Tag Archives: internet

I think I need a high school education

I want to go back to high school. Not to relive “glory days” or hang out with friends or in order to be 16 again. No. It’s the taking classes part that is on my mind. I think I might appreciate a high school education now. I’m wondering what did I learn in high school? I’m drawing a bit of a blank. When I look back, it’s my friends, relationships, and various moments outside the class room that stand out. Not history. Or math. Or geez, what DID I take in high school? And why don’t I remember it?

Graphic Arts. I took Graphic Arts. That was pretty cool. Prior to that class, I’d had no exposure to the subject. We made pinhole cameras and took and developed b&w photos I have to this day. I had Child Development (or rather was stuck in it after “Single Living” for which I’d signed up, was filled). We made lesson plans for little kids who were brought in by their parents for half days. Spanish. Two years of Spanish. But I didn’t use it and it fell away quickly. Pablo esta en la casa. No hablo Espanol. That’s about it.

Would I be bored in the average high school curriculum today? Or would a modern education be more suited to my learning style than the one I actually had? I.e., sitting quietly in standardized rows for hours on end. Would the teachers’ personal biases and opinions and personality quirks bother me even more than they did when I was a teenager? Would I find the environment stifling? Would I learn?

I’m reminded of Cameron Crowe’s memoir about going undercover posing as a high school student, which was the precursor to his film, Fast Times at Ridgemont High. It’s been a long time since I read the book, but remember that Crowe, in his twenties but passing for a teenager, wrote of misinformation being taught by high school teachers. If I recall, he said the gym teacher was also teaching another subject – History? – and clearly getting facts wrong. Does that still happen? (In 9th grade, I had a gym teacher for Health class and I remember very clearly that he decided to entirely skip the text chapters on sex. Just flat out said we wouldn’t be covering them.)

Why is this on my mind? I think it’s because I’ve been away from formal education for so long. I’m starting to wonder what I know – and don’t know – any more. So much of what I studied in college even, is just very hazy. I actually went to college with the desire to learn. Yep, that was my overarching plan. That didn’t entirely work out. College was undeniably better than high school but it still left a lot to be desired. I was frequently bored in my classes. Too many instructors used their class time to pontificate and hold forth on their pet topics to a captive audience, often about subjects that weren’t on their syllabus. I didn’t have a slew of great teachers, but many average ones, including poor planners who farted around all semester and then tried to cram 3 months of lessons into a week or two before finals.

So that kind of messed up my plan of going to college to learn. And, the intensity of the experience rather quickly became about surviving it, more than about broadening my horizons. Yes, I was exposed to a lot of information, but all crammed in at once. That’s not how I retain stuff. And — to pay for school, I depended on, in addition to part-time jobs, grants and scholarships. For that I needed good grades, and grades became my focus; A’s meant cash. I’d do it no differently now.

One of the things I did really like about college – outside the classroom – was all the free lectures that were available on campus. I was – and am – a consummate bulletin board reader and I’d find interesting, or potentially interesting topics, familiar and not, advertised on flyers. They were held right there at the school and often during the day, which was great – I’d go to my classes and if I hung around awhile, I could attend an open lecture, perhaps by a guest speaker or one of the school’s professors. Or a panel forum. Talks and lectures would be attended by students and instructors alike, which raised the level of interaction and discussion. It kept me engaged and up-to-date. I really miss that, and I started missing it as soon as I graduated.

Both before and after my college years, I had jobs on other college campuses, but it wasn’t the same. When you work somewhere, usually the last thing you want to do is hang around longer after your work day is over or worse, come back to attend this or that. No, you want the hell out of there.

I don’t go to classes of any kind now. I have little interest in pursuing more formal education, like a Master’s. Instead, I read books and spend time online. Online I don’t learn who was the 15th President of the United States or what’s in the Bill of Rights or where Madagascar is located or how to conjugate verbs or anything whatsoever about Sartre. No, I learn trivia and gossip and innuendo and scandal and what’s been linked to cancer and who’s died and what sports figure is drugging and all about the latest shooting spree and terrorist bombing. All that without even trying. The dopey path of least resistance. I bet there’s a study out there that correlates point drops in I.Q. to time spent online.

I don’t mean to denigrate the internet. I love the internet. And it’s brought me a lot of good things. But lordy, does it need to be managed. It requires so little of you. That’s the problem. I’m a critical thinker. I don’t tweet. I don’t even WANT to try to think in 140 characters. Not ever. I don’t have a Facebook status. I don’t haves inane arguments or flame people. I require more of myself. It’s too easy for it to become your world. Suddenly you find yourself caring about things you don’t care about. Your head is full of rubbish and you wonder how it happened. Didn’t you used to think bright thoughts and contemplate important things?

