Social Interactions

A pretty young woman smiled at me in the grocery store.

This is noteworthy for a couple reasons.  Firstly, it’s rare that anyone makes eye contact with me.  Sure, I could bemoan the sad state of our current society, wherein we shun our fellow humans as simple and inconvenient co-habitants of the environment, but I doubt that the explanation is so simple.  Perhaps it’s because we work ourselves to exhaustion and simply don’t have the mental reserves to allocate to simple camaraderie–or by the same argument, we don’t have enough time.

Second, based on simple observations of a personal lifetime, it’s rare that women in passing find me terribly attractive, or (as it’s been mentioned on one particular account) approachable.  Maybe I should shave the mustache?  Nah.

In any case, the scenario usually plays out as me approaching a woman’s proximity for unrelated reasons, at an indirect vector, and I–being cognizant of another sentient being, offer the most basic of friendly gestures–a smile.  But rarely is this sentiment properly delivered, for the woman never acknowledges my own existence, and even seems to make a conceited effort to avoid the mere awareness of another living being.  Ah well, that’s par really.

But a pretty young woman smiled at me!

Why would she do such a thing?  Did she need assistance?  No–she was merely pushing a cart.  And I didn’t have the kid with me (which is generally the only time women acknowledge me).  Could it be possible that she felt a simple and basic connection to another living being?  There’s more to this.  Let’s figure it out!

I didn’t have time to take a cursory glace at her cart’s contents, but she had chosen the full-sized version.  Was she shopping for her family?  She was on the cusp of being too young for me, and usually women that age aren’t performing full grocery runs.  Maybe she was practically frugal?  I dunno.  I don’t have enough information to make a proper analysis, and all conclusions are mere conjecture.

But a pretty young woman smiled at me!

Maybe it was the mere sight of a well-dressed man approaching her.  Could it be so simple?  Was it possible that there were other women in the world who found me not only mildly attractive at first glace, but also approachable–enough to risk encouraging me?

Perhaps she merely felt basic empathy for her fellow humans.  I’m no stranger to isolation, and the detrimental consequences of extended solitude.  I recall my clinical psychology course in college, which recounted the sad tale of a lonely man who’s last written words were that he was headed to The Bridge, and if just one person would smile at him during his journey, he wouldn’t jump.  Things did not work out so well.  Not one soul in San Francisco between him and the apex of the expanse bothered to acknowledge him.  Maybe this woman was aware of this story.  Maybe she knew the power of a simple gesture–the way it flooded my neurons with dopamine and brought me momentary peace and contentment.  I longed shake her hand or proffer a high-five–some minimally-invasive action that would allow me to perceive her existence in a tactile manner, to prove and acknowledge that she was the tangible being that brought me so much ephemeral joy.

Maybe she was the one on the bridge, reaching out to someone in the most subtle of ways–too afraid to do more–crying out to a world that doesn’t care if we continue to exist.  I should do something.

A pretty young woman smiled at me!

I didn’t do anything.  I thought for so long about the encounter’s implications that we passed, and I never even smiled back.


Social Studies

When I look back on my early education years, I reflect on certain words and phrases.  These combinations have entered public lexicon, and no one seems to question them later.  “Whole Language” was one of them.  Apparently I learned to write during this trend, and was taught how to represent concepts rather than accurate spelling and syntax.  Spelling developed later through simple writing practice, though in the days preceding spellcheck, I didn’t get the immediate feedback, so I was slow to adapt.

But the big one to me, being the historian, is the term “Social Studies”.  Taken at face value without the personal experiences within the American educational system, the term sounds like preparatory education for public sector work.  But what is it really?

Naturally, I consulted Wikipedia:

“…created to consolidate and standardize various subjects which did not fit within normal school curricula”

The wording of that statement seems almost presumptuous, but I didn’t feel like reading the 63-page government document that outlined the program, so I’ll take the summary at face value.  Assuming it’s accurate, 19th-century education apparently didn’t incorporate the broad spectrum of social studies: history, geography, and political science.  And rather than cover each discipline, they were all thrown into a big pot and given a common name.

The problem, in my opinion, was that as schools organized subjects based on time blocks, all of these disciplines were allotted only a shared time–50 minutes, in my own experience.  So for 50 minutes a day, I was expected to learn humanities and social sciences.

