And now for something completely different. Sort of. The psychology of Pokemon Go.

sillynamesPokemon Go. It has consumed my every waking hour. Well, the ones that aren’t spent feeding people, on hygene, playing other video games, working on my dissertation, and eating pancakes. I love pancakes.

And look! It’s not password protected! My dissertation is coming along apace. I hope it continues to do so. So many variables, but I have written all the chapters and now have to do a bunch of editing, smooshing together of sections, APA fixing, and appendixes and such. Still, written! Woo!

So, Pokemon Go. First I downloaded it because I was curious and another friend had just started. Then I got super obsessed. Then I joined the Facebook Groups for Austin and found out how obsessed one could truly be (in the absence of kids who prevent you from abandoning them around midnight to troll for pokes at the Texas capitol which is THE BOMB for pokemon go. Ahem.)

Several of my mom-friends are obsessed as well. Oddly, less dudes, though some of them (my husband) are getting into it. My daughter even got her grandfather addicted.

birdheadSo “addicted” implies negative stuff. And there are plenty of risks, as corporate news has already exploited. Obsession, car accidents, walking off cliffs, blah blah blah. I’m going to explore it from a first person phenomenological (what I experience it as) perspective.

  1. Obsession. Like any online interest, it can make me a little jumpy and neurotic. Too much time spent projecting my consciousness into cyberspace has a tendency to feed on itself. Once I get into the cycle, I have a hard time getting out. I have a particular problem with this in the evening when I should be winding down. Luckily there’s not much pokemon activity in my neighborhood, so I don’t spend much time with it after dark.
    1. Flip side – My husband has been riding his bike all over the neighborhood and has gotten significantly fitter. I don’t ride bikes, but I’ve been doing a lot more walking. Carrot; meet stick. (in the form of fictional critters made of ones and zeros. Weird.)
  2. Lowering of inhibitions. Yes, I surreptitiously load up on pokeballs  at pokestopsin my car, if traffic isn’t too fast (never on the highway) or the road is empty. I usually pull over if I need to catch some rare poke critter. I predict that cops all over the country are going to figure this out very soon and start issuing tons of (probably well-deserved) tickets for people fiddling with their phones while driving. The hands free laws in Texas are less enforced than elsewhere, but I doubt municipalities will resist this potential cash cow.
    1. The flip side of lowered inhibitions: I HATE being outside in the summer. H A T E . It’s so flipping hot, bright, and humid. Bugs. Mosquitoes. Ants that bite. This August, we got tons of rain, so the temps are about 10-15 degrees lower than usual. I’ve spent a ton of time doing stuff outside alone, with the husband, with the kid, or with friends that involve me moving around, sweating, and not really caring because I’m having fun.
  3. Acquisitiveness. While I’m no neurologist, I know that my brain likes it when I buy, am gifted, or find stuff. In the short term, new stuff=happy. Pokemon Go allows you to “win”, find, and buy stuff which can build into more stuff. It really gets to that wanty place in the brain. Is this good or bad? As always, it depends. If it gets me and my family out of our rut and out and about doing new things (which it has), I’m going to put this on the positive side. However:
    1. Flip side – you can make in app purchases. It is very easy to rationalize using hard cash to buy fake money to buy fake stuff. I fell into this trap in another game and after I came to my senses, I vowed that I would not do any more wanty in-app purchases. (Only the ones that add functionality to a utility type app, and only then with some serious consideration.) It’s essentially gambling, in the sense that you spend some money on items like lures or incense (short term things that attract extra pokemon to your location), and you may or may not get any pokemon of “value” out of it. Other purchases can speed up your rate of egg hatching-the only way to get out-of-region critters. So this is potentially and endless suckhole for money if you have a hard time controlling those impulses. Beware.
  4. Relational stuff. Yes, you can become sucked in and ignore your relationships blah blah blah. While I have been known to snap at my kid for not catching all the pokestops while I’m driving (whoops), in general this has created some new friendships for me and some new activities for my family. It’s pretty fun to have something we’re all interested in. My husband and I have very different interests, and the ones we have in common (sci fi and superhero movies, innovative restaurants for example) aren’t age appropriate or interesting for the kid. So we’ve been doing way more stuff as a family, which I call a win. I have a couple of friendships that were more casual that have moved on to the “hanging out together” phase because of the game. We’ve also started to solidify some family friendships in the same way.
  5. Health. I’ve mostly covered this, but from a personal standpoint, being outside is really good for my body and my psyche. I was cooped up inside for most of the spring, because pollen counts were high and I was plagued with chronic asthma. Every time I would spend a few hours outside doing something fun, it would get worse. It sucked. In spite of being in the midst of the shitshow that is the end of the dissertation process, I’m feeling more energetic and balanced. My husband, who needs to keep his weight low to keep pressure off one messed up and one fake hip, has lost 15 pounds from tooling around on his bike at all hours. The kid is mega-stressed from the first few weeks of school, but dragging her around to pokemon-heavy parks has really helped her unwind. My social life has expanded. I’m going to go with WIN.
peacockzoo

