The Erosion of Social Bridges

There are positive attributes to like-mindedness. It’s a way to find common ground and interests in practically all relationships be it personal, professional, philosophical and spiritual.

We understand that having similar interests can help solidify these relationships. We also know that different pursuits can develop into new perspectives, and these perspectives can present alternative ways of thought and action, perhaps some you haven’t thought of yet.

Unfortunately, the bridges which can connect the like-minded and those diverse in thought and action, are in danger. There is a level of social deconstruction affecting not only the infrastructure of social interactions and preferences, but our individual feelings of well-being [health] and significance [purpose].

Some may like it more than others, but various apps connect us both professionally and personally.

The relevance surrounding social engagement has been noted across many communication channels–magazine articles, academic papers, broadcast news, and more. The absence of in person, face-to-face interactions with colleagues, friends, family, business connections, neighbors, et al, has created varying levels of social isolation.

Some may miss the informal chatter when shuffling the hallways to and from meetings. There’s the interaction during lunch periods and conversations at the water cooler and copy room. I certainly miss some of the gatherings and conversations, either formal or informal. The taken-for-granted expressions of “good morning…good to see you…how’s your kid doing…you’re looking well, feeling better I hope….” and so on, chips away at our own self-perception and emotions borne by experiences. And this includes uncomfortable expressions and experiences as well. The good and not-so-good are inevitable in everyone’s life.

Before the pandemic, on two or more days during the workweek, a small group of us banter about life, kids, work pressures and current events. The time together in the lunchroom is not just small talk or attempts to fill in the question, “So, what’s new with you?” The time, albeit brief, permits a reciprocal exchange of ideas and feelings, or concerns and burdens, and even lighter moments, which on the whole, provide a brief respite from work. I miss deciphering the “Jumble” word game found in newspapers. Just about everyone at the table has had a go at the jumbled letters. Not surprisingly, others who saunter by have also added their own guesses.

Circa 2013. Interaction: Want to wear blue jeans on a Friday? Contribute to a charity.

Everyone has preferences though our personal constructs, expectations and beliefs can be as different and varied as the objects on our planet. And that’s what nurtures our face-to-face, in person interactions. We know there are differences, but I like to think that deep down, a lot of what matters between us are all too familiar.

Digital communications–Facetime, Instagram, zoom meetings, text messages and so forth have their place and their legions of supporters. Personally, I miss nuances of expression, of feeling connected and relevant in life whenever people are not physically present. Perhaps I’m just old fashioned but for me, being face-to-face validates our humanity.

Snow Dome

On MLK day at Glendale Falls

I was in a different bubble yesterday, away from the angst, the uncertainties, the frustration and disappointment of recent times. It was wonderfully quiet save the waterfall cascading over an edge some 20-yards away. That rushing sound had a soft, roundness to it, a barrier or suppressor of sorts that kept disheartening sentiments at bay.

I was in a snow dome.

With 4-inches already on the ground, a sudden burst of flakes quietly fell, quickly dusting tree limbs as well as foot prints left by other visitors: someone in a Sorel, perhaps a size 10 1/2 which lay opposite the basket imprints from a hiking staff. Only one set of human footprints was there, the other prints from a deer, a squirrel, a group of birds and others I wasn’t sure of or missed altogether.

This kind of place—where the simplest of what is before and around you—covers the burrs of unhealthy tensions and feelings. Indeed, a blanket comes to mind when snow covers a landscape. On some days—for me anyway—it’s more like a comforter. A comforter does not align with what snow feels like. Visually however, is a different matter. There is loft, an expanse of uniformity and balance that can remind one of a comforter. The solitude, the absence of man-made noise, reinforces that sense of comfort. Within my snow dome comes a particular calm that allows me to think and feel purposefully and openly. I consider possibilities beyond the familiar and rote. I dwell beyond the probable, but lie in the realm of things that are possible. As Martin Luther King, Jr. noted:

“Put yourself in a state of mind where you say to yourself, ‘here is an opportunity for me to celebrate like never before by my own power, my own ability to get myself to do what is necessary.'”

