2014-01-27

Editing Out The Snark

Every time I quote this guy or tell someone to read his articles, I get a lot of push-back because of the way he phrases things. He has a knack for making the reader uncomfortable. Now, some people respond well to that sort of thing, and others require that bad news be delivered only in such a way as to boost their fragile egos.

So, let's try an experiment. I'll quote excerpts of his latest article in such a way as to soften the blow. If you like what you read (or even if you don't), I encourage you to read the whole thing. I'll post a link below.

[Note for the entire excerpt: For readability's sake, I am eliminating elipses and brackets. The passage below has been modified from its original form in that important passages have been eliminated for the sake of an intellectual experiment. See below for a link to the original - vastly superior - article.]

When someone tells you about the negatives of being too plugged in, they almost always blame work emails, as if the things that pay for your dinner are what distract you from dinner.

Email is a convenient scapegoat not just because "family time should be protected" but because it gets us out of inquiring what went wrong with our home life that we could ever be tempted by work emails, and the avoidance of this inquiry is highly suspicious, i.e. on purpose.

One of our time's great sociological questions is why we filled downtime back up with work. At some point home life became more stressful than work life, and by the mid-80s the home was no longer a respite from modern society's incessant demands. Home became work, and this parallels precisely the history of homework. Neither is there home cooking at home. Men have long been resigned to this, hence their desire to "get an early start" or eat their lunch in their cars, while little girls were hooked on the potential of a fulfilling work and home life, or at least work or home life, now women are in on the reveal... and it is shaking their very souls. If home is stressful for adults, think about how bad it is for teens, all they want to do is hang out and talk about how phony everything is and instead they're stuck upstairs with Snapchat while trying to ignore the growing emotional distance between their parents.

Part of the reason work and home keep mixing despite our professed desires is that that's how Americans were taught to see an aspirational adult life. In every TV show and movie the protagonist's job and personal life overlap-- doctors in love, CIA agents defending their family, late nights at the office trading zingers or abuse stories. While we no longer think we want the overlap, the shows reinforced the false psychology that a person is something, all the time and everywhere, and the backdrop world "sees" it, accepts it. The structure of these depictions represents the fundamental narcissistic fantasy: a fixed and clear identity-- a character--seen by a potential audience. This is why home is not relaxing: we are working to not let it be all that we are.

The standard criticism of social media and texting is backwards: it doesn't detract from real life relationships, it represents a much desired break from them. Having to be with someone, especially someone you're not having sex with, especially someone you're not having sex with anymore, is very, very hard; having people see you, especially when you're not amidst the symbols that you believe form your "real" identity - say, a hedge fund trader who has to be home with the kids or a pretty girl in a sweats at a supermarket - this is a kind of exposure far more embarrassing than any selfie. What if they confuse that as the real you? You can see a version of this in married couples who talk to each other, joke, eat, raise kids, do couples stuff, but don't make eye contact. Avoiding eye contact is a way of keeping reserved a part of yourself, to yourself. "I'm here," you whisper to yourself, "but I'm not going to let this all overtake me, I'm more than this." This message is strictly internal, after all, you may not be looking at them but they can still see you.

What the couple should have done to avoid this calamity is formed a shared identity, "this is us". But how were they going to do this? Everything conspires to drive them apart. Even a big tent TV show would be a shared hour.

The only shared identity these couples have is "the kids", which is why they can make eye contact easily when they talk about them. But relationship experts have analyzed today's marital difficulties completely backwards: rather than trying to find some common connection amidst the the turbulent waters of life, they are actually struggling against the current of the relationship to keep themselves private. They fought so many years to be seen as individuals, "be true to yourself", that a few years past the exploratory segment of the relationship and a shared mental space becomes suffocating. So plugging in gives them some privacy, a micro-break from shared reality, under the rhetorical cover of "connecting with others."

What went missing? Why, after a decade of marriage, should dinner be a regular review of the somewhat boring goings-ons of "the day"? Because that formality is freeing, it allows self-conscious physical bodies to get used to standing next to each other without having to be acting, this includes husbands and wives. When dinner is a controlled process with "manners" and expected topics of shared conversation and start and end times, as boring as it may get, it is boring, not you.
Much more to found here. Do read the whole thing.