Eye Contact, I Contact, iContact: The Clash Of Privacy Ideals

Last January when I first moved to Austin, my dog rudely ran up to some girl on the sidewalk and started sniffing her feet. I told her that he was getting used to living in a city. This was because I was embarrassed that he had gone up to her at all.  I was also probably indulging in one of my favorite pastimes of dog-projection.

Now, I can be standing at the traffic light next to someone for three and a half minutes and not say hi or even look them in the eye. Granted, my dog isn’t sniffing their feet, because we have been pretty much avoiding the common sidewalk; but still. I’ve got that “New York Stare” or whatever. This post has some cool citations that verify the experience that in cities, people are just less likely to look you in the eye and talk to you. It’s a commonly known and unexciting fact.

Learning About Eye Contact & What It Can Convey

Eye contact is important.

  • Sales people can use it to manipulate and influence your feelings.
  • Public speakers can use it to feel less embarrassed by anchoring to one person in the crowd at a time.
  • If you are on a date, you can use it wisely to help someone feel comfortable and at least not creep them out any further.
  • Dogs can use it to make you think they’re people.

There are endless ways of using eye contact and many benefits it can bring.

NLP, or Neuro Linguistic Programming, is something I was introduced to in a trailer in the Rockies long ago. There was a book in a free pile, and me and my friend pored over the pages by candle light trying to learn all the tricks; I never succeeded. The NLP website  has a detailed system of how to use eye contact and eye movements to learn about what someone is even thinking about.

The eyes are the doorways to the soul, someone once said. It’s not too far from true.

Sharing, Contacting, Connecting: The Current Ideal of Accessibility

In many ways, sharing and connecting with people is supposed to be cool and fun. It is encouraged. We make profiles on Facebook and WordPress, gathering friends and contacts like corn in a satchel to bring home for sustenance. We keep ourselves known, current, and available.

Today I was listening to an old Ani Difranco album and one of my favorite songs, “Cloud Blood,” came on. Here is a verse as I hear it (I lost the liner notes):

Stopped on the top of the ridge
Just to feel the wind on my Rand McNally.

I feel the air go cold
as I drift in to the first blue, blue valley
And you’re wondering how far down you are on my
call back list,
but you don’t realize
Every time I find I’m by a phone

the landscape shifts.

That verse used to be one of my favorites. I would think of the person I had a crush on and remember times of traveling through mountains and forests, unreachable until I came along a pay phone.

Now, we are all reachable. All of the time. Most of us, anyway. Anyone reading this probably is. Gone are the days of Rand McNally maps, pay phones, and actual phone numbers. Here are the days of online contacts, emails, GPS, Facebook messages and online diaries. Even when people are on some adventure far from society, we can see a new post every day on Facebook or Instagram detailing their spiritual and enlivening journey. Zillions of apps exist so that we can advertise where we work out, what we are eating, who we are with, even which games we are playing.

This is fine. I am not against this. In some ways, it helps people stay healthier and become motivated. What I do not appreciate is double standards and underlying conflicts and contradictions that make perfectly grounded and sensitive people feel as if they are going a bit nuts.

What’s the Problem?

On Facebook, we are encouraged to identify ourselves, where we’ve been, where we plan to go, who we are hanging out with, what brand we purchase, and which coupons we want to claim. (This clip of a Pete Holmes bit illustrates what I mean)

The information we share goes to thousands of people and many companies. We never have to see the people or make eye contact with them, but we advertise and share with them just the same. Even on Skype we can’t make eye contact.

This standard of share-everything doesn’t quite apply when we meet people in real life, though. In that case, the rules are generally: Don”t say hi, don’t start talking, don’t randomly ask how their day is. They’ve already told thousands of people on their mobile Facebook; they don’t need to tell you! (There’s a recent Onion article, “It’s not Okay to Just Start Talking To People You Don’t Know” that nicely displays this side of it)

The Future: A Society Of Control Freaks?

I think this is going to affect us later on more than we may realize. We are turning into control freaks. Online, I can connect without having to worry about the feeling of actual connection. My Screen/No Screen post covers this as well.

But what is happening to our real day to day experience of each other? What type of control are we becoming reliant upon in order to feel “comfortable” connecting with people?

I realize that Austin is a rather friendly city, and at certain coffee shops or parks, there are definitely more chances of starting a conversation or having eye contact. But I see other people pretty much every single time I leave my house, and usually, conversations do not happen and neither does comfortable eye contact.

Waking Up & Aiming Towards Resolving The Discrepancy

It doesn’t matter if you feel comfortable sharing every last detail about your day on Facebook or on your blog if you can’t sit next to someone on a park bench and engage in some type of connection without funneling all of your attention straight into a device; at least in my opinion.

To try and resolve this discrepancy in myself, I am going to be making more of an effort to allow those strange feelings of “connection” to arise when I am near strangers and to smile more often when I do happen to make eye contact with someone.

I realize that sometimes, this may lead to some type of creepy misunderstanding; but more often than not, it won’t. It will lead to connection; to two humans seeing each other and not turning away simply because of fear or awkwardness.

How do you feel about eye contact? Do you live in a place that has lots of friendly eye-contacty people, or do you live in a place where it doesn’t happen at all?

Does it depend on what part of town you are in, or what type of location you are in? Maybe the time of day, or the way you feel?

Do you think that our ability to talk to random people on park benches should be improved, or should it be left to whither in the dust while we all get really, really good at sharing details of our lives with faraway strangers?

Food for Thought: Are Bite-Sized Writing Tips Leaving You Hungry?

I like to think of myself as an adult in many ways; I especially love thinking of myself as Sam Elliott. One of my favorite parts of being an adult is that I like to cut up my own food. I even like to chew it.

We’ve all seen these blog entries:  “The Top 10 Ways to Get More Readers From Twitter” or “The 5 Traffic-Building Tips You NEED to Know!!!” and the like.

These lists have been bugging me for some time, and I think I’ve finally put my finger on why. It’s like I ordered a Portobello sandwich and the server decides to cut it into bite-size pieces for me. Not only that, but they’ve taken the liberty of pre-chewing it a little as well.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I do feel like those lists have a place and that some of them are genuinely useful, as the authors are far more experienced writers than I am. It’s just that the bulk of them feel like a strange shadow of heartfelt or even truly informative writing.

No matter how promising and informative they appear while I read or before I click on the title, the stuff doesn’t seem to stick.

It leaves me wondering- was I just fooled in some way? Did they get my click without giving me something in return? Perhaps there is another explanation.

Why Doesn’t The Stuff Stick?

Maybe it is that these “4 Big Ways to Make Your Blog Burst With Flavor!” articles don’t let me creatively organize and process the points that matter to me.

Reading Stephen King’s On Writing and Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing have given me kernels of knowledge and wisdom that roll around and around in my head, sticking with me long after the fact.

Neither of these books is organized in list-fashion.

Neither of them even attempt to slice up the ideas neatly into bite-size pieces. They let me cut, let me chew, let me sort it all out like an intelligent adult.

Little chunks of those books will pop up as I sit to write or as I walk around outside. That has never happened with Item #4 of “5 Reasons You Aren’t Getting More Traffic on Your Blog.”

Maybe It’s a Learning Style?

I’m wondering if perhaps this has something to do with learning style. Perhaps some people learn more effectively when the main points are all laid out, and others learn though the experience of figuring it out and learning what works for them.

Maybe I would retain more items if I wrote them down. Maybe if I put more energy into finding good posts or articles, more of them would stick. Maybe I am already learning from them and it is just such a smooth and flawless process that it slide right by my awareness.

I’m not sure. But at least I put my finger on my annoyance and have a direction to go in- which is towards more non-listy inspirations, books, and blog posts. These are more useful, memorable, inspirational and informative to my particular mind.

Do you like articles like that, have you written any that you are proud of?

What types of information seem to stay inspiring to you, and which kinds seem fun at first but then quickly fade, never to be thought of again?

And, what’s the sky look like right now?

Finding The Beauty of a Mess

Sometimes I get grouchy. Some fits of grouchiness are preceded by me noticing a mess somewhere, such as this one that has been accumulating by the fireplace.

Because we just moved, we don’t yet have fancy things like shelves and book cases. Art supplies have their designated corner-of-floor and so do the books.

Within this one mess, there are a lot of things going on. In the foreground, we have envelopes for some Martin guitar strings that my dear friend gave me on my recent trip to Connecticut. I just got around to putting them on my guitar (seen in the very background!) last night, which is why they have an elegant place in this mess at all.

Next to them are a pair of Alpaca socks from the very same friend. I opened those while on the road to Austin many months ago. They still feel like that adventure and joyful transition when they are soft against my feet.

Behind them, we have some pliers on top of a box of beads. One of the pliers was given to me by a friend in Northampton; we were both in the same alternative healing arts class at the Pangaea school which I think is no longer in existence. The other pair I have had for years, back when I sold jewelry in Colorado and across the country. They work just well enough to justify keeping them.

The rolls of green string called Power Pro on that same bead box are from Hawaii, which is the only place at the time that you could get that string. It’s heavy duty and doesn’t break; ever. I still remember the long hot walk I took trying to find the store that was selling it, feeling the big sky above me and thousands upon thousands of miles away from my close friends and lands I knew.

The bead box itself is from my mother’s boyfriend and is filled with colored copper wire that he got for me when I was experimenting with wire wrapping. The bottom has red felt and it makes me happy just to open it.

