Surfing the Waves: When Corporations are Trolls

Okay, so now that I’ve looked a bit at how the onslaught of triggery clickbait is beginning to damage my calm, and I’ve looked at my own role in participating, how about them internets then? When did they get so clickbaity and why?

Facebook. Facebook. Facebook.

It used to be not-profitable. Then they added targeted ads. Fine. I occasionally click them, realizing with a mild malaise that they must have some access to my browsing history. Ick. Still, easily filtered as long as it’s not for diet products or plastic surgery or Trump swag.

But then came what seems to be the major dominance of news outlets in the feed. It used to be if I “liked” a news source (HuffPost women, for example), I would occasionally articles in my feed. Then they started to repeat. Then they started to clog the crap out of my feed. And then they got more and more clickbaity. “Ten reasons to wear a fatkini.” “Should you get married?” “What women over 30 need to know.” Then I started following more social justice groups. Repro rights. BOPO. LGBT rights. Political candidates. Feminist magazines.

And while I love my social justice, they are old-school when it comes to spamming. They seem to thing “more is better.” Email, snail mail, texts, and tons of posts. But people can filter repitition. It’s harder to filter clickbait, especially if it’s scary. Our brains gravitate towards scary as a means of self-protection. Advertisers are hip to this–have been since Freud’s nephew invented psychological marketing in the aughts of the 20th century.

My Facebook feed became a veritable clusterfuck of informing, emphatic, repetitive, and often disturbing content. This content is often also propagated by my friends who generally share my beliefs*. (This is a whole other topic. If I have a friend or relative that has beliefs I find offensive, I’ll “unfollow” rather than “unfriend” them. This means my view of the interwebs is even more myopic. Except for my research which doesn’t filter ANYTHING so there’s that.)

No matter how many times I click on “less of this” there doesn’t seem to be less of that. If I don’t see it, one of my friends may post it and my outrage/anxiety/helpessness will be reactivated. We used to use Facebook to connect. Sometimes just on the surface (dinner pics!) and sometimes on a much deeper, more meaningful level. This discourse has been pushed to the margins of my feed by often worthy, but exhausting content. I’m exhausted.

It’s all about the money.

I’m not a scholar on this. I’m sure there are some well-researched think pieces that I haven’t read. But it’s pretty obvious that the foundering news industry has taken to the internet like nutria to the Louisiana swamps. And like nutria, they’ve changed it fundamentally. That’s probably why so many people gravitate to Twitter, Snapchat, and other social media less littered by advertising and paid placement.

We became used to “free” services and forgot how we, the users, are totally paying for our free services by having less and less control over the content.

Beyond that, I think that the sensationalism of the press and its ability to cherry pick content for likely audiences, is causing some major distortion in how we view our worlds. Again, not the expert. I try to do my research on stuff that is social media propagated, rather than corporate-created. But I can’t ignore that the corporations have a huge amount of control over what we see and subsequently react to. While super cool bloggers like Lindy West and Jes Baker write awesomly for Huffpost and The Guardian, they write on topics that have become very controversial (which I think is good – visibility=good) and the corporate media takes advantage of this for their own, often less than savory reasons.

Again, not a bullish attitude for a bullish researcher, but there it is. The internet was gloriously free of major structural power for about a decade. That seems to have passed. I have to watch commercials for a 3 minute clip of The Daily Show. Pinterest, my guilty  pleasure, is littered with “targeted ads” and “suggestions.” Their algorithms suck, btw. A tatted up middle-aged female person with a bunch of BOPO and recipe pins does not want ads for “the five worst foods for your waistline” or “summer body” programs. Fuck off.

Instagram is still pretty minimal. The ads are high-end and easy to avoid. Wonder how long that will last?

I don’t pretend to know the nutria-press business model. I suspect it’s built on a pyramid of something worth very little. As we’ve known for many a year, clicks do not = sales. Sales = sales. Also, internet inhabitants are pretty good at abandoning one cluttered, increasingly useless ship for a more helpful one. Facebook has so far bucked this trend, but sooner or later it will die and go to that social media outlet in the sky some obscure server somewhere.

