Archives for posts with tag: alienation

I’ve spent the last few days in reflection, contemplation and conversation. My reaction to the results of the election was not anger or sadness predominantly, but a form of numbness. Watching the election coverage on Saturday, I felt a surreal sense of déjà vu.

I am worried.

But perhaps not about the same things as some.

One of the things that has become increasingly clear to me is how partisan we have become. It’s difficult to see how things could be any other way at the moment. (For those who don’t know, partisanism is “the term is used for [those] who strongly support their party’s policies and are reluctant to compromise with their political opponents”, and if you observe U.S. politics, it’s typically not ideal for a healthy democracy.)

After the release of Dirty Politics, the revelations about mass surveillance revealed by Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Glenn Greenwald … for those of us who were predisposed to believe these things, it was already hard for us to trust the current government, and it just got harder. This is especially galling given that John Key’s position on mass surveillance is simply that: “Trust me, don’t worry what the letter of the law means”.

For those who do trust the Prime Minister, or don’t trust people like Greenwald, Snowden and Hagar, or simply didn’t believe there was any substance to the allegations … Well, I suppose it came down to much simpler questions for them.

But here’s the problem. For many of us on the left (or even the centre), who believe Key is not to be trusted, it’s very difficult to see how others could ignore what we see as pretty substantive evidence of wrongdoing. And it is conversely very easy to write off those who gave National their renewed and strengthened third term as selfish, ignorant or much worse, based on some of the stuff I’ve seen flying around social media.

I urge you all — please do not limit your relationships with people based on their voting preferences, and please do not attack them for their position. (Though if you feel they are resorting to damaging rhetoric, of course I believe you should be clear that you do not see things that way.)

When we all retreat into our ideological corners, it becomes very difficult to discuss issues, and near impossible for us to agree upon anything. And one of the big things I am discovering post-election is that people cast their votes for a number of different reasons. No, not all of them make sense to me. But they are what they are and you won’t change anyone’s mind if the conversation is accusatory or altogether absent.

This election campaign was one of the weirdest ones New Zealand has perhaps ever had. And I can’t really hold it against people if they retreated from the chaos into something that presented itself as stability. And for many people, I think it did come down to that.

For others, it was the same problem as the 2011 election — what they perceived as “negative campaigning” from the ideological left. (That it mostly came from third parties was clearly beside the point for those people.) And I guess I can’t hold it against those people either. There certainly was a lot of “change the government” talk, and some of it came courtesy of persons who simply were not trusted by a broad swath of New Zealanders. (And this one doesn’t fall along ideological lines. Many progressive “lefties” didn’t like Kim Dotcom either. I think that is well evident now, looking at the election results.)

The problem is, although Labour did try to run a clean positive campaign (even going so far as using the word in their motto, as though we might not realise otherwise) it didn’t really look that way to many people given the kind of external stuff that was going on, especially given that Key kept saying it was a left-wing smear, and since all the parties on the left bought into the allegations, I suppose for some that was all the confirmation they needed that he was correct.

For those who do trust Key (and I might not be one of them, but I must acknowledge their point of view), they saw the left campaign as not just accusations against him, but accusations that there was something wrong with New Zealand. And the National campaign said the opposite — New Zealand’s great, we’re headed in the right direction, don’t you worry, National’s got your back. Also, we’re stable as fuck. Don’t you like stability? Yeah you do.

Perhaps the left parties could have looked a lot more stable if they had co-operated with each other more. I was pleased to hear such sentiments from David Cunliffe post-election. I hope Labour have learnt from this election, because they didn’t seem to learn an awful lot from their 2011 defeat. (Obviously I don’t have all the solutions to Labour’s problems. I wish I did.)

But here’s my point. Those of us on the political left might well spend some time in contemplation at our loss. But more than that, contemplation at National’s win.

I urge you — talk to people who voted for National. Keep your cool. Find out why. They have their reasons, and I promise you, they aren’t all selfish or stupid. It’s infantilizing and arrogant to assume that.

Believe it or not, many people who voted National in this election care just as much as you do about New Zealand. They just have different ideas about what’s the best thing for the country. And I know it’s difficult, given that many of us who are socially progressive feel like we see something National voters don’t (or won’t) about the state of inequality, poverty, environmental damage, media manipulation, mass surveillance and the economy, but I wonder if we need to swallow that attitude occasionally and try to hear people out a bit more (though I hope you realise I direct these comments at those of us who have the luxury and privilege to be a little more removed from the hardships many are suffering).

