Musings Opinion

The Performative Nature of America

Always Camera Ready

It’s quite incredible how much society has shaped us into thinking we need to be “on” all the time. We have to be ready with the right inspirational quote, or drop a spicy take on some topic, to have a well-told story, to have the perfect Instagram-ready vacation photo no matter how you felt in the moment, or if you’re the more nuanced type, to also be mindful to not “say the wrong thing” to spark outrage online for simply sharing a thought about … anything. 

Nearly everything is now driven by platforms, or “the medium” to reference Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves to Death” – and our own behaviors in response to what’s happening on those platforms – to put our best and most curated foot forward. The person with the most polished presentation gets the most attention and moves “up” the ladder – wherever that ladder may be going. For better or worse, the most externally polished people tend to move up, especially on corporate ladders, sometimes in spite of them not being the right choice for advancement.

Over the past few years, the shift to remote work for office jobs meant being on camera a lot. It included becoming very self aware and self conscious of our appearance and our home workspaces. The peeking behind the home curtains was significant. That new requirement to make our personal homes look professional itself became a type of performance and of “being on” a stage (e.g. don’t move out of your chair, make sure your lighting isn’t terrible, that you also sound good, your background in your home working space is presentable, and so on) that I initially found quite exhausting. Have your opinions on remote vs. in-person white collar work, but it is undeniable that the experience of meeting over Zoom vs being in the same space together with other people is a very different energy that I find draining in ways unique from in-person work – which itself is also draining. Most of us were not built to be on camera like this.

I also have a newfound respect for news anchors who sit in the same chairs for hours with good posture. I need your workout routines for your cores/abs.

Do it for the Likes

As I scroll social media, I’m constantly in awe (maybe impressed?) when I consider the time, effort, and money people spend on content just for attention, likes, and views. Super fit people go shirtless in their Instagram posts or TikTok videos while they “explain” why it’s important to read books or list off signs of childhood trauma. People buy lots of equipment and lighting rigs for at-home studios for what isn’t even your paying job. And props to every person who ropes in friends or family to help stage and record some of the content I see. The commitment is truly admirable.

With easier access to technology and multimedia editing tools, more people have learned all the tricks in video editing and music selection to find the best ways to emotionally manipulate an audience. And I’m not sure how to feel about it all, but I think my eyeballs are supposed to be glued to all of it. Frankly, some of it works very well on me.  Yet, I can’t help but wrestle with what it means for us to be authentic and a “real person” when we’re all forced to live on a stage wherever we go online or in person. Who are all these people behind the entertaining content?

Social media continues to lean hard into the visual communication methods, with video currently being the leading preference for consumption. The explosive growth of TikTok is a clear example of this. Yet, I wonder where this leaves people like me who have no desire or inclination to be in front of the camera to create content and perform for others. My low frequency of selfies on any social platform is proof that I prefer to express myself behind the camera – and keyboard – instead. Where’s the chance to “make it big” and to go viral and be recognized for us non-visual performative types? Sure, good writers still get attention and article clicks, but that doesn’t go viral in the same way anymore. Maybe I’m just a guy with a personality fit for writing inane tweets, blog posts, and posting pictures of almost anything but myself.

Style Over Substance

Sometimes it’s perfectly fine to be boring and not be a spectacle.

Our culture continually rewards the bombastic, the over-the-top, the catchy message and video clip and phrasing that’s easy to cut up, quickly watch, and share. We then choose to intake only that content that either reinforces our perspectives and feelings or that which typically “eviscerates” the “other,” whoever that may be for you. And we, as everyday citizens, decided to follow what worked in mass media (news, etc.) into how we engage with each other online. It’s not about actual conversation. Instead, it’s about a performance we can put on to be seen. Along the way, we lost the ability to live with nuance, to consider the details, the unknown, to be comfortable in the in-between where everything is not black and white nor so easy to label.

Somewhere along the way, we traded difficult discourse for the easy diss. Where has that gotten us? Is this considered progress? Is anyone winning at anything here? What I take away from what I watch, read, and observe is the obviousness that we’re all out here trying to get attention. However, an increasing number of us are willing to change how we talk and sometimes do questionably moral things for eyeballs on us in spite of the cost. Is it really worth it?

Musings Rant

In Your Own Words

In the last few years, I’ve watched people I know take on new personas online and spout off with positions on topics on social media and speak in tones and absolutes that would trouble me if I heard them talk that same way in person. I’ve seen how calloused and stubborn we have become in positions on everything from politics to medicine to foreign policy to religion and everything else in between. And in most of these areas, the people I’m referring to are not professionals in those spaces but speak with the authority and audacity (pride?) of someone who is. It is baffling. Why do we feel so compelled to sound right all of the time (and everyone else wrong)? 


You Are Who You Are When Everyone’s Watching

“You are who you are when nobody’s watching.”

Stephen Fry

Be on your best behavior! Whether you are a leader in an organization or a parent with kids or someone else altogether, who we are is on display for the world to see and take in, In the minds of others, internal notes and understandings about your character and demeanor are constantly being logged, revised, erased, rewritten, tweaked. In case any of you are wondering, yes I am doing this with some or many of you on a semi-regular basis and reflect on who you are and how you became the person you are today and who you may become in the future. Call me curious about the human condition.


Sometimes You Wanna Go…

… where you can be with friends. At bars. With free waffles.

