The Winner Takes it All

Apathy is the single biggest problem on the Internet. 

It isn’t trolls, toxicity, or the corporate giants who decide they’re going to algorithm us all to extinction. We, the vast majority of ‘normal’ users, are the ones with the potential to ruin it for everybody, and we do. Most of the time you won’t even realise this is happening either, until someone turns up on your feed suggesting a course of action you disagree with. If you’ve already got a beef with their actions, that’s pretty much a guarantee that something is going to kick off.

Life is hard in the affluent Western World right now. There’s an almost daily assault of terror incidents, natural disasters and threats to national security. My country’s trying (and largely failing) to successfuly leave a fourty year relationship. The American people are being governed (between rounds of golf) by a white supremacist (allegedly.) In all of this, people continue to pin their affinity and loyalty to a dizzying array of virtual saviours, or pray at the altar of corporate churches with the the belief their brand loyalty maintains a safe and trusted output, however much money that might cost.

It is no surprise therefore that compassion fatigue is becoming recognisable in larger sets of online communities with each passing day. The main upshot of all this trauma is individuals becoming less and less willing to consider a contrary set of beliefs to their own, being more likely to fly off the handle with the slightest provocation, and feeling that as long as they don’t name names or continue to hide behind a virtual persona, they can get away with being toxic because nobody cares enough to call them out.

So, what happens when a safe and trusted organisation does just that, shaming the nasty people for what others say they are? Overwatch is big news right now, and the level of ‘toxic’ game play is never out of my Twitter feed, reported third hand by person after person. So, when a company (that has never really been that keen on labelling anyone who pays for their games as anything other than a customer) takes the bull by the horns and starts calling out the bad people (and encourages players to do the same) what could possibly go wrong? Why would anyone complain about a company taking steps to eliminate the toxic element in a game that’s clearly full of just that?

Here’s where I stop one train of thought and ask you to pick up a second.

For as long as I can remember, there’s always been a jocks vs nerds fight happening somewhere in my earshot. Whether it is disdain for ‘sportsball’ or esports being a ‘joke,’ the two groups seem to have nothing in common, and continue to be pitted against each other whenever possible. The fact that so many sports fans play games is neither here nor there: they come to the table with a natural advantage, which is often overlooked. It is only by understanding the psychology of team games, the importance of playing as part of a whole, that individuals really begin to understand the need for co-operation and empathy.

The basement nerd, used to playing alone, has a hard time grasping the mechanics of team sports. She’s not been taught how to play well with others, and immediately becomes a disruptive, confrontational force. This has one of two results: people either attempt to help her understand how to play, or they reject her as a disruptive element. Then, it doesn’t matter whether what she says about others’ game play is right or not, whether she’s prepared to do as she’s told becomes irrelevant. You choose to play by the rules of the game, or you don’t. If the latter is your path, and there are rules in place that dictate these actions are against the spirit of this game?

Like it or not, you lose.

Overwatch’s decision to call out bad game play assumes that the majority of players just want to participate in a specific way. I wish them luck in making this stick, but when you are fighting ‘players’ who don’t understand what it means to be part of a team, or why that matters, you’re likely on a hiding to nothing. The internet is full of individuals who believe that their opinion, attitude and outlook are all that matters, that teams need them far more than the other way around. The concepts of loyalty, empathy and belonging are simple flimsy constructs for most; no real ‘friends’ just those who believe in a particular set of ideas, to a point, who refuse to allow reality to damage their persona. This is not just a white male preserve either, before you start giving me that look. I know countless women who perpetuate the shock/bitch persona. White men don’t get to die on that hill alone, oh no.

So what has apathy got to do with all this, the more astute of you will now be asking? This week came a powerful, personal revelation: sitting at a screen, being unwilling to name names when you see someone do something you don’t like because that just causes drama is slowly destroying everybody’s lives. It’s the lump on your arm that might be more than just a mole, but you’re unwilling to get it looked at and diagnosed in case the consequences end up as cancerous as you can’t handle the consequences to begin with. At some point, if you want to be a real human being, there has to be an acknowledgement of what matters most. I’ve realised I’ve had enough of reading social media where individuals aren’t prepared to call others out when there’s been something they disagree with. If you don’t have the balls to put conviction to a claim, then shut the fuck up.