I take pictures of real things while I’m pokemon hunting! And I look at them with my real eyes!

So there you have it. My experience of Pokemon Go, while fraught with the usual risks of video game play (minus the social media trolling and sedentary effects), has been pretty fun and generally good for my overall mental and physical health. The media, as usual, is painting as entirely binary. It’s not. Nothing is. But if you decide to start playing, let me know. The next release is supposed to include trading!

Surfing the Waves: You Are Beginning to Damage My Calm

My life has been hella stressful lately. School, money, health – you name it. It’s been a high stress year. One thing I haven’t been tracking until recently is the effect of my interenet use on my stress level. It sneaks up on me. I have this inner dialogue that goes something like this:

Me 1: Wow, I’m feeling a lot of anxiety after browsing Facebook on my phone for ten minutes. Trump. Reproductive rights. Natural disasters. Maybe I need a break.

Me 2: What do you mean? Do you want to be ill-informed? Do you want to willfully choose to ignore the pain of others? That makes you selfish.

Me 1: I guess you’re right. Maybe I’ll try to thin back some of the political stuff I follow in my feed to see if that helps.

Me 2: Wimp.

Me 1: Well, that’s a little better, I guess. Still pretty hard to avoid triggering stuff. Everyone propogages this stuff constantly. And I like to be informed. And who can resist a “Top 5” list or a “You won’t believe…” headline. Apparently not me. And then when I click on something mildly click-baity I end up on a page with horrible brain-burning click bait that hurts my brain.

Me 2: Yeah that’s really annoying.

Me 1: Totally

Me 1: Okay, now that my external stressors are REALLY HIGH,  browsing the internet, checking my email (which I do obsessively), Instagram, the “helpful” news feed on my Iphone can instantly trigger the shit out of me. I feel like I’m waiting for “the shoe to drop” – a typical anxiety thing – and the internet provides an endless supply of shoes. Interspersed with funny stuff, cute stuff, and friend stuff. So I gravitate towards it to 1) confirm my anxiety and keep it going, and 2) to connect with other people.

Me 2: Wimp? Maybe not. Maybe we need a fricking break. Does that makes us weak?

Me 1: Who freaking cares?

Me 2: Good point.

So I did that thing. I spent three ish days with minimal internet. It got progressively harder. I’m back to checking my email several times a day and cautiously checking FB to see if anyone has said anything to me or tagged me (they have). Balance is certainly going to be key. Discoveries:

  1. Accidentally swipe right on your iPhone and prepare to be bombarded with “Texas woman shoots two daughters”. Fuck. Me. No wonder I’m so triggered all the time. Because I’m reading this crap all. The. Time. I have to figure out how to turn off the news feed.
  2. The Weather.com app is also less fun than I realized. “Hundreds dead in horrible painful awful flood!” With video! Flashy ads for fictitious loans. Maybe I need to go back to the more benign apple weather app.
  3. My anxiety is WAY lower when I’m not constantly bombarding it with crap. And checking my email to see if there’s any bad news. And checking the weather, sadly.
  4. I’m making an effort to reconnect with paper books. I’ve gotten rid of a lot of the ones I can read digitally for free (library) but I have tons of non-fiction that I can peruse at my leisure. That’s been good.
  5. I’ve also started keeping a written journal, which is weird because my handwriting is TERRIBLE. Unless I write really slow. So I’m writing really slow. And drawing pictures.
  6. Analog is not so bad. I think I started to slip today because I felt lonely. Because I’m alone a lot of the time. I can just feel it when I’m not bombarded with low level social input.

