Tag Archives: Open

Identify The Boundaries

People who know me, the ones who I have met, the ones who follow my tweets, the ones who read this blog, know that I am obsessed with identity. I have written on the subject extensively on this blog, and I have explored the subject in depth on my personal blog. While on the surface it may appear that I am being a narcissistic ego-maniac, I assure you my intentions are good. For the last seven years, I have been conducting an experiment of sorts.

What do we feel comfortable sharing online? What is or should be private? What can we gain by over-sharing? How does this theory of openness help us connect to others? How does it affect community? What is everyone so afraid of? Should I be?

There are countless other questions, but you get the point. I have tried to share as much as I can, to see if by sharing every aspect of my life, I can build an authentic “brand.” One that will help me gather a tribe of like-minded people who will not only help me learn, but who will also become close friends. I am hoping that by revealing as much as I can, you will help me identify the gaps and help complete me. See this stuff is deep.

None of what I have written so far is new, so why write this post again? Firstly, I wanted to share my second online stalking! A few years ago, Clarence Fisher’s English class, investigated my online footprint and discovered some interesting things. No surprises. They got a superficial, yet accurate, image of who I was in 2010.

I am happy to announce that I have been stalked a second time. This time as a part of UMW Digital Identity course taught by Martha Burtis. One of her students was assigned to dig up all she could about who I am now. You can read her complete reflection here, but there is not much out of the ordinary this time around either. Beyond being impressed that she was able to identify my daughter’s addiction to Nutella, there was little in what she found beyond my blog About Me page.

She asked me to answer some questions in a recorded interview, which I do at the end of this video. Her introduction is hilarious, despite the poor sound. The interview questions at the end of clip, however,  sound fine. The worst kind of criminal–an educator…

One of the biggest criticism of social media and online sharing is that it is somehow inherently false and duplicitous. Because we can choose what we share, the thinking goes, we only share the best of who we are. We somehow build these better alter-egos of ourselves. We never shed light on our faults, show ourselves being ugly, or delve too deep into the darkness.

I am sure there is truth to this. This is what I want to challenge. I am not sure where the boundaries are, but I am very curious. I have tried to be as open as possible, but I am sure even I have held back. I know there are some definite no-nos. Never talk about sexuality. I will promote gay rights and gender equality, because I feel they are human rights, but personal thoughts on sexuality is a no go for me.

I have begun to share less about religion these days. I am openly atheist, but I hope that as I get older, I am becoming more tolerant and focusing on my own slow Zen practice. It’ a process, a journey. I am on it. Enough said.

Politics? I used to be more outspoken, but even my energy in that field has been subdued. I am trying to sort myself out first. I will speak up about injustice and criticize system I find unfair, but I seldom get into heated debates these days.

What is the next step of this experiment? How else can I dance on the edge of private vs public, personal vs professional? This is where you come in. I need your help. I am going to ask you a few questions.  I do not expect you to answer them. I would just like you to think about where your boundaries are? What would you never share online? What kinds of questions are just too much? Then I want you to ask me those questions. Leave them in the comments below.

I am not asking you to ask me these questions, because I will necessarily answer them; I just want to see how they affect my comfort zone. I want to sketch out my no-fly zone. Identify the boundaries. I am also curious what you feel is out of bounds. I want to test the waters. I am expecting that based on your culture and personality we will have a wide range of ideas in regards to privacy.

What is too much?
What do you feel is too private to share?
What would make you feel uncomfortable?

Thanks for playing along.


Be Sparks

“You can’t go into work like that. It is not professional. That is not a teacher’s haircut.”

Those were the first three sentences out of my wife’s mouth as soon as soon as I got home from my haircut this last week. I shrugged off her professional prudery as paranoia, thinking to myself, I can do whatever the hell I want, but deep down I was a bit worried. Was the mohawk a bit much? Was I pushing too hard?

After a week, I am convinced that not only is the mohawk good for me, but I am here to say that it is good for our school. Hear me out:

Everywhere I go, all week, people smile, pump their fists, and light up when they see me.

“Man, I love that haircut.”

“Really suits you”

“That is just awesome!”

