Tag Archives: media

Fed up with Facebook: Why I quit my social media addiction

My friend Celeste says our generation’s contribution to evolution will be smaller thumbs. Why? With all the cell phone communication of today, our thumbs will progressively shrink in order to aide us in texting, scrolling, and emailing from the comfort of our mini hand-held telephones. If you live in a bustling metropolis, you’ll know what I’m talking about. While you will still find many riders abord city transport reading the newspaper or, heaven forbid, a book, most people are attached to their cell phones like a druggie on crack. As the world grows increasingly more individualistic and our opportunities for virtual relationships go up, our outlets for real human interaction are reduced to the size of a peanut. Blame it on the Blackberry or the iPhone or Twitter, if you like, but when was the last time you looked your fellow metro rider in the eye and said hello? Here in Paris, such audacious friendliness would get you at the very least an annoyed stare and more realistically, mutterings of “Leave me alone, crazy lady.”

I have recently decided to take a self-imposed social media vacation. Call it amazing willpower if you like, but I think it has more to do with intense exasperation. How could I not be fed up with myself? My morning ritual had become: Wake up to alarm. Check emails on Blackberry. Check Facebook wall. Check weather on Blackberry internet browser. Get ready for work. Listen to music on Mp3 player. Get on metro. Check Facebook wall again. Look at new text messages and respond. Witness funny, interesting or weird event in metro and describe, using witty repartee, for publication on Facebook wall. Arrive at work. Check to see if any “friends” have “liked” comment about funny, interesting, weird event in metro. Put phone in pocket and repeat above steps.

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Needless to say, I’ve had enough. Last night, I stayed on Facebook searching friends’ photos and obsessively checking who was on the chat in a last attempt to be connected before I shut off for good. (In reality, all I have to do to get my Facebook account back is sign in, but it’s the thought that counts.) At midnight, I checked myself out. Yet, I still felt I hadn’t done enough. To the Blackberry I went, removing the Facebook application as well as the internet browser. No more impulsive searching for needless information I simply must know rightthisminute. And finally, I set my phone’s email alert to quiet and hid the application in a place I hoped I wouldn’t remember to find.

Three days later, anxiety set in. Of all my media cut-offs, Facebook withdrawal was the worst. I started to fret about what everyone else was doing and had the sneaking suspicion I was missing out. Worse, were there events I wasn’t going to be invited to because I was no longer people’s “friends”? Would I be subject to the dreaded “Out of sight, out of mind” adage? The next day, I got caught in the rain without my umbrella, not having checked the weather from my Blackberry in the morning as usual. And in the metro without my Facebook to check on my Blackberry, I twiddled my thumbs staring at all the bored Parisian faces… who were all on their cell phones.

But then a funny thing happened. The anxiety of worrying about what I was missing in other people’s lives was replaced by the filling up of my own reality. Instead of wasting all this time in my virtual life, I started truly living my real one. That bored Parisian face on the metro wasn’t in fact bored. She was crying, perhaps over a lost lover or sick parent – who knows – but she smiled gratefully when I offered her a Kleenex… something I may not have thought to do if I were attached to my phone. And for the first time in months, I read the whole newspaper on my ride to work, without interruption from one of my many handheld media outlets.

Not only was the mental fog slowly lifting, but so were the needless thoughts about people I really should be forgetting. The frenemy who offended me last week is easier to ignore when I don’t have to see her face on my Facebook wall every morning. And that email from my mother about what meal I want when I first arrive in the US next week? It can wait until I get home tonight.

What disturbs me in all of this is what I thought I was getting out of my virtual social circle. With constructing the perfect witty comment for all my Facebook friends to see, I was also inevitably hoping for a response, a “like” or a virtual pat on the back. It didn’t so much matter that my 407 friends knew about the Spanish tourist who spent five minutes on the Parisian metro floor in his attempt to dislodge an Orangina bottle from the vending machine, as it did that people thought my comment was damn funny. But it’s more than needing mass approval or validation. It’s the need to be part of something bigger than ourselves, to be a member of a community in the world at large, to not feel so alone in this expanding universe as people get more spread out by globalisation, and increasingly disconnected from one another. Why else would people feel the inescapable urge to post things like, “I ate strawberries for dinner tonight!” or “Go Bears!”