I give you, the weather. Or something.

This comes at an odd time, since I’m doing a positive psychology for the internet kind of thing for my dissertation and major research area. Still, I think maybe I needed more of the big picture. I’ve started reading Turkel’s Alone Together. I assumed that she was an older person with that “get off my lawn” approach to the internet. Not so much. She is more of a baby boomer, but she’s been tracking online culture since the 70s and she’s a psychoanalyst, so kind of up my alley. She makes some good points. This disembodied, scattered feeling can subsume a sense of connection to the physical world. And we are physical beings. I think perhaps there is a time for diving into the dynamic, challenging, pluralistic online world, and a time to retreat, reflect, and exist as a physical being. I think we ignore the online world at our peril, but we also ignore the physical world, which is highly impacted by the online world, at our peril.

More to come.

 

Policing policers by policing

As I’ve become more involved in activism, both as a participant and an observer, I’ve also become increasingly uncomfortable with the policing of each other that activists engage in. In my corner of the internet, body positive activism, I’m seeing more and more of the “10 Ways to Be an Ally” and “20 Ways We Do it Wrong” articles. I’m seeing a lot of women telling other women that they’re not allowed to talk about feeling fat if they’re not fat (by some nebulous standard that sounds a lot like the same one that goes with being skinny or healthy), or that they’re not being inclusive enough, or that they’re getting activism wrong. This worries me. In my current dissertationy frame of mind, it sounds like defensiveness, not inclusion.

I think it’s incredibly powerful to stand up and say, “No! I do not like how you talk to me. I do not like how you treat me. I do not accept this. I will not disappear.” I am so down with this. But constantly telling other people how they’re doing activism wrong, or doing advocacy wrong is so freaking counterproductive. It’s globalizing an individual experience, and turning it into a set of rules.

It’s like the difference between saying, “Do not ignore or marginalize me. I am here, and I want you to know how I feel.” and saying, “Do not ignore or marginalize me or anyone like me, ever, or you are a shit activist.” From a psychological point of view, the globalizing that goes with the “10 Things” lists seems like a defense. Don’t get near me. Don’t talk to me. Don’t engage with me. Don’t ever fuck up and say the wrong thing. Maybe if I write enough lists of things people shouldn’t do, I won’t ever get hurt.

Human relationships are a series of fuck ups. The taboos that allow us to marginalize and harm others are ways that we protect ourselves from our own capacity to do harm. So it seems like creating a whole new set of taboos, instead of just getting down and talking about the harm, is just more of the same shit.

The problem with this is we all fuck up. We all get hurt. We can’t renegotiate the social norms that hurt us without getting messy, fucking up, and letting other people get messy and fuck up. I like the articles that tell individual people’s stories and experiences, letting the reader relate to them as another human. I’m so sick of the ones that tell everyone how to act and how to not fuck up. This one got to me the other day so I ranted on Facebook:

http://www.bustle.com/articles/109422-17-shame-y-comments-plus-size-people-are-tired-of-hearing-from-other-plus-size-people

This article brings up ways that fat stigma is hard to shed, even for those of us who are part of the movement. However, I don’t love that it’s framed as a list of do-nots. We all struggle to accept ourselves as we are, and that means we are not perfect activists at all times. I don’t think I even want to be a perfect activist. I just want to grow in compassion and awareness of myself and others, as I continue to deconstruct the social norms that keep me from being fully at peace with myself. It’s up to each of us to speak our truths to each other and connect as humans. I don’t think the plethora of do-not lists bring us together. I think they freeze us up. I’d rather fall down and learn than stay frozen for fear of breaking a new rule.