I don’t have the answer. I realized recently, after wading into the comment fray on a Huffpost video that bugged me, that I was totally suckered. The video, a radical feminist think-piece (I use that word with some trepidation) was designed to piss EVERYONE off. So I got lots of likes, some “go you” comments, and some incoherent but virulent attacks. Blah. And I said to myself, “You know, self, you walked right into that one.” But I could also say, “Well, self, that makes you human because that video was designed to suck you in. You have not yet reached enlightenment.”

*I propagate the crap out of my political/social beliefs, but I generally relegate them to my blog  FB Page so the more conservative of my peeps are not spammed into oblivion by my stuff. My main FB feed is for general musing, kid pics, kid humor, whining, and mostly benign stuff. This is a personal decision. It may or may not make me a good FB citizen. It doesn’t really help my mental tidy all that much since I’m still reading all that stuff. Re-posting may be a way of expelling the attendant emotions. That would be interesting research. Nerd.

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Pilot Blah

Gah.

Dedoose is not the right software for my research. Using just a spreadsheet will kill me. So now I’m looking at a student license for NVivo which has way more stuff to deal with social media data. Good news: it’s only around $100 for a one year student license. Bad news: after that I have to pony up around $1500 for a full copy if I want to keep using it. More gah. But maybe I’ll just worry about that bit later. First rule of dissertation club: FINISH THE FUCKING DISSERTATION.

I’ve taking a break for a few days because I’m busy and on steroids for my asthma (Thanks, Austin) and it’s wreaking havoc with my sleep. Also insert a kid stomach flu and separate emergency room visit, and having to migrate my upcoming class from Blackboard to Canvas, and there goes my week. My family is coming to visit next week for my daughter’s 6th birthday, which will be fun but likely will not result in finishing my pilot in the next week.

I’m also stalled out on writing my CV and teaching statement because I really have no idea what the hell I’m doing, but I need to get it done. There are some cool jobs open right now and I need to apply for them. No pressure.

I’m glad I’m keeping the password-protected thinky blog, because it helps me figure out where I’ve been in my thinking on the pilot data. I have a tendency to have these “ahah” moments over and over again and think that it’s the first time, Memento style. I think I’m getting somewhere with the mortality/fear stuff. It will be part of my thematic analysis, after I do the more granular discourse/psychodynamic stuff.

I have people I can reach out to for a lot of this stuff, but I have a tendency to curl up in a ball when I’m overwhelmed, which is antithetical to reaching out. I need to reach out. Nobody has to do all this shit alone.

I find that all the thinking I’m doing about psychodynamic stuff is also changing how I look at myself and my relationships. I find that I’m trusting my intuitions a lot more–checking out my reactions rather than just sorting them into rational/non-rational buckets. This may change the nature of some of my relationships, and is a pain in the ass when I’m triggered and I need my denial thank you very much, but I mostly like it. I like having a deeper connection between my feelings and my mind. It makes me more compassionate and better able to draw good boundaries.

Meanwhile, I need to take care of my poor bod and let it heal from the garbage that has infested my lungs. And switch up my hair color. Priorities.

Big Sigh: The difference between self-shaming and self-acceptance

I read an article on Huffpost a couple nights ago and became full of ragey, judgy feelings. The title alone is totally cringe-worthy: Yes I’m Fat. But Why Is That All Anyone Sees?. Ugh. Just, ugh.

The author talks about how becoming fat has made her invisible, or judged, or reviled by others, obscuring her accomplished past as a journalist, athlete, expat, and parent. She feels vulnerable to the perceived (but rarely given) criticisms and judgements of others. She assumes that her fat body makes it impossible for others to think that she has had any kind of life beyond slamming oreos and bacon.

