Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Are We Good?

Well? … Are we?

I’ll back up.

Recently, I’ve had occasion to consider the state of a few friendships. No worries; this is not dire. It might be the opposite of dire. It might be right on the edge of complacency. Not all the way there, but within rock-throwing distance.

Earlier this week, I saw several posts right in a row from Facebook friends of mine (yes, we’ve gone to that social-media world) that suggested that Facebook’s mighty Algorithm For Predicting Your Online Viewing Wishes (Or Ours, Re-Packaged As Yours) had been causing all us Facebookers to only see posts from about two dozen of our online friends. So, if you only have that many, you’re in luck, I guess? But if you have ten times that, is it possible you’re missing posts from the rest of your community? LOTS of them? How many births, deaths, snow day announcements, jokes, political screeds, ESSENTIAL TRUTHS!! have you missed, just because the Evil Lords of Facebook are spoilsports?

Comment below,” said the posts, “so that we can thwart this Dire Turn of Events!”

So I did. What’s the harm? Keeping in social-media contact with somebody? No harm there, regardless of whether this Rumor turns out to be True.

And then I went to Snopes.com, and their fact-checkers pretty roundly pooh-pooh’d the rumor. Facebook’s doing a lot of weird things, they said, but this ain’t one of them.

Okay. Crisis averted. Stand down from red alert. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.

Meanwhile, though, concurrently with that little (extremely) minor day of frantic … I also noticed posts from Facebook friends of mine that – when their names floated in front of my eyes for the first time in a while – made me realize that indeed, I was seeing their names for the first time in a while. Was it an algorithmic thing? Or just that I hadn’t scrolled down very far (or very often) in my News Feed lately, so that it was pretty much an effect of my Real Life taking precedence over my Online Existence?

The latter, I suspect. I can only be a conspiracy theorist about so many things, after all.

But, I thought, “it’s good to see those names.” And to bask for a moment in a good memory or two that we got to take part in, long ago or within the last few months. And especially good to think that, in all probability, the people attached to those names are still my friends, even if we haven’t interacted much online, or In Real Life, for a while.

I am fortunate, I further mused, to have a pack of people in my life about whom I never have to wonder, “are we still friends? Do we still care like we did once?” I enjoy seeing their posts, and I’ve amassed enough Likes and Comments to suspect that they enjoy seeing mine.

A lot of those people, well, I don’t get to see them in person more than once or twice a year. And it doesn’t seem to damage the relationships.

When social media first got going, I wondered if it would take the fun out of meeting in person on those semi- or fully-annual occasions. Before Facebook, by whose good offices you can kinda peek into other people’s lives and see what’s going on (or at least what they want the world to see is going on) … and, curiously, during and after Facebook, my college homecoming weekends have still been full of “Hey! How are ya! What’s going on! What’s new!” conversations. When we gather to open up another Drum Major Academy summer clinic week, we fall right back into all the prior silliness.

It’s good, every so often, to check in on the people whose avatars I see more than I see their actual live selves. But even if for some reason we don’t, very much … I like the idea that there are people in my circle of relationships about whom I don’t have to worry, “have we forgotten each other? Do we still think as fondly of each other as we used to?”

Sounds complacent, I know.

It would be, yes … if I didn’t have a pretty good sense that the answer to those questions, in a great many cases, is still yes. Whether we’ve known each other for forty years … or forty months … or forty weeks.

It’s a nice sense to be able to have. Especially in a world which, at the moment, seems intent on providing only the worst outcomes, the most craven and cruel attitudes, the least humane or friendly expressions.

Are we good?

Yeah. Yeah, we are. And no mere algorithm can come between us. Cue the violins. Get me Irving Berlin on the line, stat.

Good not to take this for granted. Note to self: make a retroactive New Year’s resolution to actively Not Take This For Granted.

But yeah. We’re good.

Advertisements

February 7, 2018 Posted by | Facebook, friends, social media | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Worthwhile

‘Twould be hypocritical of me to crack on someone who seemed to be writing about topics about which they weren’t exactly experts.

Exhibit A: … this Blogge, hello!

Talk about not staying in my lane.

So with that in mind, I shall tread carefully.

 

Seems like almost every year at this time, someone leaps onto social media to say some intemperate thing about that curious activity about which I swoon, namely, The Marching Band. Makes sense: if you watch TV on New Year’s Day, you may be subjected to more sights and sounds of the marching arts than on any other TV day, what with the Rose Parade and various college football bowl games and all.

So it makes sense that people who are apt to be critical or prone to mockery, regarding this activity, are going to be that way right around the New Year.

And so it was, yesterday, with a fellow called Bill James.

Honestly, if I wanted to save time … I could just direct you to a piece I posted here three years ago; you could read it and every time you read the words “Jim Rome” you could replace them mentally with “Bill James” and be just as far ahead. You would be forgiven if you did this. Or if you didn’t.

