This is Bullshit, and So Can You!by samgimbel on 10/28/2011
This post is going to be a little different than previous ones. It’ll probably mention social media, #OWS, and Steve Jobs though, so keep reading if you like those things.
So you know those moments when you turn on the television, see a news story, flip to another news station, see the same story, and so on down the line (except for Fox News, which will be saying” [news story] hates America”)? Yea, we’ve all been there. We’ve all taken a moment when this occurs to think “Man, this must be important. Better listen to one of these guys and have an opinion.” Frequently enough this thought ends with a lot of metaphorical head-turning to see if everyone else is doing the same. We check teh twitterz, maybe mention the situation to a buddy, or write someone an email about it. If anything, social media has made it much easier for us to find where we stand in the scope of human discourse and allows us to effortlessly gather reactions to our thoughts and opinions. It does seem that this was inevitable–we’re social creatures, after all!
But how many times have you taken the time to think about the actual story being reported? Does it deserve the attention it’s being given? Or, more generally, how often do you stop and think “wait, why am I doing this?” and had your brain come up blank? In my mind it’s a pretty regular occurrence, and all too often I enter that place I affectionately call “alienville” in which I feel like I must be the only person in the world swimming against the current. I question whether others share my concern over whether red-state/blue-state differences really constitute the whole of political participation, or whether driving five blocks to the post office is the best use of gasoline/money/muscles. In fact, it leads to a lot of feelings of isolation that have caused me trouble from time to time.
Truly, it’s not fun to feel that way. However, being a natural skeptic and a bit of a curmudgeon, it’s a place I’ve found myself frequently, especially when discussing technology, music, and social trends (three of my four favorite things, along with a good homemade brisket, which rarely comes up in conversation). It can be difficult in this situation to find courage and validity in your beliefs simply because they are uncommon or carry stigma in our society (e.g. I find myself coming up with ideas outside the usual scope of most economic/political discussions, and find I’m labeled as “radical” when discussing gender, but in fact I feel my approach is quite pragmatic). And without that courage, without that sense that your ideas are sound, you are unlikely to share them or to support similar ideas.
A quick note: While it can be frustrating to find myself in this place, I recognize that I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m a white male with a good education living in America without any disabilities and a good job and support network. Trust me–I’m not complaining, but I know that all people regardless of social location go through the same experience of alienation that I do, and I don’t hesitate to say that I identify with it.
So it’s with that sense of alienation that I can’t help thinking how some visionaries like Steve Jobs or Mohandas Gandhi must have felt growing up. They each had [way more impressive] ideas about how the world should work that fell outside the normal course of human thought in much the same way you and I do every day. In the case of Gandhi, these ideas were met with hostility and even violence, while Mr. Jobs simply got fired for his, but the story is the same: people with very different ideas faced opposition and confronted it head-on. Thankfully for Gandhi (and conditional thankfulness to Mr. Jobs depending on your opinion of the man) he was able to overcome that adversity and leverage it into strength for the greater good. And in so doing, these and other visionaries throughout history found that many people share their views and are willing–nay, enthusiastic–to support a cause and become a force of change. These people realized that they were not alone.
A similar thing is happening with the #Occupy Wall Street movement, too. Thousands of people are coming to a single realization: our futures are being held hostage by a small minority of greedy people, and it is time for change. Their ideas are just as revolutionary, just as far outside the everyday scope of conversation as those of other singular visionaries, and that confuses many people but comforts and excites many, many more. It’s a collective revelation that all those moments spent feeling alienated were based on the faulty assumption that no one agrees with you, that no one could possibly be experiencing things from your perspective.
Amazingly, this was all accomplished through simple information sharing via twitter, youtube, and the web. It was helped along by many bungles by police and government, but the driving force behind its meteoric rise has been the effective use of communication to rally people behind a unifying message. The same is true of previous revolutions, whether thought or political. A successful campaign always has a unified message. For Apple it took off with “Think Different.” For Gandhi, it was civil disobedience that brought change to India. In either case, it was an idea communicated clearly and with little or no regard for the status quo that won the day.
We’ve seen a lot of successful viral campaigns spread sentiment through the Arab world in the past year and this should be no surprise. People are using simple web tools to break down walls that until now separated us from others who understand and commiserate with our point of view. This ease of information sharing has led to political revolutions, services that make the process of funding ideas easier (Kickstarter), and marketplaces that connect artists with their intended audience. In its purest form it has revolutionized the way we realize our ideas. At its most potent, it has toppled governments.
And in its most basic form, the way you share information can revolutionize the way in which you participate in everyday discussions. Simply by having the courage and the means to post your ideas somewhere where others will read it enables you to find the support and the criticism you need to shape your passion into communicable ideas, visions, or products. It has never been easier to take a thought and turn it into a reality.
More importantly, it gives you new avenues by which to question the thoughts of others. So the next time you turn on the television and have that “wait, does everyone agree that this is important?” moment, don’t bother with forming an opinion–trust your gut and have the courage to re-frame the issue in a public place. Wait for a reaction–or don’t–you’ve acted on your instinct because you believe there might be people who agree with you. And besides, in a space as large as Twitter or Facebook, who cares if you get nasty replies? Contrary to what services like Klout would have you believe, your social media prowess is not dictated by how other people interact with you. Your communication-self-worth–online and off–is defined by your engagement, how honest you are, and how critical your thinking is–a metric that no service can reliably measure.
So take a chance, put your ideas out there, and quit parroting the news! You have these great tools, great ideas, and the sense that talking heads rarely give us relevant truths. Get out there and start saying crazy shit! You’ll be surprised at how many people really do care about what you have to say, and you never know when yours may be the observation that fuels the next #OWS.
In the words of Gandhi, revolutionary extraordinaire, be the change you want to see in the world.