Category Archives: social observations

haunting secrets

I organized a SXSW panel on global and local social play. A huge chunk of it consisted of getting people to play a game that Jane McGonigal (and Irina Shklovski and Amanda Williams and i) conjured up. The game was simple: pass on a secret that no one else at SXSW knows; that then becomes your secret; keep passing. The idea is that when i called stop, you’d have someone else’s secret as your identity and you would write this on a sticker that you’d stick to yourself for others to see. This made for some strange interactions. You ended up with men having “i had an abortion” written on them. The thing is… a month later… one of the serets still haunts me.

I steal Adderall from my kids.

I have no idea whose secret that was, whether it was a father or mother, whether the kids were young or old, whether or not it was a fabrication. Does the parent use the drug to work or to party? Does the kid have it to study or because so many kids have it when they don’t need it? I’m so used to kids stealing prescription drugs from their parents that it never dawned on me that parents would still them from their kids.

There’s also something interesting about the guilt embedded in that secret. And the idea that the Adderall is the possession of the kids and that when a parent takes it, it is stealing. (You would never say that you steal food from your kids even though you buy that for them too.)

Anyhow, i just had to share this secret because there’s something intensely personal and utterly fascinating about it. God i want to hug that mother/father and make sure that s/he is ok.

from the future looking backwards

A friend and i realized that there are numerous historical perspectives that we cannot imagine believing. The idea that people of color are a different species from white people. The idea that the world is flat. It just seems so foreign.

So i started to wonder what commonly held assumptions of today’s society will we look back on with absurdity? Any ideas?

defining religion

On Friday night, i got into a discussion with a group of friends that reminded me of the kind of discussions that used to keep us up all night long back in college. The discussion centered around religion (from fundamentalism to spirituality). Being in the heart of LA, one of my friends was trying to assert that worshipping the TV is religion. I challenged him to define religion. In doing so, i had a flashback to a comparative religions class where we spent the bulk of the semester trying to do so.

Like many categories (i.e. “game”), religion is difficult because there are no clean boundaries or common qualities. At the same time, i realized that i have an operational definition because of a single conversation i had three years ago. Religion has three components: primary religious experience + core tenets/scriptures/narratives + rituals.

Broken down, all religions have a conception of a primary religious experience – an altered state where the individual communes with a higher being (“God”). In some religions, everyone experiences (or aims to experience) the primary religious experience (i.e. “enlightenment”) while in other religions, there are a handful of enlightened people who have a direct channel to the higher being and you must speak through them.

Religions also have scriptures or stories that are collectively understood and passed down in the form of text or stories. These typically include the religion’s ideas about live and death, moral norms, ways to live life, and methods of relating to the primary religious experience. Embedded in this component is the assumption that religion is not the same as individual spirituality because it involves community and collectively understood conceptions.

Finally, religions have shared rituals and traditions that are shared by all participants. These help solidify the narratives and form the foundation for how the individual interacts with the primary religious experience. Rituals and traditions also glue the community together. Of course, the “culture” of religions comes from the combination of rituals and narratives all in relation to primary religious experiences.

As i was reading New Scientist this morning, i ran across a scientific article about the values of religion in terms of health (written by none other than Robin Dunbar, the gossip/grooming guy who is connected to the 150 number). It made me wonder about the term “religion” in academic analyses – what definition are people using? What constitutes a religion? What doesn’t?

What about in everyday language? This is a term that we throw around all the time, mostly as a way to debase others’ practices. Could American TV worship really be conceptualized as religion? Baroo?

Anyhow… that’s my thought for the weekend. What other definitions of religion do y’all use?

memories: capturing vs. creating

I’ve never been a good photographer because i’m more interested in creating memories than capturing them. As my memories fade over time, what stands out are the adventures. Living out Charlie’s Angels. Making friends with the giraffe. When i meet new people and i tell stories, i tell the stories of ridiculous, absurd times. Silver and pink puffball attacking with Waldo behind. Lectures given with I Fuck Like a Girl t-shirt.

In Learning to Labor, Willis talks about the importance of working class kids creating dramas as part of “personalised folklore” (22). I started thinking about how this fits in with what i’ve said before about life stages. Stereotypically, youth are known for “living for the moment” and not thinking about the future (much to adults’ dismay); parents are obsessed with capturing moments; and grandparents want to revisit them. Is there anything out there that documents different uses of photography in relation to age?

One of the saddest parts of getting older is that i feel as though there are far fewer adventures. Years go by with little to mark them whereas virtually all college months are marked through some drama in my head. My friends are capturing events and i think that Flickr holds more of my memories than my mind or body does. I often look at photos of me and realize that i had completely forgotten about that event. Yet, when i read all of my old blog posts from college, they followed the narrative i have in my head crafted through dramas. Am i letting technology replace my memory center? Or are things less memorable for me now?

There are certainly dramas now but more because they happen -to- me than because i create them. Of course, i haven’t gone this long without changing cities or driving cross-country since middle school.

