to be no longer than 200-500 characters, if that (unless you’re me, and write short novellas). We live in a world newly re-baptized by the written word and we are swimming (drowning?) in communication we haven’t quite mastered, and aren’t always triumphant with. And you might rightly say, that is the learning curve of every new technology, and we will master language, or more likely, reinvent it for our purposes in time. Language isn’t fixed, by any stretch of the imagination. It certainly flows, and grows, and transforms, and evolves quicker than the human beings that use it–and ultimately shape it.  My point is this: if language is so imprecise and unwieldily in person, imagine what our words are doing online, and how others perceive us. I know this well, and foolishly decide to write on, despite what other people might think. My words have failed me extravagantly in the past, but I write on. That is the only way I can improve and refine my words, and hopefully deliver meaning more artfully. I understand that the world is not populated by aspiring and accomplished writers, but that literacy and ability to effectively communicate through the written word seems more imperative than ever before. My point in all of this, is that language is imprecise, inaccurate, deceptive, and corrupted by users who lack the skills, are careless, or purposefully use subterfuge to manipulate words in their favor. These are some very real dangers to both online dating, or using social networking and media to meet and find potential partners. Even using texts and Snapchat to flirt poses its own inherent risks.

I know this much: my online avatar may be confusing and inconsistent at times, but it almost always closely resembles myself–with the exception of some glamor shots and bio-boosting. Yet, at the same time, it isn’t me at all. It’s simply a sliver of what I was thinking in one infinitesimal moment in time. In reality, avatars are more like a kind of Darth a’Vatar, who is compelled to talk tough, act confident, huff and puff in intimidating ways like the real Darth Vader, but all the while hiding his true self.  While secretly behind the shiny black mask-helmet (avatar persona/profile), Darth a’Vatar can hide his true appearance online, and never reveal that underneath all that, he is nothing more than a weak and pudgy, squishy, bald, and scarred dad after all. None of us know what any of us look like on the Internet. I’d like to think that most of us are young Anakin Skywalkers more than old Darth Vaders, but we just can’t be sure. Until we meet. Technology is a wonderful blessing, but we should never forget what makes us human. Perhaps nowhere else is this more important than in online romance. eHarmony and other sites have provided remarkable results, and show no sign of slowing down. I’m not here to deride or denounce online romances or using tech in the dating game. My job is to simply raise questions, engage the public, and get people thinking about how we can more responsibly integrate this flood of new innovation into our lives. Technology has its place beside us, in our hands, underneath us, but should never be totally above or in place of us. Now is the time to evaluate ourselves in this ridiculously fast-paced high-tech world–romance included–and honestly assess whether certain things we’re doing are harmful to our dating lives, and actually more time-consuming and exhausting than the ‘old-fashioned’ approach. Are we making smart decisions about how we meet and stay connected to those we love? Are these encounters real and substantial?

I may sometimes be too harsh on technology, but I’m really only preaching the adoption of responsible safeguards to help us more smoothly integrate this tech into our lives. For instance, I prefer to use aluminum foil to wallpaper my house and wear as a protective helmet against extra-terrestial radio waves transmitted by our alien-engineered technology. That’s just one simple way to protect against the evils of High-Tec digital invasions. Haha.*

I’m actually not dating at the moment, and don’t desire to right now, but I may in the future, and it sounds like the future is now. As I stated, I’ve been on several dating sites, and I know they work for some people. In fact, I expect indignant messages from people that have been happily married for years, and met online. Yes, of course there are success stories. I’m not arguing that. Or that technology can’t be effectively used to navigate romance. I’m just saying…well, call me old fashioned, or a hopeless romantic, but I do think we need to be wary of how far we let technology be the primary romantic intermediary in our lives. There’s something to be said for the good old (nearly always bad) one-liner pickup lines we’ve probably all used or heard in bars. There’s something to be said for pheromones and chemistry that can only ever be captured in person. There’s something to be said for surprises, and going in blind and learning about a person in person, for the very first time. There’s something sexier and not seeing it all before you even meet. There’s something enigmatic in that energy and chemistry that can only take root in the natural and organic synergy that develops between two people that are undeniably attracted to each other. There’s something, nay, everything in that natural magnetism and approximation to another beating heart and nimble brain, that the often imprecise, manufactured, and stilted use of words and technology can never hope to capture. We are still animals, and sometimes the old ways are the best ways. Or at least, the old ways with the careful and tasteful help of all our modern tools. We haven’t quite found that balance.