If you won’t, don’t expect people to keep listening.

In effect, I have implemented my own response to toxicity. Watching somebody else complain at others but not rock the boat too much themselves, when multiplied up thousands of times, becomes apathy that destroys communities. If there is a genuine beef with someone, then go talk to them. If, after you talk to them, all that they’ll offer as explanation to your issue is glib platitudes and ‘well, I can hardly be expected to read my feed the whole time’ then it should be apparent your relationship is not as important as it appears was the case, and everybody should really move on. If you’re playing an online games where there are teams of people and you flatly refuse to play by the rules set down by the majority? Expect to get royally owned by those who do, even if you feel you are the one in the right.

If you really want to succeed in the future: be the team player who understands that the rules only work to a point. Play games as just that, and don’t live them as if they mattered more than life itself. Most importantly of all, when someone upsets you online, don’t say a fucking thing about it to anyone, deal with the problem internally or away from social media, and just move on. The real winners don’t need to prove they’re right, they know in their hearts that they’re doing the right thing, and everything else is irrelevant.

In a world where nerds have become their own enemies, the only way to win is not to play.

Goodbye

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The first time I saw an Apple Computer was the 1980’s: the new vinyl cutting machine that my mother had bought to start a home business was run by a IIe, so that makes it 1984 by the Internet’s unerring reckoning. Ever since, there’s been one in our house or in my handbag. I took a tablet for both US trips as my laptop and it was perfect for purpose. Mostly, I’ve used the brand in the last decade out of a sense of misguided loyalty, because it is simply easier not to worry about alternatives when everything works just fine.

Except, in the past few years, I’ve begun to get uncomfortable. It began with the Watch, which I suppose was an inevitable evolution from the Phone but for me is too invasive for my liking. There is no avoiding the reduction in tech size, and as it becomes increasingly easy to pay for stuff by just wafting potentially unsecured electronics about? Security is a big concern. I’ve never sat well with the idea of ‘offsite backups’ for personal pictures, never used the Cloud to keep anything of importance, and now that’s being forced on me by iTunes my discomfort’s become irritation that needs treatment.

Yesterday’s new iPhone launch was effectively the proverbial straw.

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Facial recognition is something I have a problem with, for a lot of reasons, some of which are quite complex and psychological. Honestly, if I don’t want to look at myself in the morning and that’s the only way of accessing my phone? Fuck you, not happening. The automatic assumption that this is a) cool and b) desirable simply confirms the future as being dictated by a group of narcissistic wannabees staring at screen and not each other and frankly, I want no part of that. I’m going to find a new way of living without this version of tech: Fitbit are about to launch a watch/health tracker with a contactless chip embedded within. When this watch wears out I’ll upgrade to their service, link just one personal bank account to it and enter the Future that way.

The other, more concerning issue is pricing, and how people are clearly prepared to pay increasingly large amounts of money for a status symbol that’s driving the Planet to self destruction. Okay, so I’m a tad melodramatic but seriously, $1000 for a phone is stupid. Spend the money on something worthwhile, or maybe give that money to someone who has nothing and would be forced to steal your phone as a result. I know I’m not allowed to tell people how to live, but that’s a food budget across a month, possibly two, for a normal family. If all you see is your life and not the consequences to everyone else… I’ve been writing about causality this week, and it’s been like clouds parting and a giant shaft of sunlight shining on truth.

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I’ve gotta make sure I don’t start being an evangelical about all of this, but when I think about priorities and what matters in my life? All I need is a hard drive for music and a phone to play an occasional game on that takes pictures. Everything else is covered in other ways, under my control and not a software company’s, and that’s the way I think I’d like it to stay going forward. The future, at least for me, is no longer praying at this corporate altar.

Look Away

Yesterday, something fractured in my head.

