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Wedding pics 383This is the second installment of my column, CNF 500. The column will deal with topics related to anything and everything creative nonfiction, and will be 500 words. As essays editor of The Nervous Breakdown, I’m always ready to consider essay submissions of any length for publication. Please email essays to ekleinman at thenervousbreakdown dot com.

Facebook is a bitch.

I never figured out how to post status updates and links to specific people. When I publish an essay somewhere, I usually just email friends and family I know would be interested, if they can tolerate the topic. For example, I love my cousins in Arizona, but would they really want to know about how I got my cherry fisted as a young dyke in Seattle? Probably not.

If you’ve been online at all in the last several years you’ve probably noticed something: everyone is outraged. We’re offended, constantly, about everything. Social media has birthed this bizarre hazing ritual of unmasking and publicly shaming people who say idiotic things; a growing quota of our online activity involves participating in these social smugathons where crowds gather to cast moral aspersions on the hapless rube who did something awful that week. Outrage is a milieu in which we’re engaging others, and our boundless hunger for schadenfreude demands that we toss a new victim into the volcano every several days to keep the conversation going. It’s exhausting.

rolling_stone_tsarnaev

Like so many people, I spent the days after the Boston Marathon bombing glued to social media, the TV blaring in the background. I read everything I could about the Tsarnaev brothers, their parents, their friends, the detectives chasing them.  I learned who the victims were, where their families were standing when the blasts occurred, how close each runner was to the finish line.  Once the press had (finally) correctly identified the suspects, I started following a reporter on Twitter named Wesley Lowery, who, it seemed, was always about two feet away from the action, live-tweeting every gunshot. And on the night that police found Dzhokhar hiding in a boat in Watertown, I was up long after my husband and kids had gone to bed, unable to look away. 

Dipping Your Toes in Social Media

Social media is here and it’s likely that using it will increase your chances of being read. You don’t have to do it. No one will hold a gun to your head. However, at the very least put your toe in the water and try it before eschewing it.

First, learn what you like in social media. When speaking with other authors we often hear: “I hate Twitter.” “Facebook is stupid.” “I don’t want to blog.” “I don’t have time for this.” Try a different approach. What can you enjoy doing in the world of social media? Who do you want to be online? Who do you want your potential readers to see? How can you craft that person? (For instance, Randy likes giving advice, researching, and being a know-it-all. Voila, her social media persona.

I am having my second miscarriage in a row. I am waiting for my body to expel a much wanted pregnancy that in our sense of joy and good fortune, my husband and I had already announced to family and friends. My first miscarriage this spring was very early (5.5 weeks) and I recovered from it with relative ease. But this morning, suddenly no longer pregnant at 7.5 weeks, I was flooded by a tidal wave of rage.

I yelled at my 5-year-old daughter who was impaling a potted plant with her light saber. I tried to pick a fight with my husband, who wasn’t in the mood to oblige.

And then, it hit me.

“I quit, you bitches,” he yelled before ripping his apron off, throwing it on the ground, and storming out Starbucks, leaving me with my rival to finish the shift. Neither of us were sad to see the guy go — he was a grown man who replied, “Do I have to?” when asked to fetch a pastry or sweep — but we begrudged being left alone together to finish the shift without anyone to break up our passive aggressive feuding. Both of us were bitter that we had to be baristas in our mid-20s after earning college degrees and building professional resumes, but instead of bonding over our similarities, we complained to our boss about one another and swapped shifts to avoid working together. That evening we finished our work with a minimum of conversation. As we were locking up the store, we spotted the quitter waiting for us in the parking lot, idling in a late-model convertible. He sloppily hurled a melted Frappuccino in our direction, did a few screechy loops around the parking lot, and sped off. It was such a hideous and absurd display that all my rival and I could do was go get a few beers and laugh it off.

I did it this morning. I threw away the “Smith Family Reunion: We’ve Come This Far by Faith” T-shirt, which I wore for years despite not being a Smith and not having any faith. Into the bathroom garbage also went an “I’m Cuckoo For Cocoa Puffs” T-shirt, which I wore as some kind of ironic comment on corporate marketing to toddlers. Old, holey, too-small, rock T-shirts of concerts I never attended—gone. Even my beloved baseball cap that read “Gooseberry Pie” found its way into the pile of discarded floss.

