We’re battling our own habits

History also shows that if we want to tame antibiotic resistance, we have to be ready to fight for a long time — perhaps forever. The problem is that we’re not really fighting against bacteria. We’re battling our own habits, which are deeply ingrained and hard to change.


—Carl Zimmer, “The surprising history of the war on superbugs — and what it means for the world today

The Cluetrain anti-Manifesto: People are Corporations

I have no idea who recommended The Cluetrain Manifesto, but it ended up on my Goodreads “want to read” list, and it arrived in my local library a few days ago. I honestly thought it was a fiction book from the title, something along the lines of The Monkey Wrench Gang, perhaps.

Turns out The Cluetrain Manifesto is a breathless paean to the Internet circa 2001, about how the internet will revolutionize business (though the version I’m reading has been updated with some sobered hedging by the authors ten years later).

The primary thesis of the authors is that markets are at heart conversations, and that businesses will either enable the freewheeling conversations empowered by the Net, or fight a losing battle for control.

I don’t want to wave away the advances that the internet has engendered, as I think it’s too easy to downplay, especially for you young whippersnappers who don’t even recall rotary phones. It really has been transformative. But from the vantage point of 2016, we can also see that the breathless prognosticating of the original Cluetrain hasn’t quite panned out. We’re seeing the once wide open, seemingly endless forests of internet anarchy, Grateful Dead-and-Phish-tape-trading freedom turn into gated communities as glossy, ad riven, and manipulative as the corporate fiefdoms of old.

So what went wrong? Why aren’t we living in an unmitigated bliss of genuine, heartfelt connection to one another across digital divides?

While markets have indeed become more about peer to peer sharing, people themselves have become more like corporations. 

Ever heard the term “personal brand”? That’s right – as individuals, we now carefully cultivate and craft our online personas, targeting our messaging, delivering elevator pitches to our friends, and twisting our faces and extending our arms to capture selfies at perfectly calibrated angles.

Successful businesses today support our social posturing, while gathering our data, as defined by every click, post, and geospatial movement. Successful online personas, such as Kim Kardashian, harness the hall of mirrors to their advantage.

In this manner, we market ourselves while allowing ourselves to be marketed. The damning thing about all of this is that the internet of yore – that wild, ecstatic beast – is still right here around us but we gild ourselves into gated, controlled, glossy realms like moths to bulb. 

Why? Because that’s where all the cool kids are.

Outside of the Cluetrain, I’ve been grappling with this lately in terms of my use of Facebook. I deeply appreciate how the platform enables me to interact and relate to others. I’m not always the most personable person in everyday life, and Facebook helps me to communicate different aspects of myself with people I wouldn’t otherwise.

But it’s also a gated community designed to keep me posting and clicking so it can stay in business.

This is the Faustian bargain we make. And if I assume some kind of radical stance on Facebook and delete my account or just stop using it (both of which I’m considering), well, I’ve also then got to justify why I am still actively using Google services, or Twitter, or Instagram, or …

… Or even why I am so tethered to a smartphone in the first place. Do I really need to be notified the minute I get an email? Do I really need GPS instead of a map? 

Are the things I’m actually spending my time on each day adding meaning to my existence?

Would I do more of the things I really want to do if I didn’t have addictive attachments to social media? Would my relationships with people around me be more positive?

I don’t know. But I do remember the internet of the early 90s, back when I would spend summer nights chatting to random strangers on IRC. And yes, even then, we vied for social status with any nerdy signifier we could lay claim to, whether it was our handle, our ASCII graphic skills, our quick wit with a keyboard, or our creative use of asides. Even without the like buttons and the notifications, we found ways to develop and curate our online personas.

The difference is that nobody was really watching, outside of the Cheers-like regulars we came to know at our regular watering holes.

There was a freedom to it, and a loneliness.

Do I still have the wherewithal for that kind of thing? I’m not sure.

But surely in a day and age in which wildernesses both virtual and real are ever diminishing, it’s worth escaping from the everyday mall of mirrors–even if only for a blog post B&B–and exploring.

Happy B-Day, Me!

Well, I’ve hit the big 3-2! I don’t feel old at all. I’m tired, but that’s just cuz I work my ass off. I’m pretty healthy (excepting the secret cancer I’m convinced is invisibly eating away at my soul), since I’ve kept any vices I’ve had so far in check. For example, I once became somewhat enamoured with cigarettes (Kamel Red Lights) when I was in college, really just because it was something to do at parties, but I would always get to this point where one day they would suddenly taste incredibly disgusting, and I would quit for a few weeks before I started up again (due to the desperate need to keep myself looking occupied even when having nothing interesting to say). This kept me from ever getting dependent on them. This is how it’s been for most things in my life. Before I ever become dependent on something, I have some innate need to reject it and switch things up.

The only thing I’ve become dependent upon is my fiancee. She is there for me, doing all kinds of things to ensure that I am on track physically and mentally, such that she really knows me better than I know myself in some ways. I’m notoriously absent minded, so she helps me take care of some of the things I need to take care of (God, I sincerely hope I’m not succumbing to early Alzheimer’s!) only becoming exasperated with me on a bi-daily basis. She puts up with my need to zone out on my computer when I crawl home to escape from the grind of my stressful work life, and she endures my proclivity towards moodiness and reclusiveness. She continually assumes the best in me and keeps trying to engage me in discussions of things I have not the slightest bit of interest in. She cooks amazing meals for me every week, which I happily shovel down my gullet without comment. She sort of endures my neverending supply of gaseous emissions. (But I would like to formally and publicly log the complaint that she steadfastedly refuses to fix me an alcoholic beverage, pack the nargile, or give me a back massage.)

I never would have foreseen myself making my living here in this vast and alien city of New York, not in a million years. But here I am, pushing myself beyond any expectations I would have once set for myself. I was once a shy, introverted, pimply-faced narcissistic simpleton with a tendency to write grandiose and bellicose ramblings. Well, the narcissism, the grandioseness, and the bellicose ramblings still continue, but otherwise this San Diegan native son has made some progress. I’m alright with my age, I’m alright with where I am in life spiritually, mentally, physically, and otherwise. As far as I’m concerned, life just keeps getting better.

My aim is to never get stale, to never be complacent, to always keep growing and pushing myself and developing. The good news is that no one has ever discovered my amazing talent and thus I’ve never become overexposed and drained by stardom and fame. Lucky me! And lucky you, dear reader! I’ll continue to jissom out random blog posts into the night with the absolute guarantee that not many people will ever read them (aside from all the folks that do searches for guns and stumble upon my most famous post of all time, on my grandfather’s gun collection). But that’s what makes people like you and me so special. We’re not verified and vindicated by the status quo. We’re deviant simply by the nature of our anonymity, by the fact that even though we are quite certain that we are geniuses in our own right, we will never be officially sanctioned and recognized and blessed by any archdeacons of societal norms and powers.

On this day, 32 years ago, I managed to get pulled out of my mother’s belly via C-section. Please, don’t congratulate me for this accomplishment. It really didn’t take much effort. Honestly, I should be sending a card and monetary gifts to the doctor that performed that operation, as well as to my mother, of course, for having nurtured and grown me to the point of my individual conception. Thanks mom. I should probably also send a card to the nurse whose face I pissed upon as I was cleansed of birthing blood.

In other words, I didn’t really do much to get to this point of time. I’ve just been coasting along via the pathways of the inevitable, headlong push of gravity, with some intervening forces of human benefaction along the way. Thanks, universe! Thanks, humanity!

To Suffer, To Heal

Something I thought of while feeling my heart cracking open and tears streaming out–I could feel how in some strange way, pain is the only way in which to heal, grow, and expand. It is the numbing of emotion that is the greatest of danger. Human beings numb themselves with alcohol, drugs, TV, dead-end jobs, abusive relationships, destructive gossip, religion–you name it. The only way for us to keep moving is by opening ourselves to what we know will cause us suffering.

When you are addicted to something, then you seek to alleviate the suffering of withdrawal by continuously getting more and more of what you are addicted to. You seek to numb yourself into normality, just so you can get by. This is not a disease or abnormal behavior. Everyone in this society is addicted to something, whether it is money or weed or sex or wanting other people to think of you as good looking. We look down on those who shoot up heroin or smoke crack, and then we turn around and purchase the latest video game system, or we pretend to laugh at someone else’s stupid joke just because we want them to like us.

The point being that all of us, in some way, seek to numb ourselves so that we don’t have to suffer. To suffer is to lay open your heart, surrender your illusions, and look fully at reality. And once you do that, then you have to change, you have to evolve, you have to accept responsibility for your life.

There is no more pain then when you see someone you know and respect and love destroy themselves. There is no denying suffering in the face of that. It overwhelms you, it overcomes you, it plows you into the emptiness beyond yourself, it rips your soul out of your body. And in this storm of emotion, you begin to see the light of love. How you are not only yourself–you are everyone connected to you. Because you can feel the hole torn from you where that person once was. There is no denying, in the face of such pain, that for someone to tear themself from life prematurely is like pulling a full grown tree from the earth. All of the roots extend into the same soil that nurtures you. All of the limbs and leaves reached out into the same light that bathes your days. That tree was you, is you, and will always be you. There is no isolated, separated, detached individual here in this world.

So to know of this man’s suffering . . . this is to know of my own suffering.

pop life

the whole problem seems to lie in thinking that there is something you could do that would be considered wrong. that there’s some space youre not supposed to fall into, its like a pop beat–if you dont hit the snare at that one beat, youve fucked up the whole thing. so youre walking around avoiding certain things where you think you might do something wrong. and its superstitious, like avoiding cracks on the sidewalk and shit. theres normal and theres abnormal. theres right and theres wrong. youre on and youre off, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. really youre just losing all the time, youre always losing cuz theres that certain something that youre not getting that you need to get in order to be safe, in order to feel that youre something. like pussy, or money, or the new moby cd. our culture has kind of built up a nice myth to cover up this dilemma–the myth of the true love–that there is someone out there who will complete you, the missing rib from your body. so were always running after something that we dont have, because theres something wrong with us, theres something missing. theres emptiness inside, when youre alone you dont know what to do with yourself so you watch tv. but of course theres really nothing, noone that can ever make you more than you already can be, so eventually you run yourself down. but theres always little things there for us to fill ourselves up on before we hit empty again: nice little things like cigarettes, movies, video games, parties, sex. were scared that if we stop, if we dont feel like were going somewhere, if there isnt that snare right there when we want it to be, then were gonna fall flat on our faces, well be just another faceless part of the dead masses. and we will, because weve set ourselves up for it, because weve built our lives so much away from ourselves that when we fall back into ourselves we suddenly realize just how much none of it means anything anyway. we set ourselves up to fall the minute that we assume that there is the potential to fall, and this comes from the decision that we want to climb. but theres nowhere to climb if theres nowhere to fall. theres only one place to get to–and that’s where we are.