The saying, “this quiet, this silence is deafening…” runs contrary to my time in this snow dome. I feel reassured, positive, even happy. Embraced by such stillness, you can hear yourself think. You can engage all your senses with minimal distraction. You come face-to-face with who you are and in spite of yourself, you can choose to dwell in what should have happened—and thus remain predictably the same as always—or take a contrarian step, one that could make a difference. I’ll let Martin Luther King, Jr. have the last word. He has captured an enduring leitmotif of the human condition:

“The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo and has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of something new.”

Beginnings

“Happy New Beginnings!” doesn’t have the same cache as the tried and true, Happy New Year! Yet in many ways the first greeting has some weight behind it. There’s a strong inference to starting over, partially or completely. Everyone has a different take on “starting over.”

The action of a rising and setting sun, is starting over; the former begins a new day, the latter a new night. Starting over can literally be that: it’s an attempt to put in place what’s transpired with a second [or third, fourth, etc.] attempt to make something work.

This business of New Year’s resolutions—depending on whom you ask and why—is often predestined for failure. This is especially true with the “new and improved” ways to diet, to lose weight, to increase your brain power, your stamina and so on. For many it’s deja vu, a familiar redux from the year prior with the same if not similar results and attendant disappointments. Many successes become commercialized, specifically when a product is recognized as “effective.” On the one hand, you have the wannabes, individuals who for one reason or another did not accomplish their goal and likely through no fault of their own. So, the achievers draw the attention and accolades. No surprises there. Their testimonials reinforces product or program efficacy. Quite frankly, it’s marketing.

My notion behind beginnings [aren’t most beginnings new, BTW?] is that sometimes, we make a list that’s unreasonable: too many to pursue. It’s a big enough challenge to succeed with one, so why burden your good intentions with one or two, or even three. More than one is often simply one too many. Think about it.

There is a bigger challenge in starting over, in a willingness to start over with perhaps new or different tactics and strategies. Make goals more realistic. For me, to say I’ll master conversational french in 2021 is a real dream. I must’ve drank way too much wine on December 31st. And while I can read and write a good amount of francais, it’s quite another to hold a meaningful conversation [assuming I have someone I can converse with]. Indeed, make your goals lofty, but ensure beginnings are grounded.

My own journey contains many beginnings across many facets of life. For the most part, much of them are still a work in progress. Ultimately, something’s got to give. Endings contain their own nuances, good or bad, sad or happy. However, beginnings should always contain hope.

I see through a glass darkly…

It’s been noted in different ways, but anything that could be said about 2020 has already been said. There are new normals and our previous ways of living and working have undergone something more than a reboot. I wonder about the sustainability of our modifications to the changes we’ve been subjected to. At present, 2 things loom large for me in our modern ethos: the scale of loss [life, careers, homes, e.g.] and the contraction of education systems for students, Kindergarten through college.

The burden shouldered by first responders, caregivers, allied professionals, physicians, peace officers, firefighters, et al, is without precedent. Supporting them goes without saying. The COVID-19 story continues to unfold, though I hope the developing narrative produces more positive than negative outcomes. And yet I am still looking through a glass darkly.

Many conventions, routines and well-defined standards have been poured over with uncertainty. That change takes place, is to be expected, but the fog of what happens or what should happen clouds our view near and far. Supposition greets us through this dark glass of modern life. There’s the world before the new coronovirus, and the one hereafter.

All of this thinking takes me back to much younger days, days of academe, of discussion, of expository writing. This dark window we’re peering through—including windows like broadcast and online news, social media, Twitter, FB, e.g.—does shape our perceptions and expectations. Many are unclear, even misshapen or unrecognizable, perhaps even hinting at what was once familiar. Plato’s Allegory of the Cave posits we should question our assumptions. Thinking across and through assumptions helps nurture self-reliance and problem solving. I like to think of it in more practical terms: use your knowledge, experience and current life stage to shape your own conclusions versus being told what they should be.

None of this is new. Some of you probably realize that this post of mine references scripture.