TNB Music has launched its very own Facebook page. Can you believe they’re giving us our very own space? Swing on by to check out links to music news, special giveaways, announcements, weekly polls and of course, our smoldering TNB Music features which we are confident will someday be held in the same regard as Sophocles, Pynchon and Julia Childs.

Click here!

(DISCLAIMER: The thoughts, opinions, and comments contained in this narrative in no way represent the views of the U.S. Army, Department of Defense, or the United States Government.)

Random

At fifteen hundred, joes are crowding around the mechanics as they emerge from the LSA and come walking towards the vehicle line. McElroy is already pulling Burks toward his truck. A few guys have got Duarte cornered. We’re all trying to get daily maintenance done quickly. The sooner a mechanic signs off on your MRAP, the sooner you can go back to sitting on your ass. I spot Jurek and hop down from my truck. Rivera and I get to him at the same time.

“I need you to do me a big favor.”

“What’s that?” Jurek has a wary look on his face.

“I’ve got to shit like nobody’s fucking business,” I say. “I need you to give me one of these so I can get out of here.” And I make an exaggerated sign of the cross in the air.

“You checked everything?”

“Fluids are good. My shit is smooth pimpin’.”

“It’s like this, son,” Rivera says, turning his patrol cap around backwards.

“No problems?”

“None.”

“Okay, you’re good.”

“You are a fantastic human being.”

I lock up the truck and head back to the CHU. In the room, Mies is playing Age of Empires with his gigantic headphones on. Raneo is on myyearbook.com, trolling for random chicks again. I swiftly drop my gear, change my shirt, and grab a pack of baby wipes.

“Gentlemen,” I say grandly, “‘Tis a far better poop that I poop than I have ever pooped. ‘Tis a far better latrine that I go to than I have ever known.”

In reality, our latrine is horrendous. The stalls are so cramped my knees butt up against the door. I’ve had digestive issues for the last few days, which is strange because I haven’t altered my diet. Probably some bug going around, or one of the cooks didn’t wash his hands properly.

Our operational tempo has been slowing down lately as we prepare to leave for Kuwait in a about a month and a half. People are starting to cycle through R&R, which has caused some grumbling as not everyone has been granted leave. Because I am childless and unmarried, I will not be getting leave. I could honestly care less. I imagine it would be harder to come back here after two weeks relaxing in California.

The Army screws everybody in equal proportion. And while being a soldier is akin to being an indentured servant, it liberates you from making pretty much any decision. With the right frame of mind, this can lead to a considerably Zen existence. You don’t have much to worry about because you have no control over where you go or what you do.

The grumbling is a bit greedy, in my opinion. We have no right to complain about anything. Soldiers and Marines in every previous war have had it far, far worse—the 101st Airborne at Bastogne, the First Marine Division at Guadalcanal, any of the fighting men humping through the jungles of Vietnam. We have air conditioning and hot chow. We have the goddamn Internet. But suffering is a relative experience, I suppose.

* * *

Failure is an unusual sensation. Today it feels like a hard bleacher seat and a knot in my stomach. It smells like a sticky-hot Georgia morning, looks like a charcoal thunderhead roiling on the horizon past those monolithic jump towers.

I look down and realize I’ve been rubbing my hands together compulsively. I sit on them to make myself stop. There are about fifty of us in the bleachers now. Most are staring at the ground or shaking their heads in disbelief. Sergeant Airborne strides up and barks at us.

“Hey, you know how many times I’ve fucked something up in the Army?” he says. “Plenty. There ain’t a soldier here who hasn’t fucked something up at some point in their career. Not one NCO. Not one officer. Get over it.”

His words aren’t comforting. We’re here because we were failed on our PT test, many would claim unjustly. Almost everyone in the stands is muttering some complaint, mainly that standard pushups and sit-ups were intentionally not counted. This is allegedly how the Black Hats trim the numbers in the class. We are all about to be dropped from Jump School.

“The CO is going to talk to you,” Sergeant Airborne says. “Stand fast.”

After a couple of minutes, the Battalion Commander arrives. He briefs us on how we will be out-processed, and he gives us a pep talk. There is a note of sympathy in his voice, but I wonder how many times he has given this speech. For him it is just another procedure: one more point on the Airborne School agenda to be crossed off. For many of us—for me—it’s the death of an ambition.

I won’t say dream. That would be melodramatic.

“How many of you think you were graded unfairly?” the Colonel asks. A few people raise their hands. “Does anyone want to appeal?” Only one guy has his hand up now. The Colonel instructs the soldier to see him afterwards, and then walks off to confer with some other cadre members. We are formed up and marched off the field.

The muttering continues. This will last for days. Sour grapes. Cries of foul play—this is, after all, how the Army screws you; who needs jump wings anyways?

I refuse to go to that place. I have never been a victim. To think along those lines makes the whole experience seem trivial and arbitrary. Crying about it solves nothing. I will not bitch. I will not moan. I will look inward for the problem and fix it. And I will come back for those wings. But for now I’m left with that knot in my stomach and too much time to think about it.

I wanted to step up to that door and jump out into nothing. I wanted to feel the rush of the slipstream and the snap-tug of the chute as it opens. I wanted to fall through the sky amidst that rain of canopies. I wanted to be a paratrooper.

For now, it is beyond my reach. So it goes.

It is early June 2010. Fort Benning. The enlisted Army personnel who are straight out of basic training, like me, are all reassigned to the Headquarters & Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion (Airborne), 507th Infantry Regiment, commonly referred to as Airborne Holdover. The Black Hats don’t waste any time. We are marched directly from the PT field to the barracks, where we are instructed to pack up all our gear, turn in our Airborne-issued equipment, and move out to the HHC barracks. I suppose they don’t want us hanging around the remaining jump school recruits. It might affect morale.

Holdover is half labor camp and half summer camp. We have formations every morning, where most of the soldiers are selected for various details: mowing lawns, trash cleanup, the occasional loan-out detail to a civilian-run Army program, and Jump detail. Those who aren’t on a detail, or who finish early, usually hang out in the dayroom, watching movies or playing foosball or ping-pong. As long as you show up for formation and don’t ditch out on details, you’re free to do whatever you want. It takes a little getting used to after four months confined to a high-stress training environment where you can barely use the latrine without permission. But I grow into it. I wind up spending most of my free time walking the mile or so to the movie theater and library.

Every week, they post the new list of assignments on the bulletin board in the dayroom—names and duty stations. My name isn’t on the list the first week, which means I’m stuck here for at least one more.

For the infantrymen, this is our first extended interaction with soldiers from the support MOSs—non-combat soldiers. We call them POGs, perhaps unfairly. We start hearing horror stories about the limbo that is Airborne Holdover. Some have been recycled repetitively. Others have been stranded en route to their new post. One guy I talk to, a supply clerk, has been here for over two months, just waiting for a duty assignment. I’ve been contenting myself with the thought that my original, pre-Airborne assignment orders would stand. Those have me headed for Germany, an acceptable consolation prize given the circumstances. But the information I am piecing together casts severe doubt on that possibility. We are “needs of the Army” now. We go where they tell us. I start to imagine a huge, ludicrously-complex computer system that extrapolates the myriad openings across the global military commands and fills those slots accordingly based on the available candidates. My future now relies on some incomprehensible mathematical algorithm, and sheer luck.

I get picked for Jump detail one morning and sent to the flight line. The airfield at the Basic Airborne School consists of a wide runway and a few pre-fab aluminum buildings. The interior of one of these buildings is lined with big wooden benches where all the airborne recruits sit in their parachute rigs and wait to board the C-17. Our job is to wait outside this building, wearing reflective vests and earmuffs, and to offload the spent harnesses from the plane when it lands. We run up behind the plane as soon as it touches down and scoop all the lines into a big plastic bin, then run that bin over to the riggers’ shack so they can repack the chutes. This may be the closest I will ever get to jumping out of an airplane.

After lunch, one of the black hats stomps outside and looks hard at the four of us sitting along the edge of the tarmac.

“Give me one,” he says.

I follow him inside, and he hands me a cardboard box.

“I need you to hand these out,” he says.

Inside the box are several hundred sets of jump wings, black enamel still glossy, each wrapped in its own little plastic sleeve. I stifle my initial reflex, which is to throw the box in Sergeant Airborne’s face and tell him to go fuck himself. He mistakes the look of revulsion on my face for confusion.

“Just go up the line and hand one out to each person,” he says.

“Roger.”

As I work my way up the bench line, handing a set of wings to each soldier, I’m trying to remember a time when I’ve choked this hard on my own pride. This is a slap in the face after getting kicked in the balls.

When we get back to the barracks, the new assignment list is up. I wait until the few people crowding around the bulletin board have dispersed. Then I scan the list for my name. It’s there. I slide my finger over to the duty assignment column. It reads Fort Hood.

* * *

Raneo, Mies, and Craddick are all huddled around the laptop in our room. They’ve discovered a website that allows you to video chat with random girls around the world, so for the last week or so they have been online nonstop, attempting to see as many indiscriminate breasts as possible. This new hobby tends to draw a crowd, and on most nights there will be as many as six or seven guys from our platoon in the room, all swarming around the computer. It can get rowdy—cheering, raucous laughter, dudes shouting, “let me see them nips”—but I don’t mind. It has, for the time being, distracted my roommates from their previous pastimes, which have included watching marathons of Jersey Shore and pestering me to tell them ghost stories.

The ghost story thing started one night when, as we were going to sleep, Raneo and Mies began repeatedly saying goodnight like a couple of third graders at a slumber party. Curmudgeon that I am, I said, “Are we going to start telling ghost stories now?” with all the grumpy tone in my voice I thought necessary to convey the sarcasm behind this suggestion. I immediately realized my mistake.

“Yeah, that’s happening now,” said Mies.

I googled “ghost stories” and found a website containing such prosaic titles as “Axe Murder Hollow”, “Death Waltz”, and “Don’t Turn on the Light,” and for a week running I read them a story every night before bed, until they became obsessed with random video chat.

Tonight they’re hitting on an eighteen-year-old, quasi-goth girl from Australia. She’s got a lip ring, a tongue stud, and has dyed her hair black. She’s a bit on the heavy side and seems enamored of the attention she is receiving from this trio of American soldiers, as offensive as they are. They’re shouting every stereotypical catch phrase imaginable involving kangaroos, dingoes, shrimps and barbies in the most horrific imitation of an Australian accent I’ve ever heard. Every third or fourth question uttered is aimed at convincing her to take her top off or move the webcam around so they can see her butt.
To these requests she keeps replying, “calm your farm,” which sounds like “com ya fom” and which, from the context, I gather means chill out. Mies begins saying this back to her continually.

McElroy enters the CHU, and Raneo grabs him by the shoulders and positions him in front of the camera.

“This is Buford,” Raneo says. “He’s our platoon mascot.”

“No, it’s Gilbert,” says Mies.

“Isn’t he cute?”

The Aussie lets loose an extended, multi-tonal “awwww.” I assume this is because McElroy bears a striking resemblance to a ten year old. They push McElroy aside and resume their hooting.

My roommates, like the majority of the company, are over a decade younger than I am. The generation gap is obvious to me, if not to them. Raneo is twenty-two, the “pretty boy” of the platoon, perpetually shirtless. Mies is twenty, a Midwestern redneck, racist, obnoxious, yet somehow endearing.

“On a real note,” Mies says to the internet girl, “why don’t you take your shirt off?”

“No.”

“Please?”

“Calm your farm.”

“We could die tomorrow. You might be the last woman we ever see.”

I find it amazing that she hasn’t disconnected them yet. I’m sitting on my bed in the corner, out of camera shot, trying hard to contain my laughter and making fun of Mies whenever he says something idiotic.

“Don’t ruin this for me, Groh!” When he is not doing his appalling impersonation of an Australian accent, Mies is using an extra-heavy southern drawl.

“So you’re from Indiana, right Mies?” I say.

“Yeah.”

“Then why do you have a giant Confederate flag?”

He sighs. “I don’t want to have that conversation right now.”

“Then you’re aware that Indiana was not a part of the Confederacy.”

“Northern raised, Southern ways. You ever heard that?”

“No, actually.”

They are on with her for hours, persistent in their attempts to get her naked. At one point, a Blackhawk flies directly overhead, causing the whole room to shake. Craddick and Raneo both jump up and grab their weapons, feigning some emergency for the Australian girl’s benefit. Apparently, she buys it.

I leave to go to the gym. When I get back an hour later, Mies is alone in the room.

“Want to see something?” he says. He proceeds to show me a series of still shots from the webcam of the Australian girl stripping and then masturbating, both manually and electrically assisted. Mies leans back in the chair and gives me a crooked grin. All I can do is shake my head.

The Internet is our lifeline. For most of us, growing up in the Information Age, it is as much a necessity as any other form of sustenance. I am developing an unhealthy Facebook habit. It is really my only connection to friends back home, as I am terrible at correspondence. I rarely pick up the phone to call a friend or family member just to see how they are doing, unless I have something specific to say. And I rarely have anything specific to say. I don’t even use Facebook to contact people directly. I usually just browse people’s status updates to find out what is going on in the real world. Every now and then I’ll post a random comment, normally a funny quote or some tongue-in-cheek nugget of information about what I’ve been up to.

These posts typically float without any comments from my friends list. This is a peculiar form of rejection I never imagined I would experience. Who knew my self-esteem was so reliant on digital validation? Receiving no response to a status update is like making a comment at a party that is completely ignored. Your audience looks away to avoid any awkwardness, takes a sip of wine to appear busy, and a nauseating surge of embarrassment rises up from your gut. You want to run out the door and shame-vomit in the bushes. This happens to me every time I feel inclined to update my Facebook status. I’ll post something I think is noteworthy or thought-provoking or just plain funny, and it’s virtual crickets. Meanwhile, some other guy gets fourteen unique comments on a post about a sandwich he ate.

The truth is it’s me. Facebook is a façade. It’s a showcase for smiles and congratulations and baby pictures. It’s a conduit for goodwill and happiness, or the semblance of it, or the outward display of it at least. Nobody likes a bummer. If you aren’t smiling and domesticated and tasting wine and attending engagement parties and dropping the odd liberal tidbit and smiling and running a 10k and posting compelling YouTube videos and photos of your trip to Costa Rica and the baked salmon you cooked for dinner . . . if you aren’t smiling smiling smiling, you are the pariah. There is no room for awkwardness or loneliness or sadness in the hip new age. To acknowledge the existence of these diseases is to allow the possibility of affliction.

The best thing to do, when you’re not having fun at the party, is to leave. Cancel the Facebook account. Put an effort into correspondence. Call your friends on the telephone. Fawn over their babies. Make sure to tell them how cute the babies are. Invite them over for board games and feed them cheese. Plan and execute elaborate weekend excursions, double dates, karaoke. Saturate yourself with their smiles and maybe it will catch.

Things are starting to wind down, though we’ve only been in theater four months. We have fewer security missions each week. A few days ago, we drove to a hospital and an orphanage to hand out back-to-school supplies to kids. The focus now is on our removal to Kuwait. There is talk of being home by Christmas. People’s attention is now drawn to what comes next—new assignments, staying in or getting out. My reenlistment window is approaching. The NCOs recently passed around a spreadsheet on which we were required to list our top three choices for reassignment. I listed every possible airborne duty station. But I’ve pretty much decided that I’m done with the Army, though I’ve still got a year remaining after the deployment. I need to figure out what I’m going to do with myself and how I’m going to be able to reoccupy my house. I need to figure out how I’m going to reintegrate with society.

She was every greeting card illustrator’s vision of the angelic blonde child: milk-pale skin and eyes as blue as polished slate, perfect ringlets of a blonde so blonde it was nearly white. She was the girl that girls like me—fat and loud, with our bowl haircuts and our Goodwill dresses—should have envied. But she was too sweet; not that kind of tactical sweetness that pretty girls learn early on, but a quiet decency that many adults would’ve done well to acquire.

Digital native is a term coined by writer Marc Prensky, one I discovered, along with its counterpart, digital immigrant, in New York Times tech reporter Nick Bilton’s excellent book about media and technology, I Live in the Future & Here’s How It Works. According to Wikipedia, “A digital native is a person who was born during or after the general introduction of digital technology, and through interacting with digital technology from an early age, has a greater understanding of its concepts,” while “A digital immigrant is an individual who was born before the existence of digital technology and adopted it to some extent later in life.” According to my understanding, a digital native is someone for whom the use of digital technology is innate and natural, who never had a moment when they learned, say, what the internet was. Not so for me; I’m pure digital immigrant.

For an explanation of the 30 Stories in 30 Days, start at Day 1.

Today’s story is dedicated to my friend Amanda, who, earlier today, wouldn’t stop telling me what an asshole our friend’s cat is.

First of all, I know he’s an asshole. I used to live with that cat. You don’t need to tell me.

Second of all, even an asshole cat is just a cat. You are still bigger and better than him. Why do you let him get to you?

And so, I present:

 

Nine Reasons Why Being You is Better Than Being That Cat
(And One Reason Why It’s Not)

You’re better than that cat because…

1. You’re taller. According to science, basketball, and all the guys I’ve ever dated, taller is always better. Always.

2. You can open the fridge. That cat can open doors. He can open pizza boxes. He can open a vein with one swift swipe. But he can’t open the fridge. Oh, I am sure that he has tried. That cat is a fucking pig. Remember when Betsy’s six-year-old son asked, “Is your cat a walrus?” It wasn’t because Betsy’s six-year-old son didn’t understand how walruses work. It’s because that cat is fucking fat, like a big blubbery walrus. And that cat is always hungry. And he can’t open the fridge, which is where all the good food is kept. And you totally can.

3. Toilet paper. That cat licks his own ass.

4. You know the other day when you were like, “Mmm, you know what sounds delicious? Spaghetti. I should make spaghetti,” and then you made spaghetti? And you ate the spaghetti and it was, in fact, delicious? And remember how you can do that any time you fucking feel like it? That cat never gets to make spaghetti! He doesn’t get to be “in the mood for Thai” or “feel like chicken tonight.” He eats the same dried-up mealy fish flavored cat food every single day. And you get to make spaghetti.

5. You have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Communication Design from the School of Visual Arts at the University of North Texas. That cat can’t even spell “meow.”

6. You can drive a car and ride a bike and roller-skate. That cat can only roller blade.

7. I’ve heard that sex with you is awesome, whereas sex with that cat is pretty gross.

8. Remember that time you saw Built to Spill at SxSW? You waited in line all day for tickets, but then you got in and saw them play with Excene Cervenka from X and The Old 97s and they rocked your fucking face off? Remember how you laughed when they started playing “Freebird” but then it turned out to be surprisingly awesome? And then the next night they played a secret show, but you found out and snuck in and saw them again? That cat has never even heard of Built to Spill. What a loser!

9. You only sleep in a dude’s basement when you want to. That cat does it every damn night.

***

That cat is better than you because…

1. He is still on Facebook.

The announcement that a social media analytics company changed the way they measure things should have been a non-event. But when a company named Klout, which attempts to measure people’s “online influence,” changed the way it calculates people’s scores, the resulting firestorm caught a lot of people by surprise.

The company had been hoping for the best: “This project represents the biggest step forward in accuracy, transparency and our technology in Klout’s history,” a company blog post proudly announced, even though Klout’s “history” was all of 25 months.

But the result of their great leap forward was lower scores for almost everyone. And for a variety of reasons, that made a lot of people very unhappy. Klout ranks people’s “online influence” with a number from 0 to 100. The company compiles a dizzying array of impressive-sounding statistics to do this, including wonktacular ones such as Inbound Messages Per Outbound Message, and Comments Per Post Follower Retweet %.

It “isn’t about figuring out who is on the ‘A-list’,” the company’s website says. “We believe that every person who creates content has influence. Our mission is to help every individual understand and leverage their influence.”

Yet according to various investor presentations and interviews, the CEO ’s vision is that when you check into a hotel, you will be get upgraded (or not) depending on your Klout score. Your resume will be electronically evaluated and possibly discarded automatically based on your score as well.  The Klout website even quotes some droid saying “My dating criteria: must have a higher Klout than me.”

To recap: the company took its biggest step forward in transparency by continuing not to release its algorithm. And it says its mission is to help us understand and leverage our influence, even though the CEO’s vision is to mine our online activity as data, then use it against us like a night club bouncer. Though others have compared Klout to a credit score, with the important difference that the companies providing those are heavily regulated because of the influence they wield. They may be right, since Klout is supported by $10 million of venture capital.

The company’s blog post received over 2,000 comments, almost all of them negative. Back in June I blogged about Klout, complaining that it reduces people to their scores, and that Klout’s scientifical factorizing of innumerative quantifiables in a proprietary, techno-sekrit equation-matrix was basically bullshit.

I also parroted Stephen Jay Gould’s criticism of IQ tests, as they abstract a complex concept and reduce it to a single number used to rank people. But then I argued that Klout scores don’t have the same kind of serious real-world repercussions that IQ did, because no one has been sterilized because of low Klout. Turns out I was wrong. People unhappy with Klout pointed out that some companies use Klout scores for job searches and employee performance reviews, so moving the goalposts hurts certain job-seekers, as well as people trying to earn a living in social media.

That aside, people taking a hypothetical hit to their self-esteem didn’t explain the outrage. However, other writers had a better explanation.

In an outstanding essay titled “The Accidental Bricoleurs,” Rob Horning offers the best analysis of social media and culture I have read. He notes that Facebook (and Klout, I would add) have a “parasitic business model,” in which they “appropriate the content and connections we generate as we recreate our identities within their proprietary systems, and then repurpose that data for marketers who hope to sell tokens of that identity back to us.”

Horning argues that this is an evolved form of brand-behavior, the same kind identified by management guru Tom Peters: “You’re not a worker ,” Peters wrote. “You are not defined by your job title and you’re not confined by your job description. Starting today you are a brand.”

Peters argued that self-branding is “inescapable,” and suggested that we brag about our accomplishments and things we are proud of. Horning calls that behavior a “concatenation of fame hunger and dismal self-exploitation.” And his description explains the rest of the furor behind #kloutfail, #kloutpout and #occupyklout: Even people without artistic projects or businesses to promote are out there habitually blatting their little trumpets of narcissism, so any downgrade, even an arbitrary one, gives them the sadz.

Thanks to sites like Facebook, Horning writes, “having a self becomes an inherently commercial operation.” Sites like Facebook are “designed to make us feel anxious and left out if we don’t say it, as their interfaces favor the users who update frequently and tend to make less engaged users disappear.” On top of the systemic anxiety that we’re not doing enough, our personal brand just lost value.

Horning points out an even creepier aspect to this behavior. He cites social critic Thomas Frank’s book, One Market Under God, which argues that personal branding is a form of coercive self-surveillance that corporations were anxious to induce. Franks heralded “The Brand Called You” as “a terrifying glimpse of the coming total-corporate state, a sort of Dress for Success rewritten by Chairman Mao.”

Like inmates Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon prison— which Michel Foucault used as a metaphor to describe disciplinary societies, and their powers to observe anonymously and normalize, we are now paying attention to random number. And we’re self-editing our behavior as a result of it, even though we don’t understand how it’s calculated, or who calculated it, in the vain hope of accruing benefits for “good behavior.”

Making the prison metaphor even more fitting is the difficulty in opting out. As one tech blogger noted, Facebook “make[s] it ridiculously tricky for a user to quit their service…. The option to actually delete a Facebook account permanently isn’t even directly available on their site.”

Klout takes it a step further.

Unlike Facebook, you don’t choose sign up for Klout—as soon as you are active anywhere on social media, it mines your data and assigns you a numeric ranking. Everyone gets Klout scores, including pets with their own publicists, and even minors, as a social media professional learned when her son (who has no Twitter account and privatizes all his Facebook settings) was assigned a Klout number. (As an aside, after I’d written a draft of this, the New York Times picked up this story.)

For a long time you couldn’t completely opt out. If you tried to delete your account, Klout would mask your account on their site with a landing page, but it would still gather your data, turn you into a number, and feed that number to third-party applications such as HootSuite and MarketMeSuite—leading one blogger to liken it to a Roach Motel.

You can now cancel your account, though when I did so, the site warned me to also de-authorize other social media accounts such as Twitter and Facebook from sending data to Klout. (Good advice, I suppose, but I feel like being told to close my blinds to thwart the peeping Toms.)

But what if, for some reason, you want a Klout score—and even want to raise it? After all, even if you disable Klout, other k-infested companies are kropping up like weeds, such as Empire Avenue (“the social stock market”), PeerIndex (“understand your social capital”), Peoplebrowsr (from Kred), How Sociable, and PROskore.  To play the social media analytics game and “leverage your influence,” you apparently have to like selling out. Not only are you turning over a bunch of data to strangers, it’s also like going back to high school, where you shun the dweebs, and do a lot of ass-kissing to get in with the popular kids:

“Make sure you’re engaging with people who have a relatively good to a higher Klout score,” says a talking head. “When you engage with people who have like no Klout or a very low score it’s reflects poorly on you. Even spam bots have a score of 25 or something, it’s crazy.”

That’s putting it mildly.

