MC's Whispers

Whispering Silences

Archive for the tag “society”

The anti-tech mute

https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/13/ea/7a/13ea7a3fc1a0414aa846a48ff7c03be2.jpgHis name was Edison. He had it sculpted on a wooden plaque in his bedroom to remind himself of it.

It was years since he decided to retreat into solitude. At first, he saw it as a challenge, because he realised he was too drawn into the digital life of constant social networking, online media access, useless self-advertising and unabashed self-appreciation. He did not like the person he had become. He was hanging upon the number of likes he would receive on every post he made, on the number of followers his posts would receive, on the number of people who viewed the videos he uploaded. It was as if this invisible click by people he didn’t even know was what kept him alive. So he decided to do something radical about it. He decided to disconnect from everything and everyone. Those who really cared would find a way to contact him. Everyone else did not matter.

For two years, he had devised a lifestyle where his talk was limited to simple daily transactions to meaningless chit-chat with neighbours and co-workers. Everything else, was typed on a laptop.

One day, however, he woke up with a strange feeling. He felt his vocal chords had gone numb. He could not utter a sound. Was it true that you could forget how to talk if you didn’t speak?

He tried to shout, to scream, to say something, to whisper even, but nothing came out. Not even a screech.

He felt all his other senses heightened. As though the lens in his eyes with which he viewed the world had suddenly zoomed in and he witnessed everything in more detail, more clearly and with greater analysis. He began to notice things people did that he failed to see before. The level and tone of voice they used to speak to each other. He could comprehend simply by the sound and intensity of their voices and their body language what these people felt about each other. And he acknowledged that as a people we have become more aggressive, more aggravated, are more stressed and in constant agitation.

When he went home that night, he turned on his laptop, opened a new document and began to type. He may not have been able to speak at the moment, but that in itself made a fantastic theme for his new book: the new-age entrepreneur who became an anti-tech mute. He would find a way to raise a warning about the dangers he saw unfolding. And he would do so the only way he knew how.

The homeless keyowner

http://gretchenrubin.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/keyswhere.jpgWhen Oralia was a young girl, her grandmother had given her a set of keys as a present. She told her that she would spend all her life trying to find a lock, so she might as well be prepared. Oralia didn’t really understand what it meant, but she was proud to own something so significant.

When she grew up, she had the habit of carrying with her sets of keys – be it for her home, the storage room, the office, even her closet doors. For some reason it made her feel important, granting her a sense that she was responsible for something so significant.

When the economic crisis broke out and homeless people began to appear more abundantly in the city streets, Oralia was saddened by the thought that apart from not having a roof over their head, these people didn’t own any keys.

One day, however, the unimaginable happened to her. She got locked out of her own house. And she couldn’t find the keys.

She had left her precious set of keys on her desk at the office that evening, when in a rush to get home, change and meet her friends at the movie theatre. The office door locked automatically and she was not the last to leave, so she was not concerned about that. But when she reached the front door of her apartment building, she felt her blood freeze in her veins.

City life was so asocial and distant that she didn’t even know any of her neighbours who could buzz her in. But even if she did get into the building she couldn’t enter the apartment. And she would have to call a locksmith to change every lock, from the apartment door, to even the closets so she could access her belongings. It was a nightmare she would rather not even think of.

So she decided to go back to the office instead and retrieve her original set of keys.

On the way, she saw two homeless people, one snuggled in a quilted blanket on a park bench and one sitting at the steps in front of another tall apartment building.

She no longer felt sorry for them not having a set of keys. It wasn’t the keys themselves that made them important; it was what they unlocked. And that is what her grandmother meant all those years ago.

Forced smiles, fake laughs

http://www.veneto-explorer.com/images/350xNxeyeswildresized.jpg.pagespeed.ic.KnvlBU8W0z.jpgDo you remember what the last thing you read today was? Or what you were most recently discussing? Do you even recall what the last song you were listening to was?

We are constantly bombarded with so much information, we don’t have time to process it all. We pass our days skimming through texts and articles and by the end, we’ve already forgotten what we were reading about.

The same goes for the discussions we have. We often nod, as if we are paying attention to what our interlocutor is going on about, or as if we even remember what we were even talking about to begin with. Our topics of conversation become superficial and insubstantial. They are interesting enough to keep our attention for a few seconds, and then that distraction kicks in again.

We lose interest too soon. Isn’t that a sign of a society in disintegration? Of a life that becomes so superfluous that it keeps requiring things to keep its adrenaline high?