Now, we see only an indistinct image in a mirror, but then we will be face to face.
Now what I know is incomplete, but then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
1 Corinthians 13:12

Eastern Standard Time

For a few days toward the end of October, there was some fuss about turning back our clocks one hour. The running complaint focused on days getting shorter even though we “gain” an hour of time. Early darkness just made things, well, darker, physically and qualitatively; it gets darker outside and for some, darker within one’s psyche.

I suppose I’m the odd person out; I shouldn’t “suppose” as I am an odd person with such things. Sunsets that announce evenings arriving earlier is not a big deal for me. Like some form of line dancing flitting across the horizon, once again daylight and night trade places, and time marches on without losing a single beat.

Whether it’s 4:30 in the afternoon or 8:30 at night, I don’t tire of sunsets. Some are dramatic in their intensity and expanse, others are less so, their palate of warm colors as soothing and inviting as those found in an impressionist painting.

There’s nothing standard about this light that quickly dissolves into shadows of dark blue and greys. The one constant I’ve felt through the years has been the brevity of the light which morphs an hour before and up to sunset. The times are few when I don’t have a camera by my side, yet on those days when I don’t, I sometimes forget about today’s most ubiquitous of cameras, the ones found in today’s smartphones. And they are amazing tools for photography, videography and more.

The photograph shown here was taken within that half-hour before sunset. The way the light and shadows shifted was a process all too short, perhaps as short as the traffic light that changed to green shortly after I took one photo. Figures. The one time I hoped for a few more seconds stopped at a red light just wasn’t there.

For the various times we use our phones to take a photo, we hope that one shot becomes the money shot. We want just one, a really good one, which connects with everything and anything that courses through our thinking and feeling. I relish the feeling of making this particular shot. The stoplight, the headlights, the reflections on the car hood, the gradations of orange and yellow, blue and grey are a surprising though welcome confluence of order.

A confluence of order. We can use some of that in the here and now regardless of whatever time or GMT standards we’re in.

Space

I am convinced that modern life has boxed us in more so than we’d like. It’s part of the contemporary territory which includes both our professional and personal lives. There’s a surfeit of information, misinformation as well as disinformation. We have data that’s important, partially accurate or altogether inaccurate, the latter done purposely in order to deceive and create confusion.

The spaces outside and within our mind are under siege. This coronavirus pandemic has produced a variety of empty spaces in the form of closed businesses, a void born from a lost loved one, an even larger, emptiness created by becoming unemployed and losing our face-to-face social connections with friends and family.
In addition we see meadows, forests and even arable acres, reshaped with new developments, new businesses, and right-of-way passages for utilities. These spaces, like others, will never resemble their former selves.

The modern mind is challenged with the illusory nature of augmented realities, misinterpreted online interactions, the CGI creations readily seen on the big and small screen and so on. I would wager that ruminating is a regular mental exercise for many, in ways that even the thinker didn’t think possible in the here and now.
It’s not that such spaces are wanting for content. Some of the content in our heads is twisted and distorted, an unattractive morass of schadenfreude and unforgiving defenestrations toward those with authority, power and privilege.

A lot of good space has been replaced with some nasty creations, tangible and intangible, palpable and even unreasonable.
We’re better than a lot of this, each of us capable of individual betterment. I remind myself in my own spaces of thinking and feeling that, at times it’s okay to be embarrassed in one’s journey to be genuine. I think it aids my ability to acknowledge what occupies my internal and external spaces other than what’s so obvious not only to myself, but to others.
As in marketing, perception is reality: it’s not what you’re getting, but what you think you’re getting.

Color

Autumn is my favorite season for a variety of reasons: the cooler, drier air is both invigorating and refreshing, the quality of light is remarkable, at times appearing clearer on even overcast days. Even time feels slower with a more gentle cadence though by mid-November, I wonder how it went by so quickly. Certainly it goes without saying that the foliage change can be magical, even personally restorative.

