Skynet: The Asynchronization of the World.

Connection.

Human beings have always needed connection: a deep-seeded, immovable need to emotionally connect with each other. Character connectivity–family, romance, rivalry–is at the core of every single (good) story. It is an intangible desire deep in hearts. Fine, it probably has some tangible psychological explanation. Give me a break–I’m not a psychologist. In fact, we need connection at such a base level that we can connect with well-written fictional characters. Berkeley Breathed (best known for his comic strip Bloom Country) said, “I will go to my grave in a state of abject endless fascination that we all have the capacity to become emotionally involved with a personality that doesn’t exist.” Why? We want and need emotional connection in all ways, shapes and forms.

But now “connected” has a different definition. Nowadays, “connecting” is jumping on The Facebook, writing an angsty-vague post about how “I hate it when she does this…”, receiving a lot of support from two people (who happened to see the post on their news feeds before they were overwhelmed with advertising), and making it known that you “like” some-guy-you-met-one-time’s inspirational meme about how “Life isn’t going to live itself so rock out loud!” with a picture of Nirvana rocking out to Smells Like Teen Spirit.

Here’s the problem: in a world of social media the emphasis is on media, not social. A good friend of mine and his brother had a long conversation recently about whether or not text-messaging is “synchronous” or “asynchronous.” Synchronization is the coordination of events to operate a system in unison. So is there a unified connection, or is there a disconnect in the unity of communication through social media? I would argue a disconnect and to be disconnected is to not be connected. Yeah. That just blew your mind. Obviously, you can get on chat, which is a little more Synchronous than “liking” that picture of Kurt Cobain rocking out loud. Also, obviously, not everyone is that guy who spends 8 hours a day “liking” 428 memes posted by 140,000 people who have each spend 8 hours of their day liking 634 memes posted by 650,000 people who…. I get it, but check this out:

In 2006 it was estimated that 1 in 20 adults had current depression. By 2012 that number jumped up to 1 in 10. More numbers: Facebook was opened on September 26, 2006 for everyone over the age of 13 with a valid email address. Wait… more numbers: Twitter was created in March of 2006. In fact, the Chicago Tribune posted a story about social media sites and their link with depression this year (2013) and quoted one social networker saying, “Just go out and have a social life somewhere else.” One more statistic: Dailymail.co.uk published a study on the propensity of Healthcare workers to be on Facebook. The study showed that over the course of 15 days, the 68 workstations observed spent an accumulated 72.5 hours on Facebook. Staff spent 1 out of every 5 minutes on Facebook. Oh, and that increased with the volume of patients and workload. Whoops.

It’s almost impossible to live entirely off of social media today. I run a small business. Trust me, I know the value of social media, and there is value. I just look around at all our “lives” online and it makes me sad, because the more “connected” we get, the more disconnected we are. How often have you noticed that everyone in a room or at a table in a restaurant is on a mobile device? How often do you see people pull out their phone in a play or at a movie (it’s rude, if I see you doing it you will get a shoe in the head) because they neeeeeeeed to check their texts or Twitter? I hate to break it to you, but that is disconnection.

My point is go and actually rock out loud. Real life rock out loud. Kurt Cobain did. You can too.

We ask the question, “What’s Your Story?” Ask yourself, is your story an angsty-vague post on Twitter? In 10 years, you probably won’t remember what it was about. Or is your story a story woven through the stories of other people in real life, with real experiences, with true connection.

(Yes, I see the irony of this blog and it’s posting on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter. Go outside and play a game.)

Coming Soon (well, at some point in the future)–Part II: The Socialization of Individual Thought

Choose Your Words Like Your Friends (Not on Facebook)

I want to say a few words (or paragraphs) about language, linguistics, and the importance of choosing your words wisely — especially in storytelling. A special note: this article considers only the english language. There was a time in my life when I could have had a conversation with you about (and in) French or Italian but sadly those days have passed me by.

First, let’s bust a myth for fun. In 2007 Science published some pretty interesting results regarding the alleged claim that women speak, on average, 3 times as many words per day than men.(1) The surprising results of the test were that statistically the difference in spoken words per day between men and women is mathematically insignificant! So men, lest you automatically dismiss this as a post for the ladies….

