On Cheap Glasses and the Myth of Affordable

Glasses are expensive and if you have less than perfect vision, you need them. Whenever anyone talks about needing glasses in an online space, they are met by a chorus of “Oh go to this *insert online dealer*! I got mine there and they were just *insert seemingly nominal amount*!” The thing is though, that what seems nominal to one person may be a cost too high for another.

Story time. My glasses broke in half last summer. I went to put them on my face when I woke up and they fell into two pieces. I’ve been wearing glasses since I was three years old, my prescription is quite high. When I talked about my glasses breaking, immediately I was flooded with recommendations for various online sellers.

The thing is, because my prescription is so high, the glasses that were costing my friends $30 were more in the $75-100 range for me. Which is a big difference! In fact, what was a nominal cost for them became a choice between being sighted and paying a bill for that month for me.

And this is a reality for many people.

There is room in this discussion for the intersections between class and ableism to be examined. After all, it is only those with low prescriptions that can access the low-cost options with using these online dealers. It also ignores the fact that people need to be able to be seen for a prescription which, without insurance especially, can be a hefty cost. What I’m bringing this up for today is to discuss the ever-changing goal post of “affordability”.

Not everyone operates from the same financial level and we really need to stop speaking as though “cheap” is the same level for everyone. Not everyone can access the same opportunities due to their unique circumstances (like my high prescription vs my friend’s low one) and not everyone is working with the same amount of capital.

This isn’t to say that we should never suggest things to others looking for help and guidance, it is only to say that we need to be aware of the difference between people that will change their experience. Instead of “go here it’s so cheap!” try “I had a good experience with this company under these circumstances”. Be aware of the fact that a cost that may seem low to you may be a budget breaker to someone else. After all, even $30 may be a tough choice to a family that is stretched thin financially.

It’s good to try and help but don’t forget that you are not an authority on anyone’s life but your own and even though something may work really well for you it may not be so great for someone else. The idea of affordability across the board is a myth. The only thing that is affordable for everyone regardless of life needs is free. Anything above that and it cheap really depends on what you consider expensive and that’s different for everyone.

Don’t Hit Share : Here’s what to do instead

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In less than two weeks, we’ve experienced rapid changes to our political landscapes and in the struggle to stay up on all the changes so we can understand the order of the new world, we have turned our newsfeeds into bastions of fear. The easiest way to combat this toll on our mental and emotional well-being is to stop hitting share on every news story but I don’t mean stop sharing the news.

Instead of just hitting “share” on a post, copy the link of the news article. It’s really easy from mobile. Next to the share button are three dots. Tap them and the second option in the drop down menu is “copy link”. Select that. Go back to your page, make a new post with your thoughts on the article and what the topic is. Hit post. Then, in the comments share the link itself.

By doing this, it removes the constant news reports that come with their “urgent” and “devastating” headlines so people can pace themselves without missing anything. The Facebook machine is going to push all those similar news reports to the top of your feed if you just push share because chances are, everyone is sharing the same article or handful of articles. By removing those headlines and photos from the direct feed, we’re still sharing but giving people some mental distance so they can stay engaged without becoming so quickly overwhelmed.

We need to continue to share and speak on what is happening in the world today. That is the only way we can prepare for things and make plans for the way the new regime may harm us. Social media is a powerful tool as it allows us to share news quickly, however, thanks to its algorithms, it is also giving us a window that is largely fear based and causing greater anxiety in its users.

That’s us. We’re the users.

We saw this after the election when we looked the feeds of people on the Red Team. What was found was that, aside from the “Fake News” problem (which was and likely still is a problem) were that these feeds were drowning in these fear based messages. The use of really salacious headlines and scary reports was designed to keep people engaged and clicking.

In the past less than two weeks, I’ve noticed my own timeline has become more and more anxiety filled as it’s flooded with news reports, all slated to get you to read them and I thought, “Is this what the Red Team has been dealing with all the time? No wonder they think liberals will be the death of the country!”

I don’t want the Blue Team to be that. I don’t want the Red Team to be that either but one problem at a time.

