When The Cameras Leave

wpid-20150311_183636.jpgThis past Tuesday I attended a protest rally in Decatur, GA for Anthony Hill, a young man shot and killed by DeKalb County Police while outside, naked, in the middle of a bipolar episode. He was an artist, a veteran. His Facebook and Twitter posts reveal him to be a sensitive, socially aware, idealistic man. He was buried yesterday. His is the latest hashtagged name in the long, sad litany of black males killed in confrontations with police. There were a few hundred people there, gathered to celebrate Anthony Hill’s life and the tragic way it was taken. There were impassioned speeches, followed by a march and some tension when protesters took over a busy intersection.

There were also cameras. Lots of cameras. Bloggers like myself, mobile news trucks, writers and reporters were filming, recording, and livestreaming every step of the march. It could be said that the proliferation of cameras and smartphones and social networks is why the movement against police brutality is ongoing, but I couldn’t help thinking, how many of us will stay, not just in Decatur, but everywhere across America where people are fighting this new civil rights battle, when the cameras are gone?

Last Sunday in Selma, Alabama, the town swelled with politicians, celebrities, and elders of the civil rights movement gathered to commemorate the fateful day at Edmund Pettus bridge that arguably sparked nationwide support of the civil rights movement. That support happened because the brutality of Jim Crow law enforcement was televised to a shocked outside world. But the work that ended Jim Crow was done by unsung, dedicated fighters who battled in courtrooms and city halls as well as in the streets when cameras weren’t always watching.

The mainstream media is a machine that feeds on novelty. It is never satisfied, and it never stops consuming. The attention it can garner for causes is invaluable, but it’s only loyalty is to it’s own appetite. That same attention will also attract huge numbers of people which can also be good for a cause. But it would be a mistake to believe everybody who shows up will stay to help do the heavy lifting and thankless work necessary to repair a community. Some will, of course. Tragedy and injustice are powerful motivators that always move people to fight them. The desire to be seen is just as powerful, if not more so, and there’s always a possibility that a social movement can be co-opted by those just wanting to be seen.

Eventually the names of Ferguson, Mike Brown, Tamir Rice, and Anthony Hill will fade from the news cycle. The media will pack up their equipment and move on to the next story. A lot of people who claim to be down for the cause will move on too. All that will be left is the void caused by their deaths in the souls of those who knew and loved them. Their larger legacy will be in the laws enacted to prevent atrocities like the ones that ended their lives and by punishing those who took them. As far as who will keep the pressure on and work to see that happen away from the spotlights, only time will tell.

Check, please

Recently I went on a couple of dinner dates with ladies I was interested in. One I had met casually, the other was our first meeting. I got dressed, we met, and we ate and talked, or at least tried to. Getting to know someone can be nerve-wracking and even more so if you’re constantly wondering if you have something in your teeth, and trying to avoid talking with your mouth full. It’s hard to just relax. Both dates ended well, but both times I wished we had done something else.

At the risk of upsetting some chefs and servers I know, I have to say I have never been a fan of dinner dates for first meetings. I have food at home. Why go to some place to buy food you half eat, to barely hear yourself talk, surrounded by people you don’t know? I prefer meeting over coffee or a drink, having a conversation, and seeing if we click and want to move on to the next step, whatever that step is. The whole dinner ritual seems so cliché to me. My guess is that it started in old courtship rituals that said a man looking to marry had to display his ability to provide sustenance for a bride and a family.

I should mention that I think cooking at home is a very intimate thing to share with a lover. Some of my favorite memories are of sharing a kitchen with a woman I am into and then us feeding each other in our own space. But those moments happened after we had known each other, and we didn’t get to know each other in crowded restaurants.

I’m part of the generation that embraced technology but wasn’t born immersed in it. And while I’ve been critical of it’s effect on face-to-face communication it has made it easier for connecting to happen. The last couple of relationships I was involved in started online. We met somewhere neutral, and things progressed. Getting dressed up to have a nice night out in a nice restaurant is a great way to spend an evening with your signifigant other, but I wouldn’t start a potential relationship with it. I just feel that there are more effective ways to get to know somebody. When it’s warm, Atlanta is an ideal city to have a drink somewhere chill, check out art galleries, or just walk in the park having a relaxed conversation.

While there are no set rules as to how people meet, I do think that a lot of dating rituals are outdated. If you want to hang out, just say so. If you want to get a drink, that’s ok. And If you want to hook up, you should be able to say so too. If you’re very fortunate, you can have all three and eat too.

Ill Communication

I once dated a woman who’s sole form of communicating with me was by text message. Except for the day we met, everything we couldn’t do in the same room was done by text. Exchanging personal information…scheduling dates…planning encounters…everything. We had 1 telephone conversation over the 2 months we saw each other and when it ended, that was one of my main reasons for doing so. I know some men reading this probably think I’m crazy for finding a woman who doesn’t want to talk on the phone all the time and not feeling that. While it’s true that I’m not a fan of talking on the phone for hours at a time, I do crave human interaction that doesn’t require a computer or a smartphone.

We live in the most socially connected age in human history but people are connecting less on a personal level. Consider this: out of all your friends on social media, how many do you actually know? Out of those you know personally, when was the last time you actually saw them and when you saw them, did you really talk, or did you sit around looking at your phones? I’ve been to far too many social events where people either talk nonstop about themselves or are almost monosyllabic in verbal exchanges.

Remember the movie Clueless? There’s a scene where Alicia Silverstone and Stacey Dash’s characters are talking to each other on cellphones even though they’re right next to each other. It seemed absurd at the time but now that’s normal. I think it’s important to look at a person when you talk to them. The inflection in their voice, their facial expressions, and tone of voice inform a conversation more than what you say to each other and can avoid the misunderstandings that often occur with electronic communication.

When you limit the means of expressing thought, you limit thought, which might be why  so many people can only speak in half-sentences and type lyk dis. Factor in short attention spans, and the belief that every moment of life must be documented and you have a recipe for self-absorption that ignores everything except the ego.

The danger of social networking is it gives the illusion of having a personal relationship without actually having one or making any effort to sustain one. For any truly intimate relationship to work you have to be present, physically and mentally. You have to go out in public and meet people. And not stare at your phone when you do.

People are busy. Being a busy person myself, I totally get that. But it’s also true that people make time for the things and the people they want to make time for. The internet is a wonderful tool for connecting people but it can’t be the only one. Social media is here to stay; I just wish it was more social. If anybody has any ideas how to make that happen, give me a call; I’d love to discuss it over coffee somewhere.

Or you can text me.

On second thought… shoot me an email, and I’ll get back to you in a couple of days.

Or by the end of the week.

Next Monday at the latest, I promise.

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