Tag Archives: culture

Aim high, but drop your weapons: the counter-billionaire mindset

Murky grounds on social media: that’s what happens when you let people talk shit for as long as they want. Not a lot of people agree. But at the same time, a lot of people agree — read the news. “Television has no credibility anymore, bro”, says a right-winger from Brazil. “You’re fake news!”, says the biggest IQ American president to Jim Acosta, a refugee from Cuba working for CNN. And let’s not even debate over doctors. PhD Twitter is the real House of Cards; we just didn’t realize it. And now, it seems, things are becoming clearer — but more pressing than ever. Suppose your problem is with education today: how are you supposed to preserve family values with all this crazy flow of naked disrespect contrasting with a man in a suit telling you there’s a lot of volatility predicted for the S&P? Reality check, ladies and gentlemen: nobody even knows what the fuck that is, and your actual complaint is that the author is saying a dirty word. How did you pay for your Starbucks this morning, with Apple Watch? Excuse me, I’m a bit skeptical. Sometimes a tiny bit, sometimes a whole lot. You could ship my skepticism across countries, but the Navy would have to track it down. And hey, listen, I’m serious about this shit. Don’t believe me? Just watch.

To clarify: I live in the city that hosts the biggest port in South America. Sorry for the videogame references, I genuinely don’t wanna confuse people. It’s just that copywriting is demanding these days. We rant, and suddenly someone takes a close up picture of an actual ant — and it’s terrifying. Which is why PhD Twitter is winning: anti-imperialism, critical race theory, worker’s rights, digital policy, women’s protection, no-code tools, productivity coaches… and then, suddenly: “why did Bill Gates buy a buttplug?” That’s pretty much what Jeff Bezos has in mind: give me your address, your email, and your bank information. Let the great world spin (except the guy doesn’t write fiction, although there’s a scene in the book by Colum McCann where a sex worker is desperate to use the bathroom). I bet that’s not good enough for you. Let’s go with revisionist history? How about a leak that “My IQ guy” knows everything about missiles already, but wants to learn more? You start to be thankful for Business Insider: they show you the process of making a drumkit in the oldest drum manufacturing company of the United States. And then your thumb, that lazy slut thumb, makes you scroll down. Cats, rabbits and goats get along. The more you know. But how dare you? Immigration laws expressly prohibit illegal aliens from demonstrating, by speech, text or odd noises over electronic communication, an expression of love or even a slight resemblance to parenting without proper documentation! Oops.

The internet is worried about relevant stuff. But who told you that? Didn’t you spend 2 hours catching up on memes, smartass? “What, are you saying that memes aren’t relevant?”, argues Kyle, 13, a steakhouse manager, raising his tone. The parents didn’t have the time. The internet didn’t either: nobody responded. So he decided to make a meme out of himself: dressed as a gladiator, he picked up a musical instrument taller than himself and played a beautiful piece by Sebastian Bach. The crowd cheered. The vest weighed upon him. He carries wounds. But it was all worth it, because the people who listened to his musical performance were pleased enough to be brought to tears. Meanwhile, Beto O’Rourke goes from Texas to Florida to meet with David Hogg, one of the most prominent figures in the movement March for Our Lives. It might have been the other way around — but mind you, that’s not so relevant. The young politician stands with the young people’s movement. But there are older people occupying power positions that vote on issues like gun safety. In their minds, confrontations between international powers need to be carefully looked at. But refugee crises do not.

I’m joking about Bill Gates. He’s responsible for the biggest technological revolutions we’ve witnessed in the past decades, and has devoted his life to philanthropy (a complicated word for kids and teens). I’m not joking about Jeff Bezos, I just don’t get it. But when it comes to the man everyone’s talking about, his educational background is physics and economics. The people who learn this about him should be able to conclude: “oh, so he decided to fight for the environment”. They just might be wrong. Who’s heard of the philosophy of materials? My references are Marilene Chauí, Brazilian scholar, who has published two volumes on an “Introduction to Philosophy”, a thorough review which is off the shelves. My contact was through public libraries, and prominent blogger, author and mastermind of foreign language public speaking agrees, as you can see from her posts under Brain Pickings. But what Musk is trying to say, at first (and we’re all getting impatient), is that payments are the best way to verify identity.