What is the role of the adventure or the drama in memory maintenance? What is the role of technology? Are they compatible? Does a shift reflect a shift in behavior or is it created by one? I have no idea…

the demons

I’m often told that academics chase their demons. They study what they can’t understand in themselves, following their demons out of a desire for resolution.

I’ve also noticed that many of my professional colleagues work to avoid their demons. They travel to outrun them and work so excessively in fear that their demons may confront them.

I started wondering what it means to be a workaholic academic. Does it mean that you’re chasing your demons as they chase you? Or does it mean that you find masochistic joy in constantly facing those demons? Or does it mean that you become your demons?

fun party invitations

Last night, i went to a housewarming at the house of George and Jason. Their party invitation was hysterical so i had to share:

Come warm the house and drink the beer while we BBQ and dance the night away. In order to maximize your fun, we’re set up a strict timetable for events. Please coordinate your attendance accordingly.

4pm Jason attempts to light BBQ; George and Jason have their first beer
4:10 Jason realizes he has no skillz
4:15 Jason douses BBQ with highly combustible compounds
4:16 Fire is once again rediscovered by man
4:30 George finishes her fourth beer; Jason still nursing his first
5:00 George takes over BBQ; Jason passes out on neighbor’s lawn
6:00 Jason watches George blow smoke rings
7:00 George and Jason arm-wrestle for who has to take out the trash
7:13 First guest arrives
8:00 Jason threatens George with lawsuits for being funnier than him
9:00 George threatens to delete Jason’s flickr account
9:30 Jason uploads photo of George threatening him
10:00 Prince comes on the iPod and a dance-truce is declared
11:00 …

Where: George and Jason’s new pad
San Francisco, CA 94114
drunk directions: (510) xxx-xxxx

What to bring: Something to BBQ or drink
The Noise
The Funk
It On
Up Baby
The House Down

God will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger

During the elections last week, Dover Pennsylvania chose to replace their school board with eight new members. Why? The incumbents had supported “intelligent design” and the citizens were outraged and expressed it by voting. Well, this did not please Pat Robertson who issued a pox on all their houses:

“I’d like to say to the good citizens of Dover: if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God, you just rejected Him from your city… And don’t wonder why He hasn’t helped you when problems begin, if they begin. I’m not saying they will, but if they do, just remember, you just voted God out of your city. And if that’s the case, don’t ask for His help because he might not be there” — Pat Robertson on The 700 Club

I read this and my jaw just fell slack on the floor. I know that i haven’t paid much attention to Pat Robertson lately but since when is it permissible for judgment to be made by anyone but God? And how does this rhetoric of hatred and vengeance represent God? And let’s assume that the citizens of Dover did poor by God – since when can you not ask for forgiveness? Since when will He not be there?

Somehow, the version of Christianity that i learned entirely missed this type of hate. If Jesus were to descend again, he would be lynched in a matter of seconds by those who worship him for trying to help homeless people, drug addicts and prostitutes. How is it that people cannot see the problems and hypocrisy of such a hateful interpretation of the Bible?

(For the loving side of Christianity, check out Jo and Cross Left)

on books

Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in: but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents.
– Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena

drowning during Halloween in the Castro

As i was walking down 16th to go home, i realized i was in deep shit. The crowds began at Mission and were getting thicker and thicker as i headed towards the Castro. By the time i reached my apartment, i was hyperventilating, surrounded by a solid wall of drunken, costumed people who were clearly not from my neighborhood (and i doubt from my city). They were loud, aggressive and generally unpleasant. They had no respect for my street or my desire to sleep. So i sat huddled in a ball with my kitten cat watching all of the funny people from my second floor perch.

I should note that while i love crowded indoor events, crowded outdoor ones terrify me. Full on claustrophobia. If i can leave a crowded situation, i can be in a crowded situation. But not when i look down from my window and see non-stop mob. Eek.

All of the crazy humans were using my dead-end street as a porta potty. They were pissing everywhere, all over my steps and my stoop. I must’ve watched 200 guys piss on my street. And then my neighbors came up with the most hysterical plan. They got a big bucket and poured it from the second story onto the next guy pissing on their steps. He was sopping and really pissed off. I was laughing hysterically.

san francisco housing market

Driving from Mission Dolores to Noe on Sunday, i saw over a dozen different “Open House” signs for houses for sale. On one corner, a block from the park, there was literally an open house sign on each corner. Baroo? Walking around on Monday, i saw a bunch of For Sale signs. And then today, two more popped up on my way to work. What on earth is going on? It’s October, not May. I’ve never seen so many For Sale signs in this city, let alone a bazillion in my shi-shi neighborhood.

Now, i don’t know shit about housing markets except that San Francisco’s is terrifying and that it costs a lot more to buy than to rent on a monthly basis, even if you can get a 20% downpayment together.

Are things actually erupting? I always thought the bubble conversation was bullshit. But what is going on? Why are there soooo many houses for sale?