Remember when you were young

They say you only miss it when it’s gone. Pacifiers. Toys. Your first school. Soccer with friends. Your mother’s food. Dogs. That relationship you thought would last, and so did everybody else. College parties. That beautiful tree in front of your neighbor’s house. A pessimist would say time is the measure of all that’s being taken away from us. But it’s natural that things and people go through a process of development, slowly taking shape, adapting to more immediate needs, enduring daily requirements and watching them change, replaced for something more potent, more suitable or convenient. Maybe it’s unfortunate, but our power to control such changes is too small and we can’t stop them, no matter what we think or feel. How do we separate memory and experience from behavior, escaping the trap of self-absorption and the dangers of contagious resentment?

It takes enough effort to look at our own history, but society asks us to go an extra mile: we have to know the stories of the day and be able to relate them to the whole media coverage; we need to understand the political moves across continents, how decisions and statements will affect people’s lives and come up with a consistent opinion about these developments, not just to look good, but to make sense of the world and find out what’s our role in it, which is a lot more difficult than posting a meme with one of the high ranking officials – whether it’s funny or offensive. But there are harder questions than the common ideology of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn or how Nicolas Maduro and Lula think about the people. Most would be likely to change their minds if they found out their partner’s family voted red instead of blue, left instead of right. It does affect our lives, but nobody’s ready to have a conversation about how to run a business until they reach a certain age, let alone a whole country or a global movement.

Time takes its toll on people. You’re born, you learn your first words, you go to school and make friends, they all start their jobs and so do you, then one day you wake up wanting to have more time available and you just don’t, no matter how hard you try to sort out your tasks and commit to the most urgent ones. So you start to look back. Why did I do that? If only I had known, if we could’ve met earlier, if I had done that before, and so the list goes on. We also learn that everything happens for a reason, and our freedom and responsibility have less to do with it than how the world really works, which is unpredictable most of the time, but we still try to understand. One thing is certain: there’s a lot more ahead of us, a lot of hard work, a lot of changes and new circumstances. The general agreement should be that our effort to track how we got here is as important as what comes next: from voting rights to marriage, from racial and social justice to the protection of personal information, from sexual wellness to worker’s rights, from communication standards to healthy habits, everything began somewhere, and ignoring the movements that came before, just like the beginning of our own lives, is a mistake we can’t afford to make, if we want to be reasonable and fair.

You’ve never seen the ocean?

I had an interesting conversation with a friend last week. We hadn’t seen each other for nearly a year, and of course there’s a lot we can’t express through messaging. We send each other stuff, at least once a month we spend 10 minutes talking about the latest music release, or something on the news we try to make fun of, cause most of the time it’s too depressing to think about it. But we don’t actually talk, so it’s good to have that kind of moment to reconnect. We were at this bar, sat down to have a drink and catch up. So she started telling me about what was going on at home. And there’s so much we keep to ourselves. It’s one of those things: nobody’s ever going to cam up doing the dishes or putting the clothes out in the sun, but it still happens every day. I figured she’d have that kind of feeling just like me, but I just didn’t know how comfortable she really was to tell me exactly why she wanted to move out and get herself a rent, and it wasn’t just a sudden thought, but a whole arrangement with everyone in the family. She told me about that, I gave her a few words of encouragement, and once we were done talking about work, plans for vacation, people we met in high school and stuff, I had to tell her honestly what was going on with me. That’s when I mentioned my dad’s surgery.

She had no idea. I didn’t want to sound like I was too close to breaking down, I wanted her to know I could manage, but you don’t tell a story like that if you don’t expect to hear something nice afterwards. It’s not that I wanted her or anybody else to feel sorry for me, but I needed to let it out. So I just talked about the fact that we all know he’s been through a lot and he’s a stubborn little prick but he’s really strong. I went on and told her that you don’t think diabetes is dangerous, but he ended up having his body seriously compromised. Said that he’s seen a handful of doctors and but doesn’t trust them. So I finally confessed that I thought about moving, and I’d move in with her, but I wouldn’t leave him when he needed me. When these things happen, we actually get closer. All that we’ve ever known comes down to what we lived early in life, and I just started to see how much it matters to take care of those who are closer if you look at everything they’ve done for you. Then she asked me a question that’s been ringing in my head for weeks: “do you think getting old is just getting sick?”