You may have seen the meme calling for people to “make Facebook fun again”. It’s a picture drawn in pen with different colored highlighters like it was done in middle school during a boring science class. Ignoring the art style, that meme is hot garbage and what I am suggesting is not that.

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I don’t think that people should ignore what is happening in the world in favor of puppy pictures. Puppy pictures are awesome but being up on current events is also REALLY, REALLY IMPORTANT. That meme (and resulting thought process) treats political movements as a sort of hobby that isn’t particularly enjoyable right now as opposed to events that could affect one’s life for years to come.

Feel free to push share directly on single creator blogs and networks, they NEED the clicks to get their content shown. Times, Reuters, CNN, HuffPo, WaPo, etc, do not need Facebook traffic from clicks so moving the content to a comment will not kill them. But it will give people a chance to engage with the news in a healthier way.

Social media is important in keeping us informed but we need to adjust how we interact with it so the negative consequences don’t outweigh the positive benefits.

Information Illiteracy in the Internet Age

Someone on my Facebook feed posted this video of a “thugs” stopping an ambulance at the cancelled Trump rally. There was no additional evidence or facts. Just a video of black people “stopping” an ambulance and the assumption that there was someone sick in there or they were on their way to a sick person. Which may or may not be true. So I looked it up.

The only sources I could find were right wing, conservative media outlets which, by their very nature, are bias and terrible sources for news. So I am left still in the dark around what was going on in that video which I will not be sharing.

The reason why I am sharing this story however is because it dawned on me that the person who shared the video and the people who liked and commented on it, likely did no research and if they had they would have served up on of those bias sites as proof that these people were thugs and hurting some nameless infirm person. Which long story short is today’s topic: In 2016 we are flooded with information but most people are information illiterate.

Like most things centered around reading and digesting information, the concept of information literacy is an academic one because prior to the modern times we live in, information was funneled through very limited means. Now, we all have free access to a wealth of information but not many people really know how to vet it.

Information literacy is a set of skills that help you find and evaluate information. It is more than being able to Google something (although that is some part of it), it is also being able to look at a source and determine whether or not it is reliable.

This isn’t a terribly important skill set when dealing with something like celebrity gossip. It doesn’t really matter whether or not so and so is really getting a divorce or is pregnant. Those facts or fallacies do not impact anyone’s actual lives but there are many cases that have much more impact.

The lack of information literacy shows strongest in the way that we share things on social media. Sometimes it’s just a silly viral story about something gross someone found in their fast food. Sometimes its misinformation about refuges or dangerous health “advice”.

Because people do not take the time to engage in simple steps to check what they are sharing, they fuel these sorts of viral hurricanes of bad information. They can’t tell opinion from fact in many cases and treat them both as if they are interchangeable.

This is happening not because people are dumb but because they simply do not have any background in information literacy. We have been conditioned to believe that media, be it TV, newspaper, or internet, has already done the leg work for us which is why the joke that “it’s on the internet, it must be true” is still relevant. Because so many people haven’t realized that this is NOT true!

The nature of the 24 hour news cycle means that there is a lot of information out there and a lot of it is nonsense. A lot of it is opinion masquerading as fact or entertainment pretending to be news. It’s awesome that people have so much access now but the cost of that is that you have to do your own legwork.

It is irresponsible to just post things blindly. It is up to all of us to take a few lessons in information literacy. But for starters, just make it a habit to question things before you hit share. If the story is too salacious or fits too perfectly into one narrative, it’s probably not the whole tale. Real life is messy and complicated, it doesn’t fit perfectly into a 250 word article.

The Problem With “Make Your Own”

Robots on wall

When marginalized people talk about the lack of diversity in popular culture, one of the more common and ignorant responses is just make your own. Not enough brown superheroes? Make your own comics! Not enough Asian people staring in lead roles? Make your own movies! Not enough people with disabilities in books? Write your own novels! This response is about as thoughtless as responding to someone’s starvation with, “Just eat some food.”

The biggest issue is that, first of all, people from marginalized communities can and do create their own media. They make movies, draw comics, and pen epic fiction in all genres. A quick Google will spit out a ton of projects that anyone can follow and help support.

