Off Topic: The Social Media Mire

Social Media has become quite a pervasive entity in people’s lives.  We open accounts with the goal of finding and keeping up with friends that we’ve lost track of, to make new friends with shared interests, or to promote our businesses.  The bands I’m in use Facebook to promote their shows, as do thousands of other groups, artists, writers, dancers, and anyone who wants to be someone.  As people spend more and more time on these outlets, their lives and beliefs are being influenced whether they believe it or not.  Over the past few years I’ve watched the information that is being passed along, and have observed the willingness of folks to believe almost anything they see there, as long as it fits their preconceptions, and reinforces their personal beliefs.  Better yet, if it plays to their fears it becomes even more believable.  Combining this with the alt. right’s destruction of the public’s faith in the “main stream media” has created a conspiracy theorist’s dream come true, an open audience that will entertain accepting something as factual, that has absolutely no connection to truth, let alone correlation to it.

I used to view social media as a place where I could virtually hang with the peeps, and it still is to a certain extent.  Through Facebook, for instance, I’m in contact with many people from my past that I had lost touch with over the years and many over many moves from one part of the country to another.  Despite being a writer, I’ve never been much of a letter writer and although I’ve done better with email.   Facebook brings an element of immediacy to the connection that isn’t there with email.  You also can compartmentalize your interactions, without having to commit to full conversations.  This gives me a feeling of connection with these folks that I value, but in reality I don’t have to invest much effort to maintain the connection and neither do they.  In this aspect the entire connection is somewhat misleading in that it too, is virtual.  I’m not really interacting with these folks on any concretely meaningful level aside from maybe allowing myself and the people I’m following an opportunity to not feel isolated, even if in reality we are.

From my perspective this is one of the major negative issues with social media, the blurring of reality and fantasy, which extends to the quality of information that is being presented to its users.  People post meme after meme, attaching meaning to what is mostly a bumper sticker approach to communication.  Some of them are funny, which is fine because that is what they are meant to be, but all too frequently they’ve become rallying points for solidarity with some political or politico-religious statements where no-one bothers to check the veracity of the posts.  I’ve seen statements accepted as fact that any high school English student should be able to discern to be based on false premises through very light research and when presented with the factual information the response was, “well, it sounds like something he/she would have done. . .”  And that was the tenor; the person didn’t care about the facts.

Repetition is one of the ways that people convince others to believe things that aren’t factual, and social media is one of the largest purveyors of this type of communication.  There are laws about truth in advertising, and in advertising subliminal messaging is illegal in the US.  Repetition of misinformation, however, with the purpose to mislead the public isn’t ethically right, but it’s also not illegal and essentially that is one of the grand loopholes in the entire social media experience.  People are being misled on social media everyday by the millions.  People see the same thing over and over and eventually it starts to influence their beliefs.  They trust their friends who are reposting things that they have seen posted by other folks who’ve seen it somewhere on their feed and reposted it, so they accept it as fact without bothering to check the veracity of the so called information being presented.  Much of this type of information’s sources are not listed or made available, or is listed but the source is questionable at best due to either bias or shoddy reporting.  The more often it is seen and repeated, the more it worms into the beliefs of the folks reading or seeing it regardless of it’s actual credibility.

Yes, we are being manipulated every time we log onto social media, and it’s not by our actual friends or contacts, although they may unknowingly be contributing to the issue through reposting things.  We now know that Russia influenced our most recent election in the US in part through using social media to manipulate the American people’s beliefs about the candidates.  They ran a misinformation campaign on social media to support the individual they wanted to run the US for the next four years, someone who is a committed social media user himself, launching destructive twitter post after twitter post despite not even being in office yet.  If you choose not to believe that this is the case, just think about how a lie about you, or someone you know, was spread and ended up damaging that person on a personal level, or that person’s reputation because enough people believed it to make it accepted as fact among the majority of people around that person.  The remarkable thing about this is how easy it is to convince people to believe a lie, and then once they’ve bought into it, how difficult it is to make them believe the truth.