Maybe if you can have the right conversations, you’ll find out something that surprises you. Maybe not, but if we can try to have respectful conversations now, my hope is we can build something more constructive for all of us. Even if that is entirely limited to mutual respect and nothing else, that would be a pretty massive achievement in my mind. After all, no argument ever got resolved without mutual goodwill.

Now, more than ever, we need to find the middle ground.

And yes, that means the political parties on the left need to negotiate their own middle-ground and be more co-operative with each other, but I also think we as citizens need to try to find middle ground with our fellow citizens. We need to try to find the room to understand each other. We need to try to find a way to live with each other.

I know that none of this addresses what many of you perceive as violence towards the poor, or beneficiaries, or the school system or a multitude of other issues, and I’d like to assure you that I do share your concerns.

I just am not sure that we actually help those things by attacking or outright rejecting that which we do not like or understand fully. If we do that, aren’t we the same as those who refuse to read Dirty Politics because it’s a “left-wing smear”, or those people who didn’t think there was any substance in “The Moment of Truth” solely because it was associated with someone they didn’t like?

I am not suggesting that we take the high road. I am suggesting we take the middle path, and perhaps along the way, we might find some wisdom.

None of us are perfect. But one thing is certain — we are all human, and many of us care deeply about the future of this country, no matter who we voted for or what simple or complex reason we had for doing so.

There were a lot of warning signs from the outset. I went into the job expecting a pretty high level of disorganisation — and yet my expectations were exceeded on every level.

I had taken on a temp role at a large telco (who shall remain nameless) who are merging with another large telco. My role, within the HR team, and more specifically a smaller team of temps, would be to help manage some of the teething pains associated with their systems move (mostly, at the outset, their intranet and HR systems, not including payroll).

I did not last long.

We begin on a Tuesday, after Easter Monday.

It was clear that our arrival had been rushed and not prepared for. There were no computers for us. No log ins. No preparedness in terms of training us on systems or processes. No material had been printed for our arrival.

After the afternoon of day two, when lack of work helped us graduate from awkward chit-chat to full-blown conversation mode (assisted nicely by the-temp-who-never-stops-talking who reminded me so much of my eldest (and socially awkward) sister that I began referring to her as “sister-clone” when recounting events to my friends), one of the women in the recruitment team offered our manager a job “just in case she didn’t have work for us” doing reference checks. All four of us told our manager, who had a way of vacantly staring even when she seemed stressed and busy, that we’d be happy to do this.

No, Manager Vacant-Stare decided at the close of day two, better to put you all in a small windowless meeting room, and have you write a list of jobs to do tomorrow. We wrote a list. Manager Vacant-Stare briefly appeared to say, no, I don’t care what’s on your list, that’s fine, before disappearing again.

Day three, week one. Windowless meeting room. 10.30am. Our list is mostly done, although I don’t know this as the girls organically degenerated into gossip from “work”. Most of the items we couldn’t actually do. Especially not without a computer or any idea how the processes work. I’ve asked Manager Vacant-Stare to print us out information on a few processes, which I’m dully reading through.

One of the girls announces, as part of a long diatribe about herself and her boyfriend, that she is an alpha female. I already disliked her, I now want to kick her in the face. I begin practising roundhouse kicks in my head. I wonder if this will actually improve my physical ability (poor) in performing this maneuver. After listlessly hearing Irish Girl and Alpha Female talk about their relationships with their boyfriends for 45 minutes, I make an excuse to go to the bathroom.

I find myself standing out in front of the building. I’m not quite sure how I got here, except for a vague recollection that the doors to the bathrooms are right next to the doors to the lifts. I’m slightly concerned that if I blink, I might find myself at home with equally no idea how I got there. I find my cellphone in my pocket and call a friend, explaining to him that this scenario is literally out of my worst nightmare: trapped in a room with gossiping girls.

After ten minutes conversation I go back upstairs (the ascent in the lift feels like a death sentence) and return to the windowless meeting room. Irish Girl and Alpha Female are still talking about their boyfriends, while Sister-Clone interjects with a comment about her aunt’s relationship, or some TV show. The girls get frustrated when I suggest we do some work. I give in to the fog. I can hear Alpha Female complaining she is cold.

Day Four, week one. We are still in the windowless meeting room. Still no computers for us, but Manager Vacant-Stare has given us hers, so we can write up some of our processes in Excel or Word. We do this within the first few hours, Alpha Female complaining it is cold. She is not good at using MS Office. She spends 10 minutes wailing about not knowing how to use Excel, before I intervene and point out the ‘wrap text’ button on the home tab (apparently what she was looking for all along). Neither Alpha Female or Irish Girl have ever seen Smart Art before, and are far too impressed by it.

Alpha Female, who weirdly, for someone who comes across as so normatively consumerist/corporate, lives in a commune:

  • believes the world will end (soon) in fire, with the return of the creator
  • when the ring of fire will ‘explode’
  • and ‘nature will take back the Earth’
  • which she knows because ‘all’ ancient spiritualities had a prediction about the world ending this way
  • but climate change will not affect us in our lifetimes
  • we’re going to run out of oil soon (if you’re wondering, the opposite is true: we’re not going to run out of oil soon enough)
  • and ‘a vegan diet is not healthy’.

As a vegetarian (I’m also allergic to gluten or perhaps I’d have made the leap to veganism by now), and a follower of climate change news, I challenge these last points. She doesn’t have a lot to say in defense of her ideas, but manages to wave a flag of ‘spirituality’ as some sort of superiority indicator. In a moment of Dawkins-like fury I want to tell her that ‘spirituality’ is a word that means she believes things she has no evidence for. I don’t.

Alpha Female talks about her boyfriend again, and how he won’t let her take public transport, or walk anywhere and insists on giving her rides all the time. I think, but do not say, that he is reminding me of the description of domestic violence precursor behaviours on a Mayo Clinic webpage. When Sister-Clone suggests she wouldn’t like his controlling behaviour, Alpha Female explains that it’s only because she’s “so precious to him”, and he doesn’t want to lose her. I think about domestic violence precursors and roundhouse kicks to the face. It’s much later it occurs to me this is a paradox.

I am infinitely relieved this is a four-day week.

Day one, week two. Still no computers. No work. It’s obvious Manager Vacant-Stare knows we aren’t doing anything, because she hasn’t given us anything to do. I ask her if I can do anything to help her. She explains to me that there’s nothing I can do without computers and they’re coming, she just doesn’t know when. There’s a spark of anger in her vacant stare. I retreat back to the windowless meeting room. I’ve never been good at dealing with passive-aggression.

She later tells us she will have us sit with her one-by-one so she can show us a system process and go through our process flowcharts we (I) made last week, before quickly disappearing again. I don’t know where she is. I’m fairly certain the flowcharts are wrong, since I’d made them for a job I’d never done, but I don’t care. I’m glad at the prospect of doing something. Anything.

Today, the gossip is less. The mood is low. It’s not just me now, they’ve caught up. We discuss whether this is some weird psychological test/torture. Sister-Clone compares it to an episode of a TV show. It’s not nearly that interesting. I feel like I’m paying penance for some unknown sin I’ve committed.

For the first time, I think about the oubliette in The Labyrinth. The Oxford English Dictionary defines oubliette as “a secret dungeon with access only through a trapdoor in its ceiling”, but the definition Hoggle gives in the film is better (and perhaps more accurate to the word’s french origins): “a place you put people who you want to forget.” I wish David Bowie were here. Or a Muppet.

Manager Vacant-Stare never does reappear. Alpha Female complains about the cold again.

Day two, week two. A small, white, windowless meeting room. I’m beginning to crack. At least, I think I’m beginning to crack, but I don’t realise at the time that I started to crack long ago. I am not about to break. I am broken. Any tentative pushing back on Manager Vacant-Stare for work or news of when we’ll be able to do work is generally greeted with veiled anger from her. I don’t know what to do. I am forgotten.

I wish Sister-Clone would stop talking, but her chatter about her mother and her flatmate and her cat is like comforting white noise by now. I wish Alpha Female didn’t exist. I begin to draw doodles of fungus people. We carefully fight in the polite/horrible non-fighting way that girls do over the emails of five-minute work Manager Vacant-Stare sends through.

