Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Social Media: A Weird Heat Companion

I have a complex relationship with social media, and I suspect most other people do as well. On the one hand, there is something entertaining about easily staying in communication with friends and family. People are reunited across great distances as if they were still in the same town or neighborhood or school. But this idyllic impression of social media is soon lost in practicality. On the other hand, social media can waste time at best and engender abuse, horde personal information, and spread falsehoods at the very worst. We are at a point where, I speculate, social media is responsible for the decisions made in most facets of our lives. This is mostly not provable, because the entities of Facebook, Twitter, et al. are so broad.

It is easier to look at social media as two separate concepts: “social” plus “media.”

For a long time, I have been struck by the ridiculousness of the seeming validity of social media. To judge oneself by the amount of friends, followers, likes, and reposts is not an accurate representation of our true selves. But the social qualities of various platforms is undeniable. It is a quick, easy way to surround yourself with like-minded individuals, united around themes and conversations. This can form, however, the dreaded “echo chamber” of too many people all in agreement. How social is that?

Furthermore, the virtual nature of these products means participants in online conversations lose the physical interaction. This means people can say whatever they want to whomever they want with little or no repercussions. For the vast majority of us, human decency is enough to keep us civil. But for a few people, hiding behind a screen is all that is needed for negativity to come out, which will only spawn more hatred. No social media platform is safe from rampant meanness.

The other larger problem with social media is the actual media half. The common complaint with media, however well-founded, is that it is a business and only shows us a sensationalized picture. Unfortunately, social media does the same thing. When you have a system of individuals sharing ideas, the same stories are naturally going to rise to the top. Therefore, readers have to work harder to evaluate information, work which is not always done. We have all been guilty of misreading a story online.

All that said, I still turn to social media as a lens for events. Instead of being the be-all-end-all integral to the goings-on of our world, social media is an effective tool to cultivate and bear witness to mass opinions. It is a forest, and our opinions are the trees. But we cannot get lost in the forest. And when discussions lose civility, I’ve had enough. Social media is just a tool; it shouldn’t be turned to drive people apart.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Health: A Weird Heat Companion

Health is undeniably a good thing. We strive to stay in good health for the obvious benefits of a happier and longer life. No one ever wants to be sick, so we work to remain on the opposite side. Isn’t it interesting, then, that the work we do to stay healthy is not often considered “fun”? It’s not at all that being healthy is bad, but the practice of staying healthy is actually quite boring.

Look at the stereotypical examples of health. What do you have to eat to stay healthy? Fruits and vegetables are the top of the food pyramid, certainly not chips and candy. What makes a healthy person “in shape”? Going to the gym or running, not reading a book or watching TV. Even sleeping soundly, which is supposed to increase our overall well-being, isn’t particularly exciting1. I suppose the counterpoint to this is sitting, which purportedly takes years off a life, is not very interesting either. It is, however, when coupled with something rad like video games.

Of course, many people enjoy fruits, vegetables, and working out. I eat some combination of my daily value every day for lunch and dinner. But I would never claim an apple--the paragon of health--to be enormously fun. Not as fun as a bag of Twizzlers. Some people get a rush out of physical exertion when working out. But that feeling is usually coupled with aches, pains, and exhaustion.

Put another way, think of what we use to reward ourselves and others. If a child does something admirable, they earn a piece of candy. After we finish studying for an exam, we allow ourselves an hour of TV. What is conventionally considered “unhealthy” is typically a positive reinforcement! There is an opposition here.

In the end, what is considered healthy may not be exciting, but they are unquestionably beneficial. If something tastes good, there’s a chance it was processed to be that way and is lousy for you as a result. Meanwhile, just because something is bland doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be eaten2. As with American literature, Moby Dick may not be much fun, but it is definitely important.

1 But it is excellent.
2 I have a celery stalk nearly every day for lunch.