But being connected isn’t always so rosy. The need to “Keep up with the Jones’s” is palpable, what with the bombardment of friends’ beautiful baby photos, wedding announcements or news of new houses, jobs or clothes. You’ll be hard-pressed to find friends who will publicly announce their parents’ divorce, alcohol addiction or daily unhappiness. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter and the like, grass on the other side always seems better manicured, mowed and watered. On this side, there’s always something that needs improving, which I suppose is fine if that means being more motivated to make positive life changes, but if every friend’s beautiful baby photo makes you less and less happy about being without child, your mood is doomed to go sour.

Now a week into my social media break, I feel better. Calmer, more in control. Present. When I’m at the grocery store checkout, I’m not simultaneously festering over the photos my ex-boyfriend has posted of him and his new girlfriend on Facebook. I’m just looking the cashier in the eye and taking my change. Life feels simpler, less chaotic… strange. It will take me a few weeks to get used to this. Already the urges to get reconnected are trickling in. I almost cracked yesterday but I resisted, with the help of my friend here in Paris. That’s the difference between a Facebook friend and a real one. When the shit hits the fan, your virtual community can only help you so much.

Maybe someday I’ll go back. Maybe that someday will be next week, or even tomorrow. But living in the present seems pretty good to me right now, so I’m holding my ground. After all, despite what this bustling world might emit to the contrary, all we really have is right now, this moment, in the place where you are reading this very article. And if you’re playing Sudoku on your cell phone instead, you just might miss it.

Riot police clear Tunisians from Paris gym as government cuts aid


French police have cracked down on Tunisian migrants who have come to this country since the revolution that ousted president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. A group of squatters were flushed out of a Paris gym on Tuesday and the city council says that, thanks to government cuts, their situation is set to get worse.

Maamri is 30-years-old and has been living homeless in Paris for the past six months. On Tuesday night, he was looking for a garden to sleep in after finding his temporary home at a gymnasium in the north-east of the city, closed and blocked off by more than 100 CRS riot police.

“Today, I came back after looking for a job to take a shower, as usual, and to take my things, my bag, my medication, and there was a police officer who told me ‘get out of here and shut your mouth’ before pushing me … I don’t know what I’m going to do … where I’ll go to sleep,” he says.

CRS vans drawn up near the Belleville gym

(Courtney Traub)

Maamri joins upwards of 100 Tunisian migrants who found themselves on the street without their belongings around 10 pm, Tuesday night. They had been illegally occupying the Belleville gymnasium since 1 May but the Paris city council had let them stay – with repeated warnings that the situation was only temporary.

Finally, after extending the deadline at least once, the city moved to shutter it for good on Tuesday.

“We decided to close the gym rather than have it evacuated because we wanted to avoid having to make arrests,” says deputy mayor Pascale Boistard, who is head of integration of non-Europeans.

“We also need to give back this centre to the community, which was unable to access its services since the illegal occupation of the gymnasium. And the roof, in particular, needs repairs,” Nathalie Royer of the mayor’s office added.

Boistard says the city of Paris has struggled to secure alternative housing for the migrants, in cooperation with the NGOs Auroreand France Terre d’Asile. And they were warned in advance that the gym would be closed, she says.

“We had a list of around 80 Tunisian migrants whose situation we have been following closely in cooperation with several organisations, and who have been sleeping regularly at the gym,” says Boistard. “We managed to find emergency housing for 40 of them. Of the 40 others, several refused our propositions and some remained without a solution.”

Royer says that Paris is the only city in France to have set up an action plan to aid the migrants, who left Tunisia after the revolution that overthrew Ben Ali’s government. More than 5,000 people landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa in January and, as the French governmentanticipated, many went on to France to find work and a better life.