Do you even remember the last time you really enjoyed something? The last time you literally laughed with your heart? When you got lost in the moment you were living, forgetting about everything else?

We live at a time when we are surrounded by forced smiles and fake laughs. We have become so accustomed of hitting the “like” button online, that this has become a measure of our popularity, as if this is the only thing that matters for our existence.

We live our lives behind a mask, or maybe behind an abundance of them. To the extent that we sometimes don’t remember what it was like to be without one. What it is like to be genuine, carefree, and real.

It’s easy to put on a mask. Taking it off is the hard part.

A World of Shock

disaster_capitalismYou know that old woman who shoved you while hurrying to get off the bus this morning? She was running to get to the hospital, as her husband suffered a heart attack while she was at the market. And remember that young man getting sunburnt on the side of the pavement where he was rooted, who even offered his blessing when you stopped to hand him some change? Two hours later, his cousin dropped by in a fancy car, picked him up and went to the beach.

Things are not always what they seem. Nor can we even imagine what the reality is truly like. In a world marred by constant talk of crisis, sensationalist media reports, and the looming pessimism of disasters – be they natural, financial, political or even moral – we live in a constant state of instability and shock. We are fighting nervous breakdowns by pretending we’re OK, by keeping on moving, by refusing to even consider what would happen if we stopped and breathed it all in.

People all around us seem so different, even though we share common ground. Nonetheless, all we mostly see – or chose to acknowledge – is the extent to which we vary from each other. And this usually always means that “the others” are most often luckier, more privileged, and “have it easy”. Or even that those who have managed to travel beyond the continent, somehow have returned deeming themselves over and above their compatriots, as if now they are somehow better than everyone else, as if they no longer belong to this world. There are people like that. Who managed to rise up from the slums into a life of riches, and all of a sudden, they have become too important to deal with “petty commoners”, or even “locals”. Those who rise from their ashes remembering their past and helping others survive it too are, unfortunately, a rarity in this world.

In one of the most enthralling, shocking, riveting, and illuminating books of modern times, Naomi Klein describes exactly this. How we live in a world of shock. How certain capitalists pursue a “Shock Doctrine” in order to impose Milton Friedman’s Chicago School model of deregulation, privatization, and cut of public spending. It reveals our world as it truly is, one run by capitalism that has no interest for its human impact. She dubs this “Disaster Capitalism”, because it concerns big private companies profiting at the expense of the poorer and lower down on the social scale, whenever disaster (in any form) strikes. It is the implementation of a shock and awe policy. Simply considering the world we live in today – this constant state of “crisis” – it is not hard to see that certain international institutions (the International Monetary Fund, for example) are doing exactly this – demanding that their terms be implemented if money is to be disbursed; terms that include drastic spending cuts, VAT increases, privatisations, cuts in the public sector, no matter what that may mean to the levels of unemployment, poverty and a break in the social chasm. According to this powerful book, the only thing that shines some optimism among us, is the fact that memory is the strongest shock absorber of all, and the only one capable of providing resistance to the repeating of such events.

No matter what you read, or if you don’t read at all, Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine” is an eye-opening book that everyone – every politician who is not an idiot, every citizen who wants to make a difference, every person who refuses to be a lemming – should read. You will never view the world in the same way ever again.

Ten chairs of same size but of different quirks

There were ten chairs arranged in a perfect circle right in the middle of the room, exactly twenty metres from the door and with a diameter of precisely four metres. Abigail herself measured it all every Tuesday ten minutes before the clock on the wall struck 4pm. The other seven members of the group usually began entering at five minutes to four, with only Kaitlin coming in at 4:02pm every time.

Living with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) was a drag. But going to a support group meeting in the hope of being able to alleviate the symptoms was something close to unimaginable. How could you accommodate the Obsessiveness of eight different people, especially when some of their OCDs actually conflicted?

For example, Arnold had to sit exactly in the centre of the group, something that had to change each time a group member was absent; but it would also have to accommodate Justin’s need for him to have an almost equal distribution of male and female “colleagues” on either side. And then, Mika always had to be the one to speak last, while Isaac wanted to have the word seventh in line. It was chaos for their coordinator Patrick. But what was worse was the fact that the OCD support group was not really helping anyone improve. If anything, it seemed to make things worse.

Abigail now began going in fifteen minutes earlier to measure the distances of the chairs and doors, irritated that Samuel came in a few minutes later and moved his chair ever so slightly, but enough for her to be compelled to take out her measuring tape and begin all over again.