Is the author trying to show ways in which we are all still struggling to undo the harm done to us by bullshit corporate/patriarchal norms? Or is she/he saying, “You’d better not do this…” If it had been written as interviews or a first person story, I would be so down with it. Yes! We all still judge ourselves and others in ways that are harsh and unfair. Let’s talk about it! But that’s not how it’s written. It’s written as a warning about how you, too, might be a secret douchebag. And that doesn’t make me want to talk, or share my experiences, or learn, or expand.

I think that’s what it comes down to. Do we want to expand or contract? Do we want to live fuller, more expansive lives (wherein we are likely to fuck up, fall down, get up, and make amends) or stick ourselves in a new little box with a new set of rules guaranteed to keep us from every connecting with another person? The box may seem like it will keep us safe, but we should know by now that it will not. This is often the major difference I see between second-wave feminists in the academy and third and fourth wave feminists online. We’re constantly negotiating boundaries and norms – second-wavers often (not always) see the rules as set. And you get called a gender traitor if you violate them (Hilary vs. Bernie, anyone?).’

This is not an argument that political correctness is evil and unfettered personal expression is good. What gets labeled political correctness is just new emerging norms that take marginalized people into consideration. Considering other people’s feelings and talking about them and taking personal responsibility when we hurt or get hurt is good.

When you were little, did your parents ever tell you that you should have known better? Well, it turns out, most of the time,  you couldn’t have. A lot of the stuff we learn to do as adults — empathize, abstract, predict — kids can’t do that stuff. Their brains grow those capacities in the teen years. So we learn to feel retroactive shame for being human kids, instead of being gradually introduced to concepts that will one day make sense to us. That’s what some of this stuff feels like to me. I hate seeing the BOPO movement eat itself, but I’m afraid of the direction it’s headed in. So many other beautiful movements have dissolved into infighting and chaos. Can we find another way? Can we inquire instead of judge?

As a culture, we are just starting to deconstruct a whole lot of harmful nonsense around gender, bodies, and race. THIS IS MESSY. If it’s not messy, we’re not actually doing it. Can I tell you how many times I’ve tripped over my own privilege as a teacher? So. Many. Times. Face-planting is part of the job. All I can do is try to make amends and do better next time. I can’t avoid the next landmine because I don’t know where it is. But it’s still my responsibility to clean up the mess when I do something unintentionally insensitive.

What if we lived in a culture where we took responsibility for speaking our own hurt and anger and drawing our own boundaries? What if we were allies to those who need help without becoming caricatures of the very ideas that we’re trying to change? What if we just rolled up our sleeves and talked and listened and yelled and cried and hugged? What if we got messy instead of militaristic? Messy is scary, but that’s where the growth is.

Instead of saying, “You’re not inclusive enough!” What about saying, “I feel invisible when you ignore my body type/color/gender expression, and it hurts.” And what if I said, “Holy crap, I’m so sorry! What can I do to help?”

Feeding the Trolls: Further Adventures in YouTube Land (with Drag Queens!)

Hi! I got my first round of fat trolling on YouTube this week! As a person, it’s a little creepy and depressing. But as an online aggression researcher, it’s kind of awesome! I wasn’t trolling for trolls, I was just drooling over my latest favorite drag queen’s music video. Ginger Minj very nearly became America’s first fat Drag Superstar. She didn’t win the crown, but she’s super popular and released a video wearing a tee with her self-hashtag, #glamourtoad. So awesome. Anyway, I watched the video and posted in the comments that I really wanted one of those shirts. Enter troll. He/She spread the love far and wide, but here was my  little bit of the action:

glamourtoad0The troll was posting under the name “discount demi” at the time he/she posted, but later changed his/her name to “horse renoir”. Weird; just keep in mind it’s the same person.

Other gems:

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 8.27.41 PM Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 8.43.42 PMThere were lots of other comments that were disparaging of Ms. Minj and her fans.

This is pretty normal fare in my area of research. I’m not looking at the hardcore, violent stuff, just run of the mill nastiness and passive aggression. This particular troll did a hit and run, leaving several nasty comments, and didn’t follow up on any of the responses.