Many years ago, I attended a photojournalism workshop at what was then called The Maine Photographic Workshops in Camden, now known as Maine Media Workshop located in Rockport, a mere stone’s throw from Camden. Located half-way up the coast of Maine, the town of Camden sits next to Penobscot Bay. I haven’t been back since, so I hope it hasn’t lost its New England charm. It was quaint, quiet and photogenic to be sure.
You can glean techniques and technical knowledge from more places today than back then [now a surfeit of info sits on the web]. Convenience is nice, but for me, being engaged with a like-minded person is all the more rewarding. Levels of inspiration come to me when I visit an exhibition, a gallery or listen to or converse with a speaker whose work clearly validates that person’s passion for his/her choices.

I was fortunate to have heard and seen in person Jay Maisel, Ernst Haas and Dick Durrance. Titans of their craft, I learned more than just technique, but a whole lot more about this passion to see things in a new way, to transcend the connections of light, color, subject, interpretation and meaning. My brain needed to do some real lifting and learning, and was thus able to do so when my soul became the catalyst to assist with that lifting and learning.

I like to think of seasonal transitions as a form of recalibration. It’s more than a reset, because to reset anything is effectively returning to its default state. Recalibration is a nuance in alignment. If I’m not sure of what I’m feeling when I look through a viewfinder, I move a few or more steps to one side or another, as well as toward or away from my subject. Recalibrating.

There are similarities in writing, but they’re a bigger challenge for me to describe. I suppose the very title of this post lends itself to recalibrating: adjust the “color” of your words such as tone, passive versus active voice, even a tweak in aliteration to keep your narrative—and your thinking—interesting.

Autumn just doesn’t land here in the northeast; when it does arrive it’s akin to that sense of belonging, of knowing that your journey—in spite of personal hills and valleys—continues with the expected and as well as the unexpected. I like all the seasons, but fall is the one which captures the zeitgeist of the rest of the calendar. It’s a short period of time, that in its most fundamental form, feels like the comfort food that’s been sorely missing for more than half the year.

Connections

I love Cape Cod. The season doesn’t matter, but late summer is often a great time. There’s less traffic and a more laid back atmosphere. The beaches and wharfs hold less people, though there are those hearty souls who continue their routines swimming parallel to the shore.
I watch the few on the beaches, most in their chairs, some sitting or lying across a large towel. Others are involved in conversation or quietly engrossed with a book in hand.
You can always count on walkers tracing their steps first one way, then on their return trip to a starting point. The most jubilant are often a dog and its owner. They’ve waited for the moment when the beach was available to them and their joy is clearly displayed. This is the kind of connection that’s about as simple and straightforward as it can get: get out and spend time with good friends, family, your dog—even yourself.

The men enjoying their cocktails aboard a boat speaks of many types of connections: family, work colleague, college room mate, best friend, and so forth. Between the “remember when….did you hear….whatever happened to…” are those moments of hilarity, some brought on by something long past, others in more recent times. Nostalgia connects with the present.

I love the Cape, especially for the many connections its made for me.

Change in Venue…

On a cold, windy January day, I took a walk to familiarize myself with another area of Brooklyn. As I do on such sorties, I have a camera in hand. It’s just an integral part of me carrying that, along with a fountain pen. In combination, perhaps an odd idiosyncrasy. Go figure.

There has been so much news about struggling businesses in an economy best described as uncertain if not scary. Regardless of your own standing, uncertainty feeds fear. It’s like that for many, even those who still have a job. There have been a myriad of changes in less than a year, and many of them are unprecedented as we know.

And yet I’m encouraged with the way businesses evolve, regardless of the risks and constraints of an unrelenting pandemic. Adaptation abounds. As I pass several restaurants and eateries small and large, I can’t help but notice the physical changes in these venues. Where there was once a length of curb used for parking has now been pre-empted by saw horses and orange pylons, cuts of plywood fashioned into walls and even structures with lockable doors, sliding windows, and other things that can make or break an outdoor dining experience. Being early in the day, most of these venues were still closed.

The way these dining improvisations unfold reminds me of a line from Shakespeare’s Richard III, which says,

Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York;

Summer is still several months away, but we can long for it. For now, our discontent, our malaise and all that has transpired has made burdens to bear heavier by the frigid air. Winter can represent discontent, but I can also make an argument for the hot, unbearably humid days of summer offering the same.