 (The Merry-Go-Round is Beginning to Taunt Me[1])

 

1. Author As [not circus] Dog Trainer (Cris)

You can’t lie to a dog. Or you can’t lie badly. While training dogs, you need to be “telling” them, with both body-language and voice, that they are the center of the universe to you, and that what they do for you—and what you’re doing together—makes you happier, and means more to you, than anything else in the world. They can tell if you’re lying. If you’re unconsciously communicating to them that you’re disappointed or upset because you’re thinking about something else, something offstage—whether your life’s true dilemma or your most current disappointment—they take it on as stress. To dogs, it’s all about them. So the trainer has to be able to convince the dog of that, whether it’s true in the trainer’s larger life or not. Problem is, the dog can usually tell. A good trainer doesn’t have “a larger life.” It’s never “just a dog” and therefore easy to lie to.

So I’m at a party and a stranger asks what I do.  When I tell them I’m a sex columnist, they laugh and joke that they should send me a letter.  “I’m not that sort of columnist,” I say.

Their brow creases.  “Well then, what do you write about?”

When I tell them sexual politics, they often look twice as confused.  “What’s that?” they ask, or else they shrug and say, “Isn’t that quite a limited topic?”

It isn’t their fault that they aren’t aware.  In most communities, sex is so taboo that people just don’t register the sexual side of political issues.  They know Michele Bachmann’s anti-gay stance is destructive, but they don’t particularly consider it a sexual topic.  Neither do they think that the Miss Universe contest, or Anders Beiring Breivik’s sexist manifesto, impinge on people’s sexual lives. That’s not to say they don’t care, because often they really do.  But the word “sex” doesn’t enter their minds.  Brothel closures, sex workers’ rights, condoms in porn, gay suicide…once I mention these topics, a light goes on and they’re with me.  But the fact that we’re not encouraged to view these issues as sexually political speaks to the effect that sexual silencing can have.  (In fact, in a recent column, I wrote about Michele Bachmann and the damaging power that her silence can wield).

The truth is, when we don’t talk about a powerful human issue, suddenly it’s everywhere — the elephant in the room.  That elephant can be so darn hard to ignore that we have to play psychological tricks with ourselves to keep it invisible.  Our unconscious gets used to automatically suppressing the sexual so that our conscious minds stop making the connection.  This could be viewed as an adaptive quality.  (You should see how often people glare at me because I even mention sex).  But I believe we need to start reversing this process, especially since so many are missing the lies we’re being told about sexuality.

Seeing as you are reading this post, I’m confident that your eyes are open to sexual issues.  So I thought you might be especially stirred by a list I created in order to answer the question, “What is Sexual Politics?”  I’ve entitled the list, “What Sexual Politics Is,” and it contains some (but by no means all) of the political issues that fire me up, right now:

Sexual Politics is:

When you work in a brothel where your clients dodge payment, until the brothel building is deemed structurally unsafe, and, much to the delight of the neighbors, is eventually closed down.  The fact that you were working in dangerous conditions isn’t mentioned by the local press. (And will you get arrested?  And Jesus, where will you sleep tonight?).

When five year-old children in Amsterdam ask their teacher “What is sex?” and he tells them it is a loving act, and none of the parents prosecute.

When your teenage son commits suicide because he was bullied for being gay, and then, after his death, the bullies continue to chant “We’re glad you’re dead,” when a grieving family member is near.

Sexual politics is a  vibrator that’s illegal, even when it’s shaped like a rubber duck.  It’s when queer sex and queer love are looked on as sinful.  It’s when you want to marry your lover, but aren’t allowed.

It’s when a porn movie, with consenting actors, is more shocking to many than the war scenes on the news.

It’s the boy who says no to condoms.  It’s the girl who says no to pleasure.  It’s the kid who feels neither female nor male, but is told that isn’t good enough, and wants hir life to end.  (If this is you, dear one, please look to Kate Bornstein who is amazing).

It’s the man who spends time with a sex worker and suddenly feels embraced and at peace, even though, technically, he’s just made himself a criminal.

It’s a world that doesn’t understand when a trans woman is having sex with a male partner and they identify as gay.  Or a world in which people who are attracted to both men and women are told that they aren’t real unless they choose.

It is a woman who has experienced deep trauma and decides to bravely enact a rape fantasy to deal with her pain.  Then, after this role-play with a trusted partner, she feels significantly healed, but is described by so-called “feminists” as as victimizing herself.

It’s a Facebook wall of rape jokes by men who, apparently, are making jovial confessions online, yet Facebook refuses to remove the conversation.

It’s when the word “cunt” is considered more offensive than “cock,” or when you’re in love with more than one person, yet society tells you you’re not.

(And that’s just the start of it).