I went upstairs into our bedroom and pulled out all the trousers that have been waiting to be tried on, once I’ve lost weight. Many of them now fit comfortably for the first time. A couple are never going to be large enough, others are simply too big. The realisation has finally registered that I could be waiting forever to fit into a size or style, or perhaps it is time to just accept what is here and live with the consequences. Therefore, there are four bags of clothes sitting by the front door, which simply won’t ever get worn. I was holding onto them out of misguided belief, in the end.

A lot of my life is retained on that principle, and finally there has emerged means of escape.

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I know what triggered this, that the second week of Mindfulness Training has started the process of meditation, and as soon as I quieten my mind to everything else, reality is simply unavoidable. I don’t need all these clothes when I live in a small and well-curated subset of one type of apparel. There is no need to keep things ‘in case of X’ when X is never going to happen, and if it did, I’d be better served just going out and buying what was required. I’m beginning to detest the excesses of materialism with a passion that was normally reserved for politics and stupidity. I don’t need anything except a notepad and pencil on most days, a basic PC as a luxury. Everything else is dangerous and potentially addictive, when all is said and done.

So, the house is going to lose a phenomenal amount of content and weight at the time of year when one is normally considering the excesses of Christmas and New Year. In fact, I am going to go fully digital for gifts this year with a number of exceptions who’ll get something hand-made and personal to them. I need to start planning now, on reflection, but it won’t be a huge task to get my arse in gear, especially when so much of my ‘old’ life is going out the door in the next couple of weeks. It is true what they say about de-cluttering, how cathartic it is to release from constraints of the past. It is also very comforting to know that deep down I’m beginning to accept what I am for the first time in my life, that there is no need to conform to anyone else’s view of what is right.

I realised when I began the Minimalism course that it had the potential to fundamentally alter what I am, because I had simply been too afraid before to listen to my basic self unhindered. Now that is happening, life is less about worry and anger than it ever was. Self-control is becoming a tool of liberation.

There’s a revelation in itself.

Think

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Today marks 16 years since I stood and watched on live TV the World change forever.

Looking up from this screen, to the apex of the roof of the room I type in, there are three pictures I took on my first trip to New York in the 1990’s. I saw the Towers but never went up them: Mr Alt is afraid of heights, and it was a trip too much back then. When we returned to New York last year and saw the Memorial, I cried for some time. It is a beautiful piece of art, which serves a useful purpose and not simply as reminder. The flowing water, at least for me, is the prompt that life moves on regardless of your perception. Then I saw the roses, left by the name of each victim who would be celebrating a birthday when we visited. Sometimes, when your life has been given in tragedy, there is no moving forward.

You will forever be known as a victim, and this breaks my heart.

The Twin Towers are always in my thoughts #september11th

A post shared by AltChat (@alternativechat) on

With all the chaos in the world, events like 9/11 are normally only recalled to public consciousness in anniversary multiples of ten or twenty-five. I understand that this allows a measure of closure for some. However, knowing that so many people who died on that day have never been found because bodies were effectively incinerated to nothing is not an image that ever truly leaves. The trail of death in the last sixteen years across the planet is numbing: refugees in the Mediterranean, hurricane victims, Grenfell Tower… a constant reminder that death is part of life, yes, but when man’s own anger, greed and stupidity is at fault? You should #neverforget any of this. Don’t let it own your existence, yes, allow it instead to temper reaction and response.

Become better by learning from the anger and fear it creates.

This week I am determined to be better than those who feel they have nothing to learn. I will listen when spoken to and try to be calm and relaxed. I will reconnect with body via Mindfulness. This will be a week of progress, by understanding that the past has a great deal to teach us about how to live in the present.

Then, I will look to the future.

Knowing Me, Knowing You

header78Yesterday, I ate something I will not eat again. I now understand that my body loves certain foods but will effectively cripple me if I eat others, especially on an empty stomach. Let it not be said I do not understand how life without a gallbladder works. My plan therefore is bland, small and lots of water in between, followed by a VERY long walk somewhere for stamina. Camera is ready to take pictures. Think today is one I need to move, but not in a manner that might make me throw up. As much as I ascribe to the ‘if it is not hurting it is not working’ mentality, that does not work right now.

Time for gentle exercise and no recriminations.

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I realised quite quickly into this journey that although yes, I can live perfectly well without a bile regulation device, I cannot eat what I did any more, despite various people’s assertions to the contrary. It has taken four months for my body to reasonably adjust to the differential, but now I cannot digest certain foods that were problem free for my digestive system previously. Dietary choices therefore have shrunk and not remained constant. It is probably fortunate therefore that most of those foods aren’t exactly good for my system anyway, and losing them is no massive hardship.

Then I remind myself of the consequences had the organ remained in my body, and a loss of a few foods is academic. What I ought to do is get myself looked at for allergy testing, and make sure there’s nothing more sinister and long term at issue here. With my son’s allergies being of significant importance at present, it is entirely possible that my genetic material is at fault. That is something to add to the To Do list for next week. For now, however, it is time to get ready for my walk.

Rain

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Something significant has happened this week. I decided not to enter a poetry mentorship. Even though I’m writing it, and will continue to do so, I don’t feel this is something that would benefit being focused on right now. In all honestly, it is time for storytelling and to experiment with that. Also, confession time; I’m not a great fan of a scheme where you are effectively expected to pay for your own tuition. So, a long term plan of editing stories and entering poems for contests seems to be the most appropriate path forward.

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I went to bed at 9pm last night with the reminder that, on days when I’m driving and exercising, six and a bit hours sleep a night is just not enough. Yesterday’s Push Day at the Gym has left arms aching, which tells me I’ve done some good on the muscle front. This weekend’s bike ride won’t happen because Mr Alt’s doing Hockey umpiring on Sunday: so, I need to find 24k steps from somewhere, and probably throw some extra steps in there if possible. Whether I run or not I don’t know, but I’m tempted to walk the distance normally ridden tomorrow and take a camera with me. Husband will be up stupidly early, so that would make sense, that I could do all my exercise before the kids are even awake.

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For now, I have an afternoon of laundry and chores, before I go out (either gym or woods.) Today is a boring, mundane Saturday and frankly I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Hard Rain

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This week has been a literal disaster area for millions of people in the Caribbean. With three hurricanes now on Storm Watch, from a distance this is not unlike watching the trailer for The Day After Tomorrow, just without the Ice Age bit.

Climate change deniers are gonna have a hard time explaining the last month away. This is also the moment where, living as I do on a coastal estuary, there is a reminder that there for the grace of your deity of choice goes me and anybody else who enjoys the benefits of a beach within walking distance and the pretence of being a holiday destination. Anyone near to a coastline now stands the chance of being underwater quite soon, if those pesky polar icecaps continue to melt into the sea. The water has to go somewhere, and when the sea temperature is rising? Everybody’s in trouble.

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I know a LOT of people in Florida. I won’t lie, if I was there… well, I would have left probably on Wednesday, to hell with job or schools for the kids. I also realise that saying you’d do something and having the luxury of doing so are as far apart as the melting icecaps. I didn’t mean to either upset or irritate anyone by suggesting publicly they should leave, but it happened all the same. I thought about deleting the offending tweet but on reflection, it is an important lesson learnt. From a distance, everyone can seem like a critic. My overriding concern is that there will be massive loss of life, and if that could have been preventable via evacuation… but it id never that simple. These are the issues that will now become as global a problem as refugees from wars and famine.

It is the elderly and the young which are of greatest concern, of course. Asking people to stay safe is all well and good, but until the storm makes landfall… it could yet decrease in potency, and all this hand wringing and panic would have been for nothing. Except, it isn’t, none of this is wasted. This is the next decades of existence unless global warming is arrested. Nature will simply do what it has always done and its own natural defence system will reduce the population of the planet. Ecology, like it or not, exists in very delicate balance and if you fuck it up, there will always be consequences. Add to that the truly unexpected, and a bad week just gets worse.

All I can do now is watch from a distance and cross everything that the people I care about will be safe. Offering prayers is about as effective as believing I can change the world just by blogging, and we all know that’s not happening any time soon. I’ll be donating my Patreon earnings this month to the International Red Cross, because these people need the money far more than I do right now. In fact, they need everybody’s love and cash as a matter of some urgency, because one day this could be us.

The World is changing too fast to stand by idle.