Teachers, principals, students- it doesn’t matter. It is as if everyone is tapping into the sense of freedom one can only feel when one shuns the shroud of conformity and tip-toes along the edge of the preverbal box. You know, the one everyone tells you to think outside of, but choose to sit in comfortably themselves. Schools like all institutions can become stuffy dens of routine. How can they not? With so many procedures, programs, time-tables, curricula, it is almost as if they are designed to bore people to death. Is it any wonder that students and teachers sleepwalk their way through lessons and grumble because they have to write essays, lab reports or report card comments. I can only imagine hospitals, banks, and prisons as places that are more dreary.

But not this week at our school, not for me. Walking through campus with a mohawk seems to have awaken people. It has reminded them that schools were never met to be factories of the status quo. The hair-do is screaming to us all that schools are meant to challenge and excite. There have been times this week that I have been talking seriously about character development with my grade tens and they start cracking up. I mean how absurd right? A 37 year old man with a mohawk spouting off intensely about some ancient novel.

I love the lightness that comes from not taking oneself too seriously. I thrive on the silliness of authenticity and vulnerability. So often we ask students to take risks and express themselves, while we teachers sit behind our walls of adulthood professionalism. If I wanted to be a suit I would have been a banker. I am in the teaching business to be myself, in hopes that kids will see that being yourself, in the face of societal pressure is not that hard to do. We can all be sparks when we are not afraid to get burned. Tell a kid to take a risk…well try it yourself first.

I want my students to realize that adulthood is not some mono-chromatic path to death and professionalism. We are not all mind-numb zombies stressed and chasing bills. We are alive and filled with creativity and passion. I want them to understand that adults come in all shapes and sizes, and our diversity is what makes us such great role models. The way we look, the way we dress, the ink on our arms, the hair on our head is not the only indication of who we are or what we believe. I want my students as well as other teachers, administrators and parents to understand there is no one way teachers should look or act.

It has been a great week. I never thought a haircut would give me such a sense of empowerment. A Swagger. A purpose. Every institution needs a mohawk to remind it not to take itself too seriously. To remind it that life is fun and exciting and that sometimes we need to stand tall and be noticed. I have a challenge for you- what can you do to help ignite a little fire at your school? What can you do to rock the boat a bit; shake things up? Share your ideas below, better yet take some pics of you doing whatever it is you think will enliven your school and add links to the comments below.


A Larger Sense

Social media and in a larger sense the Internet for me is:

a soapbox, a confessional, a journal. It is a stage, a radio station, a blank canvas and a pew. It’s a gallery, summer festival, and a critical friend. It’s a warm embrace and an atta boy. It’s a mirror and a disco ball. A promise made and kept. A vow and a practice squad. The process and the product. It’s spiritual, organic and digital. Real and virtual. It is surreal and three dimensional. Collaborative and selfish. It is a parade, and a long lonesome hike.  A drum circle and job interview. It is a mediation hall and recording studio. A resume and field journal filled with scraps of poetry, tweets, and cosmic contemplations. Myself turned inside out and presented to you with open arms. A photo album, a debate and an intimate conversation. The magnification of a drifting thoughts dressed as philosophizes and manifestos. It is the ability to exist outside oneself for all to see. It is open and free and allows me to say these things to you.


Flat Landscapes

Here is a conversation I am having with my friend Ari on Facebook about the nature of…well lots of things really. Feel free to jump in on either side. Please excuse all grammar gaffs and typos. Thoughts were written in the haste of FB commentary:

Ari : i love the internet (meta comment, i know), but i also feel more than a bit unsettled in the landscape of the internet…maybe it’s the virtual-ness or that it’s screen dependant (and thus 1-D)…i dont know. MAYBE IT’S A SPATIAL THING…maybe i dont do well in the 1-D world??

Jabiz : I know we have been having this conversation a lot lately, and that is great, but I guess I don’t see the web as 1-D, but more as 4-D. The screen is just an entry to a world that is very rich and full of depth if you are open to it and explore the people that populate it. People tell us it is shallow but I have learned it really is not if you look beyond the 1 D surfaces.