However, support is the second issue.

Thanks to the internet, non-mainstream creators have been given a platform on which to showcase their work. Be it art, written, or film, the internet gives these creators a way to get their creations to the people who would most like want to view them. But they’re not mainstream so they don’t have the type of support that your known director/writer/actor has.

They don’t have the type of support that will write them a check to fund their enterprise on a proposal. Even with crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, the people that generally end up with the most money are those that come in from a position of being known in their field.

Those are the people that get funded and they get this funding by continuing to make the thing that they know people like. Meanwhile, creators who are out there taking chances and forging their own path are overlooked because by and large, people want to buy things they know they like.

Be it a franchise or just a particular artist’s work, people like the things they like and they want the things they like. So the real issue isn’t creators aren’t out there making new and exciting media that features a diverse cast of characters, it’s that people aren’t supporting their work.

Artists need that support so they can keep creating. Not a pat on the back for how clever they are but actual money so they can buy supplies, rent space, quit their day jobs. You can’t pay your rent on kudos and “likes”.

The mainstream is starting to wake up and we are starting to see some diverse characters and moving away from many age old tropes but there’s still a long way to go before we can call all things equal. Until then, support indie creators.

Buy their books, see their films, share their stories. They’re out there, they’re making stuff. Help people see it.

What the Conversation Around Irish Slavery is Really About

Irish Slaves

If you’re on social media, then you may see your “not racist” white friends and family posting memes or articles about Irish slavery or even slightly more recent “Irish need not apply” signs as some sort of argument that it wasn’t just Black people that went through hard times. Although historically, the Irish did have a bit of a rough start in America, in some places, what these memes are leaving out is that in 2016, there’s no trace of that history left in the average everyday life of people of Irish decent, not because they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, but because eventually they were just accepted into general whiteness. Which is important to note because when we talk about slavery, we’re not actually talking about the past, we’re talking about today.

When people speak of slavery in regards to Black people in America, we’re not saying that the literal issues such as having our children sold, being beaten by white people for not working fast enough, or hung for stepping out of line* is still happening but that the effects of these practices still affect Black people to this day.

We are not talking about the past in so much as we are talking about how the racial practices and attitudes that helped fuel that period have subtley shaped today’s culture. That the ideas that allowed White people to be ok with owning Black people played into why they were ok with segregation, Jim Crow, etc.

And that’s why Irish slavery as a response to Black slavery is a false equivalency, aside from the wealth of historically inaccurate information that is usually posted in regards to Irish slavery. There’s actually an excellent series on Medium that goes over many of these.

The people who post these memes want you, the viewer, to make the connection that “Irish people were slaves but they are not suffering now ergo, the slavery was not the problem, Black people are the problem.” What this counts on is not taking into account ANY of the other history that affects the positions of different groups in the country today.

There are other marginalized groups that have experienced a great deal of harm throughout America’s history but the reason they aren’t toted out as some proof that anyone can just “get over” the abuse of a past time is because they still suffer under the same racial issues of the past.

The Japanese were once looked down on to the point of being interred against their will in recent memory. George Takei talks about it all the time (bless him because it should be talked about) but they make poor examples of getting over a past wrong because they still suffer from racial prejudice.

An even better example are the Native Americans who have suffered through a whole host of abuse throughout the centuries but the reason why they aren’t pulled out as models for “getting over it” is because the effects of those atrocities still linger today. For every casino, there’s a wealth of people who live in poverty due to the conditions forced upon them by the government before they realized that they couldn’t treat people that way.

These groups aren’t posted about as a “secret history” (although we rarely speak of them) not because what happened to them wasn’t as horrible as what happened to Black people but because their stories do not fit the narrative that you can just get over racism, they don’t fit the narrative that the failings are in the group of people, not in the system that was created to keep them oppressed.

The Irish are picked for their stories not just because of their physical Whiteness but because their history matches up fairly closely to the narrative that anti-Blackness isn’t the problem, that racism isn’t an issue but Black people themselves are the problem. All while failing to acknowledge that at some point, the Irish were accepted into general whiteness in America which is a reality that very few other groups can claim.

