Penn State and Silence

It’s been three months since my last post because on August 29th, my husband and I welcomed our first child home! He’s sleeping on me as I write this; he won’t sleep in his own bed during the day, and I’m told I should enjoy the experience while it lasts, since he won’t want to cuddle for long. At least these days, he’s content to sleep in a carrier and not strictly my arms so I can finally write.

Having a kid has made me think about everything a little bit differently; trite as that is, it’s much truer than I thought it would be. I’ve already written about my evolving opinions on privacy in light of having a kid. I’ve also spent a lot of time in the last three months reading about homeschooling, especially from Penelope Trunk and Kate Fridkis, and the future of education in this country. But the explosive controversy at Penn State has been rocking my mom-brain recently, which I’m sure is true for every parent out there.

It’s horrifying to think that an adult working at an organization you trust, that you think will help your kid overcome challenges, could hurt your kid in any way, much less in as terrible a way as rape and sexual abuse. I remember the horror I felt when the Catholic Church’s child abuse scandal broke and the situations are exceptionally similar: authority figures subtly encouraged, if not flat-out demanded, silence about and the covering up of these terrible abuses.

What gives me hope is my unwavering belief in the power of social media and the web to continue to break down the ability of authority figures to perpetuate crimes in silence.

The success of protestors in Egypt this spring made me proud and happy to bring a child into this world. And the success of the Occupy Wall Street movement to bring attention to serious problems in this country without resorting to violent, destructive riots (for the most part) made me even more proud.

It’s not that I think terrible crimes like those allegedly committed by Sandusky will stop happening in the future as social media and the web become ever more accessible and ubiquitous. Or that knowing the whole world is watching will prevent people from doing terrible things in Pennsylvania, Oakland, or Syria.

It’s just that it will be much harder for those who want it to enforce silence. It will be much easier for everyone’s story to be heard.


Something About Privacy

The issue of maintaining privacy online is a tricky one for me. In the first place, I’m part of Gen Y and we love the Internet and being engaged online. That mandates giving up a certain degree of privacy. On top of that, I lean toward over-sharing – I believe, in most cases, everyone is better served by honest conversation about everything; keeping topics taboo serves no one’s best interest. So I’m ok with having a pretty public life.

And I like what Penelope Trunk has had to say about privacy vs. celebrity: privacy, as she paraphrased Ashton Kutcher, is the new celebrity in this web 2.0 world where anyone can be a 5-minute sensation. I, like most people, fall into the category of people who can benefit from having less privacy. I want to benefit by being known online as a good writer and thinker of interesting thoughts.

But having a baby on the way has made me think differently.

At our baby shower last weekend, cousins from out of state said “Put pictures on Facebook as soon as you can! We can’t wait to see the little guy!”

But when I do that, I’m giving control of these images of my newborn son to Facebook and Mark Zuckerburg, who seems to truly not care about privacy. Maybe because he adheres to the same philosophy as Trunk, in which case what am I worried about? Who knows what kind of digital wonders my son will see in his lifetime. Everyone puts baby photos on Facebook these days; he’ll be in good company if shit ever does hit the fan.

At the same time, I do think there are other ways to share photos online without handing over almost limitless information to advertisers. And I’m not the only one with an icky feeling: Germany is protesting the use of facial recognition software on Facebook.

Maybe I’m foolish, but I trust Google a helluva lot more than Facebook. At least they provide a rich preferences page where you can see what they know about you, and thus what in turn advertisers know about you.

I do recognize the benefits of targeted advertising in theory – I only hear about products and services that might actually be useful to me – and maybe the icky feeling I have about how intrusive that is just means I’m part of Gen Y and can, however vaguely, remember a world without the internet.

Which is something Baby Williams will never be able to say.

Drunk on the Internet

For real you guys: I’ve ingested an insane amount of information today. Now I know what Baby Boomers talk about with “information overload”, except it’s not overwhelming in a negative way; it’s more like my head is full os so many thoughts and ideas and images that I’ve got this fantastic high going on right now.

Often, my husband and I fantasize about running away from it all to our own little farm in Maine somewhere or, my preference, a gorgeous mostly deserted island. I tell him romantically that I could survive anywhere as long as I had him…and an internet connection.

