A couple of things I hope we ditch in 2019

Shit it must be 2019…

Well, the party has finished and the excess and indulgences of Christmas and New Years can be finally laid to bed. With the hangover now well and truly behind us — the sobering downtime that we now find ourselves in gives us all an opportunity to let our minds focus on what lies ahead.

Which is probably a blessing if you live in a climatically chilly part of the world as I do. February through to the end of March is pretty depressing and the lack of sunlight makes me behave like an irritable Grizzly bear brought out from an early hibernation,  complete with a similar set of table manners and social etiquette — you’ve been warned!

Besides this 3 month period of downtime and questionable weather the new decade that next year’s 2020 casts, feels like an era lifted directly from the pages of Sci-Fi, thanks no doubt to my highly conditioned child of the 80’s  brain — and as a consequence it feels so much further away – so for both reasons – 2019 really has my full, undivided attention.

For me, this year represents a bit more than a blank canvas for optimism — although it certainly bears all the hallmarks. Moreover, I find myself thinking about what I hope 2019 could signify the end of. I have never intended my musings to invite or promote political ideologies. It’s not what you say but where you say it from is probably the only article on this site that even touches on political mutterings — and even then, that piece was more concentrated on exercising a greater understanding of the social/economic outcomes of ill-advised or — dare I say it, ignorant consumer purchasing that we are all guilty of in the West.

So don’t worry – I’m not going to venture any further with airing political biased views — you’re kind of spoilt for choice for that online anyway. So I won’t be adding to this sizeable stockpile. 

But… I might skate around a few areas that are becoming entrenched by politics, like the way we communicate for example – That all right with you? Cool – I’ll take your silence as agreement then. Let’s dip in then 😉

You should hear yourself…

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I don’t particularly love the sound of my own voice, no doubt this admission will surprise and shock friends and family – thanks for the confidence btw guys. In fact even when my voice is recorded,  I cringe (something that will make the podcast plans I have for this blog pretty painful, more on that later). But in the sense of ‘hearing’ my own view, whether it’s seeing it as a post on FB in answer to a question raised within a group, on a forum – or in very unusual cases, where I have been quoted directly – my instinct is to shy away from this sort of attention. 

But that’s not to ignore the fact that it can feel pretty good when strangers, friends or family agree with us – seeing some truth to a point we have raised, articulated and believe in passionately. This kind of group approval that we gain when others see value in something we do or communicate – gives us some status boosting. Like it or not — as a species we arrange ourselves in hierarchies – most living things do on earth. It’s how things get done, whether its worker bees, working for the collective hive but specifically for the queen bee, or wolf packs traversing unfamiliar territory with the elderly and/or sick wolves leading (so as to set the best pace) and the leader at the rear ensuring none stray or get left behind — we all put ourselves into groupings, status hierarchies – both at work and at home. So having the support of the group — wherever they may come from elevates us – mentally and within society. 

Now, where this may be quite healthy within the context of face-to-face encounters – I can’t really say the same is always true for online interactions. Much of the opinion-based content posted can be put in the ‘living for likes’ tin – where a person posts something with the main hope that others will positively comment, generating approval and inciting validation from others. It is this ‘living for likes’ that sees users gravitate to not only aiming their content in a way that helps improve the odds for this to happen, but also distributing these by posting within an environment that provides a better chance of receiving the group approval that they hunger for. Where better than an echo chamber? Here, a group under a shared and established point of view dominate a group discussion which provides the vehicle to administer opinions, all the while safe in the knowledge that with such a hospitable environment and shared perspectives – that it will likely lead to, ego-massaging, back-slapping and general praise.    

An echo chamber can form anywhere, but it’s more prolific in the digital world thanks to the manner we consume, share and interact with one another and the scale of possible attention that would be much more difficult in a physical social meeting — like a party for instance. These can take the form of online forums, social media groups or a community that has flourished in or around a website. The problem with these echo chambers or feedback loops is two-fold. First, they genuinely alienate healthy opposing views — which is necessary for intelligent debate and with all sides to a hotly contested topic being represented in some way or another, are therefore more useful for gauging and understanding where the majority of ‘people’ in the wider sense sit on a certain subject.

