Thursday, December 17, 2015

Facebook, Podcasts, and Realizations

Life in Santiago has been pretty routine the past few months, hence the lack of updates.

I've been thinking about a lot of things lately, and this post is going to be quite a bit deeper than my typical posts.

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook.

What do I love about it?  I love being connected with friends and seeing their good news.  I can't always be there for milestones like engagements, birthdays, weddings, and the birth of their children.  It's obviously not the same as being there, but I love seeing pictures and  the feeling that I still have a connection to them.

I also love the instant communication.  I can have a quick chat with a friend I've been out of touch with.  I can plan an event and update guests virtually and share news and photos.  I can buy and sell things with a wider audience than if I didn't have Facebook, and I can also get advice and recommendations about restaurants and services.  People also post news about protests and happenings, which is handy when I'm traveling around the city.  They have even added a feature to mark yourself safe when a natural disaster happens.  When the earthquake happened in September, I was able to mark myself as safe so that my Facebook friends knew that I was ok.

What do I hate about it?  Well, the way some people choose to use Facebook.

Before I continue, I have to admit that I am far from perfect.  I look back at posts I made 3 and 4 years ago and realize the pointlessness of my previous posts or my desire for attention.

Some people give a play by play of an event that they are at.  Sometimes it includes pictures of every course of their meal or every picture of their vacation updated by the hour.  Don't get me wrong; it's great seeing some photos of a friend's vacation posted after the fact.  I'm happy for people that are having a great time.  It seems, however, that some people just want to show off how great of a life they have.  And Facebook is the perfect platform to do that.

Other people post about how much fun they had at an event or how much they miss a person, but they do it on their timeline.  There's nothing wrong with sharing this information, but is it necessary to do so in a public way to show off your friendship?  Sometimes it continues on with a string of replies back and forth about some type of inside joke or making plans for the next social event.  Maybe it's just me, but I find it annoying and unnecessary.  There's Facebook messenger, email, Whatsapp, and phone calls that can communicate the same thing in a non public way.

Sometimes you find out that you are excluded from an event or that someone has lied to you via Facebook.  Being on the inside of a social event is great, but being on the outside when you thought you were going to be included is a very isolating feeling.  People saying they are sick and can't meet with you but then post publicly to make plans with other people for the same exact time have also left be with a feeling of loneliness and rejection.  You could either be honest about things or at least be more discreet if you're going to lie or exclude a person.

Another thing that really gets to me is political posts.  There's nothing wrong with posting a news story if you're interested in having a civil political debate or that shows a point of view that you hadn't considered before.  Unfortunately I see people that post things with blatant misinformation or that seem to play on people's fears rather than using facts and statistics.  Why would you want to share something like that?  How is it helpful trying to engage people with different political views if you're not willing to have a civil discussion about things?

Then there are posts that are offensive and people that don't even try to understand another point of view.  I don't know about anyone else, but I find Conan O'Brien's "I ate all your Halloween candy" skit that he shows each year a disgrace.  For those that aren't familiar with it, a parent videotapes themselves telling their son or daughter that he/she ate all of their Halloween candy.  The child then throws a tantrum or bursts out crying.  This is intended to be a joke, and parents are encouraged to send in their videos each year to be shown on national TV.

Why in the world do people think that it's acceptable to manipulate a child's feelings in order to get a laugh?  Do people really value being on national TV more than their children's mental health?  This does not seem like a good way to cultivate a bond of trust and happiness between parents and children.  

Last but not least, there are posts that make fun of others.  Inside jokes and poking fun of friends is one thing, but making fun of people you don't know doesn't seem like a very productive or happy thing to do.  Do you really not have anything better to do than make fun of other people?  This also applies to posts that make fun of politicians, usually ones that have differing viewpoints than the person who's posting.

All in all, I have such mixed feelings.  I love being in touch with people, but you can only see so many posts that a single person makes about their amazing life, awesome vacation, or strong political views with no desire to discuss them.  I have found the unfriend and unfollow button very useful, and I'm also trying to spend less time on Facebook.  All in all, I think it hasn't been contributing to my happiness.

Given all that, how do I think Facebook should be used?

In my opinion, Facebook should be about bringing people together, making our lives easier, and helping contribute to happiness.  How can this be done?  

1. Share photos and personal news that is relevant and interesting.  If it's meant to incite jealousy or show off, don't post it.
2. Share helpful and interesting news.  Is there a road closure in your area?  Is there new research about a cure for cancer?  Did you find a new shop that might interest a friend?  Are there some kitchen hacks that will make cooking easier?  If so, share!
3. Help brighten people's day.  Share a funny story, joke, or video.  My personal favorite is the Suprised Kitty video that went viral on Youtube.  I have quite a few friends that are cat lovers, so any videos or stories that I find relevant I share with them.
4. Make fun of yourself.  A friend of mine jokingly told me that he hated me because of the travelling I had done.  A few weeks later I went to the ER with a badly sprained ankle.  I ended up wearing a boot for 2 weeks.  I posted a picture of my leg on his timeline with the comment, "So do you hate me now?"  It's something that he and I will always remember, and it was a good way to help diffuse his "hatred".
5. Find groups of people that share a common interest with you, and connect with them.  Not just through a screen, but by actually going out and meeting people in person.  I've made some great friends this way, and the in person connection is a way to help build community.

Will I ever give up Facebook?  I doubt it.  I do know one thing though.  Facebook has helped me to become more humble.  I share what is necessary.  I don't (or at least try not to) flaunt my success or staunchly post about my political views unless I'm willing to entertain a civil discussion about it.  I don't need to make a post about how blessed I am at Thanksgiving, and I don't need to change my profile picture to the colors of a country's flag in order to support them.  I do what I can to help others (even if I don't post an update or a video of it on my timeline), and I work to maintain my connections to people while connecting with others that will bring happiness into my life.

Another thing that technology has brought us is podcasts.  For those that aren't familiar with them, it is like a radio show that is on the internet that you can listen to at any time after it is published.  There are podcasts about almost everything in any language.  I've started listening to some that I find really interesting and helpful.

The first one is Nation Public Radio Planet Money.  It's about what's happening in the real world regarding economics, but it is geared towards people that don't have a degree in economics or finance.  They have such interesting stories, and they make for great conversation with people.

Another one is called The Tim Ferriss Show.  He's the author of The Four Hour Workweek and interviews guests that have been successful.  He also shares his habits and routines that help him to be successful.  It's interesting hearing from people about what they do and don't do, and it has opened my eyes to things that I can start doing differently in my life.  I particularly enjoyed the interview with Mike Shinoda from my favorite band, Linkin Park.

I also enjoy listening to Happier, a podcast by Gretchen Rubin.  She's the author of The Happiness Project, and she studies happiness and the development of good habits.  Each week she and her sister tackle an issue in an interesting way.  They share their experiences and ask the audience to share their experiences, and it's so interesting to hear that others go through the same challenges that I do.  They also talk about how other people see the world differently, which really helps to understand other people and how to live harmoniously.  They had a podcast about getting fired, and I wrote to share my experience having gone through it.  It was an incredibly hard time of my life, but a lot of positive came out of it, ultimately convincing me to make the move to Chile.

The last big one is called The Voluntary Life.  It's all about finding freedom and financial freedom.  It includes ideas about investing, saving money, living a minimalist lifestyle, and various paths to financial freedom.   This has been particularly helpful for me.

Over this year I have doubted my lifestyle of living in Santiago, having a cheap one bedroom apartment, and being my own boss.  I can make enough money to live, pay off my student loans, and put money into savings.  I don't have (and don't want) a car, because it's not necessary.  I'd like a larger apartment, but it's also not necessary.  I don't really buy many material possessions, but I do enjoy spending my money to eat out from time to time and travel.  People tell me I'm throwing money away by renting and they suggest I move back to the States and "get a real job".  Apparently there's something wrong with my lifestyle if I get such strong objections from people about it.  Or so I thought.

After listening to The Voluntary Life, I came to realize there's nothing wrong with my lifestyle.  I've chosen a lifestyle that doesn't include consumerism (with the exception of eating out and some things I enjoy like video games) and the accumulation of material goods.  I have chosen to be my own boss and manage my free time and workload.  I value experiences and travel, and that is how I choose to spend my money for the most part.  By living below my means and not buying a larger apartment or house that I would then have to spend a lot of money on to furnish and maintain, I prefer to save my money and use public transportation.  When I'm back in the States, I can rent a car if necessary.  I don't need to stay in fancy hotels when I travel; hostels or a room via couchsurfers work just fine.  When others voice their objections to my lifestyle I no longer have to justify it; their comments are a reflection of their own insecurities regarding their lifestyle choices.

I've become more cognizant of how I spend money as well as the possessions that I have.  I have started downsizing my selling or giving away things I'm no longer using, and it's a good feeling.  I've also started going through the vast amounts of paper that I have any getting rid of anything I don't need.  I've done the same with my email inbox.  I now have everything organized by category, have unsubscribed myself to lists, and deal with emails within 48 hours of receiving them.

I have 2 major goals for next year:

1. Be as paperless as possible.
There's an app called Evernote which allows you to take pictures of business cards, receipts, contracts, and other important documents that are then stored securely.  I already use Dropbox for my teaching materials, but being able to get rid of more paper will be a really good feeling.

2. Pay off my last student loan and set up an investment plan.
I got my unsubsidized loan paid off earlier this year, and it was a great feeling.  I have one more to pay off, and then from there I can start focusing on investing for my future.  I know I'm late to the game compared to most people, and I've endured harsh criticism for it.  While enduring that criticism, however, I've been busy crafting a lifestyle that works for me and that allows me to save a significant portion of my income each month.

I hope everyone is staying warm or cool (depending on where you're reading this from and what the weather is like there), and I hope you have a wonderful holiday and end of the year!

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