We always seem to have a hard time when people ask us to listen. It’s true that some people are better at it than others, but understanding we’re all different is something we have to keep in mind at all times, because what brings us closer can’t become a dispute for attention. Sometimes, when a friend is telling you about a problem, you don’t answer with another one. When they lose someone, offer condolences, not the story of how you went through the same thing, because it’s not the same thing. Maybe they’re having financial troubles and you make them think about trying a different area, but that can be hurtful in the sense that it tells them they should give up on a long term commitment. But who can tell you when it’s really the case for that? Honesty is rare, but it’s still a quality in any relationship. Maybe I didn’t want to think about my dad’s problem, and I’m thankful my friend asked me that question. But if it were me, I’d probably choose to be quiet, knowing what I’ve felt from people assuming they know everything about a situation, when in fact they barely scratch the surface.

Cause you just know better

In today’s world, it’s probably risky as hell to make a big, generic reference and think that you’re being accurate. You may hear someone saying people don’t care about this or that, everyone thinks this is good, that is bad or nobody would ever do such a thing – if you’re still capable of having an innocent mindset, though there’s a merit for positivity we can’t turn a blind eye to. But here’s a fact: curiosity is a blessing and a curse, and just to keep it real, sensitivity and wonder aren’t seen as paramount skills to develop when the high stakes of life come to play. You can disagree, but you know the slogan: just do it. What on Earth you’re supposed to do or what you actually wanted to be doing isn’t so important after all. Go with the flow, be like water, don’t worry, be happy. Again, I know it’s generic, but I think it’s fair to say that pretty much everyone who’s still too young and sort of fueled by criticism but old enough to start making their own mind will realize that this is bullshit. So you can’t just sit with a seventh grader and ask where they want to see themselves in five years, pass judgment and disregard everything they say, but it doesn’t mean they haven’t thought about it. The question is: did you know better?

We’re always asking questions. Some of us are more inquiring, prone to investigation and analysis; others are either super practical or awfully lazy. But it’s not about what you want to know: your grades aren’t going to solve most of your real struggles, and that’s just a practical example. Fast forward to that job interview you didn’t land because you forgot to say you learned a lot in college, and you’ll find out later that it wasn’t about your education at all. It doesn’t matter if you’re available or prepared. You have a strong vision, you’ve got the right talk, but where did you buy that shirt? Alright, you’ve got what it takes according to this singular person who granted you with a chance of a lifetime. Others don’t, and the questions are entirely different: how am I going to get to the end of the month? Why are these lemons so damn expensive? If I get my kid a cheap pair of pants, will it be a reason for bullying?

No doubt that stuff is going to stay in the back of your head for a while. Eventually, though, we look at the beauty of the simple interactions we get throughout the day and everything seems to make more sense, even if it doesn’t really. I don’t know you, but I can totally ask how you’re doing. Works great in life. I do know you, I’ve known you for my whole life, and I actually mean it when I ask how you’ve been. There’s beauty in that too. No matter what stage of life we’re at, it’s always good to have someone there to ask us the simple questions, and maybe the difficult ones are going to come from strangers, and we have to decide if that’s okay or not. Texting to ask what someone is doing is a lot easier than asking what they like about you. On a different level, asking why makes you grow as a person, but too much of that can make you desperate and lonely. We’re all searching for answers, some of them will be temporary, in case we ever find them, but the truth is that we all like to think there’s a moment where everything’s going to be okay because you don’t have to ask anything to know how you’re supposed to feel or act, whether it’s in a good relationship, a good song, a good book, a place you like to be. We just want to know how to get there.

