Monday, January 18, 2010

Schnarch's Writings Applied to the Age of Social Networking

It's been a while since I've made mention of Schnarch in this space. I saw a post over at the New York Times blog Schott's Vocab that reminded me of his writings on two-choice dilemmas.

The term being discussed was e-ttenuation, which is attributed to Raymond Tallis. The post quotes an essay by Madeleine Bunting published in the Guardian:
... faced with such an abundance of interesting choices, there is a reluctance to commit and a provisionalism which promotes grazing, keeping options open. Above all, there is a paradigm of contractualism: relationships are measured by the question “what’s in it for me?”

When I read this, I heard echoes of Passionate Marriage (p.298):
None of us wants to face our dilemma(s) and choose one option over the other. Manic attempts to "do it all" maintain our secret fantasy that we can have it all -- and never have to face our anxiety. The 1960s free-love ethic that "it's unrealistic to expect one person to meet all your needs" subtly reassures us that we can have everything we want (all we have to do is spread our needs around several people). But decisions, commitments, friendship, and integrity only become meaningful in a world of finite options.

In Constructing the Sexual Crucible, Schnarch quotes Tristam Engelhardt:
(Friendship) is also a sacrifice. Since humans are not gods or goddesses, friendship entails the abandonment of other possibilities. Humans have limited resources of energy and time. The person who has a hundred friends has none, or is a god.

Perhaps once the craze over social networking websites has subsided, we will interpret it as a period where society was seduced by the connectivity of the web into believing that friendship could be as free as love was thought to be back in the 60s.

I sense that the seeds of disillusionment with social networking sites are beginning to take root.

In late December, the New York Times published an article about high schoolers making a pact to reduce Facebook dependency.

Then word broke out about a parody site called the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine. The virality of the site is a hint that there are good number people who are ready to unplug.

Finally, Bunting's own remarks point to another issue with social networking:
It is not technology per se at fault, but how it is used, and in particular how it combines with another equally powerful phenomenon – commercialisation; the assessment that everyone and everything has a price. It is the two combined which I would argue are so corrosive to our capabilities to create and sustain relationships of depth and durability.

It's not just person-to-person relationships that are commercialized. The site itself commercializes on a relationship of its own, just as Danah Boyd writes in her blog apophenia:
Let's take this scenario for a moment. Bob trust Alice. Bob tells Alice something that he doesn't want anyone else to know and he tells her not to tell anyone. Alice tells everyone at school because she believes she can gain social stature from it. Bob is hurt and embarrassed. His trust in Alice diminishes. Bob now has two choices. He can break up with Alice, tell the world that Alice is evil, and be perpetually horribly hurt. Or he can take what he learned and manipulate Alice. Next time something bugs him, he'll tell Alice precisely because he wants everyone to know. And if he wants to guarantee that it'll spread, he'll tell her not to tell anyone.

Facebook isn't in the business of protecting Bob. Facebook is in the business of becoming Alice. Facebook is perfectly content to break Bob's trust because it knows that Bob can't totally run away from it. They're still stuck in the same school together. But, more importantly, Facebook *WANTS* Bob to twist Facebook around and tell it stuff that it'll spread to everyone. And it's fine if Bob stops telling Facebook the most intimate stuff, as long as Bob keeps telling Facebook stuff that it can use to gain social stature.

Why? No one makes money off of creating private communities in an era of "free." It's in Facebook's economic interest to force people into being public, even if a few people break up with Facebook in the process.

Perhaps this exploitation of relationships will be what drags the collective consciousness into the crucible.

The shrinking number of active bloggers that once were counted among my unspoken social graph is also evidence of this fatigue. It's hard at times for me to imagine just how many posts I read and wrote during 2006 and 2007. Now I can go for days and weeks without corresponding with these erstwhile net friends, perhaps validating just how easily friendships can dissolve online.

Still, I don't think the friends I made writing here could be discarded purely as shallow. Indeed, the conversations we had online were deeper than what is usually found on a Facebook wall. We were struggling with big questions on our relationships, perhaps things that we weren't ready to share with friends in our real lives. As for me, it was more of a testament about the lack of depth in my real-life friendships, which I let subside horribly during the deterioration of my marriage.

What matters now is that I continue to work on building real life friendships where I can be my authentic self, finally accepting that by living in the real, I must let go of the promise of many for the rewards of deeper, and fewer, friendships.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Late Night Listening XXXVII: Darker Days

One of the things I love about my Friday and Saturday night radio shows is that they introduce me to so many new things. I heard this gem from Widespread Panic on WTTS-FM's Groove Show.

This song does a good job of capturing the mood I've been in since I went back to work. Somber, drained, yet hopeful that lighter days will return.

Dark day program – pen to page
Nothing’s broken – show our age
Feed the flame – tears enrage
Wait till morning to face the day

Now we’re toiling over
Thoughts and mixed emotions
Hard to really see
What’s lying underneath
Like a roller coaster
Up and down just floating
Touch the grass and leaves
Faces in the trees

Kick ‘em over – the darkened days
Tip ‘em over – the darkened days
Door is open – light the way

So what's got me in this funk? I think it's a culmination of many things, some of it is valid concern, part of it is just the pain of going through changes.