 

The second is the uglier side that can eventually appear from this. After a groups’ postings have saturated – everyone showing support of the shared common belief, then it becomes more difficult to generate that approval. If the group’s activity doesn’t naturally fade away having reached the peak of all-round shared congratulations, then more extreme ideas or views are proposed. Think of it like a protest that starts peacefully, as the march continues it eventually reaches its final destination. Without wishing to disband some within the group use the occasion, the crowd sympathy and approval etc. to voice more extreme ideas and views – forming a mob mentality that can all too easily turn violent.  

But echo chambers or feedback loops can exhibit much more subtle negative traits. When they are applied to the arts, music, film etc. they marginalise and encourage close-mindedness. I’m not a huge fan of state or government endorsed media – We’re seeing a lot of politically charged and biased ‘fake news’ emerging from these traditional outlets; a desperate last attempt to compete with the volume of online media distributed by small groups and individuals – with many of the traditional media simply taking the reigns of PR to individuals rather than accurately reporting and reflecting on society’s collective opinions or understanding of current affairs. 

But one thing that, say, traditional terrestrial TV programmes had in their favour was when they were being fair or even daring, they were good at exposing large audiences to a range of different works, genres, styles, etc. — those that viewers would likely not have discovered had they been left to their own devices. For instance, you may never have encountered an anime film, much less a defining example of the genre, but if there were only 5 terrestrial TV stations to choose from — (as there were in the UK in the ’90s) and one of these channels made an effort to do a week of showcasing some of the best that anime had to offer (which was the case with Channel 4) — it very well may have become an important personal discovery of yours (was for me) and a gateway to discovering the sub-genres that fall under anime’s cell-shaded umbrella. The problem now that today’s digital world carries, in a totally opposing way, are the same drawbacks that audiences encountered during the early conservative programming days of terrestrial television. 

On the one hand for the viewer, pre-digital TV held a lack of programme choice, for the producer – there was stiff competition to get any show aired with such limited slots & fierce competition available. Now, there is an abundance of both choice and competition — but that doesn’t necessarily help audiences — who are now limited, not by the potential choice but by the lack of knowledge of what’s worth watching or listening to and of course a large part of determining this is by trying. Echo-chambers apply the brakes even further. Filtering the inclusion of a variety of interests that come with a variety of people which only further homogenises what people are consuming, steering us down a more average experience path. Audiences have become more sophisticated – but the trade-off is that with more choice comes less control and with less control, there’s an even lower level of exposure to the full spectrum of film, artists, music etc. available.

So unless you’re fortunate to meet individuals who can do a lot of digging and find you some jewels of offerings off the beaten path as well as the classics which all help us to understand the influences behind more recent/modern iterations (books, films, music, art etc.) having a wealth of choice with a lack of direction isn’t necessarily as beneficial for us all as you may think.

Give me what I’m owed… Self-Entitlement 

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OK, so I realise this may seem more abstract — but like echo chambers – I believe it’s really harmful and actually persists and permeates into our lives in so many ways.

From an onlooker’s perspective, I can’t really say with certainty when the sense of entitlement entered our lives in such a pervasive and invasive way. Like I gave away – I’m a child of the 1980s (still a child in many ways) and that certainly was, in the West specifically— as many have noted in the past – a defining decade of indulgence and greed. 

Even if you were born later than the 80’s you only have to note the heavy presence of materialism in all forms of pop-culture, Madonna material girl and Gordon Gecko’s character in the hit Wall Street would be two good examples of this. But I wouldn’t say that entitlement took hold then – rather the ’80s were a time where many people in the West chose to pursue material wealth. 

