I was raised according to the tenets of the old school. My parents raised my siblings and me in a way that fostered an appreciation of hard work, frugality, and the value of honest social interaction. While most like to focus on work ethic and thrift when appreciating the old school, in contemporary society it seems like the latter is what we should really look to recognize. I was taught that a firm handshake and solid eye contact were crucial aspects of making a lasting impression on someone, but both acts are now fading into obscurity. And oddly enough, I may be ok with it. Or at least I am trying to be ok with it.
Don’t get me wrong, I still thrive on the opportunity to engage with someone. When you have a strong connection with another human—and I’m talking about professional and personal situations alike—there really isn’t anything more apparent and satisfying. And if a connection isn’t there, you move along with no time wasted and no feelings hurt. It’s really an organic social process. But as we continue to march forward in an apparent quest to make everything a digital experience, how can the organic thrive in a less than organic world?
Well here is a mind-bending solution for you—we create a new organic.
Rather than dream of taking down the digital experience and live some luddite fantasy, those of us interested in maintaining a sense of human connection should strive to make the digital more personal. We should take the time to tailor our digital communication in ways that make it meaningful. Set the tone for those we communicate with and expect nothing less than the same personal effort from return correspondence. When we ignore the urge to embrace the fleeting nature of the digital and give it time and genuine concern, we establish the ability to make the digital something more substantial and meaningful. Before long, the inorganic becomes organic and real relationships are allowed to fizzle or flourish just as they do in the so-called real world.
Remember, WE make the digital. Our connection to one another is crucial to making us human, so take the time to make it work for us as a tool of human development rather than becoming a tool to the digital.
Mining from old photo files I haven’t looked at in a while. This one comes from Chicago, one of my favorite places to wander aimlessly. The buildings almost look like cardboard cut-outs in this image.
Sometimes I find myself getting lost in my own thoughts and I’m hoping that putting them out there may assist in their navigation. So they may occasionally appear here in a less than polished form. Read, contemplate, and respond if you so desire. Let me hear what you have to think … who knows, it might be kind of fun.
Anyway, I listen to a fair amount of punk music. And like any punk fan, I’m a firm believer that Henry Rollins and his work with Black Flag is required listening. Throwing on My War always makes me want to lace up my Dr. Marten’s and get in the pit. While Rollins is in a very different place now professionally, I admire the trajectory of his career. In my opinion, he has managed to effectively harness societal angst over time and through various means of communication—and most importantly, he has done so in a way that is absolutely real.
About a year and a half ago I had the opportunity to see him speak in Milwaukee at a particularly influential time for me. I was working on a Ph.D. in Communication and beginning to feel like Sisyphus as I struggled to see the real-world purpose of my theory-heavy humanitarian musings. I was constantly pushing a boulder of reality up the ancient hill of academia, only to find it sitting at the bottom when the abstract nature of the academy would buckle under me. Yes, I knew I would be swimming in a world of theory when I entered the program, but the lack of pragmatism started to wear on me. So one night I joined some friends at Milwaukee’s Turner Hall to see Rollins on his “Frequent Flyer” tour. While the night was filled with great stories, I left Turner Hall wrestling with one thing, Rollins’s line that “Knowledge without mileage equals bullshit.”
Through one brief tour tagline, I started making sense of my Sisyphean task. It dawned on me that much of academia was in the business of dishing bullshit. Knowledge was abundant, but it was the type of knowledge garnered through books and conversation with like-minded people. The experience that comes with being a part of the real world, logging literal and metaphorical miles working odd jobs, traveling to see a favorite band in neighboring states, laying down motorcycles, reading contemporary fiction, drinking too many beers, and collecting scars of all sorts are arguably where life and learning are discovered.
Ok, so maybe that’s a version of life and learning influenced by the punk rock ethos, but these examples are really just a metaphor. What it comes down to is recognizing a drastic need to experience life—to touch, taste, feel, see, and hear the world. So I did what I had to do and left the academy.
I am frequently asked by those around me if I made the right decision and I have no doubt that I did. I may not be exactly where I want to be professionally, but I know I’m alive, and that’s a good feeling. I get to engage with real people and real problems and I am slowly adding to a collection of scars. But these scars represent character and a life lived—they are symbolic of someone who hasn’t been afraid to get in the pit. Struggle makes us who we are and I often need to remind myself of that. Honestly, I think we all need that reminder.
So I now find myself taking on the challenge of cultivating experience. It is slowly becoming far too easy and far too convenient for life to disconnect from any sense of reality, which comes at a great cost. Abstractions of all sorts—including the all mighty $—have taken over and often prevent us from seeing the wonders of reality. As a result, common sense suffers. Notions of community suffer. Perceptions of good and evil and right and wrong become grossly skewed. And all for what?
I’m not sure there is an answer to that question, but if you’ve made it this far I encourage you to answer one that does, when was the last time you earned a scar?