I’m trying to feel for her; I really am. But she demonstrates a trope in the body-acceptance/weight discrimination movement that I’m mightily tired of. “I can’t be okay until everyone in the whole world stops having judgmental thoughts about me! Fat discrimination is ruining my life, because it makes it impossible for me to love myself!” <–these are made up quotes that summarize the underlying message I’ve gotten from many activists and bloggers.

But then she goes on:

Now, don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to be fat. I want to feel the way I used to feel. I am on a constant diet and trying every new one that comes along. I watch the weight loss shows and fantasize. I exercise with a personal trainer; I obsess over food and how many calories there are. I get creative with vegetables and eat a ton of them. I get discouraged and pick myself up again. But since my transplant and the steroids I take to keep my body from rejecting my new kidney, I can’t seem to lose the weight that I put on since that life-saving surgery. But losing weight is not what this is about.

Oh God, please make it stop.

Gurl, the diet industry is not your friend. America’s Biggest Loser is not your friend. There is a whole socio-economic system built around making you feel shitty about yourself so you will buy things, continue to feel shitty about yourself, and then buy more things. Diets. Supplements. Idiotic television shows. Spanx.

And here’s the little secret that one one tells you: This system makes all women (and many men) feel shitty about themselves, not just the fat ones. Even if you’re thin, you fear being fat or you monitor yourself obsessively, compare yourself to other women, and feel like slitting your wrists when you read a fashion magazine. The system is rigged, and it doesn’t matter if you’re fat or thin. So GET OVER THE SYSTEM. Get therapy (lots of it), find positive, healthy, fat role models, sit with your shame and fear and realize that they are just feelings, and your “new body” is the same body you’ve had your whole life, and will continue to have when you’re old and realize that all the time you spent hating yourself was wasted and could have been better spent LIVING.

You do not need to be thin (or white, or straight, or tall, or able-bodied) to have sexiness, mojo, success, or visibility. Cases in point:

Mary Lambert, Queen Latifah, Tess Munster, Jill Scott, Adele, freaking Oprah! And so many more…

The great thing about the internet era is you can curate your media and entertainment experience, which means instead of consuming the bilge that the advertising industry has been feeding us via network television for the last 60 years, you can choose instead to expose yourself to people who don’t fit norms attainable only by winning the genetic lottery and lots of surgery. Discover YouTube (just don’t read the comments if you’re having a bad day). Look up some of the gorgeous, independent plus models and bloggers who are telling social norms to fuck off and celebrating their bodies. Read The Beauty Myth. Today. Opt out of the social hysteria surrounding fat and just LIVE, girl. Your body survived a transplant! It made a child! The same body that did all those awesome things you lament the loss of is THE SAME BODY YOU HAVE NOW!

And here’s a little secret, from one fat girl to another: When dating, being fat screens out a great many asshats.

I don’t know how old the author is, but she reminds me very much of myself in my teens and 20s. I dieted, dabbled in eating disorders, struggled, hated on myself, compared myself to other women, and generally bought into the big lie that only one kind of female body was beautiful and it was never going to be mine. I was miserable. With a lot of therapy, determination, and a conscious re-focusing on my whole self health instead of my weight, I became the self-loving badass I am today. I still have shitty moments, but they’re just moments. I am happy, loved, and fulfilled while fat. I’m much more worried about writing my dissertation or getting my kid to eat vegetables than I am about the size of my jeans. I like my jeans. Amazing! Is this legal?

The author closes with this:

My dream, of course, is to lose some weight. But, if I continue to be unsuccessful, will I ever been seen and acknowledged again the way I used to be? Will anyone step back and see me, want to know me, or will they just continue to see that I am fat?

My dream is not to lose weight. My dream is to raise a confident, strong daughter filled with self-love and respect who sees all bodies as beautiful and sacred. My dream is to help more people reject social norms that have nothing to do with health or happiness. My dream is to make a difference in this hard world, not to whinge that what I do doesn’t matter unless my body somehow reflects my awesomeness so hard that everyone else can see it all the time.