I don’t know what I know any more. I think the things I’ve learned or studied on my own, since my formal education, have been relatively narrow. I think about doing it, but I’m not learning Italian on CD or online. I’m not trying to teach myself Algebra or god forbid, Calculus. I don’t try to understand the current state of the Middle East. Nutrition. Psychology. A bit of Literature. Gardening. Some American History. These are the things I’ve been interested in and studied on my own. Not a broad selection. I don’t have cable so I’m limited there, but I used to watch NOVA and other science programs – they’re SO much more interesting than any science I was ever taught in school – but I’ve gotten away from that. Is the internet and the culture ruining my attention span for anything else or is my restlessness stemming from elsewhere? A combination ? One thing now – I’m intentionally quite active – and I neither want to sit around for hours on end or can. Further, when I do stop and relax, I usually want to be entertained. Documentaries are about as scholarly as I get.

There is a particular saving grace. I like crossword puzzles and in doing them, I realize I know more than I would have thought. That is, I can retrieve information I didn’t know I knew. I could never offer it up voluntarily, but when prompted by the puzzle and given a little time, information evidently buried away, finds its way to the surface. How did I know that?? I have no recollection of learning it and yet I know it. This is encouraging.

Sometimes I’ve attended public lectures, but I often lose patience. So few people are good teachers and I’ve grown so particular about that – maybe by all the years of having to sit through what was at hand, like it or lump it. The other thing – the problematic thing – is the other attendees. A lot of adults feel pretty free and easy when attending a class or lecture. They hold forth, dominate class time, talk to their neighbor, and even – in some lectures I’ve attended – get up and wander around the room. This makes me want to knock heads together. It’s so distracting and annoying. The way I feel is this: I’ve come to hear the lecturer or teacher, not to listen to other adults carry on. But that is too bad, yes?

I’ve taken IQ tests online and done respectably. But it’s been several years since I’ve even done that. I’ve never taken a practice SAT but I’m wondering if that would be a good idea. I imagine I’d find one online or in a book. (I recently read an essay by a columnist in his sixties who took the SAT and was pleased to receive the same score he had in high school – although I believe he noted that the way they’re scored has changed.) The thing is I’m not sure I want to know what areas I’ve fallen way behind in, maybe because I’m not certain I’d do anything about it. How much do I care? Enough to do anything?

I do know this. I’m thinking about what I know and don’t know for a reason.

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What did you MEAN by that?

I think a lot about social dynamics on the internet. Strike that, I think a lot about social dynamics. I tend to vacillate between the two theoretical end poles of human relations. One says at heart people are more alike than not and want the same basic things; to be loved and needed, to be accepted, to feel they are of value and heard. Essentially, the theory goes, if you understand that, you understand other people and can apply it to anyone and thusly figure out what they’re all about. And that’s how to bring on harmonious relations.

The other end suggests something quite the contrary; namely, that people assume far too much about their fellow humans and their supposed similarities to others. That people take all their own personal, subjective, culturally-imposed notions, mores, and definitions, and – wrongly – apply them blanket-style to everybody else. And this causes a heap of misunderstanding and trouble.

My problem, if it’s a problem, is that I see the validity in both points, hence, the vacillating. I’ve got both in mind when approaching social dynamics online. On the one hand, we’re all more alike than not and one can proceed from there; on the other, we’re all quite different and bring greatly varying ideas of what’s what to our online dealings. (Best of luck!)

Language plays a HUGE part I this. Until the day comes – and I think it will – when all online interactions show an actual talking person, and even emails look like Skyped images, people will continue to be overly reliant on words alone.

In each individual mind resides a vast array of definitions and more importantly, emotions, attached to the language they use. I remember how jarring it was when I first heard that people meant different things by the word “love.” Up until that point, I’d been walking around believing we all meant the same thing when using the word love. Distressing as it was to learn otherwise, I didn’t doubt the veracity of it. Where, after all, did I think people learned this universal definition of love? Perhaps little fairies magically visited everyone at birth and whispered the meaning in their ear?

So here we all are, slinging gobs of language about at each other, and quite possibly intending very different things by the most elemental of words. Clearing up misunderstandings, clarifying stuff, is now almost as essential a part of social media interactions as voicing the initial words. There ought to be a term for that. Speaking of… to be successful or at least functional at online discourse, a whole new tier of “net speak” has to be added to one’s repertoire (even if, like me, you refuse to use much of it, it’s handy to know what it means). Which just adds another layer to the language sandwich.

