Why I Don’t Like Likes

Suzy XYZ and ten other people like your status.”

We’ve all seen the notification, after hitting the globe with the red rectangle that tells us someone thought of us today. For me, finding out that that red flag only means someone “liked” something I wrote is only mildly satisfying. And then I realize that I’m the problem, I’m the ghost in the machine.

When I started regularly Facebooking a year ago (“No Facebook, ever!” I had always firmly held, but my resolutions melted when I found it was the only way of keeping up to speed with our swiftly tilting planet), it didn’t take me too long to realize that the majority of users don’t actually produce regular content. Perhaps I was just spoiled as an internet babe, cutting my teeth on the blogosphere as my first form of web discourse. When I joined Facebook, I knew that it wasn’t going to be greatly satisfying, but I joined anyway. Scanning the news feed, looking for actual information about my friends, I found that the more popular pastime is reposting news articles and memes.

I’m a high-content guy. I recently sent a writing partner my share of ideation on a piece of work we’re doing, and she responded, basically, “Nope. I can’t do this. To much information. Break it down.” She suggested crumbling the (very big) project into smaller chunks…the sizes she cited left me with a sense of impatient disappointment.

Perhaps Facebook isn’t the problem. And I’m willing to accept this as a major possibility, because I know I’m a major social anomaly. Maybe I’m the problem. Facebook isn’t a social catch-all; it’s tailored to a certain set of efficient people. So, while I may enjoy taking two minutes to craft a comment for someone’s post, others will just hit “like.” A binary love note will appear on my dashboard…like getting a signed Hallmark card from a long-lost friend.

This speaks to the infrastructure of the website, though. It is, in many ways, a depersonalized social machine. I suppose that, since the average Facebooker has approximately 500 friends, it needs to be depersonalized for it to work at all. If each of those 500 friends posted regular content daily, one would never get through one’s timeline. And if you commented on the daily statuses of 500 people, it would take an eternity to catch up. Hence, it is much quicker just to hit the thumbs-up button. Liking and sharing, rather than leaving text, is a pragmatic shift in interactions, designed to cope with how fast users must consume “content” in order to get up to speed.

If the majority of Facebook users spent more time crafting content and responding thoughtfully to statuses, we would spend a lot more time on Facebook. As a result, people would have to start rethinking how many people with whom we are willing to keep in touch. 500 would become 50, and perhaps 50 would even become 5.

However, once again I realize most of this is me. Not everyone likes high-volume text–Some people would rather eat candy than cake. Ultimately, Facebook is an exercise in mass-production, and as with all manufacturing operations, processes must be streamlined and optimized to work efficiently.

Kachunk. Kachunk. Whirr.

The Living Human Body As Art

Here on Earth there’s a sort of planetary economy that used to be based on work. Actual, physical work. You got on your knees and got your hands dirty and planted seeds and if you waited long enough, plants would grow. And if you waited for them to grow tall and proud, you could pick them, turn them into cloth, and weave them into a garment. Or if they were food, you could throw them into the back of a wagon, drive them to the village square and sell them for money.

And then radio came along, and then television. And people don’t want to turn on their set to listen to the rustle of grain or to see a loom clacking away, they want to see a face. They want to see people. In particular, beautiful people.

So began the living human body as art.

We began to dress and act as though we were in a movie or on TV, modeling ourselves after what we saw in the glowing glass, thinking it was a mirror. We thought we could imitate what we saw in the picture, unaware of what was going on just outside the edges of the screen: Massive lamps, heavy cameras, directors doing sign language, a hundred grips running with looped cords, and boom microphones were all posed just outside the line of sight.

We thought we could be like them.

Now people think their lives should run like a movie, that what they say should be gifable, and that the outfits they pick out should be worthy of history.

It takes a lot to make a movie; about one hour of work goes into one minute of film…and that’s for a small indie project. The question is, are you really willing to put that much work into your life? (Apart from the fact that that would be mathematically impossible.)

The living body as art is a decontextualization of life. The body you see on screen, wind-blown hair just so, outfit just so, quips and quotes just so, exists in a certain context. A context outside reality. Redefining beauty standards doesn’t mean you should be fat or just not take care of yourself. It means you should think about what a healthy, happy person looks like in the context of life. Dirty, everyday, mundane, natural life with nobody filming or feeding you lines.