Let’s debate that for a moment. A lot of people will miss this post. If you clicked, thank you. But profits are under the radar. It’s kind of debatable that a user of Twitter should have to pay $8 a month to have “improved experiences”, because what I’m trying to suggest here is that this isn’t the time to think about profits, but instead, helping people. Of course, and very sadly, that’s not the case for, uh, the richest man in the world. And it takes a man who eats cream crackers late at night because there’s no bread to make people see this? No, impossible. You know that sometimes there’s no cream crackers, right? You just fill your stomach with water. But whatever he has planned is an already existing business model, which he collected from here, there and elsewhere throughout his life and is trying to push towards one of the most relevant communications platform on the planet.

The themes I mentioned, as well as others, and a whole list of PhDs who decided to share knowledge out of social awareness, kindness and compassion (which is often seen as a big reason to show off), are all over social media. But people don’t even know that media is the plural of medium! His plan, instead of explaining (or even understanding) what the medium he bought is, is to make it profitable media, which includes the infamous “everything app”. If our collective role turns into calling on bullshit from people who wanna buy golden pendants and trucks of peanut butter just to say they’re verifiably hungry for trends, then what is the role of the journalist? Twitter and journalism have a very close relationship, and if that wasn’t the case, this blog would be censored. But what you’re actually witnessing is a plan to do exactly that. Or do you see participation on Twitter as an optional, non-essential and potentially bad choice? Everyone reasonable would agree that policy debates are urgent, because the debates are started on platforms like Twitter, but the actual changes happen in legislation and in the democratic process. And the guy crisscrosses elections promising free speech in exchange for your money and the silencing of dissenting voices?

If Twitter is a “town square”, it matters to say which town. We live in a world where megalopoles exist. The attempt to simplify an undoubtedly complex communications phenomenon is not just incompetence: it’s downright authoritarian. I think my answer to Elon Musk would be that my currency isn’t the dollar: it’s real. And watch him get pissed. On, off, who cares? But no, let’s wait and see. Sure, it’s a town square, because the teens are hanging out drinking and smoking weed. Excuse me, I meant to say that the town square is where people go to listen to jazz music. Musk might have learned some music theory during his Physics studies. But what about his Economy studies? What did he learn, specifically, about music? I think he just wanted to fuck a musician, probably. Oh wait, that’s exactly what he did, wasn’t it?

One thing is clear, despite what rumors have been spreading: finance matters. And that’s what people are missing on this story. Elon Musk may not be the smartest guy in the world, who knows everything about anything; but he does have wit and brilliant ideas. In the end, we care more about how ideas contribute to society than who even brought them up. This is not an attack: creativity can’t be cultivated in a black hole, as far as I know. And whatever concept we’re scared of; whatever personality we’re trying to roast; whatever story we’re trying to break; whatever project we’re trying to realize; whatever means we have to make lunch to our families, we need someone who grants us help. Money doesn’t grow on trees, but Elon Musk is the guy who proposed we shift to electric vehicles so we could stop further extraction from our planet’s resources, and we talk a lot about renewable energy, but maybe not enough. Brazilian society couldn’t adapt to big recycled bags that supermarket chains offered to their clients because they were used to plastic: they didn’t wanna change. Twitter is not a plastic bag. But we should be aware that we’re bringing home stuff that we don’t even need, and if common sense still matters, nobody wants to raise a spoiled child.