Around lunch, Alpha Female and Irish Girl sit with Manager Vacant-Stare as she takes them through one of the processes we will be doing. They later tell me and Sister-Clone that Manager Vacant-Stare decided that instead of taking the two of us through the process herself, that Alpha Female and Irish Girl will do it instead.

When Irish Girl starts taking us through the process after lunch, I can barely see the computer screen, as Alpha Female has taken up a prime spot. When I ask if she can move a bit, she tells Sister-Clone to move. I can see if I crane my neck. It becomes clear that, like everything we’ve done so far, that no one actually knows what they’re doing. We don’t get any of the work done. The computer never makes it over to me. I still don’t know where Manager Vacant-Stare is.

Day three, week two. I ring my agency on the way to work. I tell them I am handing in my notice, I can’t do it any more. I explain the situation, but they seem to think this is normal. Later, when the company is informed, I am taken into a meeting room by a brusque agency representative and told that it’s my fault because the computers are arriving tomorrow and there’ll be plenty of work. She asks me if I’d like to leave now instead of working out the day as she “doesn’t want my poor morale to affect the other girls”. I’m aware it’s not really a question. I am laughing on the inside, but it’s a wrong, hysterical kind of laughter. I am broken.

When I go back to the white windowless box of a meeting room one last time to pack up my things and say one last un-fond farewell to Irish Girl, Alpha Female and Sister-Clone, I tell them that the rep told me the computers are definitely coming tomorrow. Sister-Clone shakes her head. No, they might be coming tomorrow. Part of me will miss Sister-Clone.

I descend in the lifts and walk outside. The suns shines on my face and the fog begins to clear. It is warm here. I am free.

Between the cups of tea and clinks of glasses,
the lines of pen we wrote when we were small.
The interlude from when I saw you last
and see you next; the rules I kept and didn’t know.

I started up the hill today, the grasses clipping at my legs.
The little houses there looked into me
I started to believe the things you mentioned.
The houses frowned. The grasses whipped.

I didn’t let them get to me, I drowned their judgement out.
(Though later I could hear them in between the subtle strips
of what who I was last night
and who I am next week.)

I don’t believe the things those little houses on the hills say:
they want me to abide in them forever.
Little houses do not want us having picnics on the moon.
They are afraid of being left between.

For those of us who thought that wealth meant money
For those of us who thought that we could stack the deck and never have to watch it fall
For us who got confused between riches and being rich

Success is not the digits that display on the ATM
It is a growing understanding of the world.

If we never start to value meaningful connections
we will end up all alone unless
we stop buying and selling our way
to somewhere that is not a place we want to go.

Did you think your life would be a journey?
Did you imagine a never-ending adventure
where you could make yourself over and over again?

Today I am a spider
but tomorrow I’ll be a queen.

The road is always there before your feet — there’s always a choice to make and another life to lead,

if only you could see it.
If only.
If only you could be seen.

If you could think about another thing than money
or where to buy your shoes
or how to pay your rent

If you could start to pick the facts from all the lies that lie around us
If you could see the disconnect

I can’t make you do anything
only help imagine something else.

We could’ve had it all.

It’s all the pain and suffering, and all the untruths we were told in school
We were made to fit this world we didn’t manufacture
and now we think that’s all there is.

All of us are longing for something different,
somewhere we imagine that everything is beautiful and nothing hurts
And our only job in this world is to make it
(not “make it” like your parents told you)

If we could manufacture one or two dead or dying worlds
Who’s to say we couldn’t make one that lives?

There is a truth universally acknowledged: Facebook is as loathed by its users as loved by them; it is in equal parts a useful and revolutionary tool, capable of reaching out to people otherwise distant, as it is a medium of creating distance. Make no mistake – if logging on to this “social” network makes you feel lonely and alienated, in this feeling, you are (ironically) not alone.

In a world of false faces, masks of contentedness and deliberate illusions of success and happiness, Facebook is yet another implement in our toolbelt of social constructions of a life of triumph. Increasingly, in a spirit of social competitiveness equal to “quantity equals quality”, we are coming to measure ourselves by a little number that tells us not only how many “friends” we have, but the subtle inference that this little counter implies a social value. In this we are mistaken: cacophony is not community. And the number of “likes” a Facebook status receives is about as useful a measure of self-worth as the amount of money we make is an accurate measure of our success in life. Which is to say, very inaccurate indeed.