Caleb had to tap his hand on the back of his chair three times before doing anything – literally, anything – before sitting down, before speaking, before getting up. Ray had to wait for absolute silence before he began to talk and even the slightest sneeze could get him off-course, so that he would have to restart his speech.

Patrick himself didn’t really have any obsessive traits. Well, at least not before he started the group sessions.

Now, three months later, he started noticing things he didn’t use to – the distance between chairs, the whiteness of paper, silence and noise, the order of lists, promptness of time, colours, decorations, the organization of a room; those little things that to any regular person might not seem important.

He feared that soon he too would need counselling. So he decided to follow a new method.

He took the OCD group on a field trip to the park. He laid down a brown plaid blanket and called them all to sit. There was no measuring, no time delays, no tapping, no counting whose turn it was, no total silence. It was just a group of people during a weekly gathering in the park.

Surprisingly it worked. For that one hour, everyone forgot about their OCDs and were just friends having fun in the park.

Until they left. And it all started again. The insomnia from not counting enough sheep, the measuring of the furniture, the tapping, the order of the lists.

Patrick decided to change the location of the meeting every now and again and hope something would work.

By now, he too had began looking at his phone screen more often than usual, swiping all screens back and forth twice before he would put the phone away. He used to think OCD meant something else, like Overtly Characteristic Denial or Other Central Differences or even Ominous Covert Detective. Now, he had learned exactly what it meant and what it felt like. If only he could now shake it off. Maybe even twice.

Shrink to grow

Psychiatrist - shrinkWhen you think about it, cavemen or even people living in the middle ages must have been much happier than we are now. OK, so maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration. But certainly people just a few decades ago were much better off. One piece of evidence for that is that no-one was howling the “financial crisis” jargon over the heads for what feels like forever. Another, is that they didn’t seem to have the urge to run to psychologists, psychiatrists or psychoanalysts to let out their problems.

In fact it seems that as society develops, our problems become all the more complex, intense and stressful. And for that, we need to feel that someone is on our side. Understanding and offering a helping hand, at least in the form of some advice.

Perhaps, this is the reason we often resort to ‘professional help’. Because “they would know better” and offer solutions. But in reality, all they truly offer is a chance for you to release everything that is bothering you, that is tormenting your mind, that is keeping you awake at nights. They allow you to liberate all the emotions, anger and tension that you have been suppressing for so long. And they do that by simply granting you the security that they will not judge. They are there to listen and maybe tell you what they believe will help you in finding the right solution or way forth. So, in essence, they act pretty much like a Buddha would, because the answer almost always lies within you. And in the end, you are the only one who can solve your problems.

You just need to realize what makes you so frustrated, that at times it comes out as passive-aggressive, what makes you depressed, what raises your heart pressure, what is troubling your mind and most of all, why. In this search for inner peace and answers, we all wish there was someone out there who could just provide us with all the information we need to know. But unfortunately, there isn’t. And they can’t. So we still don’t know.

Whoever your psychologist is – be it a Frasier Crane character, or more like a Charlie-type in Anger Management – these people may sit through tens of sessions a day, listening to other people’s problems and in the end they themselves may need someone to vent out on. So we could at least help them in their job and try to solve these inner riddles that are causing us to crawl up in their comfy chair in the first place.

Sometimes, the answers we seek are indeed right in front of us. We just lack the courage, the strength or even the will, to truly acknowledge them.

 

N.B. The term “shrink” is a clipping of “headshrinker”, a US slang term that simply refers to the idea that psychiatrists have the ability to reduce or “shrink” one’s mind into an understandable concept. Thereby (if I may add) helping you grow in the process.

Career Nomads and Freelancers: Striving to Create a Future

Career nomads - freelancersThere is a popular saying that “when things don’t go right, go left”. How many times recently have we all thought of turning to another direction? With the increasing difficulty people of all ages today face in finding a job, a different trend is on the rise – that of career nomads, and freelancers. All hoping for a better future.

Tereza worked for big public relations companies for almost 20 years before she resigned and decided to go freelance three years ago. She regrets nothing. This has today become a growing tendency — people quitting their jobs to go independent and become self-employed. The unfavourable working conditions simply make the decision easier. “It is no longer a choice but an unavoidable outcome of the crisis,” explains Tereza. “Many people have to work freelance as there is not enough full-time (and even part-time) job creation on a global level to sustain a growing job market”.

And it is true. In countries like Greece and Spain, where unemployment has sky-rocketed, people have been forced to rethink their necessities, priorities and habits. It has encouraged more and more people to become freelancers, as they cannot find a job in a company. But this also means that they will probably be uninsured and only get paid if they have a client who will pay them. People no longer think about saving up for the future, but of having enough money for today.