 

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Being Mindful in Life and Music

It’s under two days until Christmas and the gift shopping was just completed this morning.  For us that’s truly squeaking it in; we like to be done at least a week before hand but the past couple of years have been quite last minute.  I guess that this is at least in part due to being busy people.  My wife works full time in a demanding position at the University of Chicago, and spends close to three hours a day commuting.  She gets up super early so she get her mileage in running before work, so she ends up going to bed at the same time as our twelve year old daughter.  I’m usually filling my time chasing my three careers (writing, teaching, and music making) around in circles, so it’s not unusual to have a gig, two or three evening rehearsals, a day-time rehearsal and various other aspects eating up time.  We are the multi-tasking task force between the two of us, and then my daughter has her  after school activities as well.  I have more time to simply be than my wife does, but when I do it’s usually at the expense of something I should have been occupied with.

I’m working my way toward adopting an eastern religion, Buddhism, and I’m fairly certain that I’ll end up there, but some things have to change in order for me to get there.  One of these is mindfulness.  I’m struggling with the Buddhist concept of the mind; it’s not super difficult but it’s also not exactly straightforward, so the mindfulness I’m attempting at this point is being aware of what I’m doing or not doing.  This might seem like a simple matter, but I can just about guarantee that most people aren’t fully aware of what they’re doing when they’re doing it.  For example, when I practiced scales a long time ago I was painfully aware of what I was trying to do with my fingers, but once I had the pattern locked in it became an automated process, and still is to this day.  I think this is how most of us really run scales, by rote and in a programmed sequence.  We don’t think about where the whole or half steps are, or even what the key signature is because we’ve linked our entire concentration on one aspect of the process:  where our fingers go.

Once we have locked in the physical process and can run up and down at varying speeds, our focus, if we have one, is perfecting our accuracy and increasing our speed.  We might reach a point where we figure we have mastered the process, and run these lines up and down with fluidity, but we’ve also, more often than naught, gone onto autopilot, particularly guitarists because for us the patterns are often either the same or a simple variation thereof.  Once we have the patterns a key change is just a matter of shifting the pattern to a higher or lower point on the neck, so we don’t really have to think about it.  While we think we’ve gained mastery we’ve actually missed a huge part of the train, the actual notes that construct the scale and the actual music that a scale can be.  If we are truly mindful, then we are turning our awareness toward the construction of the scale, we are taking the time to be aware of the note names and relationships as we move through them, and we are being aware of our physical state of existence in this moment of the note, where we’re carrying tension, how we’re breathing, our bodies’ relationship with the physical process and the emotional tension and release we are invoking in the entire process.  The entire practice of scales becomes exercise of the complete physical process paired with the theoretical relationships and then crowned by the emotional expression of the music itself.  Now we are being mindful, as well as growing into a better understanding of what we are doing in those moments.

An aspect of mindfulness that I find very appealing is that it is aimed at being in the moment.  This means that your focus is locked into what you are doing, thinking or what ever it is right now and you are giving this moment in your life your full attention.  You are being the best you that you can be in that moment and giving your best to that moment.  For instance, if I have a performance and I walk out on stage with my guitar, then that is where I need to be mentally, physically and emotionally.  Lives are complicated; I know mine is.  I spend a good deal of time worrying about things, some of which I have the power to change but most of which I don’t.  Most of the things I’m worried about aren’t going to change during the time I’m performing and worrying about them isn’t going to change the outcome either way.  The worry is a distraction from actually living.  The performance is part of really living and is something I have the power to prepare for and execute.  This is where mindfulness comes into play as well, because we are living right now.  We can make plans for our futures, and should, but what really makes the difference is what we do in the moment.

Mindfulness is something that doesn’t come easily to me.  Part of this is due to my ADD causing a certain amount of mental flitting around.  It’s difficult to sit and run scales even without going into the deeper aspects of what I’m actually learning and doing.  My brain has a tendency to ricochet and ping pong around even when I am maintaining a guise of being focused which is one of the reasons that I’ve been writing essays for the past two years, to help train myself to maintain a focused train of thought and chase it to a logical conclusion.  The essay format helps me enter a somewhat mindful state, as did the five paragraph operations order in the military.  Through mindfulness I hope to start finding my path, and to elevate my awareness of who I am through what I do.  I hope to become a better person through it, a more focused person, a more empathetic person and a better musician as I work my way along.