It’s all about getting closer, but not really

Social media are so bad for us, but we just can’t stay away. In 2020, this has once more become clear through plenty of events. Whether it’s a worldwide pandemic, ingrained racism or grand elections, there’s so much happening on social media, and so much of it has gone very far south. This video reminded me once again about some of the causes behind this.

Can social media still provide something good?

Based on: Vox: Why every social media site is a dumpster fire

Li-Anne

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And it was the death of common sense
Escape is futile. The search for a connection is real

“Helps you connect and share with the people in your life.” Apparently that’s Facebook’s slogan. In hindsight, I think almost everyone now realizes that’s most definitely not what this platform and many social media do.

We seem to all have become sheeple…

Even though this video of Vox is basically ancient in internet age, the points they make have only become more relevant. The cycle still exists – anonymity, division and extremism still propel most discussions on platforms. It made me realize a very important thing that I’ve always been missing on social media: the middle ground has no place online.

And it was the death of common sense

Pragmatism is a keyword in my life, something that I adhere to online and offline. That’s why I’ve never been really that interested in the community aspect of social media. It most definitely has to do with my own insecurities, but I prefer to pretend I’m special and not like others. So I remember when social media became popular during high school, I found it really silly that everyone was just doing the same things they did as usual, but suddenly got likes and attention. In my head, the word selfie was still reserved for the weird kind of people that took photos of themselves for no reason whatsoever.

How much has changed since I was in highschool. Oxford Dictionaries crowned selfie word of the year in 2013, saying that “the word has evolved from a niche social media tag into a mainstream term for a self-portrait photograph”. This development has led to many articles calling millennials narcissistic and prone to oversharing. I also really agree with something else mentioned in this article: “All of us adopt different personas that we can use in different contexts. Social media is where we become the people we want to be. It’s a grand stage, and we’re all actors playing different roles. There, we stand out. There, we are the stars of our own shows.” In the end, we’re all humans. We just want to see and appreciate the show, escapism doesn’t use common sense.

But I miss common sense, now more than ever. It’s the reason why I’ve never been really involved in any fandom, even though I am a big fan of anime and kpop, both known for their avid fan communities. I’ve always wanted to present myself as a rational and pragmatic individual, which completes the loop of me not posting much on social media. At the same time, many people in my social feeds clearly believe and actively voice their opinions and beliefs. It all seems awfully dramatic to me.

Escape is futile. The search for a connection is real

In the end, although I may think like that, it doesn’t mean at all that I’m above it. The desire for attention and fame is something I vaguely pursue, even though I know it wouldn’t make me happy at all. I write snarky blogs and comments because the opposite of actively voicing your beliefs is just making quips and only being half-serious about everything. And it’s working against me. I see all these memes passing by on social media that speak more to me than I’d like to admit. And they’re rote. And not funny.

“To live ironically is to hide in public. It is flagrantly indirect, a form of subterfuge, which means etymologically to ‘secretly flee’ (subter + fuge). Somehow, directness has become unbearable to us.”

That’s exactly how I feel, and learning more about the mechanisms behind social media doesn’t make it any easier. I feel there won’t ever be a real stage for common sense, because it would be boring. And so much of our lives already is, we don’t need anymore of it.

On the other hand, there must be more people who feel like this. If the internet teaches one thing, it’s that you’re never alone in your opinions and feelings. Social media platforms have been focusing more on one-on-one conversations and connections as well. And it’s something I’ve found a renewed joy in as well. Especially during these times, nothing is more fun than ironically using #blessed on our real-life, in not #blessed-worthy situations.

It’s something very paradoxical in these times of digital communication, to look for a real connection.

Sarah

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Social media is a disease. And it’s spreading
Do we follow the media or does the media follow us?
Post avocado on toast

Why we should probably post avocado on toast instead of our opinions

"We're just f&*$ing monkeys in shoes." - Tim Minchin

That quote is a great reminder of our own limitations and insignificance. And it’s an important factor in acknowledging that we are flawed beings. We let emotional triggers lead us to what content we look at and react to. We may spread the wrong ideas based on those triggers, even forcing others to be on our side. Before you know it, you may be spiralling down the rabbit hole of misinformation, or content stretched so far out of context, you can’t even remember what you’re mad about. Remember when we just shared our boring lives to Facebook?

Social media is a disease. And it’s spreading

Recently, I, along with the rest of the world, have been following the Black Lives Matter movement very closely. I usually try to not get too engaged in social media outbreaks of breaking news, but a personal experience can quickly become a trigger for emotional involvement. Whatever my initial intent was for looking more into what was happening in the U.S. and the rest of the world, turned into shock really fast. I became overwhelmed by the outrage and the completely irrelevant (I suppose that’s a personal opinion) media coverage of it. There was no main narrative to be found.

It reminded me of the telephone game: a sentence is whispered into a person’s ear, who then has to whisper it to the next person etc. By the time it reaches the last person in the group, the sentence is no longer coherent and its meaning is lost completely. What started with the death of one man, sparked global unrest; first on behalf of the U.S., then on behalf of other minority groups, and by the time it reached the rest of the world, every individual on the planet had something to say. But it was no longer about George Floyd and BLM, nor was it focusing on racism. It was about peer pressure and not enough engagement from social media influencers. It was about “white guilt.” It was about shunning an artist who once wrote a song containing a racial slur. It was about looting. It was about people’s fashion choices during the protests. It was about anti-racists blaming other anti-racists for being racist:

  • “Blackout Tuesday is about taking a step back and educating yourself on racism in the United States.”
  • “NO, Blackout Tuesday is about silencing the Black Lives Matter movement, it is evil!”
  • “NO, Blackout Tuesday is about standing in solidarity with current events!” You are RACIST for using Blackout Tuesday!”
  • “YOU are racist for NOT using Blackout Tuesday.”……..

Do we follow the media or does the media follow us?

How do we disseminate the right content and distinguish right from wrong within a media landscape in which journalists have so much responsibility to maintain the status quo? How do we keep pointing focus towards the main narrative (and is the main narrative even good)? The problem with involving social media, regular news platforms, and literally everyone who has a voice (Vox Pop), causes problems for conveying “truth.” An excerpt from the book Rethinking Journalism reads:

"They (journalists) have to be socially responsible as well as attractive for the public. They have to speak and to listen, to laugh and to cry, be independent and neutral, be involved and take sides - and while doing all of that, uphold their professional values of reliable news gathering, and accurate interpretation." 

Including the voice of regular citizens to regain people’s trust in the media has increased significantly, but how does that weigh against staying objective? Do we follow the media or does the media follow us? And within that endless cycle, within all of these voices, what is still real? how do we know what’s really important if that is our only reference?

Social media is the intruder that created a blurred line between private and public, and news platforms and social media are not working together in harmony. Everyone can be outraged, or political. We can share fake news, influence others, create a divide between groups believing in different (or the same) ideologies, we can share our wisdom, our hurt, our anger, and all of this can enter mainstream news on a global scale, changing minds, confronting us with new evidence continuously, and spreading information from many different angles on a minute to minute basis.

"Water? What the hell is water?" - The Fish 

I can keep talking about how faulty our current media landscape is regarding the spread of information, but it probably won’t change anytime soon (and maybe it shouldn’t, if we don’t want to challenge freedom of speech). So why don’t we look at us for a moment. What are we doing wrong? How can we teach ourselves to post “better” content? I post opinions myself (like this blog). I get triggered too. It’s not always wrong, but it can potentially be harmful:

David Foster Wallace‘s story of two young fish swimming in water, not knowing the meaning of water, is (to me) a message of truth and solipsism within our media landscape. Our automated response is one of self-centeredness and using our own lens to interpret other people’s experiences. This makes it hard to distinguish fact from fiction, making actual realities hard to discover. It’s often due to a lack of awareness, in this case overshadowed by our own emotions and an overload of opinions. Apart from that, social media presents us with continuous threats. The area in the brain that processes memory “continuously compares the external world to the brain’s core belief of how the world should be. (…) When there is a discrepancy between the external world and the brain’s core belief, a threat occurs.” And that’s triggering.

Post avocado on toast

Core principles of journalism are truth and accuracy (fact-checking), independence, fairness and impartiality, humanity, and accountability. It is my humble opinion that, if we want to have our say and spread a message, we need to try and uphold those principles as much as possible, alongside journalists. Being aware of your beliefs and those of others, and attempting to use your emotions constructively, instead of letting news ignite your fight or flight response and/or retaliation.

If you’re triggered and you must post at all cost, look at multiple sources, look at the message behind whatever triggered you, and try to create something that can help the narrative along its pathway to more awareness. We need to be more empathic. We need to be more aware. If we can’t do that, maybe limit social media to more basic functions: Talk to a friend. Post avocado on toast.

"It is about the real value of a real education, which has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over:

This is water.

This is water."

Identity crises

Jubilee recently came out with a video showing mixed-race teenagers giving their opinion on what it’s like to be mixed race. It showed the bias other people often have towards multi-racial people, and the struggles (mainly related to identity) they face. I (Sarah) am mixed-race, so I kind of relate to these issues. Li-Anne has a different background, but faced a lot of the same issues growing up.

Recently I’ve heard people say that racial identity is mainly internal, and that it depends on whether or not you take other people’s opinions to heart. To me that’s only partially true. To me, lack of identity is an internal struggle, perpetuated by the outside world.

Based on: Jubilee: Do All Multiracial People Think The Same?

Sarah

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The mixed-race identity problem
Floating identity

I found this quote in an article related to mixed race on Psychology Today:

“We tend to think of race in terms of skin color and typical physical characteristics. But at a more fundamental level, racial differences are really about differences in culture.”  

It seems that the experiences of mixed-race children are vastly different, and personal identification is more-so a personal matter/feeling than a racial one. But across the board it seems that the vast majority of mixed-race children struggle with some form of identity problem. From experience, three major issues come to mind that arise with growing up mixed race: (1) not fitting in, (2) not being accepted, and (3) not being able to identify yourself. I mostly had to deal with the latter. 

I’m half Egyptian, half Dutch, and I grew up in the Netherlands; a primarily ‘white’ country. My parents and I used to go to Egypt every year when I was young, and I vividly remember my “other hometown” :  the call to prayer, the noise, the dust, the Macarona Bechamel, the music… 

My parents divorced when I was just a kid, and I’ve struggled with identity most of my life. There’s a level of acceptance, now being 30 years old, but acceptance merely helps to deal with things in a more rational manner; it doesn’t magically take problems away. 

The mixed-race identity problem

I initially wondered if there’s a correlation between (interracial) divorces and identity issues: if couples had a healthy and stable marriage, and there was a perfect cultural blend instilled in the child, would that mean children are less ‘aware’ or more accepting of their identity? I realised that, yes, being a child of divorced parents, among living within a culture that is only partly yours, could be part of the larger identity problem that some people face (that’s not directly related only to being mixed race), but the perceived difference is probably the biggest indicator for feeling like you don’t belong: how others see you and how that makes you feel.

In primary school I was often asked if I was adopted, having a mother with blonde hair and blue eyes. Then when 9/11 hit, kids started making fun of me looking Middle-Eastern (I come from a small, small town). I also used to have a very Arabic name, which was the butt of the joke very often, not only in school, but even within my very Dutch family. Kids commented on my larger nose, my “hairy” arms. Adults commented on my thick hair, my “exotic” look. As a joke, people called me Turkish or Moroccan, or they yelled some Arabic slurs. I’ve even been called a terrorist – a harmless joke.

Floating identity

I was never bothered by the teasing, but there’s one clear message in all of it: I was different. It’s funny because It’s not like I wasn’t excluded from anything. I was included, but not fully accepted. I never felt part of anything. I never felt Dutch enough to partake in the overall narrative of “being Dutch,” But I identified far less with being Egyptian, so a part of me just kept floating all over the place.

In the Jubilee video on mixed-race teenagers, the half-Iranian kid hit the nail right on the head. He said: “These past couple of years I’ve been trying to reconnect with that part, because I shoved it down for so long, and it’s been really heartbreaking(…). I too have tried very hard to become Dutch in the past. I changed my name, I rejected everything related to Arabic/Egyptian culture (I started learning Arabic only in 2018), I have no Arab friends, I haven’t been to Egypt for over 15 years… I don’t even know my family.

I tried really hard to belong (to one thing) and not belong (to the other thing) at the same time. And that is heartbreaking. And stupid. I adapted based on how others saw me, and then pushed aside what I didn’t want. But what I didn’t want was just as much a part of me.

“Mixed race identity, for me, comes down to how I see and identify myself and whether I choose to accept or reject the box other people will try to put me in.”  - some very accurate comment on YouTube

So now, the next step is not only to accept, but to fully embrace. And I feel like that message doesn’t merely apply to being bi-racial.

Li-Anne

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Put me in any box but not the wrong one
Include me too please

Looking like a certain nationality, but growing up in a different country, probably was a big factor in me not having a very strong racial identity.

To be honest, I always joke about the aspect of mixed race people being hot. I think it has to do with the fact that I find it would be a bit easier to stand out in society if you are good-looking and different, than when you are just clearly foreign-looking. However, I am able to escape the standard stereotype for Asian and Chinese people as well, since I have a fully Dutch name and no ‘restaurant background.’ I also grew up in a very white part of the country, which makes me stand out more, but also blend in better at the same time, since people assume that everyone, no matter what they look like, is Dutch.

So I don’t really belong in any common box; I don’t identify with Chinese-Dutch people nor do I identify as any of those 2 nationalities separately. For me, my racial identity feels very fluid.

Put me in any box but not the wrong one

Because of this situation, and the reason that Dutch culture probably puts less emphasis on racial identity than American culture, I found it interesting to hear what the mixed-race teens in the Jubilee video had to say about racial slurs and what ethnicity you pass as vs. your race. I don’t use racial slurs at all and I also don’t think too much about my racial identity. Therefore, I haven’t felt like I needed to hide part of me, but I have also been aware that I stood out and could be misunderstood for ‘something else’. In other words, I am always more focused on making sure I am not put in the ‘wrong’ box than making myself belong to a specific group.

I think this is also because the Netherlands still really prides itself on its multicultural society and being a real melting pot. Even being further away from the bigger, international cities, I still lived close to the German and Belgian borders. Such an environment made me less focused on something like racial identity. Even though I could pass as Chinese, people in my area knew I was ‘not the standard Chinese-Dutch girl’, because my parents didn’t have a restaurant and I spoke Dutch without an accent.

Embracing a fluid identity and living abroad as well, really made me more aware of my behavior in this regard. And also to find ways to use it to my advantage. Especially living in China, I became used to ‘taking on’ different identities. For western people, I would simple be a fellow foreigner. Saying I was adopted, was often enough to make them put me in a more ‘correct’ box as an international person instead of a second-generation Chinese person.

With Chinese people on the other hand, I often took full advantage of them thinking I was a local or a Chinese person coming from abroad. Speaking the language fluently, albeit with an accent, blending in with the crowd, conversing with locals without being explicitly seen as foreign was very comfortable. It made it possible for me to actually feel what it’s like to belong to a specific group, without really belonging.

Include me too please

Wanting to be part of a group, is a universal feeling. That’s why it saddens me to see many people becoming more entrenched and focused on, in my eyes, superficial characteristics that makes them feel others don’t belong. I think racism, especially in recent years, unfortunately always finds its way to the surface, whether in a national or international context.

At the same time, I really feel blessed with a multicultural identity that allows me to be more aware of these issues and provides me with more tools to move through societies as respectfully as possible.