Ultimately these memes aren’t about what happened in the past, they’re about what’s happening right now, today. Their goal is to draw attention and conversation away from uncomfortable topics by presenting half the information as if it is a complete testimony. They work because the majority of people accept things at face value. History is very complicated. A meme is meant to distract not tell the whole story.

*You could argue that all of those things are still happening in one shape or another and I would likely agree with you however, for the purposes of this blog, we mean that they are still happening as a direct result of ownership vs systematic racism. For example, this person literally sold my son to his neighbor as opposed to my son was given a very harsh sentence by a judge as part of a for profit prison complex that criminalizes Blackness.

Activist Advertising: Monetizing Outrage in the Internet Age

 

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Hasbro announced that they would be releasing Rey figures for their Star Wars line after much hullabaloo was raised when the main character was missing from a variety of toy lines. Rightfully fans pointed out that it was insane that the main character from the biggest film of all time was missing from the merchandise. The company apologized for their “oversight” much to fans delight. But I imagine that the company is even more delighted. They will profit from the outrage that was generated. The internet culture of outrage has been successfully monetized.

This isn’t to say that the company shouldn’t have been questioned as to the lack of representation in their toys and merchandise. That is a HUGE problem in the world of geek which despite having been proved to have a dearth of female consumers still panders to the cis White male audience and the trappings of Western society’s gender beliefs. This is something that needs to be called out and pushed back against.

Still, that doesn’t mean that those same companies haven’t found a way to profit off of that pushback. There’s a saying that all press is good press and that’s not true in every situation but in a situation where the damaging effects can be mitigated? Free publicity.

For those issues that cannot be corrected, think Pan, the movie that bombed months before it was released due in large part to the issues it had with it’s terrible casting choices, obviously, the press it received killed the film. There was no way to recover. But for other situations where a shirt could be removed or a few toys added, how much are all of those thought pieces worth?

This fiasco with the Star Wars franchise is just one example in a long list of times that activist have spoken out against companies and although they at times had offensive clothing removed, websites re-branded, etc, they also have driven a ton of traffic to those businesses.

The reverse works too. When people petitioned to (rightfully) have the confederate flag removed from government buildings, There was a huge spike in sales of confederate merchandise. Although no one group (unless you count Amazon) really profited from that, it’s clear that the new found buying power of the symbol came in part due to the storm of internet outrage that surrounded the event.

When we vocally complain about something, it creates a lot of buzz around the product. It causes people to write think pieces, news outlets to pick up the story, conversation. It puts the issue on people’s minds. This is good, there’s nothing wrong with that.

It also creates free advertisements as people double check, follow links and the like. Which large companies want.

This shouldn’t stop people from calling out issues when they find them. What should happen is critically looking at the companies and to determine whether or not they are truly in the wrong or if they are using activism as a way to generate free advertisement.

This may be an unavoidable side effect of operating on an internet platform where all of our thoughts, feelings, and viewpoints are in the public eye freely shared far and wide. However, being aware of a system doesn’t mean you have to be completely complacent in it. Certainly, question practices that continue to exclude women and people of color from pop culture but also question whether or not you’re unwittingly part of a profit building venture.

Why You Should Stop Saying IRL

Where your friends live piechart from Facebook

“In Real Life” shortened to IRL is a term that has become common on the internet to describe events that happen offline. “She’s one of my IRL friends,” is something you may read and not give a second thought to but if you value your community online you should stop using that phrase. It devalues your relationships and helps promote the idea that the bonds we form with our online friends aren’t as “real” or important as those that we can physically touch. I have replaced IRL with “in the wild” because IRL is ableist and judgmental.

The major difference between your online and offline interactions is that offline, you have less control over who you meet. You can’t control who you see walking down the street or the coffee shop. Whereas online, you can pick and choose your interactions in a variety of ways. You don’t have to go to every forum, you don’t have to respond to every message. Offline, it’s a jungle out there hence, in the wild.