And this is where I’ll note that physical education was a double-blocked class.

And physical education is a misnomer–the class was football education.  So for 2 hours a day in my youth I learned how to play football, and was given half the time to study all of the humanities and social sciences.

And social studies is also a misnomer, because the curriculum of this class was entirely comprised of Texas history.  So for the majority of my adolescence, I learned football and Texas history.

I don’t suppose that my Texan upbringing was a common experience outside of that educational system, but why do we continue to group things like this?  Is there some reason the various social sciences can’t be addressed individually?  Then again, science classes were all grouped together too.  I guess when we’re young, we’re just thrown information in the hopes that it will build foundations as prerequisites for more delineated disciplines later?

Just one of many questions I posit for my successors.


Generational Technology

I was talking to my father, as I tend to do, and as what usually happens when I engage in such discourse, especially whilst imbibing, I acquired certain information from a specific point of view and found it interesting.  And so, a blog post is born.

We were discussing technology and the inevitable variances by which the differing generations adapt to it.  It’s cliché, certainly, to envision some old geezer hammering away at a keyboard and yelling at a computer monitor.  For many years, in fact, I provided customer service to such people who couldn’t figure out the difference between a browser’s search menu and address bar–possibly why so many modern browsers have now dealt away with the differentiation altogether.

Of course, I knew the stereotype to be a half truth, and I considered my own father a model example to the contrary.  Dad, a professor, had a history of spending his research grant money on computer equipment, and in fact I, as a child, had been quite enamored by his laboratory on campus.  I willingly accompanied him into work during those summer days of my youth for the sole reason of gaining access to the banks of computers which lined the old slate countertops of those musty rooms.  And, by observation and from rudimentary instruction, taught myself how to type properly on a modern QWERTY keyboard–years before keyboarding was introduced into gradeschool curriculum.

Many years prior, Dad had typed up his doctoral dissertation on an electric typewriter.  And now, while I still can’t hope to capture even his most basic interest in networking technology and infosec, still see the man using modern hardware beyond a simple intuitive ease, but with something approaching mild obsession.  In short–he’s entirely comfortable with modern technology.  And this is a man who has no connective tissue in his leg to speak of (he’s old).

And during this particular discussion, he was musing over his students’ inability to use basic computing equipment.  A particular anecdote involved his class sending him email invites to subscribe to Office 365 (a rant for another time), so that he might log in and view their term papers digitally.  Basically, his students sent him friend requests to a digital subscription service to view their shared documents…rather than use a printer.

Of course, I have written about the evil contrivances we call “printers”, but that’s besides the point.

But anyway, Dad told me this story because he had been approached for his thoughts on how his aging generation anticipates adapting to our world of rapidly-changing technology, to which he responded that the youngest generation doesn’t know anything about using current technology, and so such concerns were misguided.

As a point of comparison, I thought about young drivers and realized that the youngest generation doesn’t know how to operate motor vehicles properly.  But then again, neither do most people…and most people don’t really know how to effectively use modern operating systems, or we wouldn’t have Windows 10.

Sooo, I guess my point is that expectations are higher than reality and generational gaps have nothing to do with an individual’s ability to learn and adapt…to a point.  I mean, old people still need to stop driving, but I also don’t think most people are competent enough to handle the responsibilities of the Internet either.  Hmm–a conundrum.


On Happiness

Its Pursuit, and the Unique Human Condition

Happiness is a Lie

One word defines a universal human desire, and no…it isn’t that.

Nay, ask anyone, and if the conversation goes on long enough, the human wants distill down to a state of being: happiness.  It’s a nice thought, to believe we could so easily be satisfied by an abstraction, but we’re not.  The human mind isn’t designed to operate under such a condition long-term.  What we inevitably achieve is equilibrium.  The happiness, once it endures, invokes an emotional tolerance, and the state of dopamine falls back to its basal condition.  We don’t remain happy–we feel it momentarily, then subside back to normalcy.  It’s why rich people complain.  They no longer appreciate the mansion–they feel the same irritations at trying to find a reliable pool boy who won’t sleep with their wife as a commoner would feel about an old car’s transmission giving out a week before Christmas.

Conclusion: we as a species cannot maintain a state of positive emotional elation.

The Uniqueness of Humanity

My father came down to visit, and as we often do, we concluded the day with a bottle of bourbon and a fire.  Such conditions, offering the momentary escape from distraction, invariably lead to philosophical pontification, partly due perhaps from my need to still irritate my dad, and partly because no one else will discuss such matters with me.

Dad, the professor ecologist; and myself, some type of amateur philosopher (or so he fancies himself) who found himself abruptly forced into the misery of underemployment–share a surprising amount of philosophical viewpoints.  But on this particular occasion, we were arguing over humanity and just how unique the species really was in comparison to the rest of the planet’s fauna.

I was under the belief that our uniqueness was based in our sentience, and that humanity’s existence was an evolutionary anomaly, mathematically so remote from possibility that, while I never seriously considered the validity of the Intelligent Design theory, found myself attracted to it perhaps due to the romance in believing we were special.

Dad, the pure scientist, disagreed, stating that my argument was flawed with my presumption that sentience was unique to humanity.  He argued that sentience was implied by an animal’s understanding of mortality, as an elephant visits the gravesite of another elephant.  I argued that since we’re limited in our capacity to communicate with other animals, we wouldn’t know for certain.  Dad argued that understanding death correlates to an understanding of the existence of the self.

I remained dubious, but it was the best argument I had heard yet for the defense of an animal’s self-awareness.

A New Definition

But regardless, there’s no argument against the uniqueness of humanity.  If dad was right, however, then what is it that defines us?  And if all animals are self-aware, why are humans the only ones who advance and adapt at such a fast pace, seeing as our survival no longer depends upon it.

Like all animals’ physical evolution, ours hasn’t proceeded at a drastically different rate.  And the brain size theory falls through, because we don’t posses the largest brains to body size ratio of all the known animals.  I can only conclude, therefore, that something in our physiology drives us to seek another emotional state.

And the desire for a different emotional state only makes sense if the current emotional state is undesirable–if it’s unhappy.

Conclusion: we’re all a bunch of miserable people, and that’s normal.

The Implications

I find this theory to be more relieving than disparaging.  It gives purpose to unhappiness.  Were I content at any point, I would have stagnated in my career and not started a family.  These are rather minor accomplishments in humanity’s greater history, true, but I find that autobiographers rarely dwell on  happy moments, and any such moments, when mentioned, never correspond to major events.  Happiness is an effect, not a cause.

The elephant, whether self-aware or not, doesn’t seek to become more than an elephant because it’s content with being an elephant.  My dog runs through the backyard, visibly happy with her present circumstances, and remains content to be a dog.

The human, on the other hand, is not content to simply survive as a human, but seeks self-actualization.  In our actions we are unique, and while it may not be a direct cause of self-awareness, I can most certainly attribute it to our general emotional unrest.

We’re unhappy, we’re supposed to be unhappy, and this unhappiness motivates us to accomplish the next best thing tirelessly.  Be happy that you’re unhappy.



We went up to the Biggs’ Family Reunion this last week (Dad’s Mother’s side).  As expected, there were a lot of people I didn’t know, and just as many I only vaguely remembered.  I guess I’m bad at networking, even when it’s my own extended family.  Then again, I’m currently hiding from my nuclear family in the basement, so judge if you must.

I suppose that, when the world ends, we should know our kin, so that our collective clan can band together against violent wasteland raiders.  Blood ties!

Amusingly, few of my photos involved this extended family, but rather the activities, so I present to you a montage summary:

The rainbow was a sign…that it would be really hot and humid while we all posed for that group photo
A goby–apparently an invasive species that have to be euthanized upon catching (killed with the Mora)
Dad’s fish–I don’t remember what it was
One of Leigh’s many catfish, which we cleaned and tried to eat, but they tasted like the bottom of the channel in which they were caught. Pity.
My cousin, Jonathan. We give his family a lot of grief for disliking the outdoors, but here’s proof that he had fun anyway.
A catfish of my own
A trip to the Toledo Zoo
More fishing
I caught a nice bass
Look at that packed Honda. That’s a commercial-worthy photo there.