Perhaps the biggest excuse for using dating sites or other new age solutions, is TIME. As the number of hours required in the average workday decreased or stayed the same, and our vacation time increased, we somehow took on even more work at work. We now stay later and longer, and workdays are often followed or preceded by trips to the gym, child transport, errands, etc, which often pushes dinner back to 7 or 8, and those last few hours before bed are mostly spent surfing the internet, watching TV, or reading. This doesn’t take into account the book club, the Yoga class, the family counseling, etc, etc. The single person sees no less of a hectic schedule, and oftentimes, packs even more in. So when and where do we expect to meet other like-minded singles? How can we possibly find viable opportunities to meet and get to know people we may wish to date. That seems to be one those burning questions in the paradoxical landscape of dating in America today. We simply don’t have time. Of course, that is a much larger question. To those people, I would simply say, why? It seems to me that if work is that demanding and consumes that much of a person’s life, perhaps that is not a healthy or productive endeavor. That, of course, speaks to a much larger issue of Americans and their compulsive work ethics and goal-oriented, competitive natures. As for all the other conflicts in their lives, I would have to ask how important romance and finding a mate is to them. If a person cares more about their spinning class than making the time for romance, than I would question their priorities. If you make time for romance, I am quite certain it will make time for you.

Technology is a gift and a miracle, bestowed upon us all. It makes our lives easier, fuller, and richer. It certainly has a role to play in dating, and is unstoppable and irreversible anyways. We live in an exciting age. Dating has never been so fresh and varied. The Internet, texting, and other communication tools offer exciting potential. At the same, there are perils and pitfalls, and what we may consider fresh, new, and exciting, may not always be better than what came before. Perhaps the ’90s weren’t so bad after all.

*I’m sure some people are now thoroughly convinced that I am off my rocker. Ah, sarcasm, satire, and irony…where have you gone? Oh yeah, humor also doesn’t work well online. And if my sick and twisted sense of humor doesn’t translate well over the internet and I never get another date again, well…at least the internet is good for something else.

How Buzzfeed Feeds the World: A Short Essay on the Success of America’s Favorite Website

I’ve decided that Buzzfeed can be a dangerous place to visit, because you run the risk you may not ever leave. There are certain fanboy websites that I visit, and stay well beyond reason, because I invariably start clicking on links of interest, that lead to pages with new links to still more pages with new links and so on, until I am tumbling down the proverbial rabbit hole. Like most of you, I am sucked in by articles, essays, videos and pics, and with me in particular, they usually have to do with Sherlock, Shakespeare, Star Trek, Cinema, Sci-Fi, football, or Victorian England. We all have our unique sites that suck us in, but Buzzfeed is that unique site that seems to suck us all in. The website is undeniably one of the most popular sites on the internet for ALL of us. I’m here to figure out why that is…

Buzzfeed is a rabbit hole, like many websites are, but more remarkably, it also shares characteristics with the greater web in general, and might even be seen as a tiny microcosm of the vast macrocosm we surf everyday. The Internet has sprawled and stretched beyond our means of measure, and though we may suspect its reach, its grasp we may never know. Just as I explained earlier that I had visited a single site, but had used internal links to explore the sizable network of roads within it (with occasional trips abroad), Buzzfeed is an even larger fiefdom, nay kingdom, with a rich and varied landscape, a language all its own, and most importantly, a distraction with the power to suck you in permanently. It’s hard to visit Buzzfeed and visit just one article. There seems to be an unending wealth of articles aimed at attracting any one of us.

But what are the keys to Buzzfeed’s success? The first factor to take into consideration is the look and feel of the website. The site’s web design and name are both successful marketing strategies, and are not necessarily intended for the slow and patient visitor, who could care less about layout or design, color or font. That type of visitor is increasingly few and far between, and would stay regardless, so long as the content piqued their interest. No, Buzzfeed is looking for a more common patron, while still undoubtedly having a target demographic. That demographic skews younger, and responds well to color, graphics, and sensational headlines. That demographic is practically everyone between the ages of 15 and 50. That’s a pretty big demographic, and also happens to be the greatest number of consumers in the American economy.