But budget problems have caused services to Tunisian refugees to screech to a halt. The mayor’s office says by the time the emergency action plan will have expired on 31 August, the state will have spent 1.4 million euros on emergency housing and aid to Tunisian migrants since the start of the Arab Spring.

“Unfortunately the plan won’t be extended. The resources are simply not there,” says Boistard. “And it’s not our job but the state’s. We started the action plan because this is a terrible humanitarian crisis. The state refuses to take care of the Tunisian migrants, and its only response is to arrest and deport them.”

Boistard sees the situation getting much worse in the face of severe budgetary constraints and plans by Nicolas Sarkozy’s government to cut back on emergency housing.

“By September, I expect 5,000 additional homeless foreigners and French people to be out on the streets,” she says.

The city’s explanations were of little comfort to many of the Tunisians left on the street on Tuesday night. They blamed the French government for the lack of aid.

Brahim, 16, says he came to France looking for work and a better life but has felt disillusioned since arriving. “In Italy, people helped us all the time. Now that we’re in France, nothing. There are so many Arabs here but no one is helping us.”

For Maamri, every day since he left Tunisia six months ago has been a struggle. Living without an income, he says he subsists on one meal a day, which he usually scrounges from local cafes. “It’s like I’m doing Ramadan [the Muslim fasting month],” he jokes.

For many like Maamri, dreams of creating a new life in Europe are wearing thin.

“I came here because it’s Paris,” he says. “You know, the dream of Paris. But it’s been so hard. I think I might just go back home.”

Reprinted from Radio France International on July 7, 2011.

America’s image problem. Is the press to blame?

Last night I met Jacques. He was a jovial character, in his 60’s, drank bourbon with no ice and cracked jokes the minute you met him. I didn’t like him. Anyone who has to try that hard to make me laugh can’t be trusted.

But by the time the aperitif was finished, I had warmed up to Jacques and realized that he was the most interesting person at our table of friends, opinionated almost to a fault and a genuine thinker. Never one to leave a comment open-ended, he sparked conversations I had yet to have in France.

One of Jacques’ most particularly interesting comments was about America.

“I hate the U.S.” he said after a few minutes into the conversation.

Now normally, this sort of sentence makes me want to throttle a Frenchie, but I could see that Jacques was the sort of guy who liked to incite controversy.

“Have you ever been there?” I asked him semi-calmly.

“No…” he said, before launching into his justification.

Jacques, like many French people, explained that he hates “L’Amerique profond,” which in English terms loosely means, “typical America.” Since he’s never been to the country, he can’t fully comprehend what he’s saying, and he knows it.

The image of America that he sees – on TV, in movies, in the newspaper – is, in fact, the reason so many people hate America. Just like Americans have an image of the French as baguette-carrying, beret-wearing, mustache-sporting cheese and wine lovers, the French consider the Americans a gun-toting, violent, ignorant, obese people.

Florida International Panthers v Miami Hurricanes

What's more American than cops and football?

And many of us Americans are. But many of us are not. As Jacques and I discovered in our animated debate, there’s the image of a country from outside its border and its image within. There is truth in the former based on the latter because, obviously, prejudices and stereotypes are based somewhat in reality.

However, once inside a country, it becomes impossible to define its culture. An American from afar can easily imagine the “average French person.” But a French person has tantamount trouble describing his own country and culture.

After all, there is the North – with its potato-at-every-meal culture, warm-hearted citizens with a Belgian touch and cloudy weather. And in the East, where France meets Strasbourg, the typical French person becomes at once German and “universally European.” In the Southeast, there’s the macho attitude, olive oil and fish dishes, lavender fields and a false-friendly people. Go over to the Southwest and you’ll find great wine, rainy skies, shy folks and beautiful pastures. And let’s not forget the enormous Arab population in France these days, or the number of West Africans and Vietnamese.

Of course, four years ago while I was sitting at home in Minneapolis and dreaming about France, I never could have imagined all of that. So, to hear Jacques tell me he hated America, part of me wasn’t shocked.