In freelancing, there is no guarantee as to when the next assignment will come up,” says Tereza. “Another important disadvantage is that a freelancer has no medical coverage or other social benefits.” But there are also very important advantages pertaining to this type of employment, she adds. These include flexible working hours, the freedom to choose who to work with and what projects to take, as well as the fact that you do not have to be physically present in an office.

Making the leap

Nick followed a similar path. After a decade working in a private energy company, it was sold. Drowning in bureaucracy with limited chances of career development, he decided to go freelance, making good use of all the contacts he had gathered in the course of time. Now he works on a project-basis but is happier. He gets to determine his own work and time schedule, and most importantly, choose his own clients. “It’s more rewarding to work for yourself,” he says, “but it is also tougher.”

Things are not as easy for someone starting off as a freelancer, though. Tina, a graphic designer and recent graduate, is new to the labour market with only the experience of a few internships. She is striving to find independent projects to work for, but not having the necessary contacts to move ahead, she is still struggling to be given a chance.

Finding fullfillment

Yet, people feel the need to change careers in order to find a job, find a more fulfilling profession and gain enough money to make a decent living.

After working in communications for over seven years, Dominic decided to take a step in a different direction. He went back to school to study architecture, what he “always wanted to do, what he would enjoy, and what he could do well”, but was discouraged out of fear of not finding a job later on. “What difference does it make now?” he wonders, as unemployment has spread to all sectors of the labour market.

But what really urges someone to make such a radical change? “I was tired — of the hours, the workload, the tight deadlines, lack of time off, the political scene, of nothing ever getting done. And because my health could no longer take this pace,” he explains. “So, I decided it is time for a change. To slow down, do something more creative, something that I wouldn’t have the pressure of a big organisation in, and have greater flexibility and more time to take care of myself and those I care about. Even maybe work for myself instead of a company — no one seems to be hiring anyway.”

Eternal career nomads?

We have become career nomads. Moving along with the changing tides, with the hope of maybe landing a job that may guarantee some sort of pay, no matter how low that may be.

Maybe in the future I will do something entirely different again — I don’t know. But I know that when I stop enjoying something or cannot take it anymore, and have the luxury to change things, I should try,” says Dominic with a smile, as his eyes gleam with the exciting prospect of this change.

People’s main concern today is how to pay the many taxes that have been imposed per capita, how to ensure a daily meal and how to simply get by. Thoughts about pensions are now minimal, at least for youth. Uncertainty is the emotion of this time and there is no feeling of security left. But there certainly is some optimism remaining and the perseverance to keep fighting for something better. “My main concern is to live a life that is fulfilling, satisfying and makes me happy and calm,” says Dominic. But perhaps it is no longer enough simply to change profession. We need to change mentality, too. As individuals, as nationals and as Europeans. Only then, will we be able to change society towards the better and create a future worth aspiring for.

 

This article was first published on Cafébabel.com and translated in French, Spanish, Italian, German and Polish.

A stone in the road

TestYourStupidity-24134There is a stone in the middle of the road. Careless passers-by walk over it, stumble and fall, get up and continue their way, all the while cursing the stone that was in their way. If one of those took it and placed it aside, none of the rest would fall again. [from a poem in Greek by Ioannis Polemis (1862-1924)].

There are countless such examples in our everyday life. Things that demonstrate not only the selfish nature of humans, but their stupidity above all.

All you can do is take such instances lightly, with a glass of wine and a laugh.

Journalist reports on the meeting of a Minister with EU officials.
News anchor asks in all seriousness:
“So the discussions focused on the competencies of the Minister?”

Friend calls you at home: “Hi! Where are you?”

There are a lot of stories of comic (and at times pedagogic nature) from Nasreddin Hodja who lived in the 13th century. For example: Hodja was riding his donkey on the way home from the fields where he had been working all day. On his shoulders he was holding his plow. A friend meets him along the way and asks “Why are you carrying the plow on your shoulders?” To which the Hodja replied “So that I relieve my donkey from the weight of carrying both that and me”.

This is the logic to which we have become accustomed to. No longer being able to think rationally or at times even at all.

As the world becomes more and more dumb in a sense and this kind of daily stupidity increases, perhaps we are leading towards the kind of society depicted in Idiocracy. And that is not good at all.

Also part of Daily Prompt: Ready, Set, Done

What?

rude-boys-bus-stop-10300805The other day I took the bus down town. At the next stop an old lady grabbed the handle at the door and yelled to the driver if it made a certain stop. After he yelled back to affirm, she – with great difficulty – pulled herself in. There weren’t many people in the bus during that time of day. Two twin girls had taken up two seats in the front of the bus (you know, the ones that are usually assigned to people who need them the most) and their mother was sitting next to them across the aisle. I looked around and the people commuting weren’t really old. At least not as old as this lady.

She was obviously in pain from something. You could see it in her facial expression that she needed to sit down, as she was already panting from the effort to catch the bus and then actually get on it.

She looked around and I observed.

No-one seemed to care.

No-one, not even one person – anyone – even thought of giving up their seat for this woman. (I was standing, so I couldn’t really help).

You could see she was boiling inside, looking at the twin little girls who were carefreely staring out their window, and then their mother who didn’t really seem concerned about anything other than when they would reach their stop.

The women sitting next to the mother then got up to get off at the next stop and the old lady tried to squeeze in to sit in the inner side of the seat as the mother had not budged. The old lady resorted to clearly stating that she wants to sit down because her foot is hurting, and only then did the mother get up to let her sit.

I am left wondering, are there no manners anymore? Savoir-vivre and savoir-faire are obviously non-existent, and the only thing left is the savoir-moi.

We live in a society where everyone only cares about themselves. Where the mentality of “as long as I’m ok, I don’t care about anyone else” reigns. Where giving up your seat for someone who obviously needs it more than you should be a given. But it’s not. (And let’s not even talk about the example the parents give their children…)

Where the words ‘excuse me’ and ‘thank you’ are no longer part of our vocabulary, but instead they have given way to ‘what’, and all the swear words you can imagine.

Rudeness is such a part of our everyday lives that people have stopped paying attention to or being bothered by exactly how….rude it all is.

Walking on the sidewalk and trying to overpass people who are trailing along at snail’s pace, talking on the phone, while at the same time puffing chimney-loads of smoke back at your face. Trying to quickly insert all your shopping in the plastic bags at the end of the counter, so you have time to pay the bill without having to gather remaining items, when the next customer pushes his/her way over to your side and is literally breathing down your neck. Reaching a bus stop and realizing there is a person there taking up the entire bench, having comfortably adjusted themselves in the very middle of the seat with all their belongings on either side. There are numerous more examples of how everyone tries to make everything easier for themselves, without caring how much more difficult things become for everyone else.

There is no ‘we’ in our lives anymore. Only an ‘I’ which comes first.

A Journalist by any other name…

twitter-journalismThe other day, as I was blissfully walking across one of the city’s busiest shopping streets (no, I had not bought anything, strangely enough, and yes that does happen), I had an interesting encounter.

A young man was trying to promote a beauty salon and caught my attention with a joke. He asked me what I do. When I responded that (among others) I am a journalist, he frowned and said “well, I can understand the rest, but that, I am not so thrilled about”.

It got me thinking. Why do journalists have such a bad name? And since when? I grew up believing it was so cool to be a journalist, a reporter roaming the streets, cities and countries in search of news, and always being the first to find out exciting information.  It was an ideal job.

But now? Now, journalists are one of the most underpaid and overworked professions there are, with citizen journalists trying to steal the show, and all these social media attempting to take over traditional forms of information.

Journalists have gained a bad name. Why? Because there are so many bad ‘journalists’ out there, that it makes the rest (of us) look bad too.

Everyone suddenly thinks they can be a writer, a journalist, a reporter. Because it is easy to just sit and write whatever comes to mind. But not everyone can express this adequately. And this is something few realize. A journalist is more than a writer and a storyteller. It is a person who searches after news, who can sense what is newsworthy, worthy of reporting; who can understand what the public is concerned about, and who can express it in such a way that every citizen/reader can understand what it is s/he is saying. It is about being concise, comprehensive and to the point. It is about being able to challenge the status quo when necessary, prompt change, and above all make the reader think.

In today’s digital and socially interconnected world, real journalism has lost its meaning. Instead it has become what Frank Zappa called “rock journalism” and most of it “is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who can’t read”. And media today have become associated with this bad journalism.

Trying to stand out of the crowd in this storm isn’t easy. But they say that s/he who perseveres wins, and what is more, there is always the faith that a good journalist will never get lost. At least in a world where people still strive for perfection, quality journalism will remain a necessity always searched for…

Also part of NaBloPoMo (November 2013)

Also part of Daily Prompt: Teach Your (Bloggers) Well

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