Horror and Fun

This is where I might allow myself to talk about what I've been going through, this last month, the last few months, this time of year when a big change comes upon us, or at least it does if you teach, have kids in school, have never grown up, spend your summers at the beach, or are a football fan. Or some combination of those. But seeing how I've been trapped in some kind of inability to move forward, I'd rather discuss what I was thinking—as I woke up this morning into yet another dawn of slow panic—about the social part of social media. How many articles and books have been written about social media at this point? Is there a defining work, out there—I should know that, at this point—or maybe I need to refine my focus of interest on what is an immense subject. What I was thinking about this morning was more specifically social circles, and those I've intersected with in this and that place over time. And some small part of that is what I'm writing, here, right now. And that might be extremely small—as in one person. When I write something here, I know that one person will read it: me—when I re-read it before posting it (at which time I might put it into that little trash can). As far as the other reader(s), I have no guarantees, but I find it necessary to conjure up some small amount of faith that there will be out there—among the billions that this could potentially reach—one reader, and that person is you.

About 17 years ago, when I first moved to Milwaukee, I had an idea for a project—I was thinking a documentary film—called Saloons and Salons—while driving around and seeing the incredible numbers of establishments where people get their hair cut, and the ones where people drink—most with goofy, odd names, and many seeming to be, at least in appearance, frozen in time. I never got past that bloated idea, which of course would have to be either a very long film, or a TV series, to cover the sheer volume—and then, would there really be that much difference between this beauty shop and that one, this tavern and that bar? But now I'm thinking, that's really where the interest is for me—the similarities, the universality, sure, but then the minute variations—for me, that's where the story is. As a compulsive list maker and reviewer, I would find nothing so exciting as comparing the light level and quality in this tavern to that tavern, and comparing bar stools, and booths, and jukeboxes. I've often thought about going back to this project; the problem being, at some undefined moment in the last quarter century, I swore off bars for good. I don't remember exactly when it was, but realizing that I could just decide to no longer go to bars (why does something like that seem so impossible?) was crucial to whatever kind of future happiness I might have—if not survival.

So of course there's still salons—the establishments of beauticians and barbers—but how many haircuts can a person endure (not to mention afford)—plus, my preferred method of approach is to slip in unseen, as a customer, as opposed to being an announced reporter or an intrusion with a film crew. So lately, my next idea for a subject has been coffee shops, and there are more than ever (and maybe more than there will ever be again) which is a more fitting project for me, with my limited finances and unlimited appetite for coffee. So it might just be a list, or it might be an article, and it might not be for awhile, but we'll see. In the meantime, at least this morning, I had this idea that it would be interesting to do an alternative study (as opposed to the official, massive, and funded studies that are being launched and completed as we speak) on a selected group of people's social media. What, how often and how much, and when, of course, but more what they think about what it means, each aspect of it, and how they see it.

I'm not old enough to remember a time before TV, but I'm old enough to remember people who remember a time before TV. My Mom's best story was about how her brothers were arguing over what channel to watch and her dad came in and kicked in the TV screen (or did he throw something through it, or shoot it?)—so much was it an intrusion on their lives. And there was maybe, what, three channels? How about 500 channels? What about your own private channel where no one but you knows the content? And yet there seems to be, today, people out there who know exactly what everyone is talking about, all the time, with confidence and clarity. I'm not one of those people and I admit that I am suspicious of those who are. This is really obvious, but it's still worth reminding each other: your news feed is entirely different than my news feed. A fun project with someone you trust is to sit down with two devices and compare Facebook feeds. Horrifying, maybe; fun and horror, two sides of the same coin. It's easy to assume—because it's what Facebook wants you to think—that everyone is watching the same Facebook, like it's the Facebook channel on television. Like it's the one big radio station we all sit down after dinner and listen to—the news, the weather, the game, then the serialized entertainment. We can all talk about it at work tomorrow. But no. Our “friends” are different, our groups are different, our news and events are different, even our ads are different. What planet are you from?—and by the way... what planet are we on?

Randy Russell, 31 August 2017