Saturday, January 28, 2012

Worlds Within Worlds

I don't follow sports much anymore, unless you include eSports as I am an avid spectator of professional Starcraft 2 gaming. I did catch this though earlier on MSN and so I thought to post it here. It isn't really about sports, but more so about politeness and respect for differing opinions and the role that Facebook and other social media plays in terms of creating the public identities of people. As people create a virtual world that is an overlay of their everyday lives, is something lost when they tend to favor their Facebook world instead of the world around them in terms of their expression and the meaning they find in their lives? For example, is something lost when you are sitting in a room with friends talking, but you are continually on your phone chatting with people on your Facebook? Or are both circles the same? Can they co-exist or does favoring one make you value less the other?

I always wonder about this as it is becoming increasingly difficult to get students to pay attention in my lectures without them constantly being distracted by their phones. You can't argue that being distracted only came into existence after smartphones or texting was created, but is there something different to the distraction now? Is it more pervasive? Are the abilities to simply spend 80 minutes on Tumblr during class more detrimental than someone simply daydreaming the same amount of time?

But for other more serious things such as activism, does the ease of Facebook make it tempting to take it as a version of the world and then model one's actions, expectations and celebrations off of what takes place there? I have written about this elsewhere on my blog, but is there a danger to take too seriously what you hear and what happens on Facebook, in the same way in which you can assume that what your friends tell you is also what everyone else says and thinks?

The article below is an example of that from the sports world. It deals with a hockey player who disagrees with President Obama, and how when he is scheduled to meet the President along with other players from his team, he decides not to go, but instead speaks out on Facebook. Rather than take the opportunity, that few get to question or challenge the President, he resorted to the oasis of Facebook in order to express himself.


Taking a Stand: Internet is Not the Place
Jen Floyd Engel
Fox News Sports
Updated Jan 27, 2012 9:03 PM ET
Hockey has this tradition of tapping sticks on the ice or against wood in moments of admiration — after a fight, during a pregame ceremony for a retiring legend or once, in my case, on my way into the locker room after I recently had become engaged. It is more raucous than clapping and therefore way more hockey. It says "I see you and appreciate what that took," or in my case "about time."

And upon first hearing that Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas had unleashed a little of his First Amendment rights, I tapped my stick for him.

Good for him, I thought.

Sports need more principled athletes.

Wait, he expressed himself how?

Yeah, Thomas lost me when he bailed on the Bruins' congratulatory trip to the White House — and his chance to say his piece in person — and instead posted on Facebook.

We have become a society that has confused a status update with a stand. And we wonder why nothing changes.

Athletes used to take risks for things that mattered. Black-power fists shoved into the Mexico City night sky and Bill Russell’s willingness to march on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. Nor was it only athletes doing so. Rosa Parks sat down. The unknown man stood tall at Tiananmen Square. Countless Tea Party-ers refused to go away.

So I'm sorry if I do not buy Thomas’ status update as a principled stand. Yet it is pretty standard nowadays.

Internet balls are the new tequila balls. Everybody has a pair.

What do you do if you are a 49ers fan or a random gambler distraught over two muffed punts by Kyle Williams? Tweet him a death threat, of course. Or if you dislike a column? Log on under a fake name and drop all sorts of racist, sexist idiocy.

Does anybody think Death Threat Guy would say this to Williams' face? Of course not.

This is not another rant about the death of civility, which has been harped on a lot lately, what with Republican debates turning into a celebrity death match and that governor from Arizona wagging a finger in the face of the president of the United States.

This is more about the death of principled stands, of disagreeing respectfully and believing so much in your cause that you are willing to be a little uncomfortable standing up for it.

This is the chance Thomas had, and what he failed so miserably at by not going to the White House with his team.

Full disclosure: I am a political junkie. The debates are like crack for me. My favorite parts of sports are where they intersect with life, politics, the human experience and teach us something about ourselves.

Tim Thomas had a point — a good point actually.

I tend to agree with him when he says "the federal government has grown out of control, threatening the rights, liberties and property of the people."

What he also had, that I do not and most do not, was a chance for an audience with the president. I know, I know, somebody is going to say this was not the time. I disagree.

I do not know President Obama, but he seems like a good dude. He stood there while that governor of Arizona wagged a finger in his face. And whatever shade you are on the red-blue spectrum, can we all not agree that that kind of behavior is unacceptable? So I am guessing he is the kind of guy you could go up to and say, "Hey, I love America, but I’m kind of annoyed how this thing is going. I'd love to see you . . . "

Whatever your problem is — sports, political or otherwise — I guarantee it is unlikely to be solved with a Tweet or a Facebook post. The only way to solve anything is dig in, take a stand — and that almost always requires a little bit of courage. It requires believing in what you are saying so much that you are willing to say it to another face.

It is just complaining otherwise. And there is a long line of people doing that right now, a line that Thomas joined.

He was entitled to his opinion.

The Constitution allows, if not encourages, him to respectfully disagree and to voice his dissent.
What was disappointing about Thomas was that he did not do so in person. There is no valor in that, and no stick tap.
You can follow Jen Engel on Twitter, email her or like her on Facebook.

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