The word Buzzfeed is a composite of two familiar words in the English language. Buzz can refer to the sound a chainsaw makes, the natural sound of a bee in flight, or more recently, something topical or sensational in the news that must be told. Buzz also evokes the noun, ‘buzzword,’ which is a word or phrase, often an item of technical or vocational jargon, that is fashionable at a particular time or in a particular context. It is often used pejoratively and is commonly dismissed as sensational and superficial. All of these definitions are extremely evocative and provocative, and when one sees the first part, ‘buzz,’ they undoubtedly think of something loud and exciting, something that forcefully cuts through something, and/or something trendy and exciting. The second half of the compound word is ‘feed’ and that has a few nuanced meanings. The most common definition of feed is the act of giving food to others, especially to animals or a baby, or of having food given to oneself. It is a source of nourishment, and it is vital and necessary to our health and wellbeing. The more spiritual definition of ‘feed’ is to also nourish or fortify someone or oneself, but not with food, but with faith, knowledge, intellectual rigor, artistic endeavors, ideas, and more. So what we see here is a compound word made up of two completely contrasting ideas. The first part implies something cheap, violent, sensational, flashy, and/or superficial, while ‘feed’ implies selfless attention and nourishment to another or to oneself. The implication seems to be clear—we are being forewarned that this website may offer both the lurid and the learned. What kind of demographic could include two polemics, and hope to hold the interest of either one, without alienating the other? Perhaps the design will tell us more.

The first thing to notice about the website design, is how tightly congested the Buzzfeed home page is—and every page, for that matter. The name of the site is relatively small, and occupies the upper left hand corner. Below the logo is a tool bar, divided into five different categories: News, Entertainment, Life, Videos, More. When you hover over each of these headings, there is a drop down menu, which gives more detailed subheadings. For instance, under News, you can choose World, Politics, Business, Tech, Sports, Longform, Ideas. Under each category, there are drop down menus, each with six to eight subtopics. In the upper right hand corner of the site, there are seven yellow round circles. Inside, they read: LOL, win. omg, cute, trashy, fail, wtf. At the end of the line of yellow circles, there is a red circle, with an arrow pointing up. By clicking on it, I learned that this is the label for ‘trending’ or ‘hot.’ When I click on each of the colored circles, it takes me to a page, where every story that earned that rating, are gathered all together. On the main page, I also have the option to scan the articles, and find the ones with the yellow or red ‘stickers’ attached. I can find those articles either way.

As for what the rest of the home page looks like, it is divided into three rows, of varying size. The row all the way to the left has small pictures positioned in the far left, while a title of the piece is just to the right of the pic. In the next row over, to the right, there are pictures roughly three times larger than the first row, but long, and positioned this time above the text. The heading at the top of this list reads ‘Buzfeed News.’ In the far right row, there is a heading that reads ‘Trending,’ above pictures whose size is approximately halfway between row one and row two’s pics. There are no titles above or below the far right pics, but each is numbered with red boxes in the upper left hand corner of the pics. When you hover above the pictures, their titles are superimposed over the pic. In total, there are ten trending articles listed. Below these ten articles, there are videos, with the title: ‘What’s hot in videos?’

The thing I came away with most, in evaluating the overall layout of the Buzzfeed page is this: each pic is unique and of a different color, so although it makes for a very congested and busy page, it is a tightly woven patchwork of color, and not unpleasing to the eye. If anything, it is pleasing in its enticing and promising aesthetic. Although tightly packed, each row is lined up evenly, which allows the reader to scan—presumably from top to bottom—easily glancing at the titles and their corresponding pictures, while occasionally stopping to open a new page to the selected story. As for the length of the page, I tried to scroll down, and it did that thing websites occasionally do, which is not allow you to reach the bottom, but keep supplying fresh stores of articles. The site simply kept filling in with more stories. The sheer volume of stories was considerable. It soon became apparent that Buzzfeed’s tight layout was not simply a marketing ploy to stimulate the eye, as often perpetrated in retail. Nor was it some kind of proprietary boast to convince visitors that they were actually getting a proverbial bang for their proverbial buck. This was a densely packed website, whose business seemed to be the business of churning out an endless supply of stories worth reading. But what exactly is the content and how could it possibly be appealing to a wide range of visitor?