Mr. James leapt onto Twitter and, as you do, Tweeted:

Does the world really need marching bands? I know I am [in] trouble for even asking this question, but what do you think?”

And offered Twitter followers a poll, the results of which happened to end up 88 to 12 in favor of “Yes, we need bands”.

A futile poll, as it happened, but 7 to 1 in any sport constitutes a convincing win, I should think.

Myself? Rather than losing my ever-lovin’ mind – as a couple of my colleagues have done – trying to change Bill James’ ever-lovin’ mind – which is futile because anyone who posts an opinion online and is then pushed back against … digs in that much harder and We Shall, We Shall Not Be Moved – I merely sighed, “ah, he’ll never understand, and it’s his loss.”

True enough, at least to me – a fellow who understands that the marching arts can be dreadful if done poorly, BUT if they’re designed and done with a certain amount of skill and caring can be positively transcendent, even if the purveyors do wear feathers on their heads. So there’s that bias built-in.

 

My curiosity got the better of me, though; and so I peeked at the replies to Mr. James’ Tweet. The replies were predictably – how dare you, sir – but it turns out that Mr. James felt the need to engage with many of the aggrieved respondents. And in the process, he revealed a couple of interesting things about himself.

First, I guess maybe I should have known who Bill James even was.

Not that jazz composer who wrote the theme from “Taxi”.

Not that fellow who co-starred with Will Smith in that romantic comedy movie of a few years back.

He’s a baseball writer. Who invented “Sabermetrics”.

Sabermetrics is the empirical analysis of baseball, especially baseball statistics that measure in-game activity. … Sabermetricians collect and summarize the relevant data from this in-game activity to answer specific questions. The term is derived from the acronym SABR, which stands for the Society for American Baseball Research, founded in 1971. The term sabermetrics was coined by Bill James, who is one of its pioneers and is often considered its most prominent advocate and public face.”

Mm’-kay.

See, I knew I should have recognized that name right away. But I guess I didn’t.

And, more importantly and with less needless snark … something else that Mr. James revealed about himself was this: it turns out that he wasn’t, after all, violating the rule of “only write about what you know”.

One Twitter respondent noted, “That’s a funny question coming from the ultimate sports nerd. Let the music folks have their fun.” Mr. James shot back:

I was in the Marching Band in high school. I was on the field at the halftime of many football games. In retrospect, I’d like to have those 500 hours back.”

In retrospect, it was a shame that there wasn’t one of the Drum Major Academy drum majors in charge of that band, as that student leader might have been able to get to Mr. James before his attitude went all toxic and he either quit the band or destroyed it. (I know; that drum major would have needed a time machine, since Mr. James’ age is closer to seventy than seventeen; you get my point, I trust.)

Sorry! I’m sorry. That was not how I meant this to go. I really wasn’t going to be all snarky about this. I was going to let all it roll off my back. I was going to stay positive.

 

I know a good way to stay positive. It’s this angle:

When another Twitter respondent wished Mr. James would respect the amount of work that goes into being in a marching band, Mr. James shot back:

I respect their work. I just think I would respect if more if they worked on something more worthwhile.”

Mm’-kay.

Is it worthwhile to commit all that time and effort to marching in a band?

Is it worthwhile to commit all that time and effort to being a Sabermetrician?

Is it worthwhile to make solar panels?

Is it worthwhile to paint sunsets?

Is it worthwhile to learn how to play chess? To play autoharp?

Is it worthwhile to create computer graphics software that will allow more realistic renderings of video-game backgrounds?

Is it worthwhile to write a blog?

Is it worthwhile to commit ridiculous amounts of time and effort to activities that other people don’t understand, and can’t understand, and sometimes even mock?

Sure it is.

Because the alternative is having a population full of people who aren’t curious, aren’t creative, don’t know how to commit time and effort to something … but instead are just drones who only know enough to be “prepared for the 21st century workforce”. Or who would rather mock the people who are curious, creative, and willing to sweat a little – because throwing Internet snark is just easier. Far less risky. Much easier to get attention any which way one can. Look at me and my disdain for people whose activity I think isn’t worthwhile. I made you respond. I win.

Unless, apparently, you get under the skin of the band people, some of whom Tweet things at you like..

It appears the father of Sabermetrics has not found a new audience amongst band members.”

…or…

We used to be awfully quiet about you, because we had no idea who you were. Must suck to be insignificant, until the bandos come after you.”

 

Then it doesn’t make you come out looking like that much of a winner.

At which point it doesn’t seem as worthwhile, I guess.

January 2, 2018 Posted by | arts, band, baseball, DMA, Internet, marching band, music, social media, sports, Twitter | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We’re Done Here

I try to think of myself as a pretty good listener.

