Tale of an Awkward Human

20 November, 2011 § Leave a comment

Every so often, I experience an encounter that makes me wonder whether there are still people being raised like Mowgli, by a pack of wolves in the jungle. Usually I start wondering this in pizza restaurants.

Last weekend I was at California Pizza Kitchen with 2 girl friends, chatting and catching up. I don’t even think we’d had time to order when Mr. Smooth glides by our table, says, “Here you go,” drops this napkin on our table and walks out of the restaurant.

Uh…thanks?

His email address was scratched along the side, but I thought it would be just plain bitchy to leave it on in my blog post, considering the questionable quality of his sketching abilities, his being at least a decade older than me, and the inherent awkwardness of the whole thing.

Was this his way of hitting on me? Was this some way to advertise his art skills? (Or lack thereof – I mean really, it looks like I have a Voldemort nose.) Was this just the labor of a lonely man sitting at the bar?

Any way you slice it: fail. (Ha! Slice it! Get it? Because we were at a pizza restaurant!)

At least it was a clean napkin.

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This New Girl

3 October, 2011 § Leave a comment

If you’ve been watching the new sitcom “The New Girl,” you may be thinking, “This show ripped off Kaitlin’s life! Well, part of it.”

If you haven’t seen it, let me fill you in: We follow Jess (Zooey Deschanel) as she goes through some big life changes, needs a new place to live, and moves into a new apartment with three strangers from Craigslist.

Three guys, from Craigslist.

Okay, they probably wrote and began filming the show just before I moved into a new apartment with three men I had never met before. But I’m pretty sure it’s still somehow based on my life. And I’m still waiting for my hair and make-up team to arrive.

Seriously, though, it’s affordable, I have my own room, and there’s space for both my coffee maker and my futon (that would have been a tough decision).

However, I grew up the oldest of 4 girls. Living with boys has been…different. Here are a few things I’ve learned:

  • Men don’t just leave the seat up in sitcoms. It happens in real life. Every time.
  • There is a precise number of pizza boxes that must gather on the kitchen counter before they will form a herd and commence their seasonal migration to the trash.
  • One Axe product is too many. Six is just…I don’t even know what to tell you, dude. The game’s over and you didn’t even make it off the bench.

Actually, what someone keeps in the bathroom can tell you a lot about them. Who hides their fruity Garnier shampoo in the corner of the shower, who’s obviously worried about a receding hairline, and yes, who has six bottles of different Axe products.

So what does that say about me? With my pink shaving cream, straightening iron and Venus razor? I will tell you that no one has asked to borrow anything.

Did I ever tell you about…?

4 August, 2011 § 2 Comments

I’ve always wondered how people end up with outlandish stories to tell.

They usually seem like normal-enough people. Your middle-aged uncle with three kids, who treats the family Christmas party to a full recount of his frat days. The buttoned-down, loafer-wearing boss who admits they went to small, crazy Dave Matthews Band shows – before they got big. Your friend’s cookie-baking mom who suddenly decides you’re old enough to chat about “the promiscuous days.”

And I always, always, think, “You don’t just end up with crazy stories to tell; you have to go out looking for crazy situations.” And I naively assume I am too normal to end up in strange situations or to ever have stories like this to tell.

Until yesterday, as I shared the story of a small house I had lived in for one college semester.

Cheerily, I was recounting the unkempt, one-bedroom anomaly in a neighborhood of otherwise well-groomed mid-sized homes. My roommate and I lived on the main floor, and our landlord’s 30-something year-old son lived in the basement. Things were small but convenient for the first few weeks. Until our basement-neighbor came back from doing … I have no idea what, somewhere in South America.

We soon realized that, though we rarely saw him, this wangster smoked like a chimney. How did we know? Because it all floated through our poorly insulated floor, like steam through the lid on my hot latte. If, that is, my latte produced as much smoke as a train, smelled like swimming-pool-sized ashtray, and caused bronchitis.

“Really, I don’t smoke! You see, my neighbor…” I sheepishly explained to a woman whose kids I watched then, hoping all she could smell was the damp layer of Febreeze on my clothes as I coughed into my shoulder.

Now, years later, it seems almost comical when I tell people about it. My former roommate and I even chuckle when we mention the little smoke-shack we unintentionally inhabited.

It’s not that I went looking for such a crummy place to live just so I could tell you about it now (I wouldn’t do it again if you paid me).

It’s that strange things do happen to normal people. And even normal people end up with good stories to share. What’s yours?

A life with no ‘connections’

22 July, 2011 § Leave a comment

I write this not because I haven’t blogged in several … let’s just say weeks. I write this because I just spent a few weeks in Idaho with only dial-up (gasp) internet and then several days in the Idaho & Montana mountains with absolutely no internet or phone connection. I love sharing and connecting, tweeting, blogging, reading, posting, and multi-tasking like there’s no tomorrow. But at the moment, I want to share with you one day without any of that:

Tuesday, my family and I hiked up into the Bitterroot National Forest in search of a lake. Not a highly frequented spot, we were surprised to find another group of fishers had beaten us there and were using all the best spots.

We’d already hiked uphill for over an hour and my seven-year-old sister’s short legs were losing their bounce. But my dad suggested we continue hiking to “the other, higher lake.”

Onward we trudged, past mounds of snow hiding out in pockets of shade, past mushrooms and chipmunks and baby trees popping up beneath old, gnarled ones. And always hiking up, up, up.

It wasn’t until we realized we had reached the divide between Idaho and Montana that we also realized we were not going to find “the other, higher lake.” I’m still not sure one exists.

But it was also not until we had hiked that high, for an extra 45-minutes, that we finally stopped to appreciate the literally breath-taking view surrounding us. The dizzying dips and slopes, the soft tree-covered mountains, and the craggy stretches with only dirt and rock, large stretches of shining white snow, and behind it all a clearer, bluer sky than I’ve ever seen ― even in movies.

Later we hiked back down to the lower (and possibly, only) lake. We rested, snacked, and fished.

The lake was so clear that I could see the two cutthroat trout under the water who swam up and bit my hook. Wild and wiggly, I released them both, but not before a quick, “I caught a fish!” dance on the squelchy shore.

These are the moments I miss out on when the first thing I do in the morning is check my email, not sit next the window and sip fresh, percolated coffee. When I’m too occupied texting to notice the fuzzy caterpillar crossing in front of me. And when I’m so busy updating my Facebook, telling the world how bored I am, that I don’t just sit and dangle my feet in a creek.

I realize we can’t escape to nature every weekend, or even that we need to “escape.”I, obviously, am back online and blogging within days of my mountain-top trek.

But taking a little breather made me appreciate both the connections technology enables, as well as the things it sometimes causes us to forget.

Jack’s Underground (short story draft)

27 April, 2011 § Leave a comment

Good morning Wednesday. Another potential short story draft…comments, ideas, suggestions welcome.

Jack’s dead. And I think they killed him. We should have seen it coming.

He wasn’t family or anything, but he might as well have been. He taught me everything there was to know – from what dealers would sell you the parts, to building a computer, to hacking into the Worldpedia. Without getting caught.

I guess he got caught.

This thought rattles me back to the task at hand. I absentmindedly punch in our security codes under the flickering glare of a single bulb in the cellar. Half of my mind is on the programming task at hand. The other half is listening for the sounds of swishing robes and shuffling feet in the house above me. I know I’ll be punished if they find me like this, before Jack’s even in the ground.

Of course, once he is buried, I’m still not sure what I’m supposed to do.

I could just hide all of this. None of them have the skills anymore to track what we’ve been doing. When Jack grew up, everyone had a computer. He used to talk about it when we were alone. He said with the Movement we shut ourselves out of a beautiful, connected world. But those were his conspiracy theories.

I never knew anything but this world. And if it weren’t for Jack, I’d still be collecting scrap like everyone else, barely scraping by and spending my evenings memorizing their long, oral histories.

I can’t help but laugh. I’m still barely scraping by. But it’s different. I’m not stuck in a holey robe reciting their mindless drivel.

I’m not powerless anymore. I allow myself a little smile at this, in Jack’s memory. He’d known how empowering social technology was. He’d known how dangerous it was to cut ourselves off from it.

I’ve decided.

I come to the screen Jack and I set up for if something happened. I ignore the contingency plan for deleting all of his files and instead begin typing a message on the Worldpedia. “Anti-Movement activist Jack, #7319, has been killed. I have access to his equipment and will be replacing him here, reporting and gathering sympathizers…ready for action…”

With a click, my post is shared with the world. I can’t bring down the Movement without their help. And they can’t do it without people like me, who haven’t foolishly rejected society’s advances.

I sign off, lock and disguise the door to the tech room in the cellar. Then I sit next to the front door, waiting for them to come collect Jack’s body. But that’s all they can take.

I’ll take care of the rest.

Can you define social media?

24 April, 2011 § Leave a comment

I would like to introduce my capstone project on social media something like this…Any feedback on how it’s sounding?

Before you give it a label, consider this phenomenon: It unites people across countries, politics, races and religions in their mutual love of cute kitten videos, Harry Potter fan fiction, and relief organizations. It lets you share and connect with your coworkers, fans, family, friends, and frenemies alike. And it gives you instant access to knowledge and databases in a world where you can also contribute your own ideas, opinions and knowledge. It is a shared space with its own rules and upsets. And though most of it happens online, it is not limited to one website or application.

This is social media. And it is the big picture behind how society now operates, on all levels. It can be a tough concept to grasp for some because it is essentially limitless. How do you define the boundaries of something that grows and changes faster than your browser can refresh?

While I think social media is too big a monster to fit in one definition, this project has a different – though related – goal: to share some of the overall concepts and applications of social media. Don’t read this expecting an encyclopedia of every social network, gaming app, and blogging platform.

Read this for an introduction to some of the possibilities a future with social media offers us.

A Brief (and unfulfilling) Conversation

18 April, 2011 § Leave a comment

This was exactly the sort of thing that annoyed her. She had chosen this table because it was empty. The cafe was one of the few places she wasn’t constantly connected to the Exchange. She had put her purse on the second chair so no one would be tempted to share. And this guy had the nerve to just move her purse onto the table and take a seat. No coffee shop courtesy.

Until he pushed the second cup in his hands over to her. “This one’s for you.”

“If you were meeting someone, you have the wrong table,” she informed him, pushing the steaming cup back his way. But to her surprise, the stranger shook his head and said briskly, “It’s a white chocolate mocha. Yours has been gone for half an hour, Vivianne.”

She was sure she didn’t know him, but it’s not like her port profile was a secret – anyone could have recognized her from it. So she pasted on a smile, thanked him for the drink, and waited to hear an explanation for why this stranger had sought out an Exchange administrator.

“We want the secret.”

She blinked and waited, but he just looked at her, expectant but guarded, so she began, “I’m not sure I understand what you—”

“Listen. I know your angle. Your team has been in charge for six years now and we’ve been watching. We know what you say, the face you put on for the world. We’re not unfamiliar to your *revolution/great shift* and how you say it operates. You say it’s the decision of the crowd—”

She raised a skeptical eyebrow in protest but he shook his head and continued, abandoning his cool demeanor from before. “Listen, I’m just a middleman, but you have connections, and my boss would pay a lot for what you’ve learned…on the inside. I’ve sent a number -in dollars – to your port device but that will disappear 24 hours from now. That’s how long we’ll wait for your information.”

Her eyes flicked over to where her port rested in her purse before she looked up to address him. “I don’t think you understand how things work around here, “she began, “um, what’s your name?” she asked.

“You can call me Lawrence.” He’d taken his elbows off the table and leaned back to sit, tense and upright.

“Lawrence,” she rolled her eyes, “you are welcome to my information. You and your boss are welcome to the Exchange files, all of the election ballots are filed publicly online and are synced to every citizen’s port account. If you’re looking for fraud, you don’t have to ask me, you can check the records yourself. And we haven’t been running this country for the last six years. Everyone has.” She shrugged and continued, “I’m just one of their favorite secretaries.”

“I organize. I enforce the rules. When eleven-thousand people suggest solutions to one problem, I figure out how we can sort through, pick the best ones, and let every citizen on the port vote on those top ideas. That’s what’s been happening here and you are welcome to see any of that data.”

Lawrence said nothing, just continued staring at her expectantly. She shrugged her shoulders, took a sip of the drink he’d put in front of her earlier, and let her eyes flit back to her e-reader sitting on the table. This was her personal time, and she didn’t appreciate being interrupted by those who didn’t understand the Exchange government and weren’t willing to listen when someone explained it to them.

Sure, she did work in one of the highest offices but that was because she was good at her job and everyone knew it. But Lawrence could ask anyone in this coffee shop how the Exchange worked and they could tell him as much as she could. They all contributed in one way or another, and they all logged their weekly hours contributing to the Exchange. Whether they spent those hours typing up proposals, making edits, or voting on those written by others, or a myriad of other tasks that were left to the crowd to complete, they were still all part of how things got done.

That had been the agreement when they switched to this form of government. Crowdsourcing will only benefit the crowd if the crowd remains active and involved in every level.

Lawrence finally cleared his throat. “Well, I feel like I’ve made myself clear. My employer wants to know who’s really running the show, and you’re close enough to the top to know. If you’re worried about repercussions, we can cover for you and make it look like the data was stolen from you. This will not reflect poorly on you. No one will know. Our offer is on the table and on your port device.” He glanced up from the table at her and softened his voice to add, “We’re only looking for honesty. We just want to know who we’re dealing with. You wouldn’t be endangering your country.”

She watched him push his chair back and walk out of the cafe. Past the group of wrinkled old men huddled together playing chess, past a woman on her laptop scrolling through some of the details for next year’s government health spending,, every now and then clicking and typing little notes, and past two high school students either doing homework or creating a new level for a favorite video game – maybe both.

The stranger got into a dark sedan and was gone. Another disbeliever.

She shook her head and tucked her hair back behind her ears. Before she could return to her reading, she took a moment to wonder why other governments and other peoples were still so skeptical. So unwilling to take seriously a country that had risen to the greatest in the world, riding on the never-ending crest of the ideas of its people.

All of those peoples, Lawrence and whoever he worked for, searching for answers that were so close to their faces they refused to see them. All of them underestimating their own power. Couldn’t believe a government could truly be as strong as each of its citizens — each of their contributions and all of the time they collectively donated to make everything function, little by little.

She was only one part of that, and thousands of others would keep things running while she took a coffee break. She allowed herself a brief, satisfied grin, and continued reading.

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