The truth and brilliance of Buzzfeed cannot simply be found in its name or in the layout of its site. What fundamentally separates Buzzfeed from its competitors is its strict adherence to its core demographic; its bold and savvy choice to serve all its content up the same way, regardless of tone, purpose, or popularity; never taking itself too seriously; and most importantly, pillaging popular culture for the opportunity to target with surgical precision (some might call it pandering), the interests, shared experience and collective memories of a group. These groups—or target demographics—are often targeted in a way that appeals to their evolving sense of nostalgia; fluency in technology; preoccupation with romance; learned sense of entitlement; increasingly inflated egos; obsession with the latest trends and being the first to know; a shared love of lists; easily readable quirky and fantastic stories of fact that read like fiction; stories, lists, or quizzes about sacred and nostalgic childhood memories from each generation of reader; surveys from popular shows to determine which character you’d be; up to date celebrity news and fashion; stories regarding serious news and topical world themes, but never so in-depth or lengthy to alienate the average reader. Buzzfeed has the vision to recognize that world news is important to some, but may be rejected by those obsessed with Disney, let’s say, but never allows itself to draw the distinction between either one. THAT is the brilliance of Buzzfeed. By offering up all its content in the same way and with the same respect and reverence—regardless of how newsworthy or substantial it is—Buzzfeed is not alienating any of its readers, and allows for everyone to pick and choose the news and content they are most attracted to. Thus, the fan of artsy television drama doesn’t have to click on the article about Snookie or the Royal baby. Going back to layout, there seems to be more strategy in Buzzfeed’s packing of pages so tightly, other than just overwhelming the readers’ eyes with a dizzying number of stories. By democratizing content through uniformity of size, each article is as important as the next, and sheer volume dictates that there are dozens, if not hundreds of articles that seem tailor written to our needs. Therefore, a reader never needs to feel that they are overwhelmed by serious newstories…or trashy gossip articles…or foolish pop quizzes. They are all represented equally, and there is enough content for everyone to enjoy. If you’re not pulled in by one article, it’s almost certain you will by the next. And brilliantly, Buzzfeed ‘feeds’ its demographic well, by appealing to what they’re interested in: ourselves. More than anything else, Buzzfeed plays into its demographics’ sense of vanity. We are able to see ourselves in the content we read.

By looking at Buzzfeed, we are looking at ourselves, but not just ourselves at this age, but ourselves at ten…twelve…fifteen, twenty-one, or today. There are articles on the website that are aimed at our childhood hearts. There are articles about our past loves and obsessions: shows we used to watch, toys we used to play with, crushes we used to have, etc. Most importantly, Buzzfeed targets every generation with these articles. That means a reader in their late forties can read about bands from the late ‘70s and remember what it was like to be in high school. Readers born in the mid ‘70s can nostalgically read about Atari game system from the early ‘80s. Those born in the mid-‘80s can read about Pokemon toys they played with in the 90s.That same reader born in the ‘70s can find an article all about Grunge rock of the ‘90s that they listened to in high school, and later, college. And on…and on…and on. There is literally something for everyone.

Buzzfeed has a wide audience, and casts its net wide. You will likely not find any deep and insightful articles related to foreign policy, which are going to be overly informative and substantial. However, you will find articles about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for instance, and other noteworthy news stories and examples of American foreign policy. Because Buzzfeed is exactly like its name implies—something that will quickly and loudly feed you with soundbites of news and fun and quick articles that will entertain you. It will hit all of us, but it’s not meant to cut deep. It will feed, but most likely as a snack, not a full five course meal. It knows exactly what its audience wants and needs, and it delivers, perhaps better than any website today. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I, for one, will continue to read this fascinating and entertaining website.

CyberSelfie: How Technology Has Shaped Our Self & Socialization

Cyber- is a prefix derived from “cybernetic,” which comes from the Greek adjective κυβερνητικός meaning skilled in steering or governing. It seems appropriate that cyber means to govern or steer skillfully, since technology also has the ability to steer and guide a society that puts increasing trust and faith in it. Technology was created for humankind’s convenience, out of legitimate needs and genuine wants, and is both tool and toy, luxury and necessity. Keeping with its dichotomous nature, technology can also be our savior, and our undoing. We stand at a crossroads, and have exploded technologically, while not maturing fast enough to properly keep up with our own inventions. We must learn to better interact with our tools and toys, and in so doing, learn to better communicate with each other. Technology can be safe and infinitely helpful, or dangerous and dehumanizing. It is up to only us to decide whether it be boon or burden.