Behind that, we have the Writer’s Market book that comes so highly recommended by Stephen King, or so they say. That heavy thing was given to me by my mother because she believes in me and my skills as a writer. Behind that, we have a stand that my sister recently gave me for displaying jewelry I made; and on it, some jewelry I made!

This mess is beautiful when I look at it this way. That is, when I take the time to look at it this way. At first glance, it’s a big mess. Just like a bad mood. At a glance, it is unmanageable, unattractive, and a big nuisance.

But at a more detailed and slower glance, it is made up of parts. Little parts. Manageable parts. Parts that have fuzzy warm memories or icky memories. Parts that are much more manageable.

Messy Moods

When I’m grouchy, there are lots of parts. How can I apply the beauty I find in the mess to the mood? The key seems to be to break it down somehow in the heat of the moment. Here are three ideas that might work:

  1. Pick some body parts. Hands. Feet. Forehead. How do they feel?
  2. Pick a thing to look at through the lens of that mood. Like the coffee mug, the wall painting, the dog. What do those things look like through that lens? What if I look at them for five whole minutes without doing anything?
  3. Maybe the mood has a recipe. What exactly is it composed of? Maybe 1 part anger to 2 parts irritability, or 1 part bitterness and 2 parts impatience? Maybe one part insult and two parts insecurity. It’s always different.

Of course, during the moment of the grouchy fit, these three things are going to be hard to remember to do. Maybe I can pick one tiny thing to remember. Like my feet. Next time I’m grouchy, I will pay attention to how my feet feel. Warm, cold, neutral, sore; who knows. I’ll have to see. Then I can try to work in the other things on the list if possible.

How About You?

I have a fantasy that you guys will find a mess within eyesight and tell me about it in a creative way. Any chance of that happening?

If not, it would be fun to hear any ways you have of talking yourself out of grouchiness…unless you have magical grouch-repellant, in which case, do share the recipe.

Or just anything you feel like sharing in regards to these ideas would be most appreciated. Your words always stick in my head for so long and bring plenty of joy, so thank you!

 

Mediating My Media: Am I Old, or Am I Sam Elliott?

If I picture that I’m Sam Elliott, somehow Pinterest becomes less annoying.

The other day I wrote an article on an herbalism website with a cute picture of my dog. I proceeded to pin the picture, and then tweeted the pin.

I realized that if I was more skilled, I’d probably have facebooked the tweet of the pin of the picture. Or maybe that’s the dumb thing to do. I’m not sure.

And that’s what makes me feel old.

I have nothing against technology itself. Not a darn thing. I don’t have a problem with the act of facebooking a tweet of a pin of a picture, but…what if someday there are more?

What then? Can I keep up for forever when I’m barely hanging on a thread now?

How Do The Kids Do It?

The kids do these things so seamlessly; it’s as if their very blood and brains are pumping with html code and built-in photo filters.

(Once, I had a dream that the world started to look like Instagram to save everyone trouble. It was horrifying.)

Last night I had a revelation. The fast-growing importance of the Internet is scary, but not like horror movie scary or even Lifetime movie scary.

It’s more like the wild frontier. The buzzy glowing pulsating world of the Internet is unfolding before us in previously unknown glory, and it is up to us to make the most of it.

Sure, there are some strapping young cowboys and pretty maidens that have an easy time fighting off plagues and jumping from rock to rock over the swift chilly rivers of change, but that’s okay. Good for them. There’s also Sam Elliott.

And he’s not young. But he is awesome.

How Can The Old Folks Do It?

There are plenty of writers that have embraced technology and seem to be dancing over the rocks on that river. Jeff Noon, for one. His blog Metamorphiction is pretty amazing. It is as if he is living in the realm of the Internet and manipulating all of its features like play dough.

Probably because he isn’t afraid of it. Isn’t afraid of learning, isn’t afraid of letting it all in and not resisting the shifts that are happening.

The Truth

It’s time that I fess up that many of the grievances I have towards technology are really my insecurity. Well, some of them at least. I’m afraid that things are progressing so fast that I am having a hard time maintaining speed, and if I fall too far behind at any given moment, maybe I’ll end up in a stampede of gigabytes or an avalanche of megapixels and never find my way to the gentle warmth of the sun again.

Worse, I fear my writing will never find its way to an audience because I won’t know where to put it. I’ll be sticking the newfangled CD into the familiar old VHS slot, when really neither are working because it’s the wrong television set entirely.

So there. I got that off my chest, and also shared my secret.

When in doubt, just be Sam.

Your Turn!

Now, how about you? Is it easy to tweet your pins of Facebook updates, or whatever it is you do?

How many sites do you think we will have to maintain in the next year, four years, five years?

Or are things just fabulous either which way and none of this matters and good writing will find an audience even if the writer is just pretending to understand how to use social media?