Molding Mediums

In defense of one of the most beautiful human expressions, creativity, I’ll address here the Molding Mediums, a term I’ll use to describe social media, search engine optimization systems, and blogs. These Molding Mediums are doing just that, molding the way that we interact and write. Could we be setting aside key components of creativity in shifting our creative output to appease a Medium formula?

I branched together some ideas I’ve had over the past several years having to do with the compromises we make in using specific communication mediums. The first general idea I had to work with is that social media quantitatively attempts to assign value to human experiences and more widely, human lives. The second idea is the standardization of language and content through systems of search engine optimization. Below, I go into more detail about how these Molding Mediums are effectively changing the media that we are consuming.

Molding Mediums- photo by John Towner

Social media is assigning value to humans [because we are letting it]. Social media followers and likes have foundational implications on an individual’s social network and social persona. We have people purchasing followers, we have click farms, we have “follow back” biographies on social media accounts. Over the past ten years, I have been experimenting with various social media platforms, not sticking to any one of them for very long. I noticed that during the few months spans that I had a Facebook account, I was participating in more social activities simply because those social activities became more accessible. I drew a poignant observation: people seemed to really only notice me when I was standardizing my modes of communication and adhering to the mediums. As long as I was communicating in this specific manner, I was receiving social invitations (whether they were welcome or not).

There are also limited ways in which people appear to be communicating on social media platforms. Having worked heavily in social media data to obtain evidence related to potential fraud cases, I can define several types of users who nearly render themselves into caricatures through the data that they post. You come to recognize the political rant, the complaint that life is boring, the selfie with duck lips, the perfect family, the traveler on the edge of a cliff, and so on. All of the content seems to bleed into the other, and there’s also the factor of overstimulation from the tremendous concentration of data available simply through the act of scrolling.

Molding Mediums - photo by John Towner

Search engines are standardizing our language and content. If you’ve used the Yoast SEO tool, you’ll see that the tool ranks the readability of your text. It gives you a rating, such as “needs improvement”, based on a number of set criteria. These are meant as guidelines, but they do not account for prose and poems. Given that prose and poem are not written in the same manner as an article, it is difficult to obtain a positive rating without sounding like you’re trying to please the machine. For your work to have “value” online, you are encouraged to standardize the way that you use language. If I write in a more formal way, as I tend to do, I noticed that the score is not good. If I “dumb down” my language, the readability score improves.

As for content strategy, certain topics take precedence over others; some are allowed and encouraged, others are belittled and discouraged. You’ll read endless blogs that encourage you to write specialize on one topic, and all the more bloggers calling themselves experts for the sole reason of choosing a blog focus.

Articles seem to be written for Google rather than for people. 

We’re sterilizing the potency of language when we pump articles to the brim with keywords and calls to action. We’re rendering our language materially different by customizing it for a computer algorithm. Language is fundamentally changing through these methods; what are we gaining and what is going away?

Molding Mediums are creating change; we are using online interfaces to mold the way that we interact with other people. But beyond that, we’re changing the way that our writing and our content is structured, and possibility compromising artistic license for the sake of ranking higher on the Google totem pole.

Inherent/Inherited Tensions

[To be read in the mode of loosely-crafted spoken word.]

tensions, photo by Andrew Ruiz, from Unsplash

As an individual life begins, so is a likely pattern of existence laid out to predict the events to come.

Unrealized but realistically expected principles of chaos forge their way through the barriers of ordinary happenstances.

These become irrevocably melded into the skin and fabric of temporal dealings, where skin and fabric are parsed categorically with moral denotation. 

Patterns of existence serve to induce guilt in any and all deviations of the established parameters of living.

Thereby not accounting for the unaccountable and not accounting for that which is not carefully crafted in total calculation.

All alternatives fail in this affluent arrangement, and align with alienation.

Imagine a society without patterns of behavior; little would be achieved (?).

Although those we remember most are the ones who broke with the crystalline structures.

We tell stories of original individuals, congratulate the masses, and differential between individual and society, heavy-handedly inviting everyone to break the mold while simultaneously telling them to stand in their place.

Our challenge is to find a compromise between originality and not.

We tease and craft our lives with inherent tensions.

Rather than imagine a dystopia wherein everyone is the same, imagine one in which all individuals struggle beyond reprimanded measures to be unique.

Yet, insulting phrases are “you’re just like everyone else” and “you’re so different.”

And herein lies our tension, that of being as relative to oneself (preposterous) or being relative to the perceptions we have of their perceptions of us (tormenting).

But the conclusion lays clear, we’re not at this point from a default, required mode.

This is not inherent, it’s inheriting.

Bop and Mouse

Bop carried around three books at all times, usually not the same three books. They were exchanged regularly, unless one particularly stuck, then it was with him for a couple of weeks along with the other two.

When he was twelve, he’d come across the words “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” in a library book. He ran his fingers on the seam of the book because he’d seen it done in a movie. He loved the texture of the leather, and pulled the book entirely off the shelf to caress the front of it too. Bop peeked at the librarian in his peripheral vision in case she saw him; he didn’t want to be doing something bad.

The script on the page was minuscule; he thought of a tiny mouse lifting a huge magnifying glass to the book to read it. The magnifying glass was so heavy that it plopped down again and again. Bop thought that the mouse might damage the page, so he entered and asked him to please stop. Bop explained to the mouse that he should not drop heavy materials on the page, for they were magic. He said that pages should never be dog-eared and that thumbs should not be wetted to help turn a page.

Bop was alone a lot; the other kids didn’t much like him, and he liked it that way. He was mostly okay with it because he read a few books in which the main character is alone a lot too and liked to be alone. When his mother told him scary stories that could not be true, when she told him about heaven and hell, and told him he would go to hell, he would go to his little pile of books. There would be his neat stack, his friends, and he would touch their covers, front and back, and then he would touch their seams. He liked the old seams, the ones that were browning at the corners, and he traced ninety degree triangles with his fingers until his fingertips became overstimulated and felt tingly.

Once, he went into a bookstore, and he heard pop music playing on the speaker system, and he became upset. He squatted in the literature aisle and composed himself, they are disrespecting the books by playing this type of music. He felt his heart sinking, and thought of the words on a piece of parchment “my heart is sinking”, and imagined that one of Jane Austen’s heroines was writing it to a correspondent. The heroine’s desk was tiny save for a pile on the left corner of miscellaneous papers. Bop liked to imagine the messy papers because he would like for there to be something he could not read on the heroine’s desk. That made her real. If she was not real, he would have every detail of everything she wrote and received in writing.

The tiny mouse came in again and began shuffling through the left-hand pile. Good thing the heroine had just stepped out of the room as she’d been called to dinner and after dinner tea. Bop came in again to speak with the mouse. He eagerly pleaded that the mouse remain composed and halt messing up the pile; after all, it was not his pile, and by that fact, it was not his to disturb. Bop asked him to come back to the bookstore and to turn off the music, if he could.

All of the sudden, Bop and the mouse were in the literature aisle of the bookstore, and Bop told the mouse that the music was not respectful of the beautiful books that had yet to go home and be loved. The mouse stood on its hind legs with its hand draping down in front of him and Bop thought of Flowers for Algernon, got sad, and wiped three tears away, exactly three, before he breathed two deep sighs. The mouse was off. In eight minutes, the music was off and one of the customers whispered “lame” and Bop smiled brilliantly.

Music started again and Bop nearly began crying at the onslaught of sound, before he realized that it was classical music. The music of books. He imagined the books and the authors thanking him, but passed the bestsellers table and saw that some of the books did not like the classical music. He thought he understood what was wrong; but he thought it okay because classical music was very neutral and could tone an environment rather than overwhelm it.