Even when you know someone offline, it doesn’t necessarily eliminate the pitfalls of relating wIth them through social media. In fact, people may assume and project too much, imagining they know exactly the facial expression and tone of voice that would’ve accompanied any particular statement, or just what thought process was involved. But that’s not a given. And it swings right back around to where I started, i.e., how well people can and cannot know one another.

I heard from a man I never expected to

A man who had mattered tremendously and who’d significantly influenced me, turned up via an out-of-the-blue email after 20 years of silence. I always thought I’d hear from him again, but after a year, 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years rolled by, I no longer believed it. I was young when I’d known him and though our relationship ended in a convoluted way with no specific we-are-breaking-up-and-this-is-over discussion, I suppose I believed that what was between us was so important and strong (to me anyway), that we’d again have contact of some sort. A very wry part of my brain says, yes, well, we did! A somewhat breezy, short message 20 years later wasn’t exactly what I’d imagined…

The length of time wasn’t because I was so very hard to find, as I’d stayed in the same part of the country, whereas I knew he’d (courtesy of the internet eventually), moved around where his career took him. His career had been the most important thing to him during our relationship, and there was plenty of evidence that it had remained so. Lord, was he ever driven and he had the accolades to show for it. You might wonder why I didn’t go ahead and contact him since he was easy enough to find. Couple reasons. I had last contacted him after we’d each moved to new separate cities, mine nearby “our” old one, and his across the country. I wrote to him and he simply never answered. It was like he disappeared into a black hole. The relationship had problems, including not long before we parted a specific negative incident he caused and then wouldn’t discuss. He had talked loosely about me making the move with him but I had plans of my own and frankly, we just weren’t at that point where I’d move across the country to be with him. Would we have ever been? I don’t know but the signs weren’t exactly headed that way. Especially after he moved and I never heard another peep out of him. Not a call, not a postcard, not a carrier pigeon.

The last time I saw him was weird. I stopped by his apartment on my way to my new city, and he acted unusually cold and distant. A self-defense mechanism? Who knows. At the time, I was confused and hurt. He’d talked previously about having me visit him in his new far-off city over the holidays later that year. Now, there was no talk of when we’d see each other again. Maybe he was irritated I’d gone ahead with my plans or because I’d vetoed the idea of helping drive his u-haul across the country after which he’d put me on a flight home (which I did reject – and said – because I didn’t believe he’d look out for me, meaning my well-being, on the hundreds-of-miles road trip.) Then as now, it’s just a guessing game why he acted oddly that last time or why he dropped off the map after he moved.

So here it was all these years later, long after I’d given up any thought of hearing from him again. In his email, he writes something pithy about the roundabout way he found my email address, hopes the “years have been good” to me (oh yeah he does), and remarks that he is much the same, only “older, fatter and dumber.” That man may have been older and he may have been fatter (he’d been lean and compact when I knew him), but there was no way “dumb” would ever apply. He says his career has gone well. My take? It was the kind of “feeler” note/email a man sends when he wants to throw a hook out there to reconnect at some level but not risk too much in the doing. No mention whatsoever of the relationship we’d had or the unclear way it ended; no fond memory of me or regret, nothing revealing.

Now I’ve always been the kind of person who couldn’t resist responding to other people, who could be drawn in by a voice from the past, who’d want to push to get something more out of them, and in a case like this, to get a more genuine connection. And I had a pretty good sense that if I answered him, in any way, that would quite likely prompt more revelation from him. But. I was feeling differently now. Other than being unimpressed – after 20 years and a strange break-up – with the tone and content of the note, there was something else that gave me real pause. See, again thanks to the internet, I knew he’d had a child, one who was still fairly young (i.e., hard for his father to overlook). And yet, he says not one word about this. If only he had. That omission greatly troubled me. If you don’t want to say anything about other women, be they wives, girlfriends, or your child’s mother, I can understand that. But the child? No. He should have mentioned his child. Anything! “I have a kid,” would have done the trick.

I no longer needed anything from this man (apologies, well wishes, clooosure) and dramatic as it sounds, I thought: we can go to our graves without any more contact. I never felt anything so definite or final about anybody I’d been involved with before that point; the future had always seemed a broad, nebulous thing and I was open-minded. Here I turned a corner. I will never ever downplay what he meant to me or the ways he challenged and influenced me. I still think of things he said, times we had, and who I am as a consequence of having known this particular man. I don’t need the current him for that. I’ll keep tabs on him from time to time via the internet, but that’s enough.