Math, Science, Linguistics, and Writing

Since I left off tending House of Happy, I found that I couldn’t keep away from blogging for long. I went ahead and started a couple others, under the name of Mikel Maine. In case you’re curious as to what I’ve been writing, here are the links to those sites. I’m going to keep both of these blogs active, because I’m one of those annoying people who’s into math, science, and grammar, and it needs to go somewhere. I especially love talking and thinking about linguistics. These two other blogs are going to be my outlets for those bursts of scientific “Hey, did you know…” moments. This way, I’ll be able to get those thoughts out of my system, and House of Happy can remain an engaging, imaginative haven, without the burden of lengthy scientific rants.

Of course, nobody’s stopping you from reading all three. :)

House of Happy. Writing. This blog you’re reading now.

Seventy-Three Thousand. Math, Science, Psychology. A place to cultivate my scientific curiosity. Interested in ferrofluids, the squares of prime numbers? This is the blog for you.

Mr. Schliemann. Linguistics, Language Learning. Here, I document my efforts in learning Mandarin Chinese, as well as letting out other linguistic musings.

The Three Year Vacation

Victoria Baths via Wikimedia, by GBPhoto27

I feel as though I’m walking into a large, empty foyer with a lantern, and that what I write here will echo blankly across the walls, bouncing back at me to confirm what I already feel: that nobody’s left here to listen to my timid greeting. Which is to be expected; it’s been two and a half years.

I feel as though I am walking into a mansion where fabulous parties once took place and some of the best conversations happened and some of the best meals were served and some of the best guests attended.

It’s been a three year hiatus, I think to myself as I turn on the old gas stove and start looking through the cupboards for canned foods. I see a loaf of bread so covered in mold the only recognizable feature is its shape, and next to that there’s a jar of peanut butter that was left open and was so chemical-ridden it has somehow resisted decomposition. As I start to heat up some Campbell’s soup, I warm my hands over the stove top, listening to the crack of expanding metal, and glance at the photographs hanging on the walls of the guests who used to attend those parties, and realize how much I miss the constant exchange of ideas and experiences.

Taking my warm cup of soup I dampen a washcloth, then move to the kitchen table and wipe off three years’ worth of dust. The last time I sat here thinking up stuff to write was in 2013, June, when I wrote about Introverts and Extroverts. That was a long time ago. I find, though, that there’s still a notebook here, with a pen sitting there next to it wrapped in a cobweb. I brush it off, click it open, and start writing a list of things that have happened between then and now.

Ran a restaurant. Went to China. Finished college.

For a year, I worked at a bank. Then I was an accountant at a seafood distribution company. Then I did archival work at a TV station. Now I’ve been a receptionist at different places, on and off since before Christmas.

Grew a mustache. Moved away from home. Lost most of my plants to weather. Lost dear friends. Made new ones. Learned a language. Got cultured and became disillusioned with it at the same time.

I started a couple new blogs, but it just hasn’t been the same. Frankly, I miss all of you, and I miss the freedom of expression I had on this particularly themeless blog, this particular House of Happy which is now whirring as the boiler in the basement kicks on. I turn on lights in the different rooms and find half-read books on sofas, unwashed coffee cups on side tables, sheet music still open at the piano, the paper yellowed with age and the notes all but faded away.

Gosh, I’ve missed this place.

Extroverts and Introverts: Get Along Already!

There has been much ado about this whole business of Extroverts and Introverts lately among my social circle. It seems that in society at large, The Introverts have been getting quite an upper hand (check out this TED talk), or at least are finally getting the respect that they need.

We live in a share-all, mix-and-mingle country. I went to a writers’ conference last year and on the last night they had a huge cocktail party for all the writers to meet and greet. *Coughs…* Excuse me while I go try and make sense of the universe all over again. Aren’t writers famous for being introverts?