What was interesting for me was trying to walk my own talk. I wanted to hit back, hard. I could say something really intellectual and superior or something nasty and witty…but here’s the thing. The troll had some need which he or she fulfilled by attacking fans of Ms. Minj, particularly due to his/her distaste for Ms. Minj’s body type. Reading the troll’s comments made me seriously annoyed; the troll made him/herself a prime target for my aggression and frustration with fat discrimination and those who rationalize and defend it.  But, projection (which is what I’d be doing if I hit back with an equally nasty comment–I would be projecting my accumulated frustration on one lonely troll) just keeps on bouncing back and forth like a ping-pong ball. So, knowing what I do about defense mechanisms and online discourse, I decided to take a deep breath, and think about how to respond. What could I say that would help me not feel victimized (the popular stance, “Don’t feed the trolls” doesn’t cut it for me) but not fall into an aggressive or passive-aggressive trap? So I did this:

glamourtoadI felt better. I didn’t hit back, but I also didn’t roll over. It felt like the right response. It was hard! I have a heavy streak of passive-aggressive, which, coupled with some expert rationalization, can make it mighty hard to think of some way not to be bitchy when I’m attacked. My requirement for myself in responding was to stay at the adaptive level of defense mechanism.

It was really interesting was seeing how others responded. I’m on the “top comments” list, (number of likes is now up to 25), and one person counter attacked the troll, possibly on my behalf, while the other seemed to be coaching me on how to deal with the trolling. So what is going on in this community? As an avid of RuPaul’s Drag Race, I often get my post-season fix by watching videos posted by the performers, many of whom are quite prolific. This is a pretty typical comment thread on YouTube, particularly if the poster is fat. While I’m not actively seeking interaction with trolls, I’ve decided to be less inhibited in posting on YouTube pages a form of appreciation.

As in the previous post where I interacted with a troll, my response seemed to have a constructive effect on the other viewers, at least to the point that several were motivated to “like” my comment, interact with me, or defend me. To get all psychodynamic about it (again), I was operating at the adaptive defensive level by using sublimation  – consciously redirecting my ire and hurt into inquiry. The troll was operating at the immature level by acting out through making unsolicited disparaging and critical comments. The commenter who told me to ignore the troll was perhaps operating at the neurotic level by using reaction formation–partially expressing anger towards the troll by indirect name calling (“pathetic hater”) while coming to my defense.

I’m taking a phenomenology class right now, which is a bit hard to explain, but it’s about doing research from inside the thing you’re studying, instead of observing it from the outside. So I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks trying to describe my experience of aggression from multiple angles. One of the things that has been most interesting is how incredibly physical it is. Even just hearing someone speak cruel words, or reading them online has a physical effect. Have you ever felt like someone knocked the breath out of you, verbally? Or punched you in the stomach–verbally? Or dumped ice water down your back–verbally? None of those feelings are exactly like the descriptions, but they’re something like them. Reading the troll’s comment felt a bit like that. It made me really angry, and I wanted to punch him/her in the face–verbally.

I’m good with words. I’m also good with denial. A year ago, I might have written a really scholarly, academic sounding response that was the verbal equivalent of skewering the troll on a BBQ fork while convincing myself I was being perfectly civil. But after this year of studying online conversations and testing my assumptions about them, I know how that would likely go. Others would join in on the flaming, or the troll might fire back in some extra creepy ways, or I might just not say anything (thinking I was taking the high road) but doing that would leave me with some free-floating hurt and anxiety that would end up directed somewhere less appropriate. I might react disproportionately to my daughter’s behavior, or snap at my husband. Not that those things don’t happen–I just don’t want them happening because I wimped out on confronting a troll on YouTube. Right? The funny thing was that after I responded, my body relaxed. I didn’t feel creeped out anymore, and I didn’t feel any dread about how the troll (or others) might respond. I felt calm and curious. The quality of my aggression went from jagged and painful, to quiet and watchful. I was still mad, but not unsettled. My curiosity about how my comment would be taken was much stronger than my anger.

I suspect that I’m not the only person who can have a physical-emotional response to something I read on a screen. A number of my friends have disconnected from social media because they find it so unsettling. The norms of online society don’t seem to leave much room for talking about hurt feelings or uncomfortable sensations. I consciously chose to omit that my feelings were hurt, because I didn’t think the environment would be safe or welcoming. YouTube commentators do not equal group therapy. Nonetheless, there is some really interesting stuff going on, and not all of it is immediately accessible through reading comments. I wonder how, as a researcher, I can get at this stuff? Pondering.