She thinks I’m naive, but we both hate technology

It’s kind of a given that everyone online speaks English and if you don’t you’re missing out, but because I’ve been a teacher since 2008 (and that’s not a lot of time, but I was 18 and now I feel like I’m in the age of retirement), I’ll share some things that have little to do with my personal history, journey, adventure or whatever. Connecting the world, Facebook, bla bla bla. Can we not be boring? I wanna pinpoint aspects of openness to difference, how that can distract us from reality and change our sense of priority, but also good things that can come out of your overlooked likes and follows. And finally, to say that not everything is about that. Except I won’t do any of that. I said I want to, not that I will. The story would matter if it weren’t for the details. I often say I have 3 online relationships that matter. But because I can’t avoid to make a bad analogy, here’s 3 things, details, that we don’t often think about, and we probably should, if we want to live in or build the next moment of digital life — and why not, maybe both:

1. Email

The past decade was a mess, wasn’t it? The short: all these giant tech corporations want to say it’s all our fault. I mean, how do I know it’s you if your email doesn’t have your full name? Wait, nobody does that. Ever. In fact, Beyond Trust, a company founded in 1985 specialized in identity, access and vulnerability management, says every person should have at least 4 different home accounts, while others have pointed out that the pandemic has revealed how invasive marketers can be when asking for subscriptions and email sign up. Radicati Group, based in Palo Alto, informs that the average number of accounts per user is expected to be 1.86 in 2022, totalling 4.2 billion accounts worldwide, with almost 300 billion emails sent every single day — a mind-blowing stat. And it’s worth mentioning that an average of 2 is just the indicator that people are likely to have another identity afterall, but average numbers are not representative of wealth gaps, for example: the minimum wage in Brazil is eleven hundred real, but I’m here catching coins to smoke my cigarettes while Microsoft buys Activision for 69 billion dollars, and all I can say about that is the number is great, I like it. But look, I won’t lie: I’ve had around 50 different accounts. Maybe 30, I don’t remember. Probably more than 20. And I’ll just keep lowering the number so it looks less bad. Yeah, alright: today, I use 3: Microsoft, then personal and professional Gmail. That’s an actual fact. But I have a feeling that the culture of throwaway accounts isn’t being explored critically enough. Someone I talked to recently was convinced that my 67 year old aunt not seeing my private parts was a good reason to create another account, while she thought maybe I wanted to have one to sneak on people. Here’s where we disagree: I don’t. And speaking of culture, your resume has your email. Talk about first impressions — freak out later, then eventually search for your rights. If we don’t want to share details of our private lives with family, it’s not an overstatement that sharing everything with strangers isn’t advisable.

2. Brands

I asked my dad, as I always do when I have something difficult to synthesize: how would you put this if you had to start the conversation? During breakfast, we spoke of how much weed marketing students smoked in the second decade of this technology driven century to come up with the idea of a letter F logo on a freaking pack of cookies, and then I looked for it on the beer I was drinking and there it was, printed on the aluminium can. I’m not sure if he was trying to bring me to reason just because I mentioned something illegal in our country. Actually, this week I saw good news about weed and bad news about weed, but you’d never guess, man. What he told me was that basically every product delivered by someone in commerce can only bring more profit if there are ways to make sure the customer comes back. And so we had a very indirect discussion about the amazing concept of fidelity — without even mentioning Cuba! Of course, he’s right. But do I just pretend that I live in the United States so that people can be faithful stalkers shilded by the law? Sorry, dad. What bothers me is, like I said on LinkedIn (God knows what they’re doing on Twitter these days), there’s technology today that’s supposed to make life easier, but we can’t afford it. I wonder what an Android 12 can do. I know I got a Go Edition, and Instagram sometimes gets stuck uploading the same 15 second story for an entire hour on the bad days, then you’re stuck on one account while you need to be looking at another, cause you can’t log out, and it doesn’t post (so you have to wait until they decide the upload failed). I still think it’s a joke that the Facebook address is Hacker Lane. Are they a cybersecurity company? Last time I checked (and you can feast on the core of my litterhole if you think I’m being ungrateful, Suckerberg), they were posting memes. One of them was nice: orchestras are just cover bands of past centuries. I was so happy, especially because the post has over 70 thousand likes and I have 18 complete plays on Bandcamp. I don’t think I wanna talk about iPhones, LeBron James doing ads for Samsung and CNN following or even the concept of BTS having almost 1.5 billion views on YouTube with a song called Dynamite — I mean, sorry, but aren’t they right below North Korea and their random missile testing? Is that why they’re brilliant? I don’t get it. Cause, last time I checked, the music was basically torture. But I mean, yeah, customer fidelity. I think we’re closer to porn fidelity (great channel, check it out). No, I am not dating Aria Nathaniel.