The snow and bitter cold has been a drain on my energy, and that's just the start.

In the wee hours of Sunday, Jan 3, we had an outage caused by a runaway process on a key server, which caused a cascade of server failures. My systems engineer, support engineer, and I spent two and a half hours on IM and phone trying to untangle the mess.

I started of the week by working at home. I had my daughters over the weekend, and as Sunday was drawing to a close, my older daughter was starting to look tired and droopy. By the time they got into the tub for bath, she said, "I don't know if I'm going to puke," which is her way of saying, "Get met to the toilet. STAT!" She got sick two or three times before the night was over.

STBX's first day at her new job was on Monday, and she had no place for the kids to stay with the older daughter being sick, so upon learning the the older daughter had gotten sick, she asked me whether I would be able to work from home. Since the meetings I had on my plate could be done by phone, I agreed to do so. The girls stayed an extra night, and they enjoyed having an extra dash of daddy time before they went back to school.

STBX's schedule is going to be variable these first couple of weeks because she's still in training, but once things settle down, she will be working three days a week with 12-shifts. One of those days will be on the weekend, which will coincide with when I will have the girls.

I came back to work having to deal with the president in a tizzy similar to that meltdown back in November. She was bent out of shape by problems that were being encountered by the three biggest customers, and she had a list of things in mind that she wanted fixed.

She tried to blunt the criticism that this was falling back into the trap of wasting development resources to mollify complaints of a few customers by making the hand-waving argument that if these customers are running into it, then other customers are, which isn't really the case.

There was a meeting of with members of the client services on these issues. Prior to the meeting, I asked for the raw data upon which the complaints had been based along with some narratives on the genesis of the problems. What emerged was a picture of scattered data points and bad analysis.

The more I work with the president, the more I am reminded of Master Shake from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, who had the unique capacity for drawing the least reasonable conclusions given a set of facts (c.f. Master Shake's analytical capabilities in Bus of the Undead).

My team wasn't happy because the technical solutions were being formulated and presented to us without our input, which was different from what we had done in the past, where we were given a description of what problems we were trying to solve, and then our team determined the technology to address the needs.

During the meeting, I worked to point out in places where the customer's complaints were caused by the inability to properly set up and manage customer expectations. When we brought on these larger customers, there was no agreement with the clients on what metrics would be used to determine success, and so we had fallen into a trap where our good standing with the client was imperiled by whatever measure they chose to focus on for the moment, an that was definitely happening in each case.

We managed to eliminate many of the proposed solutions, but the president was adamant that we didn't have enough time to do an analytic approach, modifying individual parameters and waiting to see if they had the expected effect. She wanted to make all the changes and right away. My counterargument to that was that by making all of the changes, we stood to gain little knowledge regardless of success or failure. She refused to budge. We have a project planning meeting Monday afternoon where we're supposed to start drawing up the to-do list for the next few weeks. I suspect this will be a doozy as well.

If there is any hope in all of this, it's that the VP we hired at the beginning of December has been gathering hard data and is starting to see the processes, or lack thereof, that wind up hurting us. Our department has been very open to providing him with cost data on our production environment and advocating areas where we saw opportunities for improvement through automation. From his preliminary findings, it looks like he could succeed in making the president aware of the true costs of perpetual fire fighting.

Some other things that have been going on... Been working my way through another round of resumes submitted via online ads and a posting the CEO put on a business networking site. We've also got a big management strategic planning meeting coming up that will take up the time of all department heads for two full days.

Changes on the personal front with respect to STBX's new job include me getting up really early one day a week to get the daughters ready for the school bus and preschool. My nights out remain unchanged, but on Wednesdays I have to pick up the kids from SBTX's friend, whom we're paying to watch the kids. The cost of that has been something of a stressor for me, but STBX's insurance is much cheaper than mine, so she will be putting the kids on her plan. All in all, I suspect it will balance itself out, but there's a part of me that's worried about making all the ends meet.

Friday, January 01, 2010

2am... Back from Fountain Square

Made it home from the music venue safe and sound. Last alcohol was consumed at 10 pm, so I was not even so much as buzzing after the Born Again Floozies finished up their last number.

All in all, it was quite a night. For a mere $15 + small convenience fee, I saw four local acts made up of some of the city's most talented and creative musicians. I wound up buying some CDs from the merchandise table. I'm glad I pushed myself into going, and I think this will motivate me to get out and see some other local music performances in the year to come.

My only regrets... First was showing up at 8:30ish. I figured that there wouldn't be many people there, but many of the good tables were taken. I wound up sitting towards the back. Second, although I had a great time with the music, the New Year celebration was hard going alone. I felt like the grade school playground again, where I was the odd kid out who didn't really relate to others.

Loneliness anxiety is painful for me. Very painful. I need to dig up my readings on this topic because I am far from transcendence in this area.