Get a new dream, girl.

 

Hit the wall and keep trudging.

Catchy, no?

I keep hitting walls, picking myself up, and trudging on. Last semester was fairly awful. This semester has been great in many ways, but exhausting and stressful nonetheless. I have to generate at a major paper draft in the next few weeks, hopefully sooner. I’ve pulled two new syllabi out of my ass this semester, but still have a whole new class to teach starting later this week (after I wrap up the last one, today).

In the meantime, I may be getting back to the food blogging, since my body has decided that it won’t digest lactose or gluten. Because that’s helpful. Keep in mind I am a snobby foodie daughter and sister of professional cooks and food writers.  I often sneer at restrictive fad diets while eating my locally sourced meat, cheese, bread, and vegetables. Except now two of those things are gone forever (or at least until after menopause–there’s hope). Re-learning how to eat has been stressful. Speaking of menopause, that’s fun too. And don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t have symptoms before 50, because I will personally fly to wherever you live and bitch-slap them for you.

I feel like I have academia-induced bipolar disorder. One hour or minute or half day I’m full of amazing ideas, I’m speed reading articles, mind-mapping, and writing super cool stuff. The next minute or hour or half-day I’m exhausted, filled with self-doubt, sure I’m going to be sniffed out as a total imposter, and curled up in the corner with my laptop and Pinterest trying to find all the best gluten and dairy free recipes that I will never have time to cook.

This is my life. My poor husband and daughter have to deal with my epic mood swings, periodic isolation, and caffeine induced tantrums. I can’t seem to totally unwind enough to sleep well, cry, or just fucking relax. I take everything personally. I know that most of my problems qualify as “too much of a good thing” rather than all of the really horrible things that could happen, but that knowledge doesn’t help me figure out how to cope right now. I know getting a PhD is a gauntlet that I am willingly running, but the difference between this and other gauntlets I’ve run is that there is no settling in. It’s always changing, evolving, and getting harder. There’s very little room to breathe. That’s what it feels like to me, anyway.

That’s my whinge for today. I’ll see you on the next upswing.

Question: When is the perfect time to blog?

Answer: When one has so many other things to do that are critical that one cannot decide which to do first and chooses instead to blog, do dishes, fold laundry, or take a nap.

My every day blogging has not been every day. However, let me expand on a certain tendency that might shed light on this.

I have too much to do. I have a four-year old daughter. I teach college. I’m working on my PhD. I have a house (currently in shambles) that does occasionally need cleaning. So what makes sense when one is overloaded with stuff to do EVERY DAY? In my case, it seems to be adding things on. I have this idea that I will somehow kick into “high gear” (yes, those are real air quotes, sue me) if I add MORE THINGS into my life. In recent weeks I have considered joining a gym, taking African dance classes, taking modern dance classes, taking voice lessons and auditioning for an ensemble, and daily blogging. Does any of this sound productive? Does it make sense to add more things into my overloaded life in the hope that my body will somehow produce some miracle juju that will make everything easy and every moment of my day will be perfectly optimized?

There are times in my life when I am hyper-productive. Think finals week: you study and produce far more than you do during the rest of the semester. However, you are probably also between the ages of 18-22 and have fantastic metabolism and limitless energy, which you squander on stupid relationships and binge drinking/eating. Ahem.

Even in my middle, gently deteriorating age, I have these bursts of peak productivity. However, they are not sustainable because I have a body that needs rest, and a family that needs attention, and a deep desire to take naps. I also can’t tolerate caffeine much any more; it usually gives me a short-term boost that makes me want to shop wildly followed by a long-term crash that makes me grouchy and difficult and super tired. Dammit.

So why am I trying to reverse engineer these brief, peak energy moments by adding more shit onto my plate? I have no idea.

