What does a thumbs up really mean?

Remember the days before social media? When we used to talk to each other directly, and success wasn’t judged by virtual likes and followers? When being “Insta-famous” wasn’t a accomplishment to put on your resumé?

Don’t get me wrong, social media is a fantastic platform for creating global communities and connections; it allows me to write blogs, take photos, and share them with the world. But have you noticed that a click of the thumbs up means more than a comment? And that people are more concerned with securing new “followers” than actually making real connections?

We don’t communicate like we used to.

It’s true that a photograph speaks a thousand words, but we don’t talk about the photograph anymore. We “like” it.

Status updates let our friends know what we’re up to, but we don’t talk about how things are actually going. We “like” it.

At some point, we stopped communicating with words. Instead, “likes” and emojis became the international language for “I acknowledge your activity in the world and this is how it makes me feel.”

Yes, I’m on social media and currently participating in a one-way conversation.

I’m as guilty as the next person. Scroll-Like-Scroll-Like-Scroll-Like. I could say that I do it because I live far away from everyone I know, and in response to having no community, I’m reaching out to a virtual community and taking part in a global conversation. Partly true. However, a community assumes at least a two-way interaction and “likes” don’t count for anything meaningful.

The truth is, I use social media on a daily basis because I’m lonely and bored, and honestly, I just want to have a voice.

For me, social media is a vital platform to ensure I don’t go crazy in my own head. But now that I’m fully engaged in it, I’m encountering its pitfalls and recognising that social media doesn’t actually do what it says on the tin. “Likes” and “follows” have replaced its defining purpose to foster community-centered input and interaction.

We can’t cultivate community if we’re constantly feeding the popularity contest.

Why is it that numbers are more comforting than people? In a lot of ways we all seek approval, whether in our personal or professional lives. In this sense, social media provides a tangible means through which we can measure approval via popularity and “likes.” As much as we remind ourselves that how well we’re doing on social media is not an indicator of how well we’re doing in real life, gaining approval from friends and strangers, and seeing those numbers rise is oddly satisfying and addictive.

Here lies the problem. In broad terms, popularity necessitates that we are better than somebody else; getting more “likes” means getting more support. Yet when I think of community, I think of equals. In the social media game where we’re trying to be better or more talented than somebody else, community spirit falls by the wayside.

At the end of the day, I still enjoy social media and I’m not about to quit. It’s an outlet to be creative and to be inspired, and most importantly, a way to feel connected with the world. Social media allows me to have a voice and a presence within a virtual community, and it offers a unique platform for world- and self-discovery.

Nevertheless, let’s not forget the “social” imperative of social media. Sure, that includes the “like” and “follow” buttons, but it also involves interacting meaningfully with your online community. After all, community is what social media is built on.

Don’t be an anonymous thumbs up, share your words and opinions. Giving a voice to your thumb reminds us that, somewhere in the world, there’s a very real person attached to it.

KH

 

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“I like you even if I don’t have thumbs to prove it!”
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“Will you be my friend?”

A year ago, I moved to Switzerland. Cue the yodelling, cow bells, and chocolate fountains.

The country boasts almost everything I consider essential in an ideal society. Almost. The fact is, Switzerland isn’t a country for young, career-starting expats. Switzerland is our layover; we only stay for as long as we need to.

Now I, like many other bright-eyed twenty-somethings, firmly believed I could buck this trend and committed myself to integration. I studied German. I prescribed to a diet of coffee and cheese. And I invested my time in the outdoors. The big three: language, food, and culture. What could possibly go wrong? First, Swiss German isn’t the same as German. Second, turns out I can’t eat dairy. Third, rollerblading isn’t as easy as kids make it look.

The fact is, integration is mostly superficial. It’s taking part in things that the locals do. But what’s the point in any of it if you don’t have any friends?

How do you make friends when you’re an adult?

Before you think I’m being dramatic, Switzerland has been voted “the worst place to make friends.”  And from personal experience, one does not simply “approach people and chat” in Switzerland.