How could I be, when the only TV shows played here from America are “Cops,” “The Nanny,” “Seventh Heaven” and “Desperate Housewives?” The only news about America is about which country we’re blowing up next, our hypocritical stance on human rights, our gun laws, and our massive (and negative) influence on President Sarkozy? French kids are getting fatter on American fast food, zoning out on Miley Cyrus TV shows and watching Texan cops handcuff every Hispanic man in range. Why wouldn’t the French hate America?

The easy answer is to say that the media is to blame. But is it? It’s hard to know whether it’s the chicken or the egg who started it. After all, there are but a few free presses that exist today and they are not usually the loudest voices. Mass media is largely supported by government funding, so the majority of images we see of America and France (and other countries, for that matter) are based on what each government chooses to produce. And this, in countries where the press claims to be free.

So I’m not angry with Jacques. I know he means well. And when other French people tell me to my face that they hate my country, I will try not to get upset. But, I trust that I am allowed to make a few jokes about the complaining, afraid-of-change, adulterous French person in return.

Within reason, of course. I am on their turf, in the end.

Bangkok streets erupt in violence – is nowhere safe?

It’s hard to imagine violence on the streets of Bangkok. Like Tokyo, New York and so many other civilized world cities, Bangkok usually enjoys a steady stream of normalcy. As a tourist, I felt as comfortable in Thailand as I do walking down my hometown street in Minneapolis. Maybe even more so.

So I was rather shocked to hear about what is going down in that vibrant Asian city, a place where one-dollar street pad thai tastes better than 20 dollar restaurant pad thai, where you can get a tour guide and ride around the city for less than 10 dollars (scam artists notwithstanding) and walk down the streets so completely unnoticed that you almost wish for a lewd cat-call. Violence in Bangkok? Nuh uh…

Soldiers Open Fire On Anti-Government Supporters

Of course I shouldn’t be surprised. Not when in America, the country of my birth (and which I claim is such a civilized nation), people can be shot down in the middle of their daily day at immigration centers, retirement homes, schools and even churches. Is absolutely nothing sacred anymore? America, the world… I’m disgusted.

Is it the media’s fault or our fault? I’d side with the latter – that the human race has created a monster: itself. The worst part is, I can’t think of an era of calm, a time when there wasn’t violence, war, death and destruction going on somewhere on Earth. Even with our big complex brains, are humans just destined to mess it all up?

Will the real John McCain please stand up?

I was looking online to find out Malia and Sasha Obama’s ages and how the media spotlight will be on them as they grow up, and somehow the twisted vacuum of the internet sucked me in. Before I knew it, I was reading a column from 1998 about Chelsea Clinton and a tactless John McCain.

1998. This was one year after I graduated from high school, so needless to say it was an incident I don’t remember too well, if at all. Or one could say that the media adequately covered it up, just as they intended to do. But I don’t have a problem with the media here, it’s John McCain that’s got my goat. He made a comment about Chelsea Clinton at a Republican Senate fundraiser that reporters found so offensive, they actually censored themselves.

Read the article below from the Salon.com Newsreal to see just how nasty McCain can be. While I’m still a little angry over Obama’s speech about Israel on Thursday, I am so relieved that we have elected a man with class, principles and morals – not just someone out to get a good laugh from the rich, white Republican crowd at the expense of an innocent teenager… Really, how low can you go??


A joke too bad to print?

– – – – – – – – – – – –

During the last few months, many established media outlets have decided to report innuendo and rumor about the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, as long as they have a source they can cite (at least anonymously), or another media player has reported the same.

But this new standard in the practice of journalism seemingly does not extend to other political figures, at least not media darlings like Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. Earlier this month, at a Republican Senate fund-raiser, McCain told a downright nasty joke making fun of Janet Reno, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton.

