Random School Break Thoughts

Real Relationships

Keeping up with friends for me has become a matter of remembering which method of communication they prefer.  Having moved from place to place and from tribe to tribe, I know quite a lot of very differently raised and educated and geolocated people.  All of them have their own quirks when it comes to social networking.

I, being what you might call a digital native, am pretty comfortable with just about any method of communication, though strangely I hate online one-on-one chat the most (it requires far too much focus).  But some friends only respond to phone calls, some are happy with email, others only seem to check Facebook (presumably because their email accounts are so packed with junk), some I only know through IRC or Twitter or meeting at conferences.  Over time people I sort of remember from high school have joined Facebook — my generation was just a little too young for Generation X and just a little too old for Generation Y, so some prefer to be more X and write off social networking, while some of the more online-savvy made the transition much sooner.  My Georgetown international affairs friends are very social networky but in a tech-deficient kind of way.  They do happy hours a LOT (a VERY DC thing), they are very comfortable writing emails (their jobs almost always include writing a lot), and they’re of course very up on current events, but ask them to do much more than open a web page and they’re clueless and obstinate (it comes with their territory, IR people overvalue their intelligence).  My NYU-ITP friends are the most tech-savvy of all, as a lot of them are partially coders and grew up like me: finding themselves online.

The most annoying thing to me ever is people who say they don’t use social networks because they prefer “real” relationships, whatever that means.  I think what it’s code for is that they don’t have the bandwidth to spend online cultivating their social networks, so they prefer to focus their attention in meeting up with people who live near them.  Which is fine.  But they should just say that.

What’s funny is that my Army and military friends are the most straight-up about that.  My Army buddies will say about social networking, “That’s all just a bunch of horse shit.”  And I’m happy with that.  They make no bones about it.  They are the least-wired people I know, which is sort of scary in some ways because in the 21st century, the soldier will rely more and more on communications breakthroughs to not only transmit squad movements but also to control the robotic drone armies of the future.  In other ways it’s good though, because all those soldier hicks from the backwoods will still know hunting, tracking, being-outside skills that the city slickers have long since lost.  They are also more warm, more open, and more inviting to outsiders than other people I’ve met.

After 5 years in the Army, I definitely came to admire and enjoy being around the hicks who want nothing more in life than retire to the back 40 to a big house way out in the countryside and live out their days hunting deer and working on the house and shooting the shit.  Those guys had some sort of weird magic that made them inept in urban environments but keen and sharp when out in the desert or in the woods dealing with the harshness of nature.  Anyway, you can always count on servicemembers to give it to you straight.  It’s such a rare thing to find outside of the military.

So as for “real” relationships, active avoiders are the hardest for me to maintain relationships with.  They have no footprint online and barely know how to make their phones work, and they refuse to try.  News about related friends is almost always news to them, and it has deeply stifled my ability to keep up with them.  Is this a real relationship?  If anything, I feel like I put in more work for “real” relationships, tracking people down and trying to meet up with them when I can, despite few coming calling for me when they might be in my town or whatever.  Few people put in real effort.

From a broader perspective, is there terminology for the skills that humans are evolving regarding social networks?  What do you call it when you have to juggle how to get in touch with your friends, over which networks, via which mediums?  Organizing a happy hour or party involves sending invitations through different methods: some snail mail, some via Facebook, opening a Facebook event, calling the rest.  It’s like the lighting of bonfires from mountaintop to mountaintop in Lord of the Rings.  It’s like riding through the streets of New England to warn of the Redcoats.  It requires people who are willing to pull together disparate groups and who know all those people well enough to remember how those respondents receive word best.  Is this politicking?  Is it curating?  What is it?

Final note.  I found David Sasaki (@oso)’s post on Time’s Protester as the Man of the Year, protest infatuation, and the fourth wave of democratization (hello Huntington!) to be superb, and somewhat relevant to my above expounding.

What Annoys Me About Going to Basketball Games

I went to the Denver Nuggets vs. Dallas Mavericks game on Boxing Day, courtesy of my dad’s astute Christmas gift.  I also had season tickets for the Washington Wizards last season, which I deeply enjoyed. I’ve definitely deepened my appreciation and love for basketball in the last couple of years.  I owe a lot of that to my main man and longtime Army buddy MonkeyPope.  You should see the great email discussions we’ve had about unlocking formulas for winning basketball using Moneyball-ish statistics.

Anyway.  It always pisses me off how all the promotional shit they do during basketball games only reaches the front rows.  The free t-shirt tosses, the Chipotle burritos, the camera close-ups?  Always the first 20 rows or so.  The upper decks, where us hoi polloi watch the game from, are ignored.  We don’t put down the serious money to sit closer, true, but if I were a team owner, I would think it’d be a small price to pay to endear your team to those upper-deck folks who just want a little attention, a little special feeling for that one basketball game they get to enjoy every few years.

This is all made worse by the fact that sporting events, particularly the popular and cool ones, support a top-heavy system where the richest get the best seats.  And the richest are weakly correlated (I would imagine) with the most passionate of fans.  So the people closest to the court, the people whom everyone cues off of for excitement, are the people least invested in being crazy fans, being caring fans, hell, even being the attending fans.  Like at the US Open, where the front rows are often empty up until late in the second week of the tournament, because the rich people who bought the tickets can’t be troubled to sit in the sun all day.  Good Heavens, where are my umbrella and my palm frond-waving servant?

What you get is boring sporting events until the playoffs.  And this is solely because the rich folks who wear suits to the game don’t give a shit.  Seriously, MonkeyPope and I bought tickets for one game where we sat right behind the scorer’s table, and we loved every single second of it.  All the players’ expressions, all the on-court chatter, everything.  We could see it.  But we sat next to a couple douche bros in suits and an old couple.  All the other seats were empty.  And we had to show our tickets to the attendants all the time because they didn’t believe we should be there.  There were no mad fans hooting and hollering and cheering.

There’s a reason small venues for concerts work, and why college basketball is more rowdy.  The people who care the most are part of the center of attention, near the stage.  In small venues’ cases, there are no seats, so whomever pushes their way up to the front wins.  In college basketball, the students get the premium seats on each end.

Compare with seated concerts where you get most people uncomfortably lodged into small aircraft-like seats with just a few drunk cougars swaying back and forth.

Also, this has happened to me quite a bit now, I keep running into friends who have always benefited from being well-connected, and when we realize we went to the same basketball game, I tell them I sat up near the top, while inexplicably their friend had front-row seats.  And none of them give a shit about basketball!  It’s so infuriating on different levels.  Not that I’m mad at my friends — I’m happy for them — but from a basketball gods/eternal court of justice perspective, it’s unfair.  And I know the basketball gods exist because they helped the Mavericks defeat the Heat, an epic battle between good and evil.

I will also add that I hate how basketball games always try to pimp their grub, gear, and beer.  As if when you were sitting in your seat, you forgot that maybe you wanted a beer.  Right, how many guys forget they want a beer?  Have they done studies on how a scoreboard screen ad for Bud increases sales?  It’s even worse for hoodies and cheap screenprinted t-shirts.

Basketball games (and most sporting events) really do not exploit their cheerleaders enough.  Seriously, sometimes the best part of a basketball game is the two times the cheerleading squads come out and do their ridiculous dances.  I know it’s silly but everyone is transfixed on the ladies.  MonkeyPope and I seriously contemplated buying tickets by the corners so we could sit in front of the cheerleaders.

This probably goes hand-in-hand with the dumbass family-oriented goals of the owners.  They try to tone down the violence, sex, and testosterone of sports by inviting Nickelback to play halftime, by promoting Monday Night Football and the NBA Playoffs with Justin Bieber and other sexless safe acts for kids.  David Stern’s move to ban thug gear, which was massively unpopular at first but which has led to innovative fashion trends of NBA players dressing up in pretty awesome suits and nerd-gear, was an offshoot of trying to make sporting events more family-friendly.

But going to a basketball game is like seeing big cats at a zoo.  I hate cheap fouls and violent players, but I want hard play and emotive players.  They’ve tried to temper all of that.  And the setting is so neutered that it’s not the raw power that basketball normally is, anymore, until maybe the playoffs when there’s just too much energy in the crowd and in the players to control.  Compare public-event basketball to streetball — in streetball, there’s no people helicoptering around fining you for not playing nice.  It’s a more raw game.

New Year’s Resolutions

I’ve resolved to spend the entire year thinking of gifts for people.  I’m definitely not happy with how I show appreciation to people I care about by the end of the year.  Gift-giving as an art is something I’ve observed in my brother, who picks amazing gifts.  It usually doesn’t require spending a lot of money, but it requires good timing (seeing something unique at the right time and springing upon it), and it requires understanding the recipient and realizing what his/her interests are and what your relationship to him/her is.  I’ve always sucked at it and it’s become almost paralyzing for me to come up with gifts.

The argument of course can be made that gifts do not matter because they are material things.  This is true but my other limitation is money.  To be honest, if I had the money, I would throw events for my family and friends often, in remote places, to get them out of the lives they’re stuck in temporarily, to share common time with them in a different environment for relaxation and bonding.  Maybe this says more about me than what my friends and family want.  Because I think the gifts that I’ve come to really appreciate as I get older are, weirdly, bottles of hard liquor (given by my buddy Mat after I helped him move some stuff) and access to events (like my dad’s tickets, or my classmate and friend Ann who had me over for Thanksgiving).

I’ve taken to trying to write full breakdowns of my relationships to certain people in an effort to remember those intricacies and delicacies of the nature of my connection to them.  It’s a sign of my growing admiration for biographers, who often write more fascinating stories — those of the people behind great products, events, and breakthroughs — than the things they made themselves.  But it’s also a sign to me that one of my defining traits has been observation and love of people (hence my love for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s insights on human personalities and behaviors and quirks).

So to be a better gift-giver is not to buy more expensive shit for people, but to appreciate my relationship with them more.

Other resolutions: learn morse (I’m about 20 letters in, so that’s getting there already), learn surfing, visit the Galapagos (I have the free miles), and get better at basketball (going to need a good coach for that).