Partly because my early college years were so full of me bending friends’ ears so often, as I tried to navigate this or that social or academic minefield, that I’ve since wanted to try and make it up to them, by paying it forward.

But also, it’s not a bad quality to aspire to, just to deal with people well.

My goal – maybe not overtly, or always in the forefront of my mind, but still, my goal – is to try to see things from the other fellow’s perspective. It can be hard to reach common ground if you only stare at your own feet.

It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth the effort. Even if you didn’t reach that common ground, well, Yoda was wrong: there is “try”.

I could say that the last month, or three, or eighteen, have been challenging from this perspective, upon my social media feed. But it’s actually not completely true, at least in this one regard: as it works out, the great majority of folks with whom I have Facebook Friendships happen to share a lot of my political views. Thanks to one thing and another, we seem to share the same attitudes about how you treat other people, even beyond the battle lines of modern politics. Politically, it is without question an echo chamber. But (and not every online outlet can lay claim to this) it’s also a place that I can visit which features a whole lot of sympathy and empathy, a whole lot of people showing support for each other. The concrete, actual world surely could use more of this.

I’m actually pleased to say that I have several friends (Facebook- as well as brick-and-mortar) who identify as Republicans – Eisenhower Republicans, to be sure, but it technically counts – with whom I regularly have constructive conversations and, just as importantly, I have a pretty good time hanging out with. Online or in person.

This is not about that.

This isn’t about party lines, and although you may have trouble believing it, it isn’t about the current occupant of the Oval Office either.

It took all of the most recent month, or three months, or really eighteen months. I was right on the verge, but several times I fought the urge. And tonight, I finally did it.

I unfriended somebody.

For a long time, I’d made a quite conscious effort – after reading one of this gentleman’s posts or observing whatever link was being proffered – to keep his contributions around. To not push him away, virtually speaking. After all, never a bad idea to see how the opposition is thinking, what their approach is – whether it’s politics or football or what. A new thought may occur to you … or at least you can use that “opposition research” to hone your argument.

And this gentleman’s posts and links had consisted of thoughts that I definitely didn’t agree with, but they were always fitting into one of two categories: earnest opinion about policy, or snarky remarks about folks on my side of the political aisle. The swings that he took were always metaphorical.

This little meme was different, though.

Not to fall into the “both sides are just as bad” trap – because I happen to believe that on a great many counts, in a great many ways, one side is in fact substantively worse than the other. But I do acknowledge that in the world of pointed snarky memes, one political side doesn’t have a total monopoly on the sort of meme humor that cuts pretty close to the bone.

I can appreciate clever a lot more than I can appreciate ham-handed. Although sometimes ham-handed has its place.

Again, the meme that finally caused me to pare down my list of Friends by one … was substantively different than the usual.

It was effectively a two-panel cartoon.  Panel #1 had a caption that read, “HOW PROTESTERS SEE THEMSELVES”, and the captioned image was a photograph of half a dozen people who clearly were part of some protest march or demonstration or other, protesting and demonstrating passionately.

Panel #2’s caption read, “HOW I SEE THEM”.

The image was of a series of speed bumps.

Whether or not you remember the recent terrorist attack in Nice, France, during which a man drove a truck straight through throngs of strolling tourists and killed many of them, doesn’t matter.

If you post that meme – if you attach your name to it, and thereby declare that you are standing behind the sentiment – then you are, very simply, advocating violence. Possibly lethal violence. You are saying that you think it’s okay to mow down other human beings with a motor vehicle. You are, further, making a joke out of it.

Aaaaaaand we’re done here.

I’m done with you.

Doesn’t matter whether you support Trump or Trudeau or a trumpet or a truffle. Doesn’t matter whether you’re a conservative or a conservationist or a concierge or a contra dancer.

I am done with you.

There are many more mature ways to express an opinion. There are many more humane ways to deal with other people. There are other people out there who are mature, or humane, or in many cases both, that I would prefer to deal with — whether I agree with them politically or not.

I won’t go to my unFriend’s house and throw things at it in order to let him know. In this case, he’ll only know that I’m done with him when it occurs to him that he hasn’t seen my posts in a while. (Given the capricious way that Facebook’s algorithms cycle people in and out of other people’s feeds, it may not strike him at all.) Social media allows me to excise his view of the world from my immediate daily awareness with a simple mouse click. No muss, no fuss.

I know; it’s a passive-aggressive way of dealing with this.

There are enough aggressive-aggressive behaviors in the world to contend with, which increasingly we need to address, though; and it’s not always crucial to fight fire with fire.

But I just don’t have it in me to try to engage with somebody who thinks people are speed bumps.

February 22, 2017 Posted by | current events, Facebook, friends, humor, Internet, news, social media | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment