These Are the Days of Lasers in the Jungle

Remember these commercials? They aired over twenty years ago. Tom Selleck narrated them. AT&T had the future of communications all mapped out, and now that it’s here, it looks even better than advertised.

I’m not going to get the watch, but I want the iPhone 6. It makes my iPhone 4S look chunky and archaic. I was really impressed when I got the 4S too; my previous phone was the hefty, non-Retina iPhone 3GS, and the jump from there was tremendous.

How fortunate I am to be so picky. How fortunate we are to see such advancements in our lifetime. Ideas that were science fiction when we were kids are coming to life even before we get old. The world might not look much different from how it was in the nineties, at least not at first glance. Look around and you’ll see the same roads, the same pollution, many of the same buildings, and many of the same problems. New threads have knitted themselves into the backbone of life, though, and the emotions, values, and thoughts of our society have changed with it. People don’t rent movies anymore. They download them to their smart televisions. They don’t use VCR tapes. They record their favorite shows and movies using hard drives connected to satellites.

People don’t carry Walkmen to listen to music anymore. They don’t strap Polaroids around their necks when they want to snap a quick photo. They don’t even need to sit at a personal computer when they want to go on the internet. For all of that, we now rely on pocket-sized cellular devices that wield more computing power than early spacecraft. The Star Trek communicator, Dick Tracy’s wristwatch, the Turtle-Com, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, they’re all real. Don’t panic, but I bet you’re holding one in your hand right now.

These are the days of miracle and wonder. Don’t cry baby, don’t cry.

One-Eyed, One-Horned, Flying, Purple People-Pleaser

Recently, I shared an excerpt from my short story “Travis is Fired” with an English teacher at a nearby college. He gave excellent feedback, but he was also curious about the long-term stakes of the story. Where was this story going? What was Travis’s story arc? What kind of person was he, and what was he going to face?

Travis’s flaw is that he’s a people-pleaser, a man who keeps his world under control by making everyone around him happy. Or, at least, those people he deems worthy of happiness.

He also has an uncompromising sense of justice, and his expectations for others are so rigid they’re brittle. As you might guess, Travis’s personality doesn’t get along with itself.

As painful life events rain down on Travis, he devotes his energy into caging his frustration. Since he has chosen not to express his displeasure, for fear of upsetting others, his displeasure decides to express itself. It manifests as a whole other character that whispers to Travis in the dead of night.

This freakish doppelgänger, who calls himself Ralph, encourages Travis to release his rage, to say what he feels and then some. Travis realizes that this might be good for him, so he takes Ralph’s advice and lashes out at those he dislikes.

At first, this expression is therapeutic, but before long Travis is alienated. Family and friends are frightened at his transformation. Horrified that he’s hurt people he cares about, Travis becomes infuriated with himself. Ralph’s hissed suggestions turn to ceaseless berating, and Travis sinks into depression. He hits bottom in a dirt field, where he bleeds himself in the blazing summer sun.

I don’t want to go much farther into the plot. I just thought it was interesting to think about. It’s fascinating that people distort their views of the world. They need to keep it in a state that appears stable and familiar and safe, and if they can’t, they become afraid. This clamor for security, this need for comfort and steadiness, is so severe that people will go so far as to alter their behavior in irrational ways to satisfy it. They won’t even realize they’re doing it most of the time, and if they do, they won’t appreciate being called out for it.

Our minds are fragile and difficult to repair. Hopefully Travis can make it.

The Facebook Problem

There’s something you should know about me. I, Daniel Rocha, made a pledge not to look at Facebook for an indeterminate amount of time, for my own good.

How did I come to make such a bizarre promise? Well, it’s actually on the orders of my counselor.

My counselor, Mary Anne, told me that she has a number of patients coming in to her because of Facebook. It gets into people’s heads. It makes them question their own lives. It makes them feel inferior. She gave me a warning: “Stay away from Facebook,” she said, “lest it devour your good sense and poison your mind.”

Okay, she didn’t say it quite like that, but the message was intact.

So what, exactly, is it about Facebook that upsets so many people, including myself? I’ve asked myself that question many times, and the answer is pretty simple. Looking over my News Feed, and the self-aggrandizing posts that populate it, makes me feel like shit. People use Facebook, and most other social media, as a means to validate their own lives, to feel as though they’re “making it” in our bizarre American culture. In this culture, success is measured by popularity. How many subscribers do you have? How many people follow you? Are you a beacon that lures people with no lives of their own? Do people envy you and your good fortune?

Are you a celebrity, or do you at least look the part? Everything’s A-OK in your world? No problems, no issues, just a picture-perfect life? Well, it’s no good unless you can show it off.

In the First World, where the lower three tiers of Maslow’s pyramid are more-or-less taken for granted, esteem is the true measure of success.

I don’t value esteem. I value the success of my works, but not of myself. I just want people to enjoy the things I make.

The world of social media, however, seems like the perfect opportunity for the rest of us to play celebrity, and God damn, if those folks who need that validation didn’t take it.

I don’t know why it bothers me, or the others who go to see Mary Anne. Or maybe I do. Maybe I don’t like to see people getting recognized, celebrated, even worshipped, for doing nothing more than living their very simple, very ordinary lives.

Do followers, admirers, worshippers, really make you feel better about who you are? Or is it a cover stick for your perceived failings? Does it ease the pain of knowing you’ll never be Kim Kardashian? Or Nicki Minaj? Or any other inexplicably popular human being in this screwy country? If that sort of thing doesn’t affect you, why bother sharing your own adventures online? Why bother presenting the best possible picture to strangers? Whom are you trying to impress?

Maybe I’m just a crusty old thirty-something who doesn’t fit with the flow of today’s cultural currents. Maybe I’m a crazy man who’s suffering under the weight of my own failures, but I just don’t see the need to celebrate myself. I don’t like to talk about myself; I never have. I like to talk about cartoons. I like to talk about movies. I like to talk about drama, emotions, how to evoke the strongest possible reaction in people through words, images, and ideas.

I’m feeling more and more like an old man. Goddamned kids just like a twist, I guess.