My final reflection paper for Human Development

This metaphor occurred to me during my first semester at Fielding:

Each time I read a new textbook, essay, or philosophy, it is as if I am in the dressing room at a department store. My professors select certain outfits, which I dutifully try on. Some are too tight and constricting, others hang off my body unevenly. Some seem unlikely, but surprise me with flatteringly different textures and colors, while others fit like my favorite old pair of jeans on the first try.

Despite the difficulty and rigor that this class has required, it’s been a blessing during a particularly crazy time in my life. Maybe it takes an epic nerd to feel this way, but the perspectives I’ve had to “try on” to understand Goldhaber, Overton, Kegan, etc. have had a profound effect on how I approach my studies overall. I’ve learned to be more open and flexible. At first, I was all, “Positivism bad! Postmodernism good!” That lasted about a week.

I feel as if I’m walking the same path every week (how people develop over the lifespan), but with an improved set of glasses each time. It’s kind of like when the ophthalmologist sits you in front of that weird multi-lens contraption and says, “This one, or this one?” Each time I try on a new lens, my vision gets a little clearer, a little more discerning, and a little more inclusive.

The highlight of the semester was Kegan’s orders of consciousness. His framework embedded itself in my brain. It is changing how I teach, parent, and learn. His research helps me understand how aspects of my childhood have held back my emotional development back in some ways, and helped me develop in others. I had a hard time expressing his theory in my own words; it’s much easier to look at as a Buddhist principle: non-attachment. At each order, we let go of an attachment: control, emotions, relationships, and identity. No wonder meditating is so hard!

I still have questions, some of which I brought up during our conversations. I still think there’s a particularly large schism between the study of human development and the practice of psychology. Medical researchers study disease to help doctors treat patients. The gap between our studies and the work of therapists seems much wider, to the point that I can’t always find a relationship at all. If I was in a psychology program would I study a different selection of theorists, or would the foundation be the same? Or, is there a fundamental difference between the fields of Human Development and Psychology that I’m missing?

Another realization (leading to more questions): The very framework through which we are supposed to present our work–argumentation–is not conducive to fourth order (let alone fifth order) thinking. Overton demonstrates this by espousing relational metatheory, which takes a didactic, emergent approach to studying different types of data, and then proceeds to deconstruct split-metatheory by tracing its roots back to Plato and working his way forward! What? Didn’t he just say we need to stop attacking each other’s theories and start seeing them as all part of a larger whole? Ack!

I’m concerned about how I’m going to work through the implications of this in my research. How much flexibility do I have at Fielding? Do I really have to spend an enormous amount of time and energy thinking and writing about all the people who might possibly disagree with me, and why they are wrong? Do all journals expect this? If I’m espousing a move to fourth or fifth order consciousness, spending a big chunk of my paper deconstructing my “competitors” seems unethical on the grounds that it contradicts my stated values. I will be looking for guidance on this from my co-learners and professors, as I get closer to the end of my foundational KAs.

Okay, back to the class. I’ve loved interacting with my classmates, and I’ve loved getting your feedback, reading your papers, and exchanging ideas. I wrote this in one of my classmate’s threads, but I’m stealing her elephant parable: we all perceive different parts of theory (the elephant) most clearly, but by sharing our interpretations and clarifying them for each other, we start to get an idea of the whole. We each bring a little candle into the darkness, and together they create illumination. Dr. Stevens-Long’s feedback has been invaluable, and I am so glad that both our papers and her feedback were available for all of us. I learned a great deal from both.

To return to my first metaphor: Goldhaber is the outfit that I pull out for more conservative events. Lerner goes back on the rack. Kegan is my new favorite pair of jeans. Overton is a starched suit that looks nice, but isn’t very comfortable. And Stephens-Long is a stylish jacket that looks good with everything.

Thanks for indulging my questions, prodding, and flights of fancy! This was a life-changing class.