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I see this argument often.  I hear “adults” (whatever that means) lament at how impersonal we are becoming as humans.  We spend more time watching videos on the internet, blogging, and not actively engaging each other face to face.  Even this very blog post, which i’m unsure even has a single reader would be proof that we are beginning to become a loner species.

There’s something a little strange I’ve noticed about the people who have asserted this however.  I’m always skeptical of how involved they are with communities on the internet.  Their descriptions make sense when looked at with the idea of our new tendency to “be alone” if you assume that our stake in online communities are ephemeral and unimportant.

Well, then why have I been a member of LUElinks (now known as endoftheinter.net) for nearly a decade?  For people completely unaware of what this website is/was, it began as a spin-off from a GameFAQs message board called “Life, The Universe, and Everything”, and contained links to content that was against the GameFAQs terms of service.

When megaupload was destroyed by the US Government in an attempt to enforce archaic copyright laws, the “links” portion of LUElinks was destroyed.  The database itself was erased, and no longer existed.  The owner of the website made a public statement that the original intention of LUElinks was never to support piracy in the first place, and that by the time the community had built itself around it, he felt unable to change the direction without destroying the culture that had emerged.  This is also why the site was renamed, because we had outgrown our relation to GameFAQs, and had created a culture that extended beyond simply Terms of Service rebellion.

Now, I want you to think about what I just said.  An internet forum of approximately 10,000-15,000 active users was described by the creator as having a CULTURE The members of ETI, myself included, feel that this community should continue to thrive.  We care.  It is personal to us.

There is no better example I can give to prove how personal it has become than suicide attempts by members of the community.  On multiple occasions, members posted on the board suggesting they were going to end their lives.  They have done so anonymously, or freely attaching their username.  Some simply joked about it, never intending to do it, but displaying clear suicidal tendencies.  Some actually succeeded in ending their lives.  Whatever the case may be, these people thought themselves alone, and one of their last acts of self preservation was to reach out, and tell the only people they believed would listen to them, what they had planned.

In every case, there is overwhelming community response to even suggesting one might commit suicide.  The internet detectives pull out their magnifying glasses, moderators utilize ip logging tools to identify locale, and whatever information is available via the internet (apparently there is alot) is used to notify authorities in the area, and send help as soon as possible.  These people, as vitriolic as they may be with each other when arguing over politics, care.

I have had the pleasure of meeting around 50-70 members of the community in person, and have at times forged quite strong relationships with some.  I have also had severe falling outs with these same people.

But the question stands, is it impersonal even though I have spent so much time on the community?  I read so many of their opinions, and gloss over their names, not really caring who they are when discussing the important matters at hand (like the hilarity/non-hilarity of http://politicalpbf.tumblr.com/ ).

I can only answer that with another question, unfortunately.  How is that different from our daily discussions and interactions with people in “real life”? (By the way, last time I checked, the internet is part of reality, and is therefore part of “real life”).

Really though, how we handle interpersonal communication with each other on a face to face basis is vastly different than reading, considering, and formulating a written response.  Or is it?

In some cases we find ourselves misinterpreting the written message of someone, opening the quick response prompt, and take a warm shit on the page with sarcasm and dismissal.

This sounds eerily similar to friends bantering with one another.

The question remains, still, how much do we CARE about these people.  What level of influence do we allow them in our lives?  How much do we value their input?  Can we call them “friends”, or are they simply no more than colleagues and acquaintances?  These are all very valid questions.

They are all very valid questions we ask ourselves about people in our own lives.  At least we should ask these questions of everyone in our lives.  To put it bluntly, we always consider “is this person worth my time?” when deciding whether or not to invest ourselves in someone.

So the answer to the question remains… how is it different than having a large social circle in which you know little about a lot of people, and a lot about a few?

Having “grown up” on the internet, being part of these communities since the ripe old age of 10… there is no difference.

What sparked this post was a reaction to a recent video response I made on youtube to a video Veritasium posted.  I was responding to a science experiment, predicting what i believed was causing the reactions.  In the follow up video revealing the solution, Derek made note of how many video responses he received and seemed genuinely elated as what he saw as people taking his channel and actively applying themselves to science.  That was his goal to begin with.

Then I remembered the book Alone Together, which talks somewhat about what i discussed above.  I recalled conversations I’ve had with my parents, and how surprised they were to know some of my good friends were people I had originally met on the internet.  And here was an interaction between people on the internet via video that had generated an emotional response in someone… I can’t help but call bullshit on something somewhere suggesting we are LESS personal when on the internet we are MORE FREE to discuss our true thoughts.  It’s so much more personal.

What makes lying so easy is that a majority of people want to believe whatever you’re saying. Life is easier if everyone is telling you the truth.

How can it be
it’s not like me
it’s the way i think
thinking i can see
what others don’t
and that i need
to help lead
them to the light
where i feel right
but i can’t understand
in this far off land
where all the strife
is only in my head

I wish they were a book
I could sit down and read
but the words don’t matter
when you look at me
in the eye
sayin’ you don’t lie
but now you’ve gone to cry
cause you can’t see me

i’m leading to the light
where it’s alright
and i can understand
my right hand man
as he does to me
what i so need
to feel inside
that i can hide
from nothing

I sprint through life cuffing
my emotions
keeping them at bay
otherwise some day
flyin’ around
above you all
i’ll be bitter
for the things we said
and all i really want from you
is to remember me
as the guy who tried to lead

the perfect life
doing what he thinks is right
but didn’t understand
in this far off land
that everyone can see
he tries too hard
and isn’t happy
but there he stays
trying to lead
and the world doesn’t care
and life ain’t fair

So if the world don’t care
why do you
walking around
trying to be cool
looking like a fool
but all they say
is you’re not there
but maybe some day
you’ll understand
that life ain’t fair
and no one’s innocent.

Learning to understand people and rationalize their decisions as if you were them will not only help you become a better actor, it will motivate you to do what’s right in your every day life.

Or it might make you really cynical.  Depends on the company you keep.

I like to take things apart.  Computers, software, watches, rubik’s cubes (4x4x4 and up cause i can’t solve them), and most importantly people.

Deconstruction and understanding is a something I hold in very high esteem.  Sometimes I let this blind me and I forget to simply appreciate what is, as opposed to why it is.  It’s strange to me that I spent 3 years studying as an actor, and all I learned to do was to understand people better (I’m not certain I am any better at acting!).

I see myself in my parents.  My mother is a software developer and vice president for a very large software firm, and my father is a government employee.  It wasn’t always this way.  When I was born, my mother did not work, she spent most of her time in school and taking care of my brothers and I.  My father, recently separated from the military, took a job in management making enough to get by and somehow afford a mortgage.  Somewhere along the line, a family of 2 adults and 3 boys clawed their way from $35k/yr to the middle class.

My father is the man who got out of the military at 10 years because he was fed up with the system and how he was being treated.  He did this knowing he had a wife and 2 children (soon to be 3) to provide for, and that my mother was not ready to enter the workforce yet.  The leap he took was of great risk to himself AND his family, but in the best interest of both.  Having recently separated from active duty myself, I can say without a doubt so many people trudge along to the 20 year retirement plan because it is easy and stable.  Many sacrifice their happiness for their families.  I got out of the military because I inherited the audacity my father has in challenging authority when it is wrong (and sometimes when it’s right because, fuck it, instigating can be fun!).  I can think of no other person who inspires me to chase my dreams and speak my mind more than my father.

My mother is now a vice president of development at a software development firm, and she is the reason I laugh any time someone tells me there is a glass ceiling for women.  This is a woman who broke into a field dominated by men (85% of computer scientists are men), clawed her way up the ladder, and now manages development teams across the globe.  I have conversations with her that range any number of topics, sometimes controversial and thought provoking beyond what I get from my peers.  The mutual respect for opinion and consistent skepticism between us is something I value more deeply than I have to words to express.  I can think of no other person who inspires me to maintain an open mind and to seek truth where details are foggy.

Most importantly, the thing I value between myself and my parents now, is that we hold each other as equals in most regards.  We all agree we’re a big collective of stubborn opinionated people, unafraid to speak our mind, and probably offend people more often than we should.  Good fun if you ask me!

So how does this post start with deconstructing systems, and end up with a pseudo-psychological profile on who I am?  Well what’s a more complex system than the family unit, and who more important to understand than yourself?  There are plenty of bad habits I learned from my parents and siblings too, but… well… praise in public, correct in private :].

Just some random thoughts for today.

How do people get so entranced by something that they grab onto with every ounce of their being?  Some are so ready to throw themselves off a cliff, chasing a parachute, in hopes that they’ll be great some day. We have people who play video games for a living. Others make entertainment on youtube like Freddiew or Boogie2988

We’ve all got a music collections we bounce around within.  Some of us listen to manufactured content (a lot of Top 40), which there is nothing wrong with (South Korea does this far more than the US).  Some hate that “fake shit” and prefer grass roots music, or something of a classical nature.  Right now I’m listening to the musical genius Chilly Gonzales’.

These are people that make a living doing something that has no intrinsic value until it is heard.  There is no tangible asset here that can be sold or manipulated, there is only an idea.  This idea captivates us.  FreddieW makes a living making fake guns and explosions and video game references, pop culture.  Boogie2988 talks.  Chilly blesses my ears with ideas in music form.  As a friend once said to me: “If he had words for those ideas, he wouldn’t be playing the piano”.

So this idea draws us in.  We are so fascinated by their ideas, their beautiful, crafted, chiseled, perfected (according to us) ideas.  And this gives us hope that our ideas can be wonderful, magical, powerful and give us an audience of our own.  If this wasn’t true, I can’t imagine why I’m writing this, or why you’re reading this.

Why even write this note then?  Isn’t the idea of writing about ideas simply “meta” and boring?  I could go into some loop about how this idea about how ideas form ideas and spark ideas in other people are the nature of the human condition, but then I’d just be some pseudo-intellectual trying to pawn off how much more intelligent than you I am (note: I’m not, I don’t want to be, and I prefer blissful ignorance to informed misery… ok maybe not that last part).

I enjoy Oration like Boogie2988 does.  I spent 3 years in the Navy selling Network Defense systems to admirals and generals.  I loved the oration process, getting up in front of people, entertaining them, teaching them.  I had an audience, I had ideas, those ideas mattered.  I had some sort of power.

It came crashing down one day when I realized I was Otacon from Metal Gear Solid. (fast forward to 55 seconds)

What a bad taste in my mouth.  My software development work was part of an ongoing arms race.  Although this arms race had nothing to do with nuclear devices, physical weapons, or giant death robots.  It’s what I simply called the Cyber Arms Race.

Around that time I lost much of my ambition to be the best at anything.  I learned to do just enough to get by, and used my silver tongue to manipulate situations in my favor.  I started looking to video games, youtube, blogs, forums… the places I grew up… to figure out where I had gone wrong, and how I could chase what I wanted.

Maybe I’ll find it.  Or maybe I’ll just fly right by the parachute and dive into the ground.

I wish I were a really old man.  They get away with everything because they can just pretend to be senile.

Here I stand, at the brink of destruction. Chest out and proudly leering into the face of god, opening my mouth only to announce my presence.

The glaring eye of the ever watchful, ever vigilant, is a fear inducing source of inspiration.  The decision whether or not to rebel molds your characters as time goes by.

Make your name not out of conformity or rebellion, but the beliefs you hold dearest to your heart.

I trimmed it down a little and let my mustache and under-chin (not neck) grow.  Pics next week when it’s filled out :]

Fly off to the moon,
meet with the man up there.
Jump into the sea,
float away without a care.

I’m lost inside a labyrinth,
the map is ripped to shreds.
Try to understand it,
but i can’t get in their heads.

Why do I waste away,
thinking all day long.
When I could end it all today,
and just start a brand new song.

But I won’t just run away,
My pride is far to strong.
I’m loyal to myself,
it’s others that I long.

I know just what you’re thinking,
I’m too young to understand.
Well you were young once too,
So shut up and lend a hand.

Now I’ve been off to the moon,
and I’ve swam around the sea.
People come and go,
and all that’s left is me.

Why does life go this way,
and who cares to fight it so.
There’s a simple answer,
when you find it let me know.

~Aug 2009