There is this strange belief that what happens online is somehow less important than what happens in a face to face, physical setting. That somehow there’s a magical force field that keeps people from forming complex relationships with true feelings just because there are screens involved. Primarily it’s because the ubiquitous nature of digital communications has happened at lightning speed and humanity just hasn’t caught up to the change.

To be fair, it’s not a perfect medium for communication. Most of the nuances in our communication is nonverbal and that tends not to come off in a digital landscape but that’s not the largest problem in communication via digital means. The larger problem is that people simply don’t treat it as a way to really connect with people.

This is evident in the slew of reports like this one that indicate that people lead double lives online. That their online world is a perfect representation of what they think they should be instead of who they are. This idea that you “shouldn’t put your personal business on Facebook” leads to people creating online personas that share their names and faces but none of their hardships.

Which is, in a way, fair.

Our social media profiles are populated by close friends and causal acquaintances. Just like in the wild. You know a mix of people, some of which you will share the fact that you’re struggling with a medical issue or fears about the future but most of which you’ll just talk about your kids finishing the school year or vacation plans.

That doesn’t mean that what you see isn’t real life. It’s just the front facing portion of their life. Just like when you go to the grocery store and the cashier asks about your day, you don’t tell them you’re worried about the results of your HIV test even if that’s what’s currently on your mind. You tell your friends that. The problem isn’t that these front facing profiles exist, the problem comes when there isn’t an outlet for the reality.

It’s not that people lead a Pinterest perfect life, it’s that they don’t have an outlet for their everyday lives. Think of the perfect housewife who drinks or the prom queen with bulimia. People hiding who they are has been happening forever and is a function of being a social human. People need other people that they can relax around, friends that they can truly be themselves around. For some people, their friends exist online.

This happens for a variety of reasons. It happens because some people are incredibly introverted and just can’t deal with people for very long. It happens because someone may live in a place where not many people share their interests. It happens because someone may be disabled and simply cannot get out of the house much. Or they get out a lot and have people all over the planet they want to keep in communication with.

No matter what the reason for building these online friendships, they are real friendships. What happens online in the communities and forums that you find yourself in is your real life. The private messages where people confide in you or the groups where you may find yourself giving advice are real. The people on the other side of that screen are real. Your feelings for them and their feelings for you are real.

Not everyone you meet online is going to be your best friend. That’s true in the same way that not everyone you meet in the wild is going to be your best friend or even a good friend. It’s true that people lie and manipulate others online but it’s also true that they do that in the wild. People are going to be awful to other people no matter where you go. Whether it’s face to face or not. The internet didn’t make them that way, they are just that way.

By dismissing these relationships we are telling people that the feelings they feel don’t matter. We are falling into extremely ableist ideals because we are pushing a form of interaction that not everyone can participate in due to disability and limitations. We are ignoring the complex realities of many people and pushing everyone into the same box.

By saying that online relationships aren’t just as important we’re dismissing the needs of people who can’t be their true selves for safety reasons, we are telling them that it’s more important that they form unsafe connections with their neighbors than turning to a safe online community where they can be themselves.

By saying that they don’t matter you are telling the harrowed young mother that the group of people who talked her through her 3 AM feeding trouble and were there when she was in the deep pits of PPD are less important and meaningful than the friend she knows from work who hasn’t spoken to her since she had the baby.

The online world isn’t just geeks arguing over the more nuanced possibilities in their fandoms or teenagers sending each other snapchats. It is a varied and rich environment filled with all kinds of people. Some of them are silly and some of them are serious. Just like your everyday life.

The biggest indicator of whether an online relationship is real and meaningful is how you feel about it. If you go online and post with the idea that it doesn’t matter or that people who take the time to message you or comment don’t really care, then you will not form those bonds. This isn’t happening because your online interactions don’t matter, it’s because you don’t value them. You cannot build meaningful relationships if one half doesn’t care. This is true in the wild and it’s true online.

In short, if you want to make friends, you must first be a friend yourself.

I have online friends who have supported me through thick and thin. I have friends in the wild who have done the same. All of these people are my real friends. Everything that happens online and off is my real life. It all matters.