Last week, I cooked meals for my family, exercised, carted my daughter to and from school, studied, graded papers, taught class, worked on the syllabus for my new fall class, negotiated two class contracts for the fall, applied for IRB approval for a project (which included creating a proposal, an informed consent form, and taking several hours of online ethics training and testing), bought a new phone (I include this because iPhone users know how freaking long it takes to go through the purchase process and then get the phone to actually synch and load your stuff and then it hasn’t really loaded all your music so you end up using your cellular to download music from the cloud in your car because you really really need to hear “Stay With Me” right this minute while you’re stuck in traffic), and survived the weekend which included a kid party, an ill-advised drinking experience, and more kid time (which included my daughter’s first mani-pedi which was unbelievably adorable okay I’ll stop now).

What I didn’t do: blog, join any new dance classes, or start taking voice lessons again. There is a reason for this. Adding more stuff into my life is not going to make me more productive–it’s just going to make me feel like I’m sucking at more things. I also wonder if I daydream about all these little hobbies because I spend a lot of time feeling incompetent, and I like the idea of doing something that I’m either already good at, or something that doesn’t require me to be particularly talented or smart to accomplished. I like things like dance because I don’t expect to ever compete with professionals, so I can take as long as I need to to get to be okay at it. There aren’t that may things that I feel okay with being okay at.

School is hard. I’m used to being the smartest kid in the room, and I’m not that kid anymore. Getting a PhD is totally different than getting a Masters. A masters is like undergrad, but more fun. You’re also not petitioning to get into the club that your teachers belong to.  Getting a PhD is like training for a marathon and spending a lot of time trying to figure out why you can’t seem to get your feet to work (while your trainer runs around you in circles going “Do what I do and one day you’ll be a real runner!”)

Blogging is good for me — it frees up my voice, which can get mighty raspy when all I’m writing is academic papers. Still, I can’t keep setting myself up to fail at little things to avoid the discomfort that comes with the big things. Parenting is hard. School is hard. Teaching is hard. I can’t always be the prodigy to whom everything comes easily. Instead, I need to just keep plodding ahead, while leaving myself some time to just chill the hell out. So I expect my blogging will continue to come in bursts. I will not be writing every day unless I really feel like it. But I will continue to post sporadically, and I have some social commentary stored up in my brain, so maybe I’ll write that next week when I’m trying to write my final Org. Studies paper. Woo!

P.S. Please send me some IRB juju! This is my first time applying and I’d really like to get approval. Light an IRB juju candle for me.

Weekend blahs

studyI didn’t finish my paper. I have a forgiving professor who’s giving me an extension. I was able to get a few hours of writing in yesterday, but today I’m in charge of the kid. We had three birthday parties on tap for the weekend, and made it to two. Outdoor summer kid parties are NOT MY BAG. I think I need to start carrying a really embarrassing parasol. I’ve never been a fan of heat or hot sunlight, but with my middle-aging body, extreme heat is just a no go. If I stay in the shade I’m okay for a bit. Texas in the summer is not a great place for me, obviously. Luckily my husband loves the heat, so he and my daughter spend a lot of time at the pool while I hide at home in the air conditioning.

I’m also feeling a bit left out, because I opted not to go to Fielding’s Summer Session, which is one of our twice-a-year conferences. It’s a good place to network with professors, learn about classes they’re offering, and connect with other students and alumni. I went to the winter one in Santa Barbara, which was fun, but exhausting. With teaching, wrapping up a class, and trying to get ready for fall classes, I didn’t feel able to blow town for a week. Plus, we’re taking Lillian to Disneyland in the fall (don’t tell her!) and I wanted to put some resources towards family time.

So this is the time of year when I feel a bit grouchy and shut-in and start daydreaming about sweaters and socks and longing for fall. Maybe it will come before November this year.

 

Healing the Maiden

This isn’t going to be an epically long post, but I do want to expand on it later (I’m procrastinating on a paper for school. Yippee!)

John Legend just reduced me to a puddle of tears:

You may have to click through to YouTube to watch it. Watch it, and then come back and read the rest. You may need a tissue.