Entitlement is the belief that you are owed something by right. Now those who were not achieving the wealth and success during the ’80s may have felt that some of that — difficult when all around you – there are examples of people achieving material wealth. The decade that followed was a bit of a hiatus from material wealth – many chose to experiment with drugs and there was a much larger diversity of genres of film and music being made during the ’90s. So I guess I’m going to come down on the mid ’00s as the time when entitlement started to choke us with its slow python grip that only got stronger over time. Facebook arrived on the scene combining and decimating MySpace and Friends Reunited – making it more accessible to the masses — like those 80’s audiences becoming exposed to imagined success stories. Except this time it wasn’t so much Hollywood celebrities or tales of people far removed from their social circle — it was people they knew from school, college, work and those they had just met and swapped contact details with.  

Entitlement has also manifested itself in generations who believe they will do better than their parents and will be happier as a result of this. In the US there is currently a huge hole in the job market for medium+ skilled men. Those who are answering the call are women – but as the market has improved a great deal following the 2008 recession — there are just not enough people (women included) to fill this void. The reason? Well, one large cause is the decision of many young men (who are skilled enough to take part) defaulting to waiting it out. 

Many believe they can do better so rather than take work for the time being they are hoping their aspirations will be met. Many of these are living with parents, the bank of mum and dad – to soften the lack of a disposable income. I’m not saying it isn’t good to have dreams or a sense of self-worth – I do however feel that these expectations for greatness are something of a false prophet – and I don’t blame those who think they can do better.

However, I do think that they’re not prepared to face the fact that it’s definitely not as easy as the idols and digital role models for success are making out, which is more of a sickness in our society and not necessarily a fault of theirs, but it’s still one that has to be addressed and handled in some way regardless. The world is so much more connected than it used to be — every year more users from previously disconnected locales are joining the digital audience — becoming exposed to a variety of success stories of those who turned their back on convention and ended up doing extraordinary things — and that’s great! The problem is the world is not set up to accommodate all of us to do this. Our grandparents realised this, it took longer for our parents’ generation to get this and for us and those of us who have children well it seems we’re following the trend of taking a lot longer to come to terms with this. 

The fairly recent reporting of crypto-currencies is a good example of how long it takes for people to get the message. We’re only just understanding that there’s more chance of winning the lottery than making a fortune using this method — that actually blockchain is really not about cryptocurrency and like a false rumour of gold rush it’s just dawning on the fact that too many of us don’t even understand it — but we desire wealth and if there’s a single story of someone who knew what they were doing and they got rich — well that’s enough blood in the water for us sharks.

While we are all special in our own ways the world just doesn’t have the room to allow us to all reach our dreams — it’s only a fortunate few who will achieve exactly what they want and even for those a large dose of compromise will accompany them on their success journey. But that’s not the way it comes across when we tune in to distorted business achievements on LinkedIn, popularity success championing on Facebook, uploading and digesting artificially touched-up images of ourselves and those we see on Instagram, Flickr and so on. The reality is a lot less glossy — life is a lot harsher and our filter for distinguishing fact from fiction has got a lot more blurred recently.

So OK – you might be thinking well this sounds misguided but not necessarily harmful – eventually as far as employment or professions go, those who don’t achieve the lofty goals they feel they are owed by the world will eventually get the message — so not a huge sense of harm – not the greatest foul — so what?

Well, if entitlement only stopped there that would be one thing — however like I mentioned before it runs a lot further and a lot deeper than that. Let me share a story which I have heard so many times — an experience that is replicated by different people I know, friends of mine, people they know and so on — just to note I have heard the same story now so many times from different sources that I think it deserves a mention and for the record these encounters were all from straight couples. Now I’m not singling out gender here but the stories I have heard, the victim (which might be putting it a bit strongly) is always male — though I am sure cases where it is a woman who is the victim also exist, the important thing to focus on in  this story is the mentality)

So a man and a woman go on a date – they’ve been talking a lot online (though the examples I have heard include both dates that came to be from online dating and traditional, face-to-face meetings).

 

The first couple of dates go well — both people are still finding out stuff about each other — so queue more flirting, messages, phone calls. When a sleepover takes place they have fun — but afterwards, decide that they don’t have as much in common as first thought or hoped. Now I know what you are thinking, but it’s not an example of one party ‘having their way’ and then not calling the other again. In this and all of the other examples it seems likely that passion was the greatest influence – these couples really fancied each other physically but were pursuing – or a least keeping the door open for starting, a relationship and when it became evident this wasn’t on the cards, the decision not to meet again was mutual. These were not booty-calls. In all examples that I have been privy to and regardless of where the couple had ‘their sleepover’, the woman has ‘taken’ something from the guy. No, I don’t mean in an abstract sense, but literally. 

I have been fortunate to know examples and speak with both the male victims and some of the women perpetrators — some of my friends have been the latter and in these examples and it is the mindset of the women in these stories which really fascinates and troubles me. And I say that – not from the perspective of being male — but my concern is the mentality which seems to extend far beyond an example like these. In all cases of this story – the woman has felt that as the date didn’t lead to the ‘hoped for’ ‘ideal’ outcome and that some form of physical compensation was in order. 

The items taken have not necessarily been expensive, items of clothing a sweater, a camera accessory, petty cash, headphones, etc. These have been taken deliberately and the examples I’m recalling are only those where there is no doubt that these were the outcome of some form of remediation for the fact the date didn’t lead to a relationship. The women involved are not ‘thieves’ by nature and those I have spoken to would never usually take something from a fellow man or woman — but something about the date failing to live up to their expectations led them to do this, despite that the men in these examples would also consider the failure of the date to lead to a relationship equally disappointing — the thefts seem to do a lot more damage than the face-value of what is taken – it’s the principle, someone they let in and trusted betrayed them despite that both parties lost the ability to gain something more than a physical, short-lived relationship. 

This sort of entitlement is even more troubling than personal delusions of greatness, etc. Here, the simple fact is that one human feels sadness — a sadness that is mirrored by the other (in these cases the only other human being right in front of them) and instead of empathising — totally disregards the fact that these feelings are mutual and instead does something to make them feel immediately better at the cost of making the other immediately worse entitlement has reared it’s head in what really should be one of the areas where it is never allowed to enter — where the situation is too fragile for such an added voluntary negative action.  

Let’s be real about these examples — we’re not talking head-over-heels love these are early dates that look to be promising for leading to something more longterm. But these are not breakups from relationships that have endured and accumulated a wealth of powerful feelings and memories. So the compensation that those who steal seek in these instances is baffling. 

But it’s not just our free time and personal relationships that this self-centred belief is harming, it’s our work life too. Instead of recognising that someone needs to put in extra effort or take on more responsibility to justify a promotion or salary increase — many suppose that simply this should be awarded to them for a whole of host of things that they are not really working towards. It’s surprising how many people feel that just because they have been employed with a company for say a year, that they should automatically have a raise or promotion — like time alone is the ultimate marker for progress and effort. I’m not saying this is unwarranted if they have achieved things that are valuable within a given period of employment that justify a promotion – of course that probably means they should receive the recognition for a job well done. I’m just saying that it isn’t a result of zero responsibility. 

I’ve lost track of how may disgruntled colleagues that I have known — who become toxic within the workplace because they believe without good reason that they have been passed by for a promotion that they should have received (despite the fact they haven’t actually done anything well enough to warrant it)

Self-entitlement is something of a venom that we have somehow managed to produce, bottle and give-away to the masses and it is lethal. It blinds people from being objective about a situation that they have some or actual full control over. It estranges believers from interacting with others, their ability to empathise and puts up a barrier to finding common ground with others as they can only focus on themselves. But more alarming than this – is just how infectious it is for our children — if we give them this as a mantra for life, the chance that they will have healthy relationships and friendships with others, that their ability to co-operate and work as team-players will likely crumble and if it continues unchecked — it means rather than solve the problem — we’ll simply try to justify it by adjusting the goal posts for what is socially and professionally acceptable.

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