I [insert word] the internet

An older man commented to me this week that he was glad he’d lived long enough to experience the internet. I understood the general sentiment. I feel like I’m one of those people the internet was meant for – I love the written word, ideas, conversation, and information, all of which abound online. But the gift is also the problem, the abounding. There’s just too much, so many demands and temptations for your attention, not all of it so rewarding. Sometimes I equate going online to tumbling down the rabbit hole.

I am also glad I lived a life pre-internet. That I was an adult when I first went online. It is difficult enough to find a way to accommodate online and offline life so that they complement but do not contradict or negatively interfere with each other; I’d think always having lived in both would make the boundaries less clear, sometimes in very costly ways. I can, as one online survey question recently asked me, imagine going without the internet. I wouldn’t like it and am pretty sure I’d have withdrawal symptoms, especially over losing email (unless the reason I was no longer online was apocalyptic in scope and then I guess I’d be too preoccupied with more pressing concerns to care), but I can still can conjure a vision of me that exists independent of the internet. That seems important somehow.

Nobody taught me how to use the internet. I imagine no one taught you either. And yet, managing it, finding and maintaining the role it plays in a well-rounded life, not to mention deciding how to conduct yourself online, is a skill. I’ve fumbled around, learned things the hard way (what else is new, ay?), and tried to use it in such a way that dovetails with values I already had. That – aligning it with values I already have – is one of the keys. When I’m uncertain about something that is occurring online, whether it’s in personal emails, or public discussions, or shopping, or group memberships, or anywhere I might be, I try to resolve my issue with real/offline knowledge. It’s not foolproof, but it offers a guide.

I resist more things online too. I dig in my heels and refuse to go past certain self-imposed restrictions. Like? I won’t argue with strangers. That’s a big one. Also, when baited, be it by someone I know or a stranger, I carefully consider my response, if any. Mostly, I am content to stay out of the fray across the board. And there’s A LOT of fray to be found. We get so invested in what happens online – well I know I do or can – that pulling back can reboot perspective. “It’s just words on a screen” I sometimes tell myself.

I try to be discriminating in what I’ll read, particularly on an ongoing basis. There’s so much that is ugly and vitriolic. It’s rampant and even found in what might have seemed the most innocuous of subjects, so it isn’t as if simply choosing “safe” or “nice” subject matter provides inoculation. A keyboard is too often the internet equivalent of a car on a highway, where a person is safely anonymous surrounded by a couple tons of steel and metal, free to be a jackass to other people. My skin has undeniably thickened since I first went online, but again, I resist getting too used to the nastiness out there – I don’t want to. That too seems important.

It is hard to use the internet and continue to think of yourself as a highly original person. It can feel as if every clever thing you’ve thought of, a dozen others (or more) thought sooner. Any time I need or want to write an original word or thought or witty bit, I Google first. So many are “taken”. It’s maddening! Especially if it took me awhile to summon up whatever it was. It can be difficult to let go and not use it. But I do and make myself think of something fresher.

You might rightfully ask why bother? Why not just go ahead and say whatever even if it’s not original? Well, sometimes I’ve entered humor contests, for one, where what I wrote had to be utterly original (yeah, they checked). My competitive self gets a kind of satisfaction too, when I can crank the ol’ gears around sufficiently to come up with a line or phrase no one else has yet said. And, writing here as I am this moment, I want to give you an incentive to read me. As I said, I know how much competition there is for attention. I don’t want to write things a (potential) reader has seen twenty times, a hundred times before. What would be the point? I know that I get itchy and restless when I keep seeing variations on the same things over and over, no matter the subject.

I learned a term, FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), not long ago. Forgive me if I’m hopelessly out of date and everybody already knows it. I thought it was particular to the internet and that urge which drives people to go online, checking, checking, checking. But no, the term is applied more broadly. I think in offline life, I’ve tempered that feeling, i.e. FOMO, but it still is at work in my online psyche. I don’t want to be the person who doesn’t know what’s going on, who misses cultural cues that are mainstream, or has no idea what other people are referencing in conversation. True, a lot of it hardly seems worth learning in the larger picture, but it’s not possible to know that beforehand.

It occurs to me as I write this, that probably about the time I feel I’ve got all this down or at least managed, a new twist or innovation will be added that’ll mix the whole shebang up again and bring new quandaries. What will it be I wonder?

An old boyfriend comes to call, er, I mean email

As often happens now that most of us live in or regularly visit Internet Land, a man from my past turned up online. Slight correction. He was a boy when I knew him before, literally. Teenage. Now he was married and living in another state. We caught up in emails, cleared up a few things from the dusty past. He had a relatively strong memory of me to offer, as well as regrets and apologies I never expected to hear but found gratifying.

