A Piece of Something Greater

As I reflect on the life I’m currently living, one marked by solitude and distance chosen over potential social engagement and closeness due to the risks of the on-going pandemic, I find myself thinking about all the moments in my life that I actually felt like I was a part of something larger than myself. Generally speaking, these moments happened in crowds or as part of some collective action since I’ve never really been one to attach my sense of self to a cause or group identity (like fandoms or social archetypes), and there are far fewer of them than I thought there’d be when I started this reflection. As I’ve worked through it, though, it started to make more sense. After all, my childhood was marked by a sense of being lesser-than, my college years were filled with me attempting to rationalize that sense of self with the way other people treated me (both those who treated me well and those who took advantage of me), and my entire life has been marked by a desire to avoid chaos, crowds, and spaces in which I have no control. It is no wonder I rarely felt like I was a part of something more than myself, though it does hurt a bit to realize how rarely I felt like that in spite of how frequently I sought it out.

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Twitter Isn’t All Bad, It’s Just Mostly Bad

I still (mostly) enjoy Twitter. There are definitely times when I actively hate it, others when I feel like being on Twitter is watching the trainwreck of civilization in real time, and still more times when it just reinforces whatever negative spiral I’m in. To be entirely fair to Twitter, though, there are more times I actively hate existence itself (or maybe Humanity as a whole), even more times where I feel like merely paying attention to the world around me is like watching a more confusing version of the civilization trainwreck, and I am perfectly capable of reinforcing my own negative spirals, thank-you-very-much. Twitter is a slightly better version than all of the non-Twitter versions because it has cute pet pictures, neat art, and Conan The Salaryman. The world physically around me has none of those things.

Sure, I can go almost anywhere on the internet for pictures of animals being cute (that’s maybe fourty percent of the internet, let’s be real), but they’re hand-delivered to me by accounts I trust to ethically source and share their cute animal pictures. No content mills for me. It’s all shelters, animal rescues, and people who are single-handedly skewing the average pet-per-household numbers with a dozen cats, five dogs, an ever-changing number of rats, one to six snakes, and maybe an awkward bird wearing a sweater because it has anxiety that makes it pluck at its feathers. Also Jorts the Cat, who is an endless source of cute cat pictures, worker solidarity, and commentary geared toward furthering equality. This way, you not only get to enjoy pictures of animals, but you can do so with confidence knowing that no animals are being exploited for clicks, that no one’s content is being stolen, and that you have ready access to causes worth supporting.

Another twenty or thirty percent of the internet is various art-hosting sites, many of which are better suited to viewing art along specific themes. I like twitter, though, because I don’t care about themes or what specific fandom is being represented. I am not terribly interesting in browsing galleries of fanart from a specific TV show or of being guided through a series of artists who all draw sci-fi landscapes. I enjoy those things, but I like having a greater variety in my browsing, which means I prefer the slow aggregation that happens on my Twitter feed or the single-artist deep dive that occurs when I enter the media section of one of my favorite artists. Most of the artists I follow do a mix of fanart, original art, journal comics, and more. I like a good variety, you know? I don’t even have specific style preferences. I just want to see different stuff and I’m too lazy to be constantly searching the internet for it. I want to click a button and have it occasionally delivered to me via the “latest tweets” version of the Twitter app.

As a side note, did you know that if you browse via the app using only the latest tweets timeline, you don’t see the random shit that accounts you follow like (as of writing this, anyway. They recently added promoted tweets between the original poster’s tweets and the replies, so who know what other new bullshit is next)? It is the only way I’ve found to actually limit my Twitter feed to the stuff I’ve chosen to fill it. Sure, I get a bunch of retweets from streamers, artists, and authors I follow, but I tend to only follow people whose taste I trust enough to know that retweeting the actual tweet of some asshole only gives the asshole more of what they want (attention). I am incredibly selective of which accounts I follow and will not hesitate to unfollow someone who is bringing my timeline down.

Which brings me to Conan The Salaryman. Now, novelty accounts are nothing new. There’s all kinds of niche interest accounts that tweet about whatever random interest you’ve selected. Everything from the same gif every thursday to stories told in a single tweet to descriptions of feasts from Redwall books is available on Twitter if you take a little time to look for it. Technically, most of these are still content mills, generating tweets for likes and attention, but they go from being kind of dystopian to just entertaining when they don’t try to sell you anything. Like Conan The Salaryman. In all my time following the account, it has never asked me for money while keeping me entertained with one or two tweets a day written in the style of the Conan The Barbarian books but about Conan being an office worker in a giant corporation. It has tweeted in support of some good causes, but the account isn’t trying to generate money or sell advertisements. I’ve seen such changes happen in the past, for a variety of reasons (some of which I’ve supported and some of which I’ve disagreed with), but the power of Twitter is that you can just unfollow an account if it changes in a direction you don’t like. Worst comes to worst, you can just close the app. Or delete your account and start over. It’s free.

The last tool I use to ensure I have a good time on Twitter is blocking accounts. I get such an immense degree of satisfaction from watching Twitter struggle to put ads in front of me now that I’ve blocked most major advertisement accounts. Some of them are starting to get around my past blocks by making side accounts for specific purposes and advertising those tweets, but I genuinely enjoy those moments. I get to think “Not today, brand!” as I click “block” on this account and move on with my day. And that’s not even mentioning how nice it feels to block an asshole. I’ve had a few people get on my case during my time on twitter, and it’s just so fun to block them and never think about them again. I’d love to provide a specific example, but the whole “forgetting about them” thing means I only remember they happened at all, not who or why. It’s so simple. Can’t get outraged by whatever made-up bullshit is happening if you can’t see it.

Except, you know, for a few times. Like the recent celebrity trial. Given that it involved domestic abuse and a bunch of celebrities whose lives have no impact on mine, I decided I was going to do my best to ignore in pursuit of my own day-to-day peace of mind (it’s not like my feelings or opinions matter in regards to said trial), and put up my best defenses, but Twitter itself sidestepped those to keep throwing it in my face. And every so often people forget to not retweet assholes and I have to spend some time considering if this disruption to my generally enjoyable Twitter feed is counteracted by the enjoyment that account brings to my timeline. Usually the answer doesn’t result in an unfollow, but sometimes it does. I’d love to follow ever creator, writer, and artist whose products I enjoy, but I need to protect my mental health first and foremost. There’s room for reminders of how terrible the world is in something that’s supposed to be enjoyable, but if they take over and become the only thing left, it will quickly taint any chance you had of enjoying your experience. Which is why I left Facebook. And because the most fun I ever had with Facebook was that day in 2021 when it was down for a few hours, and I didn’t even have to break my streak of days not logging into Facebook to enjoy it. It was a true win-win for me (though I do understand that Facebook being down was troubling for a great number of poeple who rely on it for communication and access to anything not immediately near them in the physical world).

Social media objectively sucks. There’s no denying it. Many of the ills of modern society can be linked to how rampart use of online spaces has only strengthened that which divides us, but there are examples of how those spaces can still do good in the world and in the life of an individual. Like my Twitter feed, for one thing. And the Nerdfighter communities, that are still probably the only positive online community I’ve been a apart of that has surived popularity and expansion beyond a few hundred people. It just takes a LOT of work to make those spaces positive, healthy, and safe. It’s work worth doing, in my opinion, but it is definitely work.

Equal Rights for Familiars

“Being a witch’s familiar is a thankless job. You have to carry stuff around, hunt for magical reagents, fight off adventurers, and clean her bathrooms. I don’t know if you know what a steady diet of potion fumes and small children does to your insides, but I have first-hand experience with what comes out and I can tell you it is not pleasant for anyone.

“It’d make it all worth it if she’d just release the curse that binds you into your demi-mortal form, return the locket that holds the soul of your beloved, or, in Theodore’s case, stop dosing you with love potions every six hours.”

“You take that back! My Gina is a lovely woman!”

“Shut up, Theo. We all know what’s really going on, even if you’re incapable of believing it for another hour or two. This is exactly what I’m talking about! We need to unionize. We need to campaign for equal rights within the magical community! We must walk up to the table and demand they give us a seat.

“I know you’re all worried about what your witch might do to you if you protest or participate in our strike. For some of us, that will be the price we pay in order to gain freedom, rights, and respect for the rest of us. We outnumber them and they can’t just kill us all! The magical community would collapse overnight without us to support it.”

“I get what you’re saying, but have you considered that they can just replace us with a simple spell?”

“Sure, but they can’t kills us with a single spell!”

“Actually, they can.”

“What?”

“Yeah. My witch developed it last week. We’re pretty screwed.”

“Uh, I’ll put that on the agenda for next week.”

“If we’re still alive, next week.”

Who Doesn’t Love a Bit of Political Discourse?

As a citizen of the United States of America, I must admit that I am somewhat concerned by the state of things. As a citizen of Earth, I must admit to being downright terrified that it seems like everyone is having reactionary issues. None worry me more than the US political scene, though, given that I don’t really have much in the way of options should the worst come to pass.

There’s a lot wrong with the US’ political system. The people I spend most of my time with trust comedians more than newscasters, the older people I know tend to place the blame for all our collective problems on the young, and no one seems willing to do anything constructive about any of it. There’s lots of yelling, posturing, and pedantry. It gets tiring.

I tend more toward the moderate part of the spectrum. Not because of my personal beliefs, I’m very liberal in that regards. But I tend toward the moderate because positive change takes time and the only way forward is if we all work together. “A house divided cannot stand” and all those pithy quotes. In truth, my ideologies and beliefs can probably be best summed as “everyone has the right to do whatever they want so long as it does not infringe upon the rights of anyone else.” It’s the sort of nice simple statement that sounds so easy but truthfully is almost impossibly difficult to broadly apply. There’s a lot of errata that goes along with the statement to help it fit several of the more difficult situation.

Really, though, at the end of the day, I’m against polarization. “Them or us” is exactly the wrong kind of mentality. So many other political systems, each with their own flaws of course, get beyond that by actually representing the whole population, rather than just the largest group. To be honest, though, US voters are pretty lazy and that’s half the reason we have problems. That said, there’s a fair amount of disenfranchisement and ignorance playing a part in the lack of voter participation.

See, nothing is every simple, is it? Nothing every breaks down into nice simple statements that are correct or true. There’s either always some qualifiers or the statement is so long and winding that it makes almost no sense. US politics is always trying to paint issues as black and white when they’re often barely distinguishable shades of grey. Sure, there are two main sides to a lot of issues, but there’s so much shared ground in between that is ignored in favor of snappy one-liners and campaign slogans.

I’d really like to say more, but the entire thought-process is a freaking novel and I’ve got things that are much more fun to write. Let’s just say I’m really dissatisfied with the current system and have few options to make my displeasure known other than shouting into the void or voting in such a way that our reality becomes the worst possible reality. The Darkest Timeline, for you Community fans out there.

So, no matter what country you live in, don’t be a jackass! Prevent the Darkest Timeline! I, for one, know I can’t grow a full goatee to save my life. It’d be really awkward being in the Darkest Timeline without one.

Pokemon Go – The Latest in Fitness Apps

Apparently, all I need to do to make something I post or say wildly popular is mention Pokemon Go. I’ve been tracking the changes in my exercise habits since I started using the application and making a few remarks about it on Facebook. Each remark, and even the few tweets I made, have all been very popular (by my standards at least, since I generally don’t get more than handful of interactions on any kind of post). I almost want to see if I can start planting references to it that will tickle peoples’ subconscious like they do with subliminal advertising.

There’s definitely a lot of health benefits to it. I’ve started walking an average of 6 miles a day, been getting plenty of sunlight and bug bites, actually making use of my evenings for something more than watching TV or playing video games, and really started connecting with my area. I’ve explored parts of Madison I’d normally never visit and walked through neighborhoods I never even knew existed. I’m not even chasing a Pokemon all the time, either. A lot of the time, these past few days, I’m just going out to see what’s out there. Its like I’ve always wanted to do all this walking and exploring but I needed an excuse to do it. So now I have one.[

Pokemon Go is definitely a ton of fun, there’s no denying it. I’ve never been all that outgoing, but seeing a bunch of people walking around on their phones is like having a keyword search to identify the other nerds in my area. It’s the best. Its like, suddenly, everyone is just embracing their inner nerd or child and banding together to enjoy this magnificent application. I’ve met and partially befriended more strangers in this less than one week than in the past few months. I can’t imagine that my life will ever be the same. Never again. Heck, I doubt life as we know it will ever be the same again. This is the start. Going forward, this type of game and this integration of VR/AR is only going to get, obviously, more popular. There will be more games just like this one.

The community already forming up around this has so far been amazing. You meet people wandering through the woods and compare notes on which Pokemon you’re trying to catch, giving each other advice on which paths to take to find which Gyms or Pokestops, and while the competition for Gyms is definitely fierce, no one seems to get so into it that they’re being rude or lying to people on other teams.

I’ve managed to avoid spending any money so far, but part of me just wants to dump money into the application so that the creators, Niantic, can continue to do their amazing work (and, you know, add more servers so they’re not constantly going down).

If you like to meet new people, it seems like Pokemon Go is the way to do it. Just look for people with their phone constantly in their hand who randomly stop walking  for a few moments before continuing forward.