“I understand, mouse” said Bop when the mouse got back and found him at the table of new novels about grown up things he didn’t want to read about. “Mouse, I understand.” He reiterated, as he ought to do in a dramatic sequence. “Books are for everyone. There’s a book for everyone, no matter how little, no matter how big. There’s a book for the illiterate made of pictures and voices, the homeless, the wealthy, the poor. Even a mouse like you can see and touch a book.”

A bookstore clerk came about the bestsellers table and saw a little boy talking to a little mouse. She did not scream and did not alert her supervisor. Instead, she thought she would write a children’s book about the encounter. The clerk asked the boy’s name, who startled slightly from being spoken to, and he replied “Bop.”

She walked back up to the counter, saying to herself, I now tend to the burden of writing the children’s book, Bop and Mouse. 

Once the woman was out of sight, Bop turned to the mouse. “I carry three books with me at all times” he said. “I carry them because I want to feel the physicality of them, the weight, the slight pleasurable burden of holding them and carrying them in my backpack.”

Bop would wait many years before having the confidence to write his own book. He would eventually do it, in the dimly lit room with borrowed street light, with noisy neighbors partying in the nights and through the mornings, amidst the sadness of feeling his life had been all too peculiar to be an author, through the daunt of word counts, deep through the crevices of human morality and interpreted reality, and companioned by a cat he called Mouse.

On Eccentricity

In a culture riddled with social parameters, it has become imperative to observe the environmentally defined and individual-specific codes of deviation. In this case, I’ll address the idea of eccentricity, in true and in assigned capacities. Eccentricity can be defined as those actions and words of individuals interested in acting and speaking out of the preferred social norm. This is not for the sake of provoking, but is a less labored, and more authentic expression of the self. True eccentricity does purpose itself in harm, or even the thorough consideration of effect. It is rare to find a true eccentric, particularly in a time when it is socially acceptable (and even sometimes socially encouraged) to formulate great displays of publicized opinion and other narrative (such as through social media).

by Redd Angelo

Whenever I have entered an office environment, I have noted that there are specific individuals to whom eccentricity can be a combination of the following: granted, encouraged, repressed, discouraged, unacknowledged, acknowledged, romanticized, and others. For example, you begin to note that those with titles with creative implications serve to allow the label of eccentric. This labelling allows, within the micro-environment, a loosened code of conduct, thereby investing other individuals in its repercussions. Those with more rigid or normative positions, such as those involving public relations, incur the labelling of steady and encourage the repression of socially and internally-agreed upon eccentric behaviors.

We see that on a simplistic level, individuals are categorized into: allowed eccentricity or forced normativeness. However, the labels are loosely based, and often come to be from sources that cannot fathom the incredibly intricate components that some individuals play out, whether publicly or privately.

Allowed eccentricity applies to those individuals that are generally regarded as eccentric, whether they had earned the label through repeated action or display (such as wearing a Santa hat in July), or whether they have crafted it because they noted that being labeled as such would provide them with more social liberties (such as being rude and having someone else excuse it “don’t mind her, she’s a genius”).

Forced normativeness applies to those who willingly repress their stranger behaviors (“I won’t tell my coworkers that I volunteer with cats, or they’ll call me a cat lady.”), have completely signed to a life without oddity (“That’s not how a real man/woman acts”), or to those who are asked to act a specific way, even if it contradicts their personality and their belief of ethics in authentic representation of the self (I am told to stop speaking so formally because it makes me seem unfeeling, though I feel it’s more authentic because it implies respect for the other. I conform to this).

Given the parameters of this binary thinking, we see that eccentricity has both positive and negative connotations. If one is perceived as successful and eccentric, one’s ill behaviors easily become excused. If one is seen as artistic and eccentric, one is allowed a wider range of conduct that an individual not deemed artistic would be social rejected for performing.

If the external environment would not like to acknowledge eccentricity, because it would not fit neatly into the romanticized idea of the eccentric genius/artist/successful businessman, the environment could attempt to provoke forced normativeness to induce the individual to re-fabricate him or herself for the public sphere, thereby creating potential identity dissociative-ness between the public and private life of the individual.