For me at least, the problem is also exacerbated by the fact that I lived in the home of hospitality for two years. I became accustomed and infatuated by the US culture of talking to everybody. Bad day? Your cashier will offer you advice! Lost? Just ask for directions! Lonely? Go to the local coffee shop! Atlanta taught me how to be an extrovert, spoilt me with human contact, and showed me what community looks like.

Fast forward to Switzerland and I came to believe that I was the problem for my non-existent friend count; maybe I’m too loud?  Too young? Too foreign? Then I was convinced that the privileges of being a student had spoilt me. I mean, if you’re in a class of ten, that’s nine potential friends off the bat. So then I turned to the fountain of knowledge and googled: “How do adults make friends?” (cue tiny violin). Armed with a wealth of tips and tricks, I did what adults do: go to bars, join clubs, visit new places. But then those endeavours also turned up empty. Everyone was either older, spoke no English, or was simply disinterested. It turned out the twenty-somethings had already filled their quota of friends, and I was too late to join the club.

There’s a difference between travelling somewhere and living there.

To keep myself motivated and occupied, I’ve resigned to acting like a perpetual tourist. I enjoy the sights, experience new things, and talk to other foreign people. All of which are great when you’re on holiday and you have the promise of people waiting for you when you get home. But technically, I’m already home.

Let’s be clear, this isn’t a damning criticism of the lack of community in Switzerland because it certainly does exist. The problem I’ve encountered is that you need a foot in the door. For expats without a Swiss connection, that door is almost always closed. So the young expats close our own doors, band together, and dream of the day that we can leave.

Of all the things I’ve learnt in this past year, my Swiss experience has made one thing abundantly clear; community and friends are what make a home, and without it, there’s nothing compelling you to stay.

KH

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Just because things look beautiful and seem just fine doesn’t mean they have to work
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Let’s talk about the “S-Bomb”

What’s the big deal, right? We disagree with someone’s opinion: “They’re stupid.”  A perspective doesn’t make sense to us: “That’s just stupid.” Or something is simply contrary to what we believe to be ‘the right thing’: “How stupid.”

We’re all guilty of it in some way or another, but it’s no big deal. After all “stupid” isn’t a curse word. If something isn’t right, it’s wrong. And if something is wrong, it’s obviously stupid because smart people are never wrong, right?

No. The fact is, it’s not okay to call someone stupid.

Yet recently I’ve noticed that we’re flippantly throwing that word about a lot more than usual, especially at things that have nothing to do with intelligence.

We’re calling people “stupid” because they believe in, see, and pursue something different.

Ironically, those who are quick to call out “stupid” are the same ones who call for political correctness on all matters concerning religion, disability, sexuality, race, and physical appearance. Apparently “stupid” is something you choose, ergo something you can help or change, ergo calling something “stupid” is simply a way to express disagreement towards that choice.

Now I’m not the PC police, but after being recently categorised as “stupid” by people that I consider some of the most socially conscious, openminded, and smart, I began to notice how reckless (or at least nonchalant) we are with our judgments. I wasn’t being called stupid because of my intelligence, common sense, or ability to think clearly; I’m “stupid” because I believe in something different.

Education isn’t a qualification to call out “stupid”

Just to get an idea of where I’m coming from, I’ve spent the last 7 years studying belief systems and books that are entirely different from my own. As a result, I’ve become a sort of devil’s advocate, accepting that everyone’s beliefs are valid within the context of their own complex systems and environment. Don’t get me wrong, I do have strong stances, and I’m unrelentingly stubborn. Nevertheless, as long as your stance is not “I believe it just because,” you can bet that I’m going to try to understand where you’re coming from.

Therefore this trend to call on the s-bomb in regards to “inferior” lifestyle choices or “uneducated” political stances is one that I’m struggling to accept. Why do we feel the need to identify ourselves as “better than somebody else” because we have this and that qualification?

True, education does make a difference in terms of our ability to express ourselves. However, education isn’t a seal of approval, which suddenly makes us more qualified to talk about the world and come to “smart” conclusions. Education is just another environment that offers another lens through which to view the world. Education influences beliefs; it doesn’t necessarily make them “right” or “smart.”

What’s more dangerous: “stupid people” or judging people “stupid”?

Every time we call out “stupid,” we’re making a judgment about something’s worth. So when we start calling people “stupid” because they simply believe in something different, we’re calling into question their ability to contribute anything of “intelligent” value. As a result, we stop listening and trying to understand (Brexit anyone?). And when we stop listening, communication breaks down and factions emerge.

We live in a beautiful, multicoloured, complex world, full of lessons to be learnt and opinions to be discussed. Let’s not nurture division. Let’s embrace the different. Let’s take a moment to listen.

And finally, let’s think before we call something “stupid.”

KH

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Naturally, thinking you’re better than somebody else isn’t just a human condition
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Things nobody told me about adulthood

Let me start off by saying, how do I actually know I’m an adult? I don’t feel like one. I don’t act like one. And I certainly don’t look like one.

I’m 25 now, and I was under the impression that at some point we all undergo a magical, ‘caterpillar turning into a butterfly’ transformation experience. Figuratively speaking, of course… At the very least, I expected some kind of watershed moment where we become conscious of the fact that “we are adult now.” It didn’t come after graduation. It didn’t come when I moved into my first home, built my own furniture, and got my first bills. And it didn’t even come after I got married.

So what is it I’m waiting for? Do we ever really feel like adults? Or are we all journeying through life, doing what we think adults should do, while simultaneously hoping that nobody figures out we’re all just pretending?

Am I really an imposter?

So this is a question I’ve thrown around and asked other adult-looking people. I was genuinely curious as to whether it was just me, or whether it’s something a lot of us just don’t talk about. After all, the last thing an imposter wants is to be discovered!

Surprisingly, of the people I asked, all of different ages, career accomplishments, and family statuses, the resounding response was: “Yes. Most of the time I think I’m just playing ‘adult’ and someday, somebody is going to find out.” So that was good to know. I guess being an adult doesn’t really feel like anything after all.

Are adults really as secure, strong, and confident as they make out to be?

This one is easy. No. No they’re not.

We’re all life-long learners, figuring out how to live, while trying to inflict the least amount of damage on ourselves and those around us. Fact. I know this because I’ve spoken to first-time parents. Their trajectory is arguably the most tangible step into adulthood since it bears lifelong, vulnerable and hungry responsibility: babies.

If you’ve ever spent legitimate time around babies and their new parents, you know. (If you’re still calling your best friend’s baby “adorable,” you haven’t spent legitimate time around that tiny human.) Or, if you are indeed one of those babies/new parents, you know too. If you have neither experience, then imagine a squirmy, tacky worm screaming in your bed at witching hour, unable to communicate what’s going on in their over-stimulated minds, and refusing to eat, play, or sleep. Put it this way, it’s pretty hard to feel secure, strong, and confident when you have no idea what’s going on.

And that’s the crux of it, as “adults” I don’t think we ever really know what’s going on or what to do.

Will I ever be able to walk past a group of teens and not feel like prey?

Granted, this one is subjective. I still get IDed for matches and I’m pretty sure you only need to be 16 (or 18 in the US) to purchase them. But here’s the thing; I assumed that as soon as I turned 21, people would just be able to sense it.

Don’t you remember sitting on the bus as a pre-teen, glancing at the older kids in their rambunctious groups, and thinking, “Golly, those guys are SO much older and cooler. Gotta make sure I don’t make eye contact, lest they make snide remarks about my Harry Potter glasses!” (Of course, if you’re an 11 year old using words like “golly” and “lest” and wearing circular gold-framed glasses, then I shouldn’t have been surprised when the older kids targeted me. Pray, I jest!) Nevertheless, I’m a grown woman and if there’s a group of teens coming my way, I will cross the road.

This is what I’ve realised: just because you’re technically an “adult” doesn’t mean you have to act or think differently; everybody is pretending they know what they’re doing; and getting older doesn’t make you braver.

There you have it, a over-grown child’s observations about adulthood.

Is it just me who had certain expectations? Or do you also feel like you’re sometimes pretending to be an adult? Or better yet, have you had that watershed, red pill moment?

KH

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Being responsible, doing adult things, screaming like a child
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