So it was an uncomfortable experience for me. And it’s just another testament to how people try to “fix” introverts by having them to parties, making them go out on the town, bombarding their free time with telephone calls and fill-in-the-blank. How many times have you heard someone discussing how an introvert needs to “come out of his/her shell?” Introverts have a shell because they have a soft and tender interior that needs to be protected. That’s why we’d rather stay home and drink tea and read books for hours instead of going out in public where [whispers] we might have to talk to people!!!

Seriously, it’s not that we’re agoraphobes, it’s just that we enjoy our own company and the company of a few close friends.

Anyway, enough with my rant, I really can’t say anything that hasn’t been said a thousand times over already.

What I really came on her to say was that when the world was made of water and wind, air and earth, light and dark, and day and night, it was also made with introverts and extroverts. We weren’t made to criticize each other and fix each other. We were made to complement one another and work together in our respected gifts.

So many times we introverts love to talk about how wonderful we are and how the world would be so much more peaceful if everybody were an introvert. (And I’ve been guilty of this too!)

Hey, some of my bestest friends have been extroverts.

Extroverts, you have something wonderful to offer to the world. And while your kind has ruled this nation for generations with a fist of confetti, and the introverts are gaining social revenge [he he he], you are still amazing people and we need you!

So be the people you need to be, everyone will be much happier. Just…don’t be surprised if I don’t go to your 300-person party tonight, because I’ve got a date with myself and I don’t want to disappoint me by standing myself up.

I Watered Chekhov’s Roses!

Has it only been four months? It seems like longer. All right, y’all, it’s time to let you in on what I’ve been doing lately.

A couple weeks ago I finally got back, exhausted and in want of a shower, from spending a month in Ukraine, the second-largest country in Europe that mostly nobody knows anything about. Let me tell you…What a fantastic time I had! I stayed with some friends in Kiev but made a couple solo trips, too.

I guess I really can’t sum up what the entire thing was like, so I’ll just have to resort to a little slideshow.

Overall I had a great time. While I was in Yalta I saw Chekhov’s White Dacha, where he spent most of the last five years of his life, entertaining famous visitors like Tolstoy and Rachmaninoff. It was a cute place and I’d love to have something like that someday. Walking through his famous garden, I glanced around to make sure no corrections-officer-type museum ladies were watching, and poured the rest of my bottled water onto Chekhov’s roses. Just to say that I did it.

Anyway I’m hoping to be back to blogging now that college and my big trip are out of the way for the summer. I won’t promise to be here frequently but I plan on popping in once or twice a week. It’ll be nice to talk to you all again!

Warmest regards, JP

If You Want Something Done Right

PlumeauAnd here a long sigh of relief and exhaustion.

Right now I’ve got a huge ostrich-feather feather duster and I’m sweeping the cobwebs and inch-high piles of dust off the mantlepieces and bookshelves of my blog. Gosh, it’s been so long since I’ve even checked my blog dashboard.

But I’m here today, in the midst of my busy schedule, because I’m still running off of NaNo Energy. I’ve gotten so used to writing two to six thousand words a day, that when I went to type out todays post, I blew through it like a cyclone in a wind tunnel. Right now the words are just appearing, something like a deranged typewriter trying to soothe its insanity.

[Editor’s Note: …A deranged typewriter. I like that.]

Well, let’s get to the chase, and that is that old, annoying adage that lazy people love to hear: if you want something done, give it to a busy person.

I used to hate this phrase, because it’s what people would tell me when I had absolutely no time to myself and they wanted to throw something at me. Honestly, when I have about five minutes to myself all day, I don’t want to spend it painting someone else’s house.

Winner-100x100-2But now I’m realizing this phrase isn’t all bad. I just came off the end of a three-day “Work Marathon,” during which I started to lose my inhibitions about being at work and actually started to enjoy it. But the weird thing is that I managed to win NaNoWriMo during these two days. Why?

It’s all about work flow, and how when your mind falls into this work-a-holic rut, you just can’t stop. You know if you stop you’ll crash. And I did crash eventually, but the work kept me going, so I could keep working, which kept me going, so I could work, and well you know how it goes.

I’m pretty happy that I finished my novel, and am looking forward to editing it. But today is Sunday, my day off, and I’m going to try not to think about it. I’m planning on enjoying today doing nothing, really.

But before I get started with nothing, I thought I’d check in on you all. How are things?