Saturday, October 25, 2014

A Moment of Self Reflection

Note: this blog has been migrated to Medium, with the articles here available to preserve permalinks. Please see this post at https://medium.com/@ianrbuck/a-moment-of-self-reflection-ee341cb44123#.3d8jk6p7o

One of the arguments in support of encrypting phones without any backdoors is that things that are acceptable today may be embarrassing in the future. Out of curiosity, I decided to read through a few chat logs from high school to see how embarrassing they are. I was not expecting to be so disappointed with what I found.

First of all, I never realized how self-centered I was. I was so wrapped up in the things that interested me that I never talked about other things. If whatever you had to say did not have to do with science fiction or video games, I was out. That is no way to relate to people. That is no way to make friends. Yes, it is good to find other people who share interests with you, but not at the expense of connecting with others. For example, if you started to tell me about your favorite K-pop groups I would have clocked out of the conversation immediately.

Second, I was a low self-monitor. That means that  I acted mostly the same no matter what context I was in. Many of my messages were just whatever passing thought I had at the time. A Star Wars reference occurred to me? I sent it to somebody. I read a funny webcomic? I messaged somebody the punchline. If somebody did that to me today, it would get old really fast. I seemed to believe that anything I had to say was valuable in any context. Now, this was likely linked to my extreme self-confidence, which I am glad my parents fostered in me. I just wish it had manifested in a different form.

Third, I took great pride in being an unempathetic robot. I think I even used that phrase to describe myself at the time. I had no interest in understanding those human "feelings" everyone seemed so preoccupied about. Hence, I was a prick. I called things as I saw them, and didn't worry about whether it would help or harm the person I was talking to. It's a wonder that people wanted to be around me. Despite the fact that we have been best friends for as long as I can remember, +Ian Decker told me that he did not feel comfortable bringing up vulnerable subjects to me. I was likely to just tell him to stop being an idiot and move on with his life. In fact, when our English class read Pygmalion we decided that we were a real life Pickering and Higgins duo; he treated everyone with kindness and respect, I treated everyone with contempt.

Fourth, I was a loan shark. I had recently discovered what a wonderful thing Steam sales were, but I did not have a debit card to buy games with. So whenever I lent a friend money I would ask for the money back in the form of Steam games. And because the sales were often very time sensitive, I ended up hounding people (including my girlfriend) incessantly for games. I was so pathetic.

Fifth, I was self righteous. Sure, I had the moral high ground when I argued against pirating music and games, but I didn't have to shame my friends about it the way I did. Maybe I should have let my little brothers install Civilization IV on their friend's computer so they could play together. At the time he did not have the means to buy it for himself anyway, and they could have had a great time together. If I had to assign myself an alignment, it would be lawful neutral. I esteemed legality as the highest moral standard. Maybe I was just too lazy to form my own sense of right and wrong.

Sixth, I was blind to my own privilege. I came at situations assuming that everyone else would have similar experiences and opinions as mine. As a result, most of the people that I hung out with had similar experiences and opinions. By that I mean that we were a bunch of nerdy, white guys whose parents are middle class. And I convinced myself that it was not our fault. One of the most telling messages I came across was one where I brought up The Sims. I asked if the person I was talking to had ever played them. When they said no, I ended with "good, because they are a mockery to all things video game." There are so many things that interaction reveals. A few I talked about above, like talking about things that I am interested in and assuming that they would interest everyone else as well. But the thing that really bothers me about this is how I was just regurgitating the opinion of others about a game I had never played myself. I was so wrapped up in being a gamer that I outright rejected anything that a "real gamer" would not like. In a word, I was insecure.

Now here is where my self reflection took a twist. I also happened to be reading some articles about recent events involving GamerGate. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that if GamerGate had happened in 2010 instead of 2014 I probably would have been in support of it. Gross, right? Wherever I stood on all the other issues, I would have been fixated on the perceived threat to my precious gamer identity. I would have been able to ignore most of the other issues (feminism wasn't on my radar yet, and what did I care about ethics in journalism?) or make up excuses for them, like "no, those people making death threats don't represent the rest of GamerGate." I can see high school me ignoring the important issues just because I would have perceived the argument as being gamers vs outsiders.

As disappointing as it was to look back on my demeanor in high school, several people I have talked to about it have assured me that I have improved. Ian in particular made me feel good when he said "I think of you as a brother more than ever." Having others there to evaluate one's behavior is important, as we are often ignorant of the harm we are doing. Nobody thinks of themselves as the bad guy, but we can all strive to improve our interactions with other people. When we stop trying to improve, we have failed. I like the advice that +Anna Haslow gave me on the subject: "Your first, immediate thoughts are what's been ingrained into you by society. Your second thoughts- when you pause and think, 'whoa, that was really shitty'- that's what you as a person think. Keep second-guessing yourself, think before you speak, evaluate your language from another perspective. And keep doing it." In fact, if you still have chat logs saved from years gone by, I encourage you to have a peek. You might learn a thing or two about yourself. I would also recommend exposing yourself to perspectives other than your own. This is especially important if the perspective you see in the media is usually like your own. I have found that Tumblr helps.

So to those of you who knew me in high school, I would like to apologize for my behavior back then. I regret a lot of it, and I wish that more of us could have become lasting friends. I'll see you at class reunions. And stay classy, Central.