Nobody’s Version of Dumb

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Shoes by Vincent Van Gogh CC0

I spend a lot of time on Twitter. I follow more people than I can actually keep up with and miraculously a bunch more follow me and I apologize that I can’t just follow right back. I’m overwhelmed. I lose threads and also get lost in reading. I miss a lot and what I catch can probably be attributed to Twitter’s algorithmic sorting which keeps the folks I most interact with close to the top of the tweets I will see. It’s an imperfect system. My interests and responses are being guided, steered, nudged to achieve the golden data outcome of ‘maximum engagement.’ As long as I keep clicking around on the platform and rewarding the algorithm that delivers those precious “In case you missed it” messages, I am holding up my end of the user-platform bargain. Twitter stays in business and I cultivate my little networked worlds almost as intricately as my 9 year-old’s Minecraft creations.

Then along comes a short thread like this:

There’s more but that’s the core.

I know this lamentation. It is familiar and well worn and different figures deploy it at different junctures. Of course, @gsiemens is not just anybody. He’s a public intellectual, well recognized in the tech and higher ed circles I frequent. So I also hesitate to publicly push back on this particular take. But, alas. I get tired of authority type voices telling me and others that Twitter is making us dumb.

Speak for yourself, I say. Rain on your own parade, not mine.

Look. Not everyone who comes to social media is looking for a fight. We have not arrived here to recreate Greek forms of debate. We are not showing up so that we can rattle our intellectual sabres. We are not turning up to punch each others’ academic lights out, argument for carefully crafted argument.

I, for one, came because I was looking for others who could help me grow. I was in the market for good writing and good people and I found them. The longer I stayed and the more I engaged, good people found me. Good writing – I mean, strong, critical, robust and also sensitive writing walked right up to me and said, “Hi!” I got involved. I created adjoining spaces and fashioned a new home to welcome some of that rich writing. And I found art, humor, compassion, support, care, and (*praise hands*) Black Twitter. My life has been tremendously enlivened and broadened through my social media connections. I am a smart person who is more open, more aware, more vocal and more critical due to my connections via social media.

You will rarely find me putting up my verbal dukes on Twitter but I will support those who do it well. When authority type voices trot out these blanket statements about our shared intellectual demise, they offer a point of view that can be as narrow and constrained as those they accuse of the same offense. And often such voices enjoy the comfort and yes, privilege, of established recognition through institutions, publications, speaking invitations and considerable social media reach. These statements seem to come when these, usually male, individuals no longer feel “challenged” – when their membership in the social media ‘Gifted and Talented’ program is losing clout.

When I first ran across this thread, I wanted to ignore it. Give it the ‘ho, hum, somebody’s bored’ non-response. But the annoyance stayed with me because I felt in those few tweets that my experience and the experience of too many others were being denied. And thoughtlessly so.

Some of us are here for community; to gather and confer with the like minded. To remind each other that our presence matters. For someone with a particular kind of status, this aspect might easily be overlooked. Not for me. I come to Twitter to prove to myself again and again that I have a voice and know how to use it. In other circles, my voice, my presence runs the very real risk being inaudible, invisible. But for an authority voice type, this instance may not occur or even register.

Formulating this kind of push back takes energy. It takes energy away from some things I’d rather read and write about. And I don’t wish to expend more energy delving into the right-left Twitter divide article which prompted these tweets. When George Siemens claims that his network is fairly homogeneous, that is something that he can fix if it’s a priority. But to drag us all down into a space that he in a later tweet describes as “closed, intolerant, narrow minded, and short sighted” is decidedly unfair and unnecessary and I refuse to be placed there by proclamation from on high.

Maybe this is precisely how and why I persist on social media: Refusing to be placed somewhere by someone who is not me. I place and position myself. I speak my own mind. I pick my own battles. I am nobody’s version of dumb.

 

Note: The image is from the The Met collection of Public Domain images which is well worth a visit.

