Monday, September 1, 2014

Outside Influence

Note: This will not be a good blog post. It will not be a good blog post because I have ruminated for too long on how to approach this topic.If too many cooks can spoil the broth then too many opposing incomplete thoughts can ruin the essay. When I first attempted to write on the topic of Influence, I tried to make sweeping generalizations about humans en masse, to reveal (in my trademark fashion) that everyone at their core can be separated into one of three generic boxes regardless of the subject. While I do not want to discount the possibility of the above being true for this topic, I have found it too laborious to narrow down and interpret (read: pre digest) all of themes that I want to touch on. I have decided then to take the cowards way out and instead write about my own experience and hope that some of what I say  rings true for you too dear reader.

For the sake of this discussion I submit to you that I am an average person with a slightly elevated level of awareness. I possess the rare ability to observe and understand my average thoughts and express them intellectually as though they are intuitive or profound. Because of this I have decided that as far as average people are concerned the path by which I have been influenced in my life should loosely resemble the path of other average people.

The big question I am driving at is: "Where do outside influences come from?" While parents, siblings and friends help form the skeleton of who we are, we eventually evolve into our own distinct selves and in doing so we develop our own likes and dislikes that heavily alter our individual values and personalities. Also, I can't discount mentioning our Gaia given abilities where influence is concerned. Question: What came first the robot or the socially inept guy with a penchant for mathematics and engineering? It is rare to be opposed to exploiting our innate abilities to derive pleasure, self worth or meaning. While I realize that many of our influences are intertwined with our abilities, I also realize that many of them are not, as such, I'd like to explore those.

To begin, where did my outside influences even come from? I fancy myself a man of great artistic taste yet a simple glance of my music, movie and book collection will reveal this claim to be counterfeit. If  asked, I could produce a small list of credible artists to cite as my influences but that wouldn't be the whole story. You see, for every five minutes I spend sourcing out provocative, inspiring material I waste the rest of that hour trolling the internet and other outlets for mindless, repetitive garbage.

To add fuel to this pathetic admission, I no longer have to source out information that I am interested in because I have either purchased it, bookmarked it or added it to my Netflix Queue. If I am being generous, I might spend about 5 minutes per day attempting to have a useful thought. Even where Netflix is concerned I don't delve too deeply. I don't hit the search tab, I don't probe for a gritty independent documentary about a worldwide problem explained through the microcosm of tuna fishing. Netflix tells me what I want to see and although I rarely agree with its automated selections, I eventually find something to watch dispassionately for a half hour or so.

I claim to have an open mind but I stay away from untested food, unvetted friends, unknown places....things. While  I have the capacity to hear and understand an alternative point of view... I don't want to. On a subconscious level I've already decided. I can change my mind temporarily, in front of an audience, in the face of glaring evidence that contrasts my perspective, but I won't do it for long. In my quiet moments I will mull over the information in my head and slowly retreat to my original thought on the matter.  In fact, if there is anything that supersedes my apathy toward incoming influence, it's the act of fortifying my walls of ignorance.  I will google for hours on end clicking through 46 pages of results scanning for a definition or quote that justifies my existing stance so I don't have to change one iota of how I think.

When people outright recommend things to me, I run from them. When close friends or relatives hand pick and deliver things to me that they think I'd like, I run even farther. What makes this all a little scary then is the realization that most of my outside influences probably come from the internet...and not just the internet but the lazy spoon fed part that predigests ideas for me.The internet, a place that is as loud as it is vast, that distracts more than it illuminates. An exacerbation of racism, sexism and stupidity, eradicator of the moral and ethical codes that we are forced to uphold in civilized society.

Yet, this in itself is not the real danger. The world is full of freaks, nutters, rapists, murders, anarchists....Taylor Swift fans. No one person (self included) who is moderately grounded is going to commit heinous acts against people because of a vague reference on the internet.  Good and bad have always been defined, the only fight has been over middle ground, middle ground which I fear is being distorted by people like me.

The Facebookers, The Twitterers, The Redditors, The Pinterestors, The Instagrammers etc are passively affecting the things that I vaguely, in a roundabout way, don't mind addressing in 5 minute snippets or 140 character of snark. My non existent attention span requires constant stimulus from id based outlets. I don't have time to process information, I just want to click on the thing and have that thing make perfect sense all at once.  Thankfully, I rarely have to choose what I consider valuable because any website worth its salt has a ranking system to push the most popular, and by association the most valuable articles to the top. To keep things fair, rankings are based on user votes and if I so choose, I can be a voter and help influence the path of popularity.

Have I mentioned what a burden voting is? I mean, I know what I like and what I hate but I don't know what I sorta like and what I sorta hate.  This puts me in an uncomfortable situation because every Facebook post forces me to make a decision. Underneath each post hovers the "like" button. If someone on my friends list posts a Ghostbusters quote it's a no brainer insta-like. However, if one of my friends posts a sciency article that I find vaguely interesting I won't necessarily "like it" even though I don't necessarily dislike it. Yet, what I communicate indirectly through my passivity is: "Your sciency article sucks and no one loves you."

In addition to this, many sites have added a dislike button which give me the power to bury and destroy internet postings, which has revealed to me a strange phenomenon. More often than not I am drawn out of my voting apathy to downvote something that has already been poorly received. A negative reaction to something I otherwise would have had no opinion on is produced simply from others dislking it before I saw it. Conversely, sometimes I will view an article and notice that it is on the precipice of voter death and I think to myself "Well, this level of criticism seems overt." and I find myself upvoting/liking something that I otherwise wouldn't have liked. I seem to be participating exclusively in a world that I have absolutely no interest in, yet my boredom and requirement for stimulus entice me to repeatedly feed back into it. 

But what's the alternative, do my own research on my individual interests and link them on my Twitter feed? Write long winded blowhardy posts that subtly instruct people how to live without directly stating it, all the while being ignored? And if I'm not ignored then my opinions that I've compiled and delivered as a reaction to the stranglehold of popular culture "hive thinking", the only responses I will receive will be from like minded individuals whose strongest desire is to fortify their own walls of ignorance...that seems about right.

I do remember being influenced though in the distant past. A mistake of age is the delusion that "everything was better back then." Back then was better because I wasn't dead inside. Back then was better because I still had hope. Back then I wasn't so desperate, scared, lonely and surrounded by death. Back then I had a force field from reality, back then I was insulated, back then I didn't have to deal with it, back then I made mistakes before they became choices. 

Back then music and movies still meant something, they activated my wonder and creative ambition. I idolized those creative folks, they were giants, they had answers, they held the truth. But then they got old....I got old too.  I grew into their world like a frayed sweater and began to see what they some cases I saw more. As my heroes aged they began to falter, the sought out greed and comprised their ideals....they became people and revealed themselves to be fools.  All through my formative years I was building a personality that was in large part in line with who I thought my heroes were...but they weren't. Now here I am, a person changed but adrift without answers. 

But seriously, I gotta go, the Friends cast just reunited on Jimmy Kimmel and I absolutely need to watch that video clip.