3. Apps

When my old phone couldn’t access WiFi anymore, I discovered a dark world. It was actually, coincidentally, right before COVID started, and I was there trying to search for how to unroot an Android. I like Star Wars, haven’t watched all the new movies, but I think the chances of me watching a YouTube video that proves my life isn’t real, just like birds, and I’m actually Kylo Ren, are very high. And Disney can totally sue me — because AI. The thing about AI is I can’t put I before A. Such a philosophical debate. Alphabet is a company now. If you’ve ever watched a CEO giving an interview (here’s Julie), you know they use the company name a lot, but maybe they occasionally slip a “we”. But we means you and I, a very important thing in education (I quote a lot), not I and A. Of course, that’s a teeenage troll’s argument, but it’s still an argument. And speaking of trolls, has anyone noticed the number of scams in apps? Maybe it’s a payment that doesn’t arrive. Maybe it’s how much Brazil wants to tell everyone our digital economy is so strong we’ve made 1 trillion worth of transactions with our new payments tool. But sorry, a strong digital economy in Brazil? No, buddy. Brazil is a lot closer to the TikTok of the flying kick because a friend ghosted them on the messaging app. Speaking of which… well, that’s not my job. But a pressing issue is monogamy, and while the general impression might still be that sexting is cheating, some people would say that it might be “not bad enough to matter“. And those people matter too.

Practical verbs: 12/12

The world is connecting more, but also avoiding to interact. People speak from different contexts, and while it might feel great sharing some of your burdens and frustrations, as well as what makes you feel good, proud, understood or relieved when you find a strong match, it’s still over the phone, screen to screen. The workplace is changing. In 2020, a crisis hit us in the public health sector and everyone was affected. Now we have stuff to rethink, consider the challenges and do some planning. But when we look at what language can offer us in terms of international cooperation, personal gain and professional growth, we also look at society evolving, seeing the other, helping out those in need, sharing narratives that might be forgotten, meeting the people who grasp the dimension of things we think, feel, project and hope for. The hard part is that we’re not always going to find the right way to express what we really want to say, describe something accurately, whether it’s a personal experience or the facts we learned about a place or people we might know, the solutions we read about on an article or maybe comment on what we like about a movie, a song, any sort of thing we set out to do — do you like carrots? My grandma used to make a cake with chocolate on top, it’s a family recipe. Misunderstandings are common, and we’re constantly meeting halfway through the bridge, eventually reaching the other side. And the other side feels different. We wanna look back, and maybe go back; but are we gonna have company? What if you went there and you didn’t like the reception? What if you said something that they couldn’t accept, and how are you going to explain, if you don’t even know enough words for it, besides the particular way to pronounce them? Here’s a few situations:

“I promise this won’t happen again”

We’re easily distracted. Sometimes, when we lose sight of what we need to do, for lack of perspective or motivation, we go on a different path and it’s hard to come back to what we’re supposed to be doing. It happens in relationships, and that’s something everyone can relate to, but also at work, at home, or with stuff we tell ourselves we won’t do again because they’re harmful. My dad has diabetes, so I can’t bring stuff from the bakery and eat in front of him, especially if I don’t wash the dishes later. I sleep after midnight and I’m not feeling my best at 7am when I should be ready to start the job in high spirits with a loud and warm good morning greeting, but I’ll roll up in bed and get up on the third alarm, take too long in the shower and even longer waiting for transport. I’ll tell her I’ll make dinner, but keep on looking at social media and then the market is closed so we can’t cook anything other than pasta. It’s important to say you’re sorry, but we need to explain and promise for good that it won’t happen again. It does. But then we find a way to compensate for it.