They say you have an addiction when your behavior negatively impacts other areas of your life. I don’t think I’m addicted (but of course an addict would say that) but if I was, Google Reader was my gateway drug. I love Google Reader more than any other web app I use. Except maybe Twitter. Between the two of them, I’m almost never out of something to read or see. When there is a lag – usually on Friday nights when most of the world is out and about and my nine-month pregnant self is at home glued to my Blackberry –  I whine about it to my husband, who helpfully suggests I read one of the books I’ve piled around the house.

But books are so OLD and SLOW.

Anyway, I’ve got just over an hour before a social engagement where I’ll have to talk to people face to face so I intend to ride this high out a little longer.

The hangover is going to be a bitch in the morning I bet.

50-year-old Secrets of Social Media Revealed!

One of my favorite blogs to read every day is the Harvard Business Review for the variety of topics it posts about and the its interesting angles on the news of the day. And one of the my favorite stories of theirs in a while was this one, which talks about how physiological research done 50+ years ago is not only relevant, but basically predicated how social media would impact our world today.

The reason I loved this article from HBR so much is it affirmed for me, again, that there is very little we can’t know about the world around us if we study history. There is so little truly new, groundbreaking, or revolutionary out there; the same stories repeat themselves over time and everything that astounds us today has a context that makes it less sparkly and new, perhaps, but more relevant. The ipad is a truly wonderful thing that finally launched the tablet computing sector and will change how we use technology, but its just one iteration in a long line of new gadgets that humans have adopted. And though it’s impossible to predict how the latest social media start up will change things, it is possible to guess based on how that start up fits into its own historical context.

And the great thing about the internet is that the history of everything can be organized in such a way that its easier to find and apply to modern life. The internet is about connections; between people, yes, but also between ideas and things. The web makes it easier for humans to spot those connections and make inferences from them. And the more effectively people can apply the knowledge of the past to what’s going on around them today, the better off everyone will be.

If you’re that optimistic about human nature, of course.

Sunday Morning Musings

I put this quote from Ira Glass on the desktop of my computer screen so everytime I turn it on, and every time I close all the windows I have open for a second to get organized, I’ll see it:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple of years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but its not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know how do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

But all work that anyone does is creative. There aren’t creative people and uncreative people. Humans are creative animals. So think about the work you’re doing in your life. It doesn’t matter what it is. You can apply this advice.

So far, I’ve figured out that of the most important factors in success is one’s ability to assess one’s own efforts: recognizing good work, gauging how your work compares, and then coming up with ideas to bridge the gap between your work and the standard of good you’ve set.

A general awareness, if you will, of yourself, your motivations, your efforts, and how that all fits into the big picture.

So this quote isn’t about creative people or not creative people. It’s about people who find that this awareness is too much work – cause it does require a lot of effort – and quit. They sacrifice the standards of goodness they once recognized for something else that’s closer to or at the level they are performing already. And they keep chugging along. Maybe they are happier that way, in which case, kudos to them. But I’ve seen more people who aren’t happy, but they just don’t understand why. Because they’ve sacrificed that awareness and aren’t even aware any more that they’ve cut that part out.

Assuming that everyone has that awareness to start out with, which is a topic for an entirely different Sunday morning post.

Anyway – this quote is designed to be inspiration to keep people from quitting; from cutting that awareness out even though every time they produce something, it winds up being crap. Even though they see potential, they mostly see crap and get discouraged. And it’s impossible to employ the solution to producing crap – just produce more of it and keep practicing until the crappiness dissipates and you’re left with good work that’s up to your standard – if you’re discouraged over and over again. That’s when people quit. It’s so hard. It seems impossible.

But the fact is it’s not impossible. It just requires a lot of you. Essentially, that you maintain faith in your taste. You are smart enough, you are talented enough, you are dedicated enough. You can produce good, even excellent, work. Not just that you can, but that you will. You have to believe that, have faith in that, in order to overcome all the discouragement and keep producing crap.

This is not to say that single-mindedness is some critical virtue. You still have be constantly assessing yourself and your efforts and figuring out what’s working and what’s not and adapt as you go. Maybe you’re trying to produce the wrong kind of crap. Maybe you’re systems are getting in the way.

It’s hard, man, believe me. It’s tough. It’s painful. But for me, just hearing from this guy Glass that everyone goes through this and that it took a long time for anyone to bridge that gap, even the most brilliant, successful people I can think of, is encouraging enough to ignore the pain and keep trying.