Why I Love People, But Hate “Networking”

I think we have a issue with objectifying people.

Not just sexually. Not just women. Not just in the media. All of those are problems, to be sure, but I think objectification is a problem that goes way beyond all that.

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A couple months ago, I was given a lesson on “networking.”  I learned I was supposed to fish for connections, to groom people into becoming opportunities. I was supposed to be nice to people for the sole purpose of achieving my personal goals. It all seemed really fake and icky.

(Can I use the word icky as an adult? Is that allowed?)

I tried to express this to a friend, who laughed at me because dude, you network all-the-freaking-time.  She was right, of course. I talk to people. I have a LinkedIn account, and I use it. I’m the queen of “let’s do coffee!”  But there was still something weird about how the word “networking” was being used in professional-land.

Isn’t that, like, making friends with an ulterior motive? Can I just get to know people? And maybe some of them will do cool stuff, and then I can learn about that cool stuff and maybe get involved with it, if it makes sense? Is there a word for that?

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Objectification means looking at people in terms of what they can do for you. For a service they can provide. For how they can help you reach your own goals.

So we “network.” We date. We care about people selectively–because they might be useful to us someday, because they fit into our personal narrative.  We greet people with expectations. We ask “who can you be to me?” instead of asking “who are you?”

And when we do that, we miss each other.  We miss each other on a human level, and it sucks.

We’re so busy trying to write our own story that we sometimes straight-up ignore people who might not fit into it, as though their stories don’t matter at all.  We hold onto our agendas so tightly that we forget to hold each other. If someone isn’t a potential employer, or a potential partner, or someone we can get the notes for next class from…why bother with them at all?

There is something very inauthentic about that.

So here I am. Trying desperately, desperately to approach all people as people.  Not opportunities. Not props in some story that I think I have control over.

Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hella hard.  But I think it will be worth it.

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Why Technical Difficulties are Secretly Awesome.

I’ll just come out and say it: I have a not-so-secret love affair with technical difficulties.

Actually, I have a not-so-secret love affair with just about anything that messes with the usual formula.

Don’t get me wrong. I totally buy into fabricated media events.  If the TeeVee claims something is a “big deal,” that’s usually good enough for me. I’ll bring the dip. We can yell at the screen.  Time to compare beer commercials, friends!

Yes, I love the Super Bowl. I woke up at 4 am to watch Canada face Russia in the World Juniors.  A girlfriend and I were glued to mesmerizing colour-changing maps on election night.  And, of course, I’m down for half-watching big debates (I mean…if you’re watching them, too).

I even watch awards shows. I am forever cynical about entertainment industry elites hanging out and patting themselves on the back, but: ohmygawd Tina Fey and Amy Pohler are hosting?!  Also: my favourite show really needs to win. And: dat dress (!!).

You see what I’m saying. Sometimes, I even tweet about these things. Yeah, I’m one of those people. Shameless.

My main attraction to these media events (besides the fact that they’re, you know, fun) is my  big ol’ soft spot for live television.  After all, I have been there–and I miss it.  I have hung out in the control room. I once tried (awkward teenager style) to keep everything together backstage.  I have whispered into more than one headset to fix more than one glitch just in the nick of time.  Boredom, stress, breathe, we got this.  

I have seen the red light.

When I watch live television, I always have this mini-awareness of what is going on behind the scenes.  It takes the form of an inner narrative, full of quirky crew members and missed cues and shouts of “The show must go on!” (okay, that last one doesn’t actually happen in real life). Obviously, this narrative gets super interesting when connections fuzz, microphones fail…or, say, when there is a twenty minute blackout right in the middle of the Super Bowl.

Cough, cough.

I like the glitches. They make us all just a little bit more aware of what is going on behind the scenes.  It’s a subplot.  We can watch problem solvers covertly move to fix whatever went wrong.  Glitches make us realize just how many people and extensive technicalities are involved in making a media event.  When the “stakes” are so “high,” just one small error can change the whole situation. Maybe it’s a human error, maybe a technical error.  We shouldn’t know, really, because their job is to keep us from knowing.

I like to know.

Now, I don’t need to know what is going wrong, exactly. It’s always best to avoid the blame game.  But don’t you think it’s healthy to be aware of just how much is going on, period?  Glitches are our friendly reminder that a lot of people are involved, that they are talented, and that they are unbelievably valuable to things running smoothly (or, at least recuperating smoothly).

When the big inauguration screens at the Washington Monument started cutting out, it was ironic and disappointing…but it was also kind of enlightening. I looked at the faces around me, trying to figure out how to react to this. We were suddenly aware of our dependence on the people who set up the screens, streams, and footage.  We may not have been overly impressed at that moment, but it sure added to the subplot. Somewhere, someone was kicking themselves and wondering what to do.  A few dozen other someones were probably scrambling to fix the glitch.  It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting to think about during the President’s first speech, but it was worth thinking about.  And in the end, I was able to just watch the speech later.  No harm, no foul.

So, yes, the lights went out during the Super Bowl. I laughed at the commentators as they awkwardly tried to fill 20 unexpected minutes, and I chatted with the friends around me: “What just happened? Do they have a back up generator? Can you imagine being the people on staff right now?”

Maybe I’m being nostalgic about my control room days.  Or maybe, I’m a shit disturber who just likes when stuff breaks.  But overall: keeping it interesting, keeping things imperfect, and keeping us aware of one another’s efforts?

That’s pretty awesome.

My Creative Frenzy: Why Alternative Projects Are the Best

This year, I was given the opportunity in one of my classes to pursue and “alternative project” in lieu of writing a paper.

I am such a big fan of the alternative project. It gets me in the biggest creative frenzy.

I had participated in the University of Ottawa’s Community Service Learning program a few times, so I knew what it was like to do something a little different for a class project.  I knew I liked it, too. With CSL, professors can offer students the opportunity to do course-related volunteer field work instead of writing a paper. In first year, I made teaching aids. In second year, I delivered an Aboriginal history presentation for some grade four classes.   And in both cases, I learned a whole lot more from those experiences than from “here today, gone tomorrow” essays.

This year, I took a Colonial American History course that allowed students to design an alternative media/internet project. My mind went more than a little crazy. I’m a History student, yes, but I’m also pursuing a Communications major. I pretty much lived in the Communications Technology room in high school.  I’m a new media diehard.  I used to make short films and write folk songs in lieu of writing papers in high school.  And, obviously, I blog.  Interactive/Media history? I had to get on that. THIS IS EXCITING.

It didn’t take long for me to decide what I wanted to do.  American musical history is fascinating to me. Really, the profound relationship between sound and society is fascinating to me, which I guess explains why I’m so excited to be interning for Smithsonian Folkways this winter.  It’s also why I decided to create an online resource exploring Colonial American music for my alternative project.

Check it out: http://soundsofthecolonies.wordpress.com/

A few notes from the experience:

  • This ended up feeling almost like an interactive, online version of liner notes…you know, like the booklets inside CDs?  How cool would it be if CDs came with programs like this to explore what was behind the music, kinda like a DVD menu? I assume this is already a thing that happens, but is should happen more–when it comes to music with strong historical/cultural significance, technology could be really valuable in bringing the learning to the next level.
  • The best way to make an interactive map? Skip the “interactive map” websites, and upload a jpeg to Thinglink.  You can add links, notes, and markers to images. Made for a really cool music map of New England on my end. (Teaching tool alert, educator friends!)
  • The constant battle: The more information you have, the harder it is to cut it into bite-sized pieces–especially when that information is circumstantial and you’re like “But…but..but…complexity…and…”. I have this issue with essays, too, but for some reason breaking it down for the internet required even more messing around with conflicting ideas to get to the core of what was going on. Filler was just less of an option.
  • Music matters. A lot. Probably more than I even suspected before starting this project. It’s such a big indicator of so many cultural and human elements.
  • I HAVE SO MUCH MORE TO LEARN. It’s weird to do so much research, feel so flooded with questions, and then need to step up with some kind of concise thesis.  Bringing everything behind your questions together in order to project some sort of objective answer is tough. I have information, yes. But I can’t wait to gain more insight.
  • I’m excited for the future of history, ethnomusicology, and education in the new media environment.  Interactive maps and YouTube videos and downloadable liner notes and iTunes U?  So much fun to play with.

I don’t know how many other people chose to do an alternative project. Maybe the number wasn’t that big. But just the fact that we were given the opportunity to take our research to a different place was awesome (not to mention, it kept me from falling asleep on the job). It was awesome in high school when my Native Studies teacher let me write songs instead of make powerpoints. It was awesome when my grade 12 World History teacher made our seminar assignment so vague that I was able to do mine on an interview with my grandfather. Community Service Learning was, and is, awesome. And, of course, this alternative project was the coolest opportunity.  I even got to bounce this project off of the wonderful people and resources at Smithsonian Folkways.  How cool is that?

Very cool.