Bricks and mortars have had to survive with 25% capacity. As anyone who owns a restaurant or pub will tell you, to survive is one thing, but to thrive means sustainability. And sustainability means recency and frequency of patrons through limited seating, curbside pick-up and delivery. All modes need to be deployed.

Let’s take the 80-20 rule, where 80% of a business is generated by 20% of the total customer base, and extrapolate to a pandemic index of sorts. I think if this entire 20% group supports their favorite restaurant, diner, food wagon or cart at least once a week for say the first 6 months of 2021, well, that recency and frequency in commerce and service could make a difference. For patrons, a feeling of outreach and support; for the eateries, a glimmer of hope and possibilities heretofore unseen if not improbable.

Perhaps my thinking is too simplistic, too unrefined and certainly enough to have my MBA stripped from my CV. But who am I not to think outside the box, to consider actions however “small” as things unworthy of effort and possibility? Because there’s enough doubt to go around these days, I’ll let Shakespeare have the last word:

Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose oft what we might win, by fearing to attempt…

Attentive to Details

When it comes to recognizing things or acknowledging details from “the big picture,” several expressions come to mind, such as “….I couldn’t see the forest for the trees…..the devil is in the details.” My typical reaction after further scrutiny goes along the line of, “….oh, yeah, well…if it was a bear, it would’ve bit me…” Granted, through some Jumanji-esque manifestation, I would undoubtedly be covered with bite marks.

For me, nothing draws more attention than an infant. They change right before your eyes. Case in point: my granddaughter you see above, is all of one week young, and yet in the past several days, she has changed with little fanfare. Other times I marvel at her physical development. All of sudden, fingernails have grown, her eyelashes are longer and her eyes are clearer and probably tracking motion. Before too long, her onesies, and probably diapers too, will have to go up in size.

It’s a single-seat, wobbly merry-go-round.

From a distance, the spinning wheel looks like a badly installed table top for pre-schoolers. No, I didn’t demo this playground-attraction. For fearless children who repeatedly spin themselves silly, the attraction delivers. With dizziness in full force, a smile of wonder and novelty appear. Not surprisingly, none of the kids I saw walked straight and narrow upon getting off the spinner. Think wobbly and crooked on any given stride. It’s enough to make you nauseous just watching them weave across the playground.

When you’re 25 floors above the street, strapped into a harness, wobbly doesn’t fit into the picture. I’ve seen these pros accomplish their tasks on breezy days, certainly when the weather is warmer than it is now. The color yellow stood out in large part because it was bright and the rest of the scene—originally in color—looked monochromatic. I also learned that 2-3 drops of dishwashing fluid into warm water makes for a thorough glass cleaner. There’s a detail worth noting…

Details

A static photograph of an Osprey doesn’t say much about the grace and power of this winged predator. Like many of her cousins, these sharp-eyed birds of prey manifest the attributes to which we ascribe to: a sense of purpose, focus, determination, endurance, patience, where at most we, strive to procure or refine 2 or 3 from that list.

I’m not a birdwatcher nor bird photographer. These serendipitous images were taken during a walk along a beach. In spite of an overcast, somewhat foggy-ish, misty day, you could discern the silhouette as well as the contrast in its feathers. Notice the plumage in a brownish-black to a grayish white, the sharply hooked beak, the yellow of the eyes, the elasticity of its neck—or at least a hint of that feature.

Look at the nest and you may notice other details. Two plastic bags entangled with the nest, one on the right of the photo, the other dangling from an edge closest to the Osprey. I’m certain there are other man-made pieces entwined or even trapped within the pile of twigs they call home.

We can get hung up on details on just about anything. Like a trompe l’oeil, what we see varies from one person to the next. In my case, I noticed those bags right after seeing the Osprey. You may have seen it the opposite way and yet others may have taken a bit longer to realize the incongruous detail.
These days, we’re bombarded with too many things which ad weight onto our anxieties. We can—and should—work to step back from such things and realize that in spite of the current discord, there are other details worth looking at, even searching for.

Features & Benefits

If there’s one thing obvious about marketing and advertising is that they attempt to shape your perception, to one of acceptance or revulsion. In this politically charged environment, I’d say most political advertising encompasses the latter. But we’re not going there today.

Here we have 2 wooden structures, one historical [circa 1800s], the other modern. Now, one may think that the modern structure offers more features: pressure treated wood, steel anchor collars, robust carriage bolts, nuts and washers [possibly even zinc treated to resist corrosion] etc. Well, it does have more features; it has to given its function. But it doesn’t mean it’s better than the simpler one, rather, the modern structure is built specifically for conditions and utility common to coastal areas. Both types share similar benefits albeit differentiated by design, materials and construction.
Well, the purpose of the modern structure may be the same as our historical one, that is, to prevent something from entering or leaving a specified area, perhaps protecting one side more so than the other.

Before you clobber me with the apples-to-orange inequality of this comparison, the point I’m making is that consumers often equate features as benefits. If you’re anything but a design engineer, you may think that the metal anchors or collars wrapped around the angled stanchions may be unnecessary. However, if you live, perhaps even work along this shoreline, you would know that the tides and storm surges exert an astounding amount of pressure against barriers. The added strength of the collars is beneficial to the overall strength of the structure.

“This unit can do more than its closest competitor.”

courtesy: Whirlpool

On a recent trip to one of the box stores, I couldn’t help but overhear a salesperson singing the amazing features of a particular dual-door refrigerator. NOTE: the courtesy photo is for illustration and is not the product being referenced herein.
“…..with the app on your computer, that model can sense when it’s time to restock, bread or cheeses or certain vegetables or frozen dinners…”
The technology, the artificial intelligence that’s coming to market, can be impressive. But will it work on my iPhone 6S or will I need an Android system?
You know, my home fridge has an ice-maker, though it doesn’t automatically dispense into my glass when held below a special port. Mine? Open the freezer door and grab ice from the container, a container purchased separately, BUT, looks like it came with my fridge. Typically I empty two ice trays into that container, refill the trays with water and return to the freezer. In less than 10 minutes, you’ll have ice that’s just as good as what the cyborg-fridge can automatically deliver to your glass.

My hand is the delivery and presentation vehicle. And it works. No downloads, no firmware, no software….basically, I’m somewhere with basic technology versus, being nowhere or confused with this hi-tech stuff. Now, if I was that customer learning about the smart appliance in question, perhaps the dialogue would go something like this:

Salesperson: It’s an amazing piece of technology. It can monitor your food and beverage consumption, conveniently at your fingertips. You use an app on your smartphone. It’s a big plus for busy families.
Me: That’s impressive, but it’s a feature that I don’t need or really want.
Salesperson: You can even check it from just about anywhere in your house. That’s real convenience.
Me: Actually, I find it more convenient doing it my way.
Salesperson: And how’s that?
Me: I walk into the kitchen, open the door and make note of what’s still there and what needs to be added onto the grocery list.
Salesperson: How is that more convenient?
Me: Well, it’s not just convenience for me, but a benefit.
Salesperson: Oh….?
Me: It’s called walking. For me that’s a benefit. I already do too much sitting at work.
Salesperson: That’s a valid point, but not really helpful. I mean we’re talking about making your life simpler, by doing less chores, to get more time to do things you’d rather do..
Me: I’d rather get up and move. Besides, I get a chance to scope what’s not in there, but whether the shelves need cleaning or if an expiration date goes back to the Nixon administration.
Salesperson: Wait, who’s Nixon…? Anyway, think of it as an evolution towards the future of appliances. You, the homeowner, can control all your appliances such as your TV, your A/V installations, the lights and the thermostats and so forth.
Me: ….and without even breaking a sweat.
Salesperson: Exactly.
Me: Will people really adapt to this technology? I imagine someday my health insurance being able to buy data regarding my food preferences, and since I love ice cream, well, a dietician or cardiologist may take issue with that…who knows?
Salesperson: Hey, well, hopefully that won’t be the case. I mean there’s a ton of places where information can be bought for marketing or research…that kinda stuff.
Me: Of course….you know and I know that your actual mileage may vary…capisce?
Salesperson: Ah, yeah, sure….have you seen the new washers and dryers that are out now?