Let’s say I walked out onto the street, found a stranger and asked that stranger: “do you think that the words you choose are important?” I would be willing to bet 99 out of 100 people would answer, “yes.” Probably more than 99 out of 100 people. Great, they got it right, but how often does that affect the way they speak or write. The vast majority of people take no pride or craftsmanship in the use of our language, but rather bastardized any sense of linguistic control and propriety.

Sadly, like, we all don’t really care that much… y’know, like, what stuff we say and stuff.

McCrum, Cran and MacNeil said: “The statistics of English are astonishing. Of all the world’s languages (which now number some 2,700), it is arguably the richest in vocabulary. The compendious Oxford English Dictionary lists about 500,000 words; and a further half-million technical and scientific terms remain uncatalogued.”(2) That is a lot of words. Words are our primary form of communication; especially in storytelling and even more important in film, where your writing is all the audience will know of you.

We live in a culture of speed and convenience. Need an answer? 2 mins on google. Need to tell your friend a hilarious story? 10 second contact search, 30 second ring, 5 minute conversation. Hungry? 5 minutes at a drive through (and it only costs $5). Sadly, there’s a catch-22; we also have trouble with articulation. How often do you say: “does that make sense?” I say it very often and a few people in my life have pointed it out. Since then I’ve noticed dozens of people who do it. We have 500,000+ words to choose from: we should rarely have to ask that question.

My cousin, being a man who enjoys tasty food (don’t we all), made quite a few trips to the refrigerator to eat as many delicious cupcakes. His son, who is 3 years old, said, “Daddy’s like a cupcake shark.” At first you laugh, “Aw, what a goofy, cute little guy.” But seriously, consider the image that statement conjures in your mind. Sharks are gluttonous creatures who ravenously consume their prey, sure, but consider that sharks often return to the same feeding/hunting grounds: like say, a kitchen. Sharks also often scoop up and swallow their prey whole.(3) Believe me, my cousin probably scooped up and swallowed each cupcake whole. My cousin’s son said 5 words and they quite aptly (and metaphorically) captured his father’s ravenous cupcake habits! He’s 3 years old.

It is the quality of our words that will separate us from the millions of other people who tell stories. Sadly, it is a (if not the) primary form of communication and we butcher it. Consider your words wisely, choose them with care, and you’ll see your storytelling come to life!

This is especially important when it comes to foul language. People use the excuse that it’s “more realistic” for such-and-such character to swear 110 times over the corse of the film. I hate to break it to you, but film is not real life, nor is it expected to be real life. No one walks into a film and says, “I would like this film to mirror real life exactly.” Sure, we don’t want to see Indiana Jones’ son swinging through the trees at the same speed as a car, that’s too far, but we certainly don’t want real life. So why is it so important to make a character swear consistently? It’s a product of lazy language. It’s easy to throw in “%#@*” to be abrasive and get peoples attention. Instead try to use language more productively.

I am not saying that swearing and foul language are wrong: in fact, I’m arguing the opposite truth. All language is, simply, a tool. That tool includes swearing, foul language, dirty jokes and even silence. My admonition is for writers and storytellers to simply use it with purpose. Don’t throw in any aspect of language without knowledge-based, purposeful consideration. Get to know your language, its eccentricities and its breadth, and use it to your advantage.

I titled this post, “Choose Your Words Like You Choose Your Friends (Not On Facebook).” My point is that we live in a world where declaring someone your “friend” is as easy as a point and a click. Consider, however, how many of your 2,345 friends on Facebook are truly worthwhile influencers in your life. Probably not 2,345 of them. Choose your words like you choose your TRUE friends — those people who mean something to you and your life. You purposefully choose to invite Jimmy and Jonny over for a Halo party. Guess what else you do? You don’t invite Tommy, because he doesn’t like Halo or Jonny. How often do you wildly invite all of your friends to an event in person. You don’t. Only on Facebook.

We have over 500,000 words to choose from: write and speak with a purpose. Don’t let lazy language dumb your stories down. Choose your words like you choose your friends: with conviction and motivation.

  1. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/317/5834/82.abstract
  2. Robert McCrum, William Cran, & Robert MacNeil. The Story of English. New York: Penguin, 1992
  3. http://www.the-shark-side-of-life.com/great-white-sharks.html