Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Hiding In Plain Sight

When he's out and about near his Denver home, former Broncos quarterback John Elway has come up with a novel way to travel incognito—he wears his own jersey. "I do that all the time here," the 50-year-old Hall of Famer told me. "I go to the mall that way. They know it's not me because they say there's no way Elway would be wearing his own jersey in the mall. So it actually is the safest thing to do."
- Dan Patrick, Sports Illustrated "SI Vault" Blog, October 11, 2010

My only resolution for the New Year was to finish this post, which has been languishing for several months. I owe it to myself and to others to move on this and other things in my life.

This past September marked four years of writing this blog. In response to that milestone of sorts, and taking into consideration what has happened to me and to our country during that period, I've been trying to engage in a little self-reflection.

I believe this is important for me to do, as the significant changes in my life over these last four years are not over with. I lost a wife, jettisoned a career, and gained a bride-to-be that I love dearly but have difficulty relating to at times. This isn't helped by the reluctance of those around me to embrace my decision, along with my response to that reluctance and how those relationships have been affected as a result.

In trying to think about what the future will look like for myself and my family, I was trying to think of what significant changes have come about over the last four years for our society and culture, and how we've responded to them. While the economy and the job market are clearly issues now, so is the proliferation of social media across all segments of our society. What started with MySpace is now being carried on by Facebook and others, and the number of participants has grown exponentially.

This fact was not lost on me when Michaela passed away in July. A benefit was organized to help Leslie with expenses, and a Facebook page was quickly created. This helped the word get out to numerous people who otherwise would have not been informed. Lots of messages and comments expressing sympathy and support were generated.

I compare this to the throng of people who lined up at the funeral home for visitation, and the conversations Leslie and I had with many of them. As much as the online exposure helped to get the word out, and helped those separated by the miles to express their sorrow, the face-to-face interaction seemed more meaningful and memorable.

So as social media has the power to connect and mobilize us, it paradoxically adds to our collective isolation and separation, especially from those who feel that an email or a tweet can somehow be any kind of replacement for a warm embrace and tender expressions of love, concern, or sympathy.

What I also find intriguing is how much one can structure their online appearance to represent something not at all resembling their real emotional condition, and in fact communicate in a way that their true feelings are only apparent to certain people. The social media researcher Danah Boyd identified some of these trends in an August blog post.

Dubbing this practice "Social Steganography", Ms. Boyd explained how certain groups, in this case teenagers, engage in "communicating to different audiences simultaneously, relying on specific cultural awareness to provide the right interpretive lens". She used the example of the song "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" from Monty Python's Life of Brian, and how a hypothetical teenager used it to convey a message:

Her mother wrote her a note saying that she seemed happy which made her laugh. But her closest friends knew that this song appears in the movie when the characters are about to be killed. They reached out to her immediately to see how she was really feeling.

We've all got problems - My impression is that most people that have a group of close friends do not want their particular set of circumstances out on the Internet for all to see. One friend of mine had a long-term marriage come to an end this year; a former co-worker uprooted everything and everyone for supposedly greener pastures, only to return within weeks. I haven't spoken with these people in years, yet I know about these things because of Facebook. This helped to bring me to a true realization of the potential power of social networking to connect, as well as to conceal.

The film The Social Network also helped to cement my opinion that reputation is an even larger consideration with many in our younger generations than it is with those who grew up in the 50's or 60's. Have the fictional towns, pristine houses and manicured lawns of John Cheever's writing been reincarnated in a virtual setting, to connect, mold, and at the same time isolate our future generations?

The movie is rather good, by the way.

This leads me back to my current set of circumstances. I've made a mess of my life in a lot of ways, and need to make some changes. Knowing the path is not the same as walking it, however, and I'm frequently reminded of my shortcomings by seemingly well-intentioned silence and avoidance on the part of others.

This is the price of hiding in plain sight - by glossing over, being intentionally vague, and failing to address situations head-on, one becomes ill-prepared to deal with the negative consequences as part of the path toward improvement.

I'm praying for the courage to face the fear of rejection, failure, and enmity, and move in the direction that I feel is the best for myself and my family, both old and new. This will hopefully culminate with a wedding in early spring, and the promise of building a life with Leslie as a pair through strength, not separation. I hope that somehow I can prove to myself and to others that this is much better than being alone, or by engaging in relationships that may have esoteric benefits, but are otherwise hollow and brittle.

In the meantime, my attention to this blog will be less as these events and changes approach. I've taken to posting things on Twitter - yet another social networking tool whose potential I've yet to fully grasp - in order to pass along things of importance in less time than it takes to properly put together a post to this blog. My Twitter feed is available in the sidebar here.

I've also discovered HootSuite, which allows for the posting of information simultaneously across multiple social networking platforms. If you're interested in social media, this is a way to better manage your virtual life in less time.

In these and many, many other areas, I've still got a lot to learn. Thanks to Leslie for her support, admonitions, and patience. Thanks to Evan for being strong, smart, and a good kid.
I hope that we can all be happy together for a long time.

Below are two songs that were going through my head as I was gathering ideas and writing them down. Sometimes I think I should just build a separate Twitter feed just for the music playing in my head at any given time. These are older songs with new relevance for the times we're in:

Notice how the camera zooms in ever so slowly, until at the end of the song we're right in his face. The feeling and the anguish of the lyric is there right in front of us. Is this something that a tweet can substitute for?

This song came out during my senior year of high school. It carries a lot of meaning in retrospect; if we had voted on a "class song" like they do today, it could have been this one.

May the year ahead bring with it abiding love and joy for you and those who are important to you.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

John, I really enjoyed reading this. As usual, you made me think. I'm happy to hear about your newest adventure coming up this spring. I hope we can stay in touch.