I’m a creature of habit and comfort. I go back to the things I know and am familiar with more often than exploring what’s new. I will rewatch shows such as 30 Rock or Parks and Recreation (or most recently, How I Met Your Mother) over a new show. The familiar backdrop of offices, apartments, coffee shops, or bars combined with characters I’ve come to know far too well allow me to focus on the deeper themes and tiny nuances of the stories upon subsequent repeat viewings. I start to look beyond the face value jokes and conversation to the deeper meanings and messages of what’s being said.

Musings Opinion

Words Matter

(Image: Keflavik Airport, Iceland. Its contrast to my post struck me.)

A few years ago, I wrote a couple of blog posts about the lack of interactive and thoughtful discourse (part one & part two). I’ve been thinking about this topic again recently as I’ve watched the ability to have rational conversation deteriorate in America with little visible hope that our behavior will change in the near future. We recoil any time we hear or read something that conflicts with our worldviews. Instead of pausing to absorb the message we took in and understand where that person or group is coming from, the new “proper” response is to lash out and tell them why they are wrong. How dare someone disagree with me!


Being a Good Single Friend

Post header image added mostly because 30 Rock.

I’ve been spending a fair amount of time recently thinking about the dynamics of relationships, specifically between those who are single and those who are married (or dating for a long time) and the stuff that arises in that space. The obviousness of give and take and compromising is a given, but to stop the conversation there is too simplistic. Perhaps I first need to take a closer look at myself and ask, “How am I or how can I be a good single friend? How can I best be there from where I am?”

Musings Opinion

Single Connectivity

Featured photo: Single malt Scotch for a post from a single guy’s perspective.

The older you get, the more complicated and nuanced life becomes. Now that I’m in my prime, there are types of relationships with one another that I find become more difficult to start, build, maintain, or even understand. Many of us know or learn through experience that friendships are easier to make (and walk away from) in our younger years. Often little thought or premeditated plans are put into them. It can start with the most basic of event based coincidences like being at the same playground or being put on the same dodgeball team during gym class. From there, the smallest of sparks ignites a new friendship just like that! And for the most part, these sorts of situational-based sparked friendships are still made throughout college. As an adult, you wonder why we make it harder on ourselves. We know friendships will change. But oh how we nostalgically look back at the simpler days!

Many of our friendships are forged in the midst of being in the same place at the same time, frequently revolving around our age or place in life especially during the high school through our mid-20s. We do life together as we figure it all out in a collective confusion. These shared times and spaces create experiences that come to shape and define who we are and memories we hold onto and remember quite vividly.

Major life events are called that for a reason.  They ripple through and touch every element of yourself,  your family, and social circles. They look safe enough on the surface. Right after graduation, Will gets a job offer on the other side of the country which means you only see him during holidays. Jimmy got into that masters program which means evening classes and less time to hangout. Bobby joins a sports league which infuses your core social group with new and fun faces. Jenny starts dating Brad and as they get more serious you start calling them “Benny” or “Jed”. These choices and life moments change you, even when you’re not the one going through them. It’s always interesting to think about the impact the decisions others make affect us.

Of those events, one of the biggest is when you or your friends find significant others. Hanging out starts to feel… different. What you talk about when you’re all together starts to change. You hear the occasional “we” instead of the “I” when one of them speaks. Depending on the couple, the conversations turn to “let me see if he/she is free too” even though you were only inviting one of them. Oops.

Then dating turns to marriage. The wedding and reception day come and it’s a wonderful celebration for all. A new union is very much worth having a big party for! No matter what anyone may try to do to avoid the inevitable, those relationships take a drastic shift and will look and feel very different. There is no avoiding the winds of change.

So what do you do when life trajectories aren’t on the same path anymore and you stop sharing some common goals, interests, and perhaps most importantly, free time?

There’s a number of challenges along the way for which I have found no straightforward answer yet. How do you deal with not being as close to your best friend as you once may have been? What’s an appropriate friendship level with your friend’s spouse who you didn’t know as well before they were married? How do you handle the logistics and nuances of married friends with kids?

More questions and thoughts coming soon! Feedback and response again is welcome, whether in the comments section or privately.


Current Status: Single and Present

The beginnings of a more public exploration into searching for and understanding connectivity

I’m not sure I’ve had any preconceived notions about what life would be like in my 30s. Well, that’s not entirely true. A long long time ago (back in my 20s), I would have told you that I would probably be married, probably have a kid or two bearing my last name and hopefully some of my better genetic and personality traits, and have a job I enjoy. If you’re keeping score, I got 1 out of 3. A .333 batting average in baseball is pretty good actually so by those standards I’m doing pretty well. For those interested, my bubble gum trading cards will be available for purchase online soon with collector’s editions available in the fall.

I am thankful that I have friends and family who don’t nag me about certain things like relationship status, to which I leave that categorized as “single and complicated.” I attribute the nag-free zone I’m in to distracting them with checking off a number of items on the “Life Stages to Hit to be Considered a Fully Grown Adult” list and with pretty photos in large canvas print format. I became a master of deflection and distraction from myself, even if some friends are finally catching on to and at identifying my schemes. These milestones, or Life Events as Facebook would have us label them, haven’t been done in any significant or specific order. But that’s OK as long as they’re done at some point, right? I got some good ones done:

  • College degree? Check.
  • Good job? Check.
  • Bought a house? Check.
  • Personal blog read by tens of people? Check!