Just take your time

The first time I heard someone say they would never read a book on a screen, my thoughts weren’t really about how many people still had the habit of reading, but the experience of doing something in a new environment, however resistant to changes for several years. In school, we learn about the acclaimed authors in literature, but we also dismiss them really fast: Bandeira wasn’t Eliot, but if we actually understood poets, nobody would need to judge them, let alone compare Guimarães Rosa with William Shakespeare. What’s actually worth remembering is how language can transform by attempting to describe, in any style or format, any genre or culture. The information society makes us less likely to pay attention to text, but ironically, we only make progress when we produce it. Under this circumstance, how are we going to assess what matters to read, and more importantly, who? The answer, it seems, is not related to what’s been written or not, regardless of quantity or quality, but where we’re consuming a product, which is certainly a troubling reality for many creative people around the world.

It’s more important than ever to say where you got your information, not just because of the rising trends in journalism, object of discussion in threads and comment sections, but also on live broadcasts. While masses of people call for freedom of expression, institutions need accuracy and categorization in order to guarantee a democratic communication landscape. In other words, you can’t just say anything you want, but in case you’re curious about the reasons, suppose that you can and see what happens when you try. We keep our effort and hope to make people understand us, in our problems and our perspective on how to solve them. One could suggest it doesn’t matter, most of the time, that the problem is actually solved, as long as you talk about it. That means to say that, for example, if I address a social issue on the internet, all I’m doing is writing something, not changing how stuff works at all. Of course, there are other questions: who you’re saying it to makes a hell of a difference, and you’re going to be choosing your words more carefully if you start thinking that your audience is the whole world. Ideally, that’s what people do, but a new standard is coming up: if you act like you don’t care, people will like you, because you’re encouraging someone to say what they really think. Albeit true to some extent, it should be relevant to say being authentic is not being irresponsible, which means I can disagree, but I won’t attack you for that – because my actions and my words influence other people.

A lot of people relate more to video than text, in a complex evolution of the media, both in consumption and production levels. The standards really have changed, but a lot of them stay. We should probably be giving the support necessary for more people to produce content, which is the word for everything now, from gym sweat to street protests. Sorting out what matters and what doesn’t has become too difficult, and that’s why machines are helping us. Artists all over have been struggling to make themes visible and stay healthy in the process, businesses spend day and night chasing innovation and the working class, this category that seems to scare everyone, doesn’t even have the time to stop what they’re doing to enjoy a moment of relaxation. In general, we don’t have the time or the money to build knowledge. So maybe it makes sense to have fun, at least while we can, and thank the people who brought us a meaningful moment, whatever the type, mentioning them as we navigate the world of media, culture and art.

Say what you mean, mean what you say

You may think it’s a recent phenomenon, but communication has been looked at from countless perspectives through centuries, not only in terms of what is voiced or represented, but also in the factors that determine how individual thought can find social meaning or the opposite. Maybe I don’t talk much; does that mean I’m rude? I don’t always use a certain word, but does anyone expect me to? I want to express how I feel, but how can I be sure people can relate? I feel comfortable with my choices, but am I the only one who thinks and talks like this? In the age of artificial intelligence, these questions take new meanings: machines learn to create categories for language as they do for entire identities, and clicking or pressing a button is also a form of communicating. What I have to say, though, is often not as important as my facial features, the way I dress, the places I visit, who I talk to with more frequency or an external perception of what I want to achieve with a certain form of expression – a more generic term than speech or language. We write more than ever, but definitely not like before: the idea that something printed is official has become too blurry with a long history of media and formal uses of text, more recently evolving to informal uses of image and video.

It’s hard to resist an analysis, but we understand that now being polite isn’t taking your shoes off at the door, elbows off the table or smiling when you say good morning, but I don’t want to miss the point on how we’re living our lives in the comfort of our homes. I assume you’re going to reply to my message, I expect my friends to like what I post, I need your support on my lengthy description of a political perspective, and maybe I’m asking you to chip in a few bucks for my project because it’s the right thing to do. If you move this to the workplace, there’s a lot that we can say based on bad or good experiences, from the dress code to the tone of your voice. We all get that, but few people actually grasp that formality isn’t a synonym of politeness, and that’s how people lose their rights without even noticing. If you work in a higher position, everyone is going to expect you to assume your role effectively and without interruption, but regardless of what you deliver in a meeting or a conference, what does the real you want to say? The secret formula to pleasing everyone isn’t found anywhere, but it should be worth pointing out that doesn’t have to be your greatest prospect, even if you think everyone’s secretly trying.

Even before social media, people only presented versions of themselves, drafts and cropped representations, just like a literary work is a fraction of a society and the mind of an author, or paintings tried to convey meaning by creating a certain aesthetic in the hopes of it being accepted. What we truly need to understand and solve, more urgently, is why not accepting became the new cool: hate speech spreads through the web at lightning speed, real violence is often justified by what someone said without a clear context and while nonsense, mockery and verbal abuse gain new grounds, a different type of discussion needs to take place, and that works on all levels, not just an honest, respectful conversation, but on paper, in the public domain, to make sure nobody loses a job for saying fuck or gets a death threat because they stated an opinion.

Question punctuation

We’ve all seen and taken part on endless discussions around how we are what we post, therefore we should be more mindful and responsible. The pressure to entertain, the social anxiety and the need to contribute with immediate, yet brilliant ideas are all underlying aspects that make us go to places we’d never explore in more concrete situations, from one paragraph essays on the whole history of a nation’s economic activity to a casual, creative diary entry just in case your flings and distant friends are bored and interested to hear. Without a diverse environment, the world wouldn’t look the same: can you imagine an internet deprived of comment sections, memes and stuff to look at when you’re alone? But it’s important to remember they represent something that exists on and off the web. The problem isn’t the purpose, but the transit of expectations in every circle we’re included in, consciously or not. In other words, I don’t need to explain why I shared or liked something, but I might. What’s the most convenient, socially acceptable form of interaction: listening quietly, replying with a different proposition or simply ignoring the entirety of what we’re consuming?

The truth is that it’s always been that way, regardless of how we see communication and the form it presents itself. Ever since we were little, we’ve been taught to listen to the elderly, or to ask for things with an understanding of what’s possible to do and what’s not; at school, to develop a sense of how to stand for what we believe in, according to what we know and what we can demonstrate; in a professional environment, we have a clear set of principles and norms to follow, noting that real progress means to be able to discuss issues with an open mind to consider every perspective and what’s a point you should prioritize for the common benefit. But where’s the fun part, where we experiment with language, take things out of their context, make jokes and act irresponsibly just for a small moment? It’s not a case of selfishness, unless it really is; but we’re supposed to present ourselves as we really are, and use our creativity to bring to the world a more genuine account of what we think, how we feel and what other people need to know – which is where most people draw the line.

We’ve found new forms of communication. Video is on demand, anyone can create images and edit them with text, and language has become a lot more groundbreaking with subcategories of topics and styles. But everyone needs to remember that the web is just a representation, not the actual thing. People are still judged by the way they dress or who they’re dating, why would it be any different with my clicks and watch history? You could argue with a list of privacy reports and statements, from activists to life advice gurus, but there’s no question that the repercussion of what we choose to say is getting more difficult to track – and we should at least be aware of it. What we can do is to be consistent in what we bring to discussions, and this can be done in several ways, most of which have to do with how much we express opinions and learn, with time and feedback from both strangers and close people, how to get the most out of a topic of interest. If your time is spent cursing on Twitter, there’s a chance you’ll hear something back eventually – and we all need to think things through and be a little bit more classy, without a necessary shift to cynicism.

Repensando a Comunicação em Inglês e a Tecnologia, numa perspectiva brasileira.

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