Having been steeped in feminist culture for the last couple years, I’m sure there will be a “Who are you to tell us what we need, you person with a penis?” kind of backlash. Don’t really care.

What this video meant to me, and why it made me cry, was because I have a four year old daughter who is so confident, extroverted, and full of spunk, it’s almost impossible for me to imagine her feeling the same kind of insecurity, unworthiness, and self-hatred that I did around my body (and as a women that means my innate value) until my early thirties. I can’t imagine her trying to starve herself into invisibility. I can’t imagine her wanting to hide her body, or plotting to have plastic surgery to change it, or having relationships with abusive, controlling people who make her feel bad about herself. I can come up with lots of reasons why this won’t happen to her, (although all those things happened to me) but I’m wrong.

The question isn’t, “How can I prevent this?”, it’s “How can I prepare her for this?” and “How can I help her get stronger when it happens?” How do I help her strengthen her inner voice, instead of swapping it for the judgement of others? How do I help her remember (or maybe even never forget) that she is always loved, always accepted, and always valued by the people who truly love her, by the part of herself that is connected to God, and by whatever force in the Universe brought her soul into being? My body may have built her body, but her soul is sacred, unique, and absolutely without flaw, regardless of what ANYONE (including me) might make her feel.

It took me a long time to learn who to let into my emotional inner sanctum and who to keep out. I wish I could somehow teach her those lessons without having to watch her go through the pain of internalizing the messages peers and society will give her about how she is not enough, or too much, or most likely both at the same time. This video made me realize that I can’t, and that’s heartbreaking. But I can be there for her when she goes through those moments. Even if she’s 15 and she hates me just for breathing the same air as her, I will be there. When she falls in love with a boy or girl who makes her feel bad about herself, I will be there (possibly with a baseball bat). When she screws up, or makes someone else feel bad because she’s in pain, or hurts my feelings, I will be there.

I will have to let her feel pain, because that is the only way she will grow to not question her worth. But it will be hard, because I love her more than life, and I want her to see how every cell in her body is a miracle, every time she looks in the mirror.

 

Mostly little thoughts today

I’m taking a break from the War on Women for a few days because a) It’s terrifying and draining, and b) I have a paper due Friday-ish. I’m taking an organizational studies class, which has been interesting since I’ve already got a master’s degree, several publications, and consulting experience in organizational development. That said, much of the material I’m reading seems more advanced than what I encountered in my masters program.

It turns out that the Org. Development field tends to look at phenomena through a few lenses, which always have underpinnings of the mechanistic, industrial revolution origins of the modern corporation, while ignoring or only partially integrating several other theoretical lenses. So instead of charting new territory, as I have for much of this program, I’m revisiting places I thought I knew well and noticing all sorts of stuff I didn’t see before.

From a sociological perspective, there are several more ways to regard organizations, leadership, change, etc., which have the advantage of not being tethered so much to the practical aspects of helping organizations survive. This may seem a lofty and unuseful perspective, but in reality it is difficult to get a holistic perspective on how organizations work (or don’t) when you’re being paid by them, either as an employee, owner, or consultant. It’s been intellectually refreshing to take the birds-eye view of the scholar. This also helps me recognize similarities between my dissertation sample population, online communities, and organizations.

Through a series of totally unrelated click-throughs, I ran across this article on Politico:
The Pitchforks are Coming…for us Plutocrats

It’s a memo by a billionaire to his fellow billionaires, where he says that refusing to raise the minimum wage on the grounds that it will tank the economy is bullshit, while our current cult of rich-person entitlement and the myth of trickle-down economics is what is actually tanking the economy. He believes that unchecked, it will also destroy our democracy.

So maybe some people in the trenches (or flying above them in their private jets) can also see that the appropriation of the American Dream mythology (work hard, have a good life) by the far-right (or whomever is funding them) may actually not turn out so well.

Whoops! Guess I can’t go apolitical for even one day… Wish me luck on writing a coherent essay for my class.