He’d played a significant role in my teenage years and was able to fill in a few blanks in our narrative for me, things I hadn’t understood at the time. Also, a devastating event had occurred later in that general time frame that had nothing to do with our specific (long over) relationship, but which had haunted him since. I was not impacted the same way but had known about it, remembered, and could discuss it now. The interplay was cathartic on both sides. And honestly, because he’d turned into a skilled and witty writer – a talent there’d been no evidence of in our history, however brief – it was fun. About as close to time travel as I’ve found possible.

I needed to know for my sake, who this person was now. A single, real-time conversation would do it, so at my suggestion, a phone call – a lively, funny one it turned out – followed. This guy was a stranger in so many ways and yet I picked up on traits that must have been the same ones that appealed to me in the teenage boy. Smart, a shrewd wise-ass with a big personality. In fact he was the one who made this comment: https://writerinsoul.wordpress.com/2014/04/22/somebody-will-cry/. There were signs of other attributes I did not relate to so well that I don’t need to elaborate for the purpose of my story. But there’s a bigger point. As I alluded via the need for apologies, he hadn’t been the nicest guy when I’d known him years ago. He’d left ill will in his wake. I held judgment in reserve but couldn’t escape that million dollar question: Do people really change? How young is your essential personality really set?

I’ve read what academics have to say, I’ve talked this question over with friends, and still, I wonder. Strokes, Alzheimer’s, or other big life-altering events and conditions can alter someone’s basic personality. But I’m talking about shy of that. If you believe you’ve got someone’s number at age 15 or 18 or 20, can you safely assume you’ve still got it at 30, 50, 70, always? Despite any claims or assertions to the contrary?

It turned out he was going to be passing through my area. Now, don’t be sitting there thinking, “Oh SURE, he just HAPPENED to be passing through your area! I’ll bet. Did he just HAPPEN to book a quiet dinner for two at a nearby hotel too?” Give me some credit. His mother still lived in my state and I wasn’t the only person from his past he wanted to see. His wife knew he planned to meet a few people. I got the idea it might have even been a sort of Making Amends Tour. And if I’m wrong about that, it was definitely to catch up with more than just me.

When we met, the only thing that seemed familiar from the past was his voice. Not surprisingly, the ease of the emails and the phone call were not immediately at hand (I’ve been down this particular road before). But we managed. He seemed tired, and maybe uncertain about me. I sensed he wasn’t saying something, or was waiting perhaps for a sign from me, although quite what, I couldn’t say with certainty (and I’m fairly good at this if I do say so). As he had in emails, he said he’d like to stay friends but had no real answer when I asked exactly how that might work. (If I may, I will offer that wives as a rule don’t line up suggesting I befriend their husbands.) Please forgive the cliche but I was not at a place in my life where I was in the mood for nonsense or anyone trifling with my feelings. I didn’t want to be the Secret Internet Friend, to provide entertainment or counsel or titillation – if it came to that – on the side. I’ve learned a thing or two or eight and was only interested in entertaining a scenario on the up-and-up, if at all.

He’d made arrangements to catch up with another guy from the old days that evening, someone I’d known but not well. He wanted me to join him. There was going to be a band and a bar on the itinerary. Our time together, and the point of it so far as I intended, was over. I gave an unequivocal no. I didn’t hedge or coyly try to get him to talk me into it. I didn’t say this to him – although I had brought up something related in email – but I knew the moment I got in his car a line would be crossed. “Date” was the word in my mind. Get in that car and I’m on a date. I don’t drink but could foresee the role alcohol might well play in the remainder of the day as he and the other old friend kicked back a couple brewskies and caught up. There I’d be.

We parted without fuss. There was no follow-up. Months later I emailed, with the express caveat it was a one-time thing, to share with him news of another guy we’d both known well and had wondered about when we reconnected. The story I told was way too good not to share, particularly given that back in the day we both had been on the receiving end of sh*t from this other person and it was a bit of a bonding point.

He loved the story, chimed up again that he still thought the two of us should be friends (I’ll resist putting that last word in italics or quotes even if I thought it came across a bit breezy) and that he was in a time crunch, but would write more later. He didn’t. You’re not surprised are you? Neither was I, even if I allow it didn’t make me feel all that great. I kind of saw that he’d already told me all I needed to know. For my purposes here and now. And I was glad we’d reconnected, truly. The bigger questions I’ll keep thinking about.