I’m the first to admit that I’m mostly clueless when it comes to Net Lingua – the language of the Internet, including numbers, characters, emoticons, acronyms and initialisms. I can drop my fair share of smiley’s and winks and LOL with the best of them. However, I sometimes come across seemingly random sequences of letters I just don’t get. For example, why write ILSHIPAPMPLIWALBA instead of just saying ‘I laughed so hard I peed and pooped my pants like I was a little baby again.’ Just write LOL already. Maybe a Haha. Do you need to capture every bodily movement and reaction you had to something? I can’t understand why you would leave the abbreviation ISAITIGMAHANTGTTHRNISTTIMI when you can just tell someone, ‘I’m so amused, I think I gave myself a hernia and need to go to the hospital right now. I’m serious this time. I mean it.’ You’re already halfway there. That just seems dangerous to me.

Similarly, I’m always a little confused by facepalm. At first I thought it was a brand of Palm Pilot (if anyone even remembers those), then I guessed it must be a new social networking site. Finally, I deduced that it was a gesture representing frustration or fatigue with something. Of course, I never would have figured it out from its emoticon symbol (– ‸ x). WTF? (Of course, I know that one) If I were forced to guess the meaning of that random collection of squiggles, I think I’d say it stood for ‘pirate eye’ or maybe ‘knuckle sandwich.’ Perhaps even ‘poking a flower with a stick.’ That clenched fist isn’t even close to palming that face. And then there are those that just write it out. Complex thoughts are distilled, reduced rather, into short pithy words, phrases, or pictures quickly signaling exactly what we’re feeling.

One of the most dangerous facets of computers and our rapidly changing cyber-world is the idea of instant gratification. With WiFi, high speed internet, smart phones, and data plans, we can instantly send emails, instant message, leave wall posts, send pictures, update websites, download documents, video conference, conduct online banking, and many other things. In the not so distant past, people relied on telephones to talk, snail mail to write, photo shops to develop photographs, and posters to advertise businesses and yard sales. Things took time, and patience was required. We knew no other way, and today’s advances were practically inconceivable. There is something dangerous about instant gratification. Angry emails and comments can be written without proper reasoning. Inappropriate pics can be sent or posted, embarrassing any number of people. Online shopping, banking, and stock trading can lead to impulsive purchases, sales, etc. Finally, there is something lost in the brevity and haste it takes to write an email, as opposed to the time and care it took to write and mail a letter. In our ability to perform tasks in an instant, we are losing the character and dignity that comes from effort and work, and we are missing out on face-to-face time with others. We are gratified and satisfied, but must sacrifice a little something.

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that we are all a little spoiled by instant gratification, and perhaps it has to do with the fact that we can instantly reach all our friends, but whatever the case may be, we have steadily become a society of narcissists. Perhaps the most visible example of this love affair can be found in the ubiquitous presence of ‘selfies’ – appropriately titled, given their innate vanity. The most common selfie is a shot taken by oneself of oneself, and oftentimes posed and purposefully trying to look cute, tough, etc. Firstly, the selfie eliminates a separate photographer – a seemingly moot point, but important, given the fact that photographs now need no other person, and the subject becomes the photographer – and more wrapped up into themselves. The selfie is often multiple shots – sometimes dozens – instantly posted to social media. The selfie has made photography the domain of everyone – effectively relegating professionals to the sidelines. Selfies have made everyone a model, and people have become increasingly more vain and self-important. Pictures in general have increased exponentially. Parents are quite fond of posting numerous pictures of their children, while simultaneously humble-bragging-a passive aggressive way to brag, while pretending not to under the guise of humility. We all know that bragging is obnoxious, but we still have important news we think society needs to hear.

Our posts are the perfect place to humble brag, and demonstrate more of that neo-narcissim we all seem to possess. Never before had we a platform to announce to the world our random thoughts, bold plans, angry rants, thoughtful and uplifting quotes, and love for this or that. Suddenly, everything we thought or felt seemed important, and Facebook provided a captive audience we could declare our thoughts to triumphantly. What’s more, they could ‘like’ the thoughts, and further validate and encourage us. If they were really moved, they could even write comments, which is the ultimate thrill and show of support. This validation also served to boost our egos and gave us more cause to keep on writing. Social media exploded, and suddenly, we were all writing pithy Tweets in 140 words or less, pinning up art and recipes we wanted the world to see, designing our own websites, building an audience for the blogs we wrote daily, and posting videos of ourselves talking to the camera about some funny or important story. We are everywhere and seen by everyone, and our voice and image are reproduced over and over. All at once, we are the celebrities of Hollywood and professional sports we always saw on screen, but now share in that same overexposure. We are all celebrities, and our image is everything.

The problem is, none of us know how the other is feeling…what they’re thinking, and how they mean what they write. Because very few of us are good enough writers to expertly convey not only the facts and thoughts of a statement, but the tone and feeling behind it. Irony and sarcasm have become endangered species in our culture. For example, when I poked fun at Internet lingua above, I meant it to be light-hearted and in the spirit of fun. However, I’m sure there are scores of people out there deeply offended and enraged by my senseless attack on the Internet and the shorthand they choose to convey tone and emotion.

Even the best of us can’t possibly be expected to detect all the subtle nuance and intent behind everything we read. We’re not computers. Actually, that’s precisely the problem. Humans are thinking and feeling sentient beings, which are genetically predisposed and constructed to be warm and tactile communicators, who play various roles in our communities. Computers ‘think’ in code: numbers…algorithms. That is why we call them computers. They compute massive amounts of raw data at staggering speeds, while human’s fragility—and strength—lie in their innate ability to process emotions and to build relationships based on respect, love and affection, as much as on instinct. As of right now, there is no computer that can process and compute matters of the ‘heart.’ Although we are not trying to forge relationships WITH computers, we are actually trying to maintain relationships THRU computers. Therefore, we must understand that even though they seem to make our lives better, easier, and more convenient, they are also potential barriers to effective communication. We must remember that we are using a cold and dispassionate digital processor to feed our hearts and minds into, while expecting them to come out the other side exactly as we intended. You needn’t look any further than any common website, where you can witness digital miscommunication sow seeds of confusion, anger, and violence right there in the ubiquitous ‘comments’ section. Relative anonymity mixed with strong conviction and perceived threat explodes on the page with rage. Small misunderstandings are stripped of context and tone, and escalate quickly into scenarios that might turn deadly, were they live and in person. I am not suggesting that individuals don’t have a choice in ratcheting up their rhetoric and actively engaging others in conflagrations. Sure, there are plenty of people that abuse the web with misguided malice and aggression. But for every one of those internet ‘trolls,’ there are dozens…hundreds…thousands of us that are bruised and battered by the very fruits of our labor, designed to set us free and make our lives better. However, some of us don’t even realize it. Perhaps like a battered wife, we have come to accept our equilibrium – however unstable – as safe and familiar. In reality, the very tools we gave ourselves often misuse us. We are surrounded by inventions without intentions. Their sole purpose is to compute and solve problems towards an end. Human beings also have their goals and objectives, but we care more about how we get there and what motivates us to go after our goals. In fact, we are constantly reevaluating our methods and mistakes, and reassessing our goals and desires. As far as technology has come, it has not produced sentient computers, with the ability to feel and make decisions about their futures, and its impact on those around it.

Our computers are incredibly advanced today, but we easily forget that they are not windows by which we look through them and talk easily with a person we see just inches away from us. Instead, they are the locked doors we cannot see through YET, and thus, we are just inches from our loved ones, but unable to see or hear them properly. When we truly unlock that door, we will be able to pass better than we ever could through our windows, but until then, we must try to understand how a door works.

We stand on the threshold of great promise, or perhaps great misfortune. With everything at our fingertips, we still seem to forget our sense of touch. We hurl ourselves headlong into our futures, and tempt fate as we try and better our lives. And yet, we somehow always seem to forget that the times we cherish and hold dear to us rarely features a computer or the latest tech gadget. Those are the moments when we are most intimate with those we love. When we are personally interacting the way WE were designed to communicate. We’ve taught computers our language, using our numbers and our symbols, but it’s unlikely we could ever teach a computer the nuances of our heart. Not the physical organ that pumps our blood, but that elusive place that houses our spirits…our souls. How do you teach a computer how to feel for a human being, or what’s more, to allow that emotion to inform the decisions it makes, regardless of its programmed goals and its complex series of algorithms. It’s that irrational and unpredictable human essence that a computer cannot hope to replicate inside itself, and therefore, shouldn’t be expected to replicate from one of us to another one of us. A computer is that invaluable door that leads to wherever we care to go, but it’s still not a window. It’s not unlike that game we all played as children – the Telephone Game. One kid would come up with a medium-length sentence, and then whisper it into the ear of the child next to him. In turn, he would whisper it into the ear of the little girl by his side. Before long, the sentence has made its way around the circle, and arrives right back where it started. When the last child repeats the line out loud, the original boy cannot help but laugh at how distorted and corrupted his original message was. And that game is played with a small group of human children. Imagine what our technology can do to the messages we send.

I jokingly refer to myself as a Luddite – a technophobic person or anyone who is opposed to technological change and innovation. In reality, I own all of the same tablets, cell phones, laptops, etc. that all of you do. I am very grateful for the role technology has played and continues to play in my life. I honestly believe it to be a blessing. However, I am also observant to the things I see around me. I am both awed by the ‘miracle’ of technology, and soberly skeptical about the subtle deleterious effects it’s having on our society. I consider us to be in the honeymoon period with technology. It is seemingly moving at the speed of light, while noticeably improving the lives, and making things easier than they’ve ever been before. But that’s the crux right there. Nothing truly good ever came easy. That doesn’t mean fortune can’t smile on us and bless our sweat and tears. Of course not. Nor should we be expected to toil as our ancestors did, when we have the means to lighten the load. But as they say in Spiderman, ‘With great power, comes great responsibility.’ We only stand on the threshold now, but we wield enormous power, and the door we’ve decided to open can never be closed again. Nor can we walk back through it. Just as a bell cannot be unrung, we cannot hope to walk backwards through the snow, while trying to erase our presence by stepping in the footsteps we left before. In every way, we stand on a threshold that is hinged with the door of technology and guarded by scientists everywhere. Men and women with advanced degrees guard our very way of life, and even our own protection, as they search for answers everywhere they find a question. At the present, we are looking out across a land only dotted with technology, but one soon to be blanketed by it. That may translate into a faster and tastier cup of coffee or could just be the very devices we need to halt or ameliorate man’s nearly irreversible impact on earth’s fragile ecosystem. Those are keys to unlock doors we want to walk through, but it’s what’s on the other side, we just don’t know about.

Technology is undoubtedly a boon to humans everywhere. Right now, there are hospitals saving the lives of people who would have been dead less than a decade ago, but are now saved by the awesome power of progress. Missing children are reunited with their families because a computer chip somewhere connected a web of concerned citizens and child advocates. Our mothers and fathers are with us longer, and enjoy an unprecedented quality of life that only computers could have provided. Many of us are threads in a great network of people we’ve never met before, and a smaller group of friends and acquaintances, many of whom live in distant cities and some of whom we haven’t seen in years. There are countless other examples, and all only possible through the wonder of technological advance.

I would never suggest we throw away the tools we’ve earned and richly deserve. It took generations of committed minds, self-sacrificing toil, bitter heartache, sweat and tears, and the forward march of progress to bring us to this precise moment in history. We are in our honeymoon phase with technology, but any married couple will tell you, that cannot last. Not for want of trying or honest to God devotion, but because fires simply can’t burn that intensely, and expect to last the night. Though we may never fall out of love with technology, our zeal and obsession is only sustainable so long. Inevitably, there will be a widespread endemic of tech fatigue, where our unrealistic expectations are realized, and the allure of the fast and new begins to wear off. It may never translate into a full-fledged backlash, but there will be plenty of disillusioned people looking for something they can grasp. Something more substantial. Naturally, that something is someone, and it’s us. If we let technology run us, rather than the other way around, than we are merely slaves of our own inventions. In a world like that, we would have to face the ironic and unintended outcome of being further away from those we thought technology could bring us closer to. Instead of FaceChat, there’s simply chatting face to face. Of course it’s easier, less costly, and more time efficient to make a video call to a friend. But don’t confuse any of that with better. The decisions we’re making today are faster and easier, but as I said before, nothing truly good comes cheap and easy. Relationships are built over time, and the foundation rests upon the subtle nuances of human speech, gesture, and that unknowable quality that is always present between two close people, or even groups of people. The building blocks often include touch, eye contact, a knowing grin, a lift of the eyebrow, the tone of a voice, and the familiarity of a shared laugh. As technology advances, sound gets crisper, pixels deliver unparalleled clarity, and we get savvier with how to wield and manipulate this power in our hands, we are even more beholden to our devices. We end up building digital walls out of the stuff we like, even as we think we’re building homes for the people we love. What may seemingly bring us together may in fact be the very thing that tears us apart.

Averting a painful tomorrow could simply mean taking a few preventative steps today. Right now, we are still on our honeymoon, but we are also on the threshold of our home, with our young bride in our arms, and ready to walk through that door. It’s terribly difficult for new lovers to see through anything other than rose-colored glasses. To them, the honeymoon will last forever. Yet we all know that isn’t the case. When the heat and the passion begin to wane, couples often grieve the loss of whom they once were, and are frightened by the vacuum of not knowing what comes next. Some couples fill the void with children; others develop active relationships outside the home; some try and find peace at the bottom of a bottle or are addicted to their own distraction. Technology may be a great distraction, but as anyone in a long and successful marriage will tell you, it took a lot of work. Nothing came fast, cheap, or easy. All good relationships are like this. What happened after the honeymoon was over? Well, they might have strayed with distraction, but all of the successful marriages have one thing in common: communication. There’s no way of knowing how long our honeymoon with technology will last, but we need to try and take steps today to facilitate productive communication tomorrow. And by communication, I mean, communication between human and machine and most importantly, human-to-human communication. Right now, we can’t seem to see the forest for the trees. We’re too deep in it all. We are irrefutably seduced by the power we think we have in our hands. Of course, if the computer were fully AI (Artificial Intelligence), the computer would be thinking the same thing about us. And the computer would be right. We are slowly losing ourselves into this tantalizing – and in most ways – benevolent, life-changing force. There’s no retracing our steps in the snow or picking up breadcrumbs this time. We are in this for the long haul. Technology is with us to stay. Perhaps even longer than we will. That’s the problem.

In order to tame our technology, we must first tame ourselves. We must learn what it means to be in a room with another human being, and one that is not a chat room. It is absolutely essential that we relearn what it is to be human. We must all do exactly what every one of those successful marriages had to do after the honeymoon was over: learn how to talk to each other. The key to every relationship, especially marriage, is communication, and learning not just what to say to your partner, but how to say it. And, I might add, when. The only successful marriages—whether it be a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and a man—are built on the fundamental principal of building a home, and what it takes to share a space with someone you may love, but not necessarily know how to talk to. It’s hardly different with technology. You may profess to love your new iPhone, but you don’t effectively know how it works, and most importantly, how it objectively makes you feel. Just because you enjoy your computer doesn’t mean it’s enjoying you back. How do you forge a relationship with an inanimate object that just so happens to be able to do complex computations and send just the right present to your sweetheart? Being in the honeymoon phase means that we can’t objectively evaluate our obsession with technology. We don’t know to take steps now to avoid future pitfalls we may have. However, we must learn to use these unrivaled processing machines in our own heads, to be able to anticipate how we can better interact with our own technology, so that we may better communicate with the living, breathing people we love the most.

Learning to manage the technology in our lives means taking a step back, setting parameters, and outlining clear goals and objectives. What is it we ultimately hope to achieve with x, y, and z? How does this device actually affect my quality of life and does it put undue strain on my human relationships? What is the worst thing I can imagine this computer could do to me, and to those I love? How do I delegate tasks and manage my time better? What is it I crave the most in my relationships that I can’t get when I put technology between us? These are just a few of the questions that need to be part of a larger national, international, worldwide discussion about the role of technology in our lives. Our futures may depend on taking the reigns and wrestling with the very real questions of risk vs. reward. Right now, this progress thing is paying real dividends, and it’s hard to foresee a future where it doesn’t. Sadly, that future is already with us. We are sowing the seeds, and must come to terms with the stuff we want in life as opposed to the people we want to share it with. Don’t get me wrong: they are not mutually exclusive. There’s no need to organize a laptop bonfire anytime soon. I love my technology, and wouldn’t want to part with it either. But you know what I love more? People. And like it or not, our personal lives are suffering at the expense of technology. It’s subtle, and you may not even know it, but it’s there. Even as we collect over a thousand friends on Facebook or Snapchat our naughty pics to lovers, we are really just slowly building walls around us. Except our digital walls are littered with our own profiles and pictures, like it was Pinterest or something. They look just like us, even move and sound like us. But they are not us. They are bits of binary code and pixels and a whole bunch of other ‘magic’ stuff that most of us will never know. When all is said and done, our sea of walled-in souls will feel like they’re part of a collective, and they’ll each be interconnected. As of now, computers have no heart unless we give it to them. How ‘bout we find love in all the right places? We could all stand to love ourselves a little less, and find ways to love each other more. The fault, dear friends, is not in our devices, but in ourselves that we are underlings.