If Facebook is a means of connection, then it is not one that is concerned with the quality of that connection. This, in spite of the fact that quality of connection, or depth of connection, is the very thing that makes living in this world worthwhile. If artists (writers, painters, film-makers, musicians) are not trying to forge a deep connection with those who consume their art, then I misunderstand their purpose. Everything in our lives that is not about accumulating wealth or day-to-day getting by, (so then, anything that has real meaning), is about finding a sincere moment of common ground with another living soul. A moment to thrust away the artiface of society and convention and say in equal parts trust and fear: “This is me. This is who I am. I am you.”

This is a moment that Facebook, sadly, encourages us to discard. A moment that it does not know how to value. A moment so genuine, this technology of disingenuous, shallow connection throws away in a crowd-pleasing fury of “fucking loving” science, misusing the apostrophe, or sharing a particularly “clever” pun. Facebook values chatter over connection.

Claims have been made that enjoyment of the social network is simply a matter of knowing what to share or what not to share, as if that were the question. Whereas what is more important when it comes to true connection is who am I sharing with? This is the question that we do not always have an adequate answer to. Our inability to choose who to share what information with online is problematic to say the least. What Facebook lacks is nuance, and the flexibility to allow me to be a multi-faceted person who has different types of interactions with different types of people. And in a world where we are increasingly demanded to interact with a wide variety of people, who do not always share our experiences and ideologies, we have become adept at being a multitude of characters.

When in real life would I share some facet of my liberal belief system with a friend (or group of friends) I knew was resolutely (and combatively) conservative, if I did not wish to embark upon a lengthy discussion (or outright argument) of political beliefs? In practise, I would be far more likely to avoid a conversation of politics altogether with this person. Online (and on Facebook specifically), to do this would be remarkably time consuming and difficult, if not altogether impossible.

One could argue these are examples of topics best avoided online, as well as in real life. I disagree. I believe that online is an excellent and powerful forum for sharing ideas, information and beliefs. And I believe that Facebook’s lack of social controls over sharing are leading to people discussing less and less these vital topics and more and more to creating a persona of performance designed to be uncontroversially entertaining, and unthreateningly un-confrontational. A Facebook persona is not honest. It is a false projection of an idealised, charismatic, agreeable, attractive version of you. And more importantly it is flat and shallow, not allowing us more than one facet, one projection, of our self.

This is the funhouse version of your life: it’s shots of you at the beach with some friends, it’s the status update that tells people that you got a new job (but almost never that you lost one), it’s that profile pic where your hair looks just right and that pimple isn’t showing. Of course this isn’t your life – it’s a show reel, a best of, only the highlights (and never, never the lowlights). No one sees that you had a fight with your boyfriend last night, no one sees you struggling to pay the rent.

This is okay if it is not also now a huge part of the way our generation communicates regularly. But it is. This is okay if we do not conflate “friending” with friendship and you do not believe that those who have the most friends have the most important things to say; although we tend to. This is okay if we do not confuse numbers with value – a thing our society as a whole does rather indiscriminately. And this is okay if we understand that the photos and status updates we see are only a tiny percentage of the picture, and one that largely misrepresents the whole; something that unconsciously, many of us struggle to see.

And these confusions and fusions (combined with the terrible addiction of the instant gratification that is the internet) have served to make many users of this unsocial social network feel alienated, isolated, and envious of this funhouse mirror which we use as a representation of our lives online. This is not new information, I believe we all know these things. But like unhappy 1950’s housewives, most of us try to medicate ourselves against it, by creating rules for its use, or barriers to overuse, thinking unconsciously that the problem is us.

You are not the problem. The problem is a system that tells you and others that we are this collection of online performances, a program that does not allow you the real flexibility of truly social interaction, and a social mindset that informs a belief that growth and inflation can only be positive. This is a social network that is totally unworthy of the generation that has created it. It is this social network that helps us talk, but not communicate. It is a social network that values numbers but never quality. It is a social network that does not understand that people are more than meets the eye. It is this “social network” that is broken; not you.

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