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Archive for January, 2010

SOUND BITE CULTURE…

The teenager is close to graduating, is foraging to find himself, is spinning his mental wheels to get beyond the year he lost to that goddamned ACL injury and in the process is showing who he really is. And that is a good-natured, decent, slightly reserved and certainly shy young man. Not that you might think this if you’d happened to stumble upon his twitter account.

A veritable smorgasbord of seeming ghetto-English, often directed at some ladies who are (shall we say) perhaps not of the greatest repute? Now listen. He’s 17 and I know where his head’s drifting, and furthermore, I know that sometimes the cheap, loud allure of fast-food seems so much more appealing than the deft nuances of a quality meal. Problem is that if your system’s not ready for junk-food you’ll give yourself a stomach ache, and trust me, I know who this guy is and he is not really a fast-food guy.

I understand how twitter works. I have a twitter account and frankly, I think it’s a pretty crap thing, all abbreviations and useless information about what people are doing every 6 seconds of their lives. Indeed, my personal rule for twitter is not to post anything I wouldn’t bother saying to someone’s face. Trust me, it narrows things down, though given some of the things I have posted on twitter, you’d be excused for finding me a touch odd in person.

The thing which made his twitter account a cause for concern was the fact that because he had no privacy setting, anyone could view it simply by typing his name into a google search. And by doing so, they would not have first seen a guy who has worked as a camp counsellor for three years, who has worked for park & rec, who was chosen as part of a state High School sports leadership program and who is currently part of a work/study program. No, what they’d have seen was something like this.

Hey huny, waz up wit yu out dere?

I am, of course, paraphrasing, but you get the idea. It isn’t that what he’s saying is especially poor, especially wrong or even particularly different to what any 17 year old would say. It’s the fact that this is the first hit people get of him, a string of inane, occasionally mildly racy abbreviations and grunted primal questions, which is only a part of him. He had also posted a photo of his little sister which showed her unwittingly engaging in a form of sign-language that tends to happen between siblings, but which is most certainly out of order. Again I chose to see this as air-headed naivety, a blip on the mental radar and not a malicious act of any description. But it was time for a chat.

I told him that I had no problem with him doing this twitter thing, but that he needed to be better to himself, to realize he deserved better than some of the company he was aiming at.

“A lot of them are really nice people,” he countered.

“How can you know? You haven’t met them, it’s all online, it could all be a myth, a game, a role-play. They might be some horrible gnarly twisted old bastard pretending to be something or someone. You just don’t know.”

“That’s right, we don’t know.”

“And so what I’m saying is, because you don’t know, err on the side of caution, if only for your own quality control.”

He nodded in slow, measured agreement.

“Go online and put your account to private. Make sure you put up every privacy setting you can, because my friend, you do NOT want people to be able to run into this via Google, you don’t want people to see you as just ‘that’ guy.”

“But if people want to know me they can read my profile, and they wouldn’t take that stuff seriously would they? I don’t take it seriously, it’s entertainment for me, I laugh about it.”

Ah but they would mate. And they do. Because most people have the attention spans of amnesic gnats, with a brain capacity not much greater anyway. And taking that as a given, your public personna becomes about presenting your best foot, becomes about controlling the information people get hit with. That’s not deception, that’s modern life.

17 years old, worldly in so many ways yet inexperienced and naive in so many others. I told him quietly that we are in a soundbite culture, that people react to the spiciest thing they see as opposed to the deeper, quality information available. I reiterated a point I’d made before about making sure you play the ‘soundbite’ game properly, about making sure that you present who you really are first. And I talked about girls. Because Jesus, if I can’t talk about girls seriously with him now, if I can’t give him the advice I never got from my Dad, if I can’t continue to offer him this advice as I have tried (without pressure and infrequently) to do, then what good would I be? Because at 17, these become times when communication and trust must remain open. It isn’t about dominating his world. He is clearly (and hopefully) beyond my control, he is who he is, he is the guy I have helped him become and I need to take a deep breath and trust that quality to rise to the top in these situations.

“I’m not going to tell you that some the girls you’re tweeting with are, on the surface, appealing. But you deserve better. Because you’re not a hip-hop-honies type of guy. If you were, I wouldn’t say anything more mate, I’d be happy enough. But I know you and I know you’re not. I know it’s an awkward time, I know that asking girls out is a confidence thing, I know all these things. But just trust yourself more, know who you are and be that person when it comes to these affairs. You’re a great guy, you’re great in company, you’re polite, you’re decent, you have a warm friendly character. Don’t be afraid of that…”

Because when you’re 17, that’s a lot to be afraid of. Because you want to be ‘street’ (as in ‘tough-mack-daddy-sorta-kinda). The sexiest. the most hip. And who amongst us ever really felt that our friendliness, warmth and decency was going to win the day when it came to grabbing a member of the opposite sex. I was traveling the world with rock bands at his age, coming back to do studies after glamorous trips to Hollywood, yet I insisted on looking like some retard version of Weird Al Jankovic and still couldn’t quite muster the confidence to ask out the girls I really wanted to go out with.

And this is the thing. 17. So close to being an adult yet so far. So close to breaking out on your own, yet most likely clueless as to exactly what path your life will take. So many expectations, both implied and announced. Who will you be, what will you be, who are you, where are you going, what are you doing with-your-LIFE?!!

Sometimes you just need to take a deep breath. To sit back and take stock. And to focus on exactly who the person you’ve raised is. Just that. Just the person. Just WHO they are. Nothing more. Nothing less. Hopefully it’s a person you like and trust, it should be because by God, if it isn’t, then you fucked up on your primary job in life. And in my case, when I look at him, I know who he is. And he is a good guy, a decent guy. And it is my job to remind him of that. It’s my job to make sure he doesn’t become afraid of being who he is when the image-shit is hitting the social fan. And it’s my job to hug him and make sure he knows that even though he might drop the odd bollock here and there, in his person I trust. And so should he…

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