Because Someone’s Listening

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The sign that’s not on my fridge but should be:

“Don’t go there.”

Of course, I go.

Damn social media. Damn me.

The time I spend in my own head is no longer solitary.

I can hear myself think (still)

but

my voice is tempered for your possible reception;

my words carefully tested for palatability

before they can be released.

And I keep writing, writing, writing

straight onto the screen, so few

filters between this thought

and what you might make of it.

 

But let me say this:

I have an Alice Walker T-shirt from the Writing Project and the quote says:

“Writing has saved me from the sin and inconvenience of violence.”

And every day that I come to terms with concentrated power

in the (tiny) hands of a federal administration bent on

harm, revenge and unmitigated selfishness,

I thank God for writing saving me from the sin and inconvenience

of violence.

 

My moral outrage is but a drop in the bucket of

untold suffering among

too many.

Some of whom understand what is in the making and many more

who have no inkling that they will not be spared

the pain and humiliation

of being discarded, dismissed, and annulled.

 

I regret to inform you that

I have spent time reading the incomprehensible

transcripts of a figurehead

who struggles to express one thought

coherently.

 

I regret to inform you that

these elementary and primitive

patterns of speech

appeal to some,

to many, in fact.

The joke that was now lays like detrimental oil spill

over the gulf of what we thought

was a semi-functioning democracy.

 

The bill for the clean up will be paid

by our children and grandchildren

But the spill is ongoing,

widening its toxic reach

seeping and tumbling past each new measure

designed to contain it.

 

I can be angry about social media

about myself on social media

and I can write

because someone, somewhere

is listening.

and sometimes that is just enough

of what is needed.

 

 

Dear User/Supplier,

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Greetings!

We are pleased to inform you that your contributions to the greatest research effort ever on the confluence of human and machine learning into a single all-powerful source of knowledge, wisdom and capitalist domination are of the utmost importance and always welcome!

Making the world a better place for all is a massive undertaking and we would be nowhere without the generous efforts of you, your family members, colleagues, friends, business partners, classmates, pets, auto mechanics, health care professionals, insurers and personal assistants (Hey, Alexa! Hi, Siri!) to stay connected, to share and spread the wealth of your lives with our systems and in our spaces. Every day you empower us to dig deeper into understanding much more than just purchasing patterns and streams of demand; you help us comprehend the complexity of human desire; the content of long and short range bucket lists. Because of you and your unfettered thirst for more choices, better selections and unlimited access, we are able to tell you more and more about

  • who you are
  • what you need
  • where you can get it
  • why you deserve it
  • and why anyone who would counter that can climb under a rock, no love lost!

As purveyors of this bright new future, we value every click, keystroke and swipe you make. These seemingly simple actions help us to unlock the secrets to true human understanding and the consolidated wealth of a steadily shrinking class of digital overlords and provide us with the fuel we need to build the bridges of enlightenment for all and for much less than we ever thought it would cost! Your participation is vital and essential and we want to make sure you know how grateful we are.

You are the future we’re building for.* We see you.

Ever in your service,

Tech’s Top DOGS (Digital Overlords Governing Surveillance) 2017

 

*Some restrictions may apply. Full benefits in limited supply. First come, first served. May the better man win (literally). It’s a dog eat dog world. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Survival of the fittest, baby.  Smile pretty, we got you covered.

 

 

Not Another Think Piece

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Old story, never ending

let me tell you about all the think pieces in my head.

they are circulating and bubbling, surfacing then submerging.

They are the last thing you and I need:

one more carefully phrased analysis of the %&+## fix we are in.

And I have several,

just waiting, gathering steam or dust or mold or I don’t know what.

Think piece upon think piece that we don’t need right now

or tomorrow or next week.

But let me say this:

If kellyanne puts her feet on the sofa while important company is over,

it doesn’t matter.

If he says ‘you people are doing amazing work’ and means it,

it doesn’t matter.

If he says ‘you people are doing amazing work’ and doesn’t mean it,

it’s what we expect

and it doesn’t matter.

Or that picture of all those grinning white men

again in expensive suits plus one white woman using thumbs up

to indicate their satisfaction at agreeing to pollute more streams more thoroughly from now on.

Seems grim.

But it doesn’t matter.

And what doesn’t matter doesn’t score change.

We can raise our eyebrows to the high heavens,

quote one official falsehood after another ALL DAY LONG and into the night,

And still it does not matter.

 

There is talk of blood and soil and unity because

you and I know most likely whose blood will flow,

whose soil will be lost

and that unity is for decoration.

The only honesty to be found is in the hate that rises,

the agency morale that soars,

the billions of clicks this reality show is generating

daily.

 

meanwhile some ridiculously wealthy men (or perhaps just one named Robert who cares a lot about what he cares about and we are definitely not in that mix)

find more avenues than they can count to

impose their narrow lily white vision of a future

we won’t want to be a part of.

If it’s too much trouble (and expense) to kill us all,

general subjugation will do.

So cleverly shackled by chains of our own making:

unlimited streams of data which belong to them

not us.

which earn them profits, but not us.

yes we will keep paying into our demise click by clickety click click while they

(the bad guys) steal our elections,

manipulate our emotions,

corrupt our media and feed us our own helplessness

in the face of white male mediocrity gone wild.

 

So many think pieces I might pen

to report, compare and contrast

the devastation of what is and will be.

I will spare you.

 

We could talk about the white male effect

which seems to explain a lot

but doesn’t account for all the white sisters who sold us out.

There’s of course this rise of extremism

among the ‘lost boys’ who have turned to Pepe and 4chan

as symbols of their defeatist indifference.

There are too many explanations

and more understanding no longer feels like a help.

I will think my piece

and save you the trouble of too many more thousands of keystrokes to decipher.

Because in contrast to all this

your time is valuable

and matters

so use it

for good.

please.

Thank you.

 

image: NY Public Library Digital Collections

 

 

 

 

Document 2017

The peaceful transfer of power

We all watched it happen: the shaking of hands, the sitting through ceremony,

hands on Bibles. Peaceful Transfer

of power.

To witness the immediate consolidation

and abuse

of power.

To stomach the legislative complicity of

that abuse of

peacefully transferred power.

If this is where we are after 10 days,

where are we likely to be in 100 days?

I am told not to despair,

that we will fight back. Yes.

But all that power we handed over,

so peacefully

Is being used to frighten, silence and beat

us all.

If you think this is not you,

just wait.

Unless you belong to someone in that room

applauding each fresh signature of doom,

don’t believe that this won’t catch you

someday.

People will bow to authority before they recall

their humanity and

acknowledge yours.

Each of us has power and often we hand it over

because we trust,

we have faith,

we believe

that others mean us no harm.

What we forget is how poorly

we understand harm when it is not us

but our neighbor,

our colleague,

the guy across the street, city, county, country

whose livelihood, dignity, existence

is at stake.

‘No harm done’ we say so easily

because we followed protocol

when it came time.

We witnessed the peaceful transfer

of power.

Laws will be broken.

Orders will be given.

People will suffer. Always.

And that room of self-satisfied men

will know

That they got the power cheap at a

fake news rummage sale.

And they will hoard it and flaunt it

and use it against us,

because we gave it to them,

we handed it to them through

our quirky institutions and unspoken appetite

for criminal political theater.

The power they got peacefully handed over

will be the instrument of our undoing.

It already is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Parallel Lines

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I am awash in feelings right now. It’s after midnight and I can’t imagine what advantages sleep will bring. My Twitter feed is overflowing with the unfolding tragedy of the new US Presidency. Today it is the Muslim Ban executive order in effect, which involves the detainment, questioning, and/or potential turning away of citizens from 7 Muslim-majority states. We don’t know which further affront to human rights and democratic process will follow. But by now, many of us are confident that more anti-human measures are in store.

And it’s Saturday, a Saturday on which I was attending and presenting at a conference for middle level educators. I listened with interest to engaging speakers, got into conversations with old friends while welcoming new contacts, and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to create some workshop magic for a group of educators. There was great food, a warm hospitality and plenty of laughter.

Saturday – and I led a session on using social media and blogging for professional growth. I had three folks from my school attend including two administrators. There was a lot to celebrate. I felt happy being among educators from schools all across Europe. Educators are my people.

Still, the reports keep rolling in. Protests at major US airports are growing. The New York City Taxi Workers have called for a 1 hr strike on transportation to and from JFK airport. Families have been separated. Fear levels both within the US and without is rising, not only about the implications of this order but everything that could possibly follow. Unchecked.

I went out to the evening celebration and had fun chatting with new acquaintances and eventually shaking a leg on the dancefloor. The conference attendees were a strikingly white crowd, mainly of American and British descent with a few other nationalities sprinkled in. I am used to this – being the only black person in the room. This is my every day norm, and a result of multiple life choices. We were celebrating the end of a successful conference and the dancing felt good. “Joy is also a form of resistance.” I read this week in my Twitter feed.

I checked my phone on the way home, catching up on developments as the tram rumbled through town. It’s Sunday here now and the bad news will not let up. Whatever individual victories I can call my own today or yesterday or even tomorrow are dwarfed by the scale of human suffering that is systematically being exacerbated by policies put in place by a few powerful white American males in suits.

We are always living our lives in context. And often – perhaps more often that we recognize- contexts is the correct phrasing, covering foreground and background, subtle and overt, praise-worthy and fear-inducing. Today I was reminded of how these contexts can ride in parallel, cross paths or even collide all within the space of me being me.

Saturday to Sunday.

image via Pixabay.com

The Unsettled Here and Now

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I’m going to get personal for a minute here.

Sometimes I can be particularly observant of what’s going on around me and also in me. At present it feels like my powers of observation are a little out of whack. And I think this has to do with my increased traffic on social media platforms.

Since the US Presidential election, I’ve delved more deeply into my online engagements. Twitter has become my primary news source as well as my go-to space for a sense of community in troubled times. As incredibly grateful as I feel for the tremendous wealth of good will, necessary political resistance, and human warmth I experience, I also recognize the slow drain on my attentional and emotional resources.

Every day and on every tweet that I raise my #resist flag, I know this is what I must do, at the very least. I have picked a side and it happens to be against the incoming administration and majority aggressively Republican legislature. Even though I am geographically very distant, I experience the sense of dangerous and targeted upheaval on a very personal level. I fear for individuals as well as systems. And as I watch a group of overwhelmingly white, straight, so-called Christian males parade before multiple TV cameras and announce their policy plans, I feel sickened to know how quickly the country will likely find itself flat on its back not knowing how it got there.

I fear for our individual and collective exposure through our very willing and often enthusiastic embrace of digital tools and platforms which offer us convenience, speed, and seemingly unlimited choice. We are, at the same time, in fairly constant danger of becoming hostages of all the data we give away daily. With our clicks and instrumentalized acquiescence, we have created our most sophisticated and unforgiving monsters yet, which still maintain a miraculously rosy veneer of being society’s new great helpers.

All told, I’m feeling a lot of fear.

At my core I am an educator. My dialogues with students provide some of the richest contours to my thinking and doing. I look forward to starting classes soon in order to get grounded again; to be brought back to my core mission of helping students “Get fit, get better, and get along.”  We’ll have conversations about how we include, nurture, challenge and respect each other. They will remind me about the importance of fair play and being kind to one another. They will remind me to keep working on being my best. Perhaps more than at any other time in my teaching career, creating a classroom where fairness, openness and care are built into everything we do is the most important work I can do – for my students and for myself.

 

image: Spelic/@edifiedlistener