Ari : with love, jabiz, i find your argument beautiful (and vaguely utopian), but i dont believe it holds up to even the most facile scrutiny. from any objective point of view (that is what we are trying to work from, no?), the internet is 1D. we argue about its FIGURATIVE 4D-ness…but not without our language going on holiday. the internet is consumerd via a screen. screens are 1D. now, moving on: my bigger point was that i dont work well in virtual 1D spaces…like TV, etc…the internet flattens the 3D world into 1D. and thats not an inherent problem. hell, it’s probabaly a good thing. but i just dont well with in virtual 1D environments

Jabiz :I know you would like to simply move on from one point to the next, but when having a conversation you have to wait till both sides can have their say. So i would graciously ask that before we “move on” from the semantics of the screen bein…g the 1Dness, you re-read my earlier point, because either you skimmed it, didn’t understand it or simply chose to ignore what I said. The Internet is not any one thing. So therefore to give to dimensions seems futile. Much like literature, art, and consciousness the Internet is a reflection of the human story. It is about people. Our world wide web of thought and creativity. How can we call that 1-D? As for 1D things like TV that you don’t do well with , I seem to recall you enjoyed books another 1D tool used to explore the human story. The Internet like a mirror is what you see in it. It’s shape and dimensions what you produce not just consume. Going back to your original point of being unsettled, I would recommend an inventory of the self, before assigning blame on the mirror (Internet or screens)

Ari : ha! nice zingers, jabiz! very zesty, indeed. now for some housekeeping: i think you, also, didnt truly read my point–which was a description–okay, fine, a critique–of the “landscape” of the internet…and how we “consume” it (note well ……the two words in quotes…which if you trace back to my earlier comments you will find conspicuously foregrounded). …so: okay, yes, the Internet gestures as a trans-social/historical/political dynamic. i concede the point. but that’s neither here nor there in how we both understand the Internet proper (note the word, proper–i.e., the thing one logs on to, that needs electricity, a screen, some sort of computer-y thing, zeros and ones, et. al). simply put: the internet proper is a virtual landscape. …now, of course, that doesnt mean EVERYTHING that goes into producing, sharing, consuming (insert your own gerund here!) is virtual (e.g., the fingers depressing the letters on my computer’s keyboard–how’s THAT for meta, jabiz?)…but…it DOES mean that, quite simply, the CONTENT–for good or ill–is virtual. maybe it’s for good…but thats neither here nor there, at least for me. it’s not value judgment; it’s an neutral observation: the content of the Net is virtual…and therefore so is the landscape. …and how we consume…strictly speaking…the virtual internet proper is screen-dependent…thus all 3D is FLATTENED into 1D. …why all this matters (if any of it matters)…is that i, personally, dont do well in this flat landscape where all cognitive maps and kinesthetic cues are virtual and flat (in the strictest terms of which ive just spent far too long adumbrating). …now jabiz, you are free to take an oppositional stance toward my argument. and no doubt you will. but as you are an educator and deep thinker, why retreat in an automatic defensive crouch? (have i fired any pejorative shots across the sacred bow of the Internet? no. i’ve conceded your points re: the Net as a social, living phenomena, etc.) and perhaps even more important, as a technology teacher/learner, you will, no doubt, encounter many students who also feel a sense of dislocation in this virtual space that lacks tactile kinesthetic cues and traditional cognitive maps…and i just hope that while you may blithely dismiss my points out of hand…you wont be so eager to pounce on their hesitations so lustily.

Jabiz : I will keep my retort shorter and less snappy. I will start with a concession: Yes the content on the Internet is virtual. My point is that there is more to the Internet than content. I see it as a portal to people. What I am exploring is …the creation and fostering of these relationships in a 3d as possible manner as possible. You are right again that these relationships are flattened to an extent online, but they can be amplified as well. I can understand what you say that you are nor well-equipped in this environment, hence your hesitance to use Skype after five years! I am not arguing for the sake of arguing, but because in a sense understanding the Internet in what ever dimensionality we choose has becomes my career in ways. I am trying to understand how it will works to …help my students and my own kids navigate this new landscape to get the most they can from it. Of course you are right that many things are better when done in real life. I think of swimming in the ocean as one, but finding ways to penetrate these relationships with other people (who are very 3d) seems very important. Final note, books are also an entry way into a 1D landscape that represents a broader deeper world. No? Isn’t prose also a, “flat landscape where all cognitive maps and kinesthetic cues are virtual and flat?” So to wrap up: Internet is not just about content to be consumed, but a place to meet people. Also there is other media that is 1D, but we have been able to imply meaning and depth to it. So the Internet can be what we make it. Yes, the wor…ld is too much for the the Internet to handle and that os a GREAT thing. Go our run yoga, hug, hike, swim, breathe long and deep, log-out and don’t sign back in, but what I am saying is that the Internet is filled with real live people trying to represent those joys and fears and life into this weird new landscape. The web is our collective ongoing novel. Meet the authors, be one, or ignore it all. Final, final point: I am not dismissing your points blithely or in any other way, simply engaging in discussion. As I am having this discussion with people on blogs, Skype, real life and conferences- it is my job. And yes there will be or a…re students who feel as you do, and I am having these talks to try and find ways to help them. I don;t see this as fight, but as a conversation. Maybe if we were together or at least on Skype there would be some cognitive maps and kinesthetic cues, till then I have to rely on my writing skills and hope that I can convey tone and mood though my word choice. Maybe an emotican will help 😉 (Winking face to denote snarky toungue in cheek reply to an online exchange)


Do You Love Me?

If you blog for long enough, I suppose, you will eventually begin to repeat yourself. It can feel like a never-ending cycle of repetition, but who is to say that revisiting themes is necessarily a bad thing? So I apologize if I have written about this topic before, but my good friend Ari over at We Buy Balloons recently emailed me a link to this article with a request to write on the subject with careful consideration, as the affliction mention in the article is the same from which he claims to suffer. Although, I have linked to the article itself, I will quote it at length below, so please stay with us till then end. In short the post claims:

The Internet measures everything. And I am a slave to those measurements. After so many years of pushing much of my life through this screen, I’ve started measuring my experiences and my sense of self-worth using the same metrics as the Internet uses to measure success. I check my stats relentlessly. The sad truth is that I spend more time measuring than I spend doing.

I used to feel an immediate sense of accomplishment when I wrote an article or came up with a joke that I thought was good. Now that feeling is always delayed until I see how the material does. How many views did my article get? Did it get mentioned the requisite number of times on Twitter and Facebook. I need to see the numbers.

And I define myself by those numbers.

I judge the quality of my writing by looking at the traffic to my articles. I assess the humor of my jokes by counting retweets. My status updates, shared links, and photos of my kids need a certain number of Likes to be a success. How am I doing? That depends on how many friends I have, how many followers, how much traffic.

What David Pell describes in his post, what bothers my friend Ari, and those of us involved in this game called social media is the feeling that our thoughts, our art, our creations, our words, and in turn ourselves are only as valuable as the amount of attention they receive from the network of “friends” we have been able to cull from the web.

Before I try to offer up answers or justifications of why this need for affirmation isn’t as big of a problem as many think, let me first admit that I check my stats.  I am pretty stoked to be nearing 3,000 followers on Twitter. I google myself often and enjoy hearing my voice echoed back to me via the web. The question I suppose we are left asking is, is that a problem? Is wanting/needing affirmation a bad thing? Is it vain or needy to place your self-worth in the hands of others? Before we get to that answer, I want to make a claim that this discussion has little to do with the Internet. (*The need for acceptance and identity creation has implications for our students. I will try to touch on this idea at the end of this post.) Sure the Internet has made it easy to see how much attention each pixel of our collective self receives via Re-Tweets, views, Likes and other affirmative statistics, but I claiming that the need to be heard and accepted has always been a  part of our human psychology; the Internet has only exacerbated  our ability to monitor it.