“I swear I didn’t mean it like that”

You’ve been friends for years. You want someone to listen to a song that means a lot to you, or maybe you didn’t really like it but you think it sounds like the stuff they would enjoy. You send a message saying they need more of that in their life. Then they reply with another one saying it’s the vibe they’re in right now. Conversation goes on and they say something about the style you’re more into. Oh, right, your dream is to be a pop star. You say fuck off. They take it personally, but you’re the one who’s being teased or maybe trolled hard. But it’s normal. You’re friends. Now a couple is eating dinner out. She wants to order some grilled potatoes, you’re going with a burger. Mall stuff. You come back to where you’re sitting with the order, and the thing’s filled with bacon. You gotta send it back, cause you didn’t notice — she doesn’t eat that. But later she says you never pay attention to her and it’s all about you every time. It gets to you. You wanted to have a nice night out instead of being stuck in the apartment. But you were distracted, it was a long day. So you say, I do pay attention to you, if I didn’t I’d be screwed. Who crossed a line? They’d probably say they didn’t mean it, and go back to normal. But these things build up, so it’s important to measure your words and be kind.

“I don’t believe everything they say”

We consume media every day from different sources, and it’s getting harder to find the content we trust the most in a crowded social feed and a constantly changing influence economy. There’s a lot of people talking about how media makes choices to generate clicks and shares, but it’s happening with regular people and now we’re on the phase of elaborating strategies to use the platforms to have visibility and then manage our digital lives in a variety of ways, which isn’t easy when we’re interested in a variety of subjects. Sometimes you may feel like you’re talking to yourself; other times, something small takes bigger proportions. It’s not about who’s famous or not, it’s about what matters to discuss — but people have different voices and narratives, so making sense of what the real story is telling isn’t very easy, which is why we still rely on traditional media. But more importantly, sometimes you meet someone who doesn’t seem to have the best intentions. From spam links to direct messages promising you easy money, to new people who tell you they wanna date you or an ad promising you to teach you the fundamentals of the last thing you googled, we should take some time to think whether or not we want to spend time thinking about why they’re interacting with us. But people can choose to buy, to interact and to believe in whatever they think is a good, accurate representation of what they see for themselves, the people around them and the future.

***

We rephrase our thoughts a lot. Sometimes we don’t know how to say something because we have a language issue; other times, it’s an emotional issue. Relationships abroad have many limitations, but a ton of benefits. Understanding the world around us is a required skill for any future we can think of, but we don’t necessarily need to search for all the answers, and sometimes a short conversation fixes things, even if it’s just for a while. What’s important is we can still explain what we really think and acknowledge that sometimes we make mistakes, but we’re people, who evolve and who have a natural tendency for cooperation so we can grow and develop better conditions to live in a world that can welcome any kind of cultural background and way of life.

More than words: dealing with social aspects of language

Dialect, register, accent, jargon, prosody or tone: few of these themes are approached in the language classroom, and exploring them takes some kind of attitude, outside the trial and error sort of thing. When the linguistic study was more concerned with how context influenced decision making, some people were fascinated with the word, comparable to metaphysics: what I said matters, but why? In a logics class, we’d have categories of statements and their interdependence, rules of argument making like avoiding contradictions and shaping the relationships between bigger layers of discursive practice, and soon enough someone would point out informality doesn’t belong in the media. I bet Bakhtin wasn’t thinking about Instagram when he insisted we were social beings, but my Russian friend doesn’t have an account, as far as I know. We have to elaborate more careful language theories following the popularization of English as a second language worldwide, and nobody who isn’t from Europe is going to be credible, or at least quotable, given their educational experience. Look at how many languages they have: Portuguese, Spanish, English, German, French, Dutch, Czech and others; we get the feeling that the Eastern European countries get considerably less attention, and we’re not wondering what language they speak in Turkey or India, in African countries, in Southeast Asia. Diversity is supposed to be beautiful, but we’re not willing to listen to people who are trying to communicate in a foreign world, which means not just pressing a switch, but dealing with questions of identity, representation, social expectations, empathy, respect and the like. Still, we allow ourselves to be optimistic, and learn that maybe what we’ve said wasn’t actually accurate, so it’s up to us to try harder to reach common understanding, and not resent any sort of interaction that doesn’t end with a smile from an impressed native speaker. We don’t want to impress people; we want to share ideas more broadly, and that can be tough when you go through more rigorous scrutiny based on the thing they called context.

Let’s go back a little. Dialect is the localized language custom. People who come from a specific region, with their culture and tradition, with a history of experiences and a certain social organization, inevitably, are going to speak in a certain way. That’s not the Irish pronunciation of certain vowels, maybe comparable to New Zealanders, but a choice of words that reveal, although it’s always more of a curious fact, how that group we tend to see as very particular describes the world around them. Recently, I saw a map showing how people from different Brazilian regions called the bread they eat every day. From “média” to “cacetinho” to “pão francês”, these are words we wouldn’t find elsewhere, and food is actually a great way to see how culture plays a role: think “pasta”, “guacamole” or “sushi”. There’s other instances where localized knowledge plays a role: street names, monuments and so on; we know the arguments in favor or against their relevance are disputed and that will probably lead you to read some comments on social media, but we don’t always think about that stuff. There’s many definitions of dialect, but the important thing is to remember that if you have a preconception of Americans, just to exemplify, and you only think about your trip to Florida or California in terms of what you wish for, then you’re probably missing the point: today we can meet people from all over, and each of them comes from a specific context and region, though the analysts are starting to enforce the narrative of deglobalization, forgetting about the power of connectivity for reasons unknown – and disputable as well. The other terms deserve a few ten minutes of study: register as the transit of formality; accent as immediate perception of speech; jargon as representation of interest; prosody as standardized, situational procedure in communication; tone as a generic word but a personal characteristic. We don’t need to rewrite linguistic theory, but we need to be aware that the people who studied it weren’t wasting their time with disposable knowledge.

Take register, for instance. The term probably sounds weird. The application, though, is everywhere. In a country where informality reaches a peak, it’s a question of social organization; it’s also a cause, in terms of acceptance and validation. If I can’t belong in a group (social, professional) because of the way I speak, that produces a set of feelings based on experience that are likely to be reproduced; consequently, your opinions about said group are probably going to be amplified, depending on who you talk to, and the question of audience is not being taught in schools: it’s becoming generally accepted, though we’re waiting to see what trend follows in the practical approaches to foster human kindness, that someone is always listening. On the level of prosody or accent, one of the less debated situations where you see how they’re associated with our perception of the other and how society is organized is when a native speaker speaks louder with us because of our pronunciation: we’re likely to think we’ll have misunderstandings of a different nature. You can probably tell I have an academic background, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the more urban use of language in my country or another; the issue is probably my use of the term “urban” while not advocating for immigration reform on a daily basis, which would make a lot of people confused, but also angry. Aside that factor of international exchange, projections and concrete problems, you can think about the way you speak to your friends and the way you speak at work, and we’re not going to prioritize a discussion on what apps we’re using and forget about human interaction as a diverse and complicated process, not always conclusive and not always potentialized in meaning. Whether we’re going to talk about politicians incurring in typos, dads cursing or brands trying to sound cool is another story: the bottom line is that if we didn’t have feelings towards language, we wouldn’t be searching for different modes of expression as frequently as we do.

The problem is distance, but it’s also the reality. It took me a while to understand how that plays out in daily life and future projects, but at first, it was a moment of discovery. Not exactly the unknown, but the possibility, the appeal and the comfort of correspondence. If I couldn’t find something I needed right here, the internet provided me with an alternative. It’s easy to say you have to live real life and quit looking at screens, but there’s a whole chorus out there. There’s many ways to look at this sort of phenomenon, whether it’s in philosophy, psychology, politics or common sense, but there’s also a whole set of situations where one thing is appropriate or not, justifiable or not, pleasant or not, fair or not. None of these are intrinsically related to how we learned to describe a certain word, how we pronounce it or how we move from one context to another simply by clicking a different tab. But it’s important to understand that physical distance and social distance, before the latter became associated with a fundamental precaution, originate somewhere and develop into the next chapters of our life in community.