Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The "Look at Me!" Lifestyle

I did a good bit of my growing up in a quirky, connected small town, an island in the Pacific Northwest. I don't idealize that way of life but I certainly came to miss it. I was in junior high when we left; we moved four more times before I was out of my teens. I graduated from a high school of 2000 students, most unknown to me, and never found reason to go back.

There are worse things than being anonymous and invisible. And starting over a few times helped me grow and develop without getting stuck or having to keep carrying around awkward mistakes and embarrassing moments. All of us can profit from the occasional chance to get away from disappointments, poor choices, or a bad reputation. To start again with a new school, a new job, a new friend. I don't regret that.

Sometimes I've wondered, though, what it would have been like, what I would have been like, if we'd stayed in one place. 

Now that I'm back again in a quirky, connected community, I see the difference. I notice how Chris and his parents expect to run into people they know wherever they go; I listen to their stories, and I realize that people here are quirky and connected, not invisible and anonymous; this is kind of what I remembered and what I had in mind. Chris, on the other hand, is restless to get out. He's ready to start over.

Do you think our culture as a whole has changed, though? For example, being a teenager now is subtly different than it was a few decades ago. There are still the cool kids, the popular kids, but nobody has to be isolated, anonymous, invisible. If you have a phone and a couple of social media accounts you can find friends of a sort, people like you, and can express yourself. It's true for people in big cities, small towns, faceless suburbs; doesn't matter. You may not show up much in the high school yearbook or get your name in the local paper, but still be all over Facebook or Instagram.

Experienced this at the ballgame Chris and I went to a week or two ago. Yes, Eugene has a baseball team (the farm team of a farm team!) and a couple thousand people showed up to watch the Eugene Emeralds play the Hillsboro Hops. They had all these little promotions and activities between innings, and ordinary people were chosen to participate. There was a beanbag toss for free ice cream cones which Chris said his kids had done many times when they were smaller. When one batter got a double, everyone in section 4 (our section!) got coupons for double bacon cheeseburgers at Carl's Jr.

At one point a cameraman came toward us with what the musical cues told us was the "kiss cam." Apparently he was ready to put us up on the big screen if we were willing to provide the image for a 10x20' public display of affection; we were and we did. Later, the ballpark announcer gave out a hashtag and encouraged everyone to pull our their phones and snap selfies of their day at the ballpark to post on Twitter or Facebook and be broadcast on that same 10x20' screen. So we did. Look, there we are! Celebrities for a second!

It may only be for a second, but the seconds come so often I think they add up to far more than Andy Warhol's 15 minute of fame. 

"The places to which people in the past looked for guidance in finding identity--such as the church, tradition, and social conventions--have been superseded. People now look to the media for guidance in discovering a sense of self. Therefore, it is no shock that we find people living life as actors. ...We have grown up in front of screens and cameras; we know what it is to consume media and to perform, even if it is just for those around us. Life has become a media performance, and we already know the lines."

Mark Sayers, The Vertical Self

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