Read the rest herehttp://www.salon.com/news/1998/06/25newsb.html

Avoiding conversation, the Western way

Ever been stuck on a plane next a Chatty Cathy who couldn’t be hushed, not even after blatantly stuffing your ipod headphones in your ears? Or how about that talker on the end of the phone line – otherwise known as your best friend – who won’t stop going on about her new boyfriend? Now, there are a wealth of websites and products available not to help deal with uncomfortable conversations, but to avoid them altogether.

A quick Google search brings up pages of new techniques for avoiding that certain someone in your life who brings your listening skills to the breaking point. First, there’s Slydial, a phone service that allows you to leave quick messages for people instead of having to deal with long, drawn-out conversations, wasting your precious cell phone minutes and time. Just dial the number and be connected to your party’s voicemail directly. Chatty Cathy number one – check.

Then, there’s http://www.sorrygottago.com, a website that offers a multitude of sounds that can be set off on your caller when they get a little gabby. How about incessant coughing and sneezing to get them off the line? Or, perhaps you prefer the police siren? Or maybe it’s the mooing cow you like.

The list goes on. Wikihow has numerous articles on “how to avoid conversation” on public transportation or about religion. There’s even one on how to avoid talking to people altogether.

Of course, there are also articles on how to make conversation, but what’s undeniably worrying is the sheer number of businesses that have been created to help people get out of interpersonal communication. In a world where one U.S. presidential candidate is being chastised for listing “dialogue” as one of his, erm, talking points with scary Iran, goes a long way to demonstrate the state of our country’s communication crisis.

Just think of the last time you avoided talking to someone. Most of us do it everyday at work when we choose to write a quick email instead of picking up the phone to get the same message across. And god forbid we actually pick ourselves up off our lazy butts and go to the person directly! In the office where I work, I have a colleague who is diametrically opposed to using email because she finds doing business so much better in person. For most people today, this thought is downright shocking, not to mention fear-inducing. Many (like myself) would brush this behavior off as being “out of touch,” “difficult” or even “ridiculous.”

Long gone are the days of sitting around the table with friends and a few drinks on a Saturday afternoon. Now, if drinks are to be had, it’s in a crowded bar where we spend the night scoping out prospective loves instead of talking to one other. Alcohol must be involved. Spending an afternoon with a few Coca Colas on someone’s porch is only really done in small town America, and even there, attention spans are waning for the under-50 age group. Here in Europe, the tradition of “having drinks” is still considered socially acceptable, but already, more and more people are spending time on their cell phones instead of face-to-face – a sure sign of a communication demise.

Perhaps our fear of chitchat stems from our need for independence. We want to be solely responsible for not only what we do and where we live, but also with whom we talk. Take a simple living arrangement in Asia as an example. Seniors live with their families instead of in retirement homes. Twenty-somethings hole up in their childhood bedrooms until they get married. The concept of living alone in Asia is seen as lonely, unnecessary and wasteful. By the mere proximity of people, communication is bound to improve. In the West, however, we are continually moving in opposite directions from one another – buying that studio apartment on the 10th floor, avoiding our neighbors in the hallway and taking the stairs instead of the elevator – all in an effort to avoid awkward conversation.

Paying companies to help us shun one another face-to-face is, effectively, evidence of a communication crisis already underway. Testaments are all around us. The internet is swallowing up news readers, many of whom haven’t bought actual newspapers in months. Video games have replaced real ones (remember freeze tag?) and couch potato-ing in front of the TV is the standard nightly routine of most Americans. Hanging out with friends is arranged by phone or by email, and knocking on someone’s door just to say hello could make you liable for a restraining order.

These latest communication avoidance gadgets, like Slydial and sorrygottago.com, are not necessarily treating a new problem, but are simply giving the people what they want and think they need. Instead of dealing with their interpersonal woes and inefficient time management skills, the easy way out is the one now being chosen.

Anyway, I could continue this conversation further, but I’m about to have a major coughing fit. And wait – isn’t that Mable the cow mooing in the backyard? And oh, there are those darn police officers showing up on my doorstep again.

Sorry, I really gotta go…