I think the need to be heard and told we are valued is not only at the core of human psychology, but intricately connected to the very purpose of art. Yes, I understand that much of art is personal and cathartic. Why the artist creates is a question that we will never answer, but we can all agree that while some artists create art for the sake self-healing, many also create art to connect to others. Art is the ultimate act of sharing and openness. Audience is an inherent part of art. It has to be. The dance between creator and observer is what makes art so powerful. Let’s face it most people who create, write, paint, perform are needy. We have a void in our souls that can only be filled when others connect to our creations. We feel alive when our art helps others see who we are.

by Ari Zeiger

I have had this need to share and connect with people for as long as I can remember. Does this make me vain or needy? Lacking in self-confidence? Perhaps. But that is the nature to which I have grown fond. The spaces between a robust self-esteem and crippling anxiety is tenuous at best. The difference between the vain rock star and the nervous introvert can be nothing more than a pair of sunglasses and a bottle of whiskey. What I am trying to say is that, while the Internet magnifies our anxieties about whether or not we matter, most artist have always needed to be told they are relevant. Before the Internet did not authors worry about book sales, artists by number of guests at openings and paintings sold? While stats, numbers, sales, and reviews have always been a part of sharing, statistics have never slowed art down. I am sure the first caveman looked for a round of grunts and nods after he first sketched a picture of the hunt on the cold stonewall.

When I was younger, in my twenties, I would scribble poetry, stories, and other random observations into journals. These thoughts were very similar to my current blog posts, Tweets, and other ideas I share online. Back then I would scatter these journals on coffee table tops and would love when people would flip though them at parties. I would watch them wrinkle their faces in confusion or smile in understanding. I could feel them entering my consciousness through a shared understanding of not only who I was, but who they were. I was just not smart enough to leave a little comment box at the bottom of my journal pages, because I wanted more than anything to hear what they thought.

It is true that the web can enhance our neurosis and self-doubt. It can cripple the act of creation if we allow it to magnify our fears and misgivings. It can force us to place our self-worth in the hands of a fluctuating audience, and yes this can have disastrous effects, but this is not the fault of the web. This neurosis is rooted in our collective human psychology of needing love and acceptance. There are people much smarter than me with more letters after their names, who I am sure can write much more intellectually than me on the subject, but that has never stopped me from offering my opinion.

Each person must decide how their self-worth is derived. Each one of us has to decide what we are worth despite the Internet not because of it. Some days we feel like we can carry the world, while others we need to be told we are special. Understanding this dance and going with the flow is the most important thing an artist can learn to do. This was true before the web and it is even truer now.

It is nice to have a post re-tweeted and shared and “liked” and commented on. It makes us feel like our ideas are important and that others “get” us. It is great to make a film and get a couple thousands hits on Youtube. It feels warm in the heart to watch people connect to you words. It feels great to recieve emails from people who say they get what you are doing. Saying they respect you and your work. It is nice to go to conference and have drunken peers say they admire you. It is great to have fans. It feels good to be loved. How can it not? But the question we must ask ourselves is how much of what we do is for them? How much is for me? And how much is for us?

I could get wrapped up in the numbers, and I admit that I sometimes do, but I am learning that I  share and let spill what I cannot hold inside. All I can do is hope that others connect. I have the audacity to write  a book about my life and think people will care. That is the biggest cry for attention I can think of and that has nothing to do with the Internet or numbers, but I have found the less I worry about the numbers and focus on creating honest work filled with energy and passion the more the numbers tend to rise; the more comments I receive. Someday this fragile network I have cobbled together could all dry up and I could end up writing a blog no one reads, or scribble back into journals I leave on coffee tables in vacant rooms. A book no one buys. Either way, I know that  sometimes I create art to help lighten the load and guide me through the darkness and sometimes I share what I share for you dear reader and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Show me you understand. Show me you love me. Show me I matter. Leave a comment. Re-Tweet. Like me on Facebook. Let this post get a 1000 hits. Let it go viral and get me a book deal. Let it shine a light on all the world and make me a god! Or just skim it, mark it as read, and chalk up to more gibberish coming to you through your informationally overloaded brain. There will be more tomorrow. I am valuable whether you tell me I am or not. How do I know? Just a promise I made to myself as a child. It is not too late make yourself that promise right now….let’s see what you got!

I will save the my thoughts on how young adults deal with the dance between confidence and anxiety and how the new online social reality is affecting their identity creation for another post, or maybe in the comments. But I will say that right now I am listening to the Beatles and this is a great first step to helping young people understand how to deal with the world wide web: