“How much ya bench?”

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When I was back in high school, what now seems like a million years ago, my high school offered a couple of different options for the required physical education courses.

The “gym” class was always the great equalizer among the freaks and geeks, the jocks and the needs and very one in between. There was no “honors” gym, as the adjective itself seemed in complete contrast to the spirit of the affair. Going to Staten Island’s largest high school (my graduating class was 303, I was 27th), gave a big mix to this melting pot of people you’d end up with in gym class.

And, given the NYC Board of Educations continual budget crises, gym activities were simple in scope. Basketball. Softball in the summer. Touch football. Soccer. The equipment provided was barebones. Usually a ball. Maybe some cones. But, the most interesting were the people. The superseniors. The superduperseniors (I remember one kid in my junior gym class was 21, and a peer). The kids who had pledged themselves to ROTC and to fight for America. Having been in “gifted” classes for basically my entire education, these tended not to be the people I saw often. Whereas, getting a B or a C in a class, or getting just a 3 on an AP exam was a big deal to “us”, “life” was just more difficult for them. And at the time, I had barely an understanding of what “life” really was – I was by no means “rich”, but my parents had never made me want for anything either. At the same time, I was really lucky to be the first in my family to graduate college.

But what I think about now is these people, and how the gym class created these unlikely friendships, playing on the same pick up teams day after day. Over gym. I wonder what’s become of them. I wonder if they ever think of me. And I wonder if the hand life dealt them ever got better. And I am again thankful for who I am, and what I’ve been allowed to be. And I realize, as I only begun to understand then, that I wasn’t “better” than them. That there’s no way to know how I would have gotten through “life” – in real terms.

And then, I again believe in the power of people. That “life” is the great equalizer, that the “melting pot” had taught me more than I realized at the time.

Just a thought.

The battle for who could care less

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The rapture is coming.

And, at the risk of being alarmist, the truth is that it’s coming in a way many of us have never seen. This rapture manifests itself in the battle for the discovery of the self – one fought by historians, psychologists, sociologists, comedians, musicians and ordinary people.

The fundamental and most basic question of “who am I?” is now fought on two planes – the online and the “real life”, and the lines blur so constantly, so as to threaten life itself!

Well, not quite. But the truth is that what defines us as people online, is becoming a burden on those who dwell within the ranks of social media sites and networks.

I call this burden “avatar exhaustion”.   The “avatar” we hide behind online, and through the words we write, the objects we share, has started to become such a part of daily life that the once solid line between “real” and “online” is becoming ever more difficult to comprehend. And the battle to be “someone” online, often takes unforeseen victims.

Combine this with the fact that there are just so many places to be online; dozens and dozens of social networks, communities, forums, bulletin boards, blog networks, microblogging sites, streaming sites, sharing sites, most modern Internet users have to manage three totally different and often completely disparate instances of the “self” (“home”, “work” and “online”). And, to increasing numbers of people I’ve spoken with about this – it’s utterly exhausting.

This shuffling subjects the brain is subject to an increasing number of mental calculations, analysis of interpersonal relationships, caution in speaking and sharing, degrees of openness and worse of all, time management.

The debate between managing your online and offline lives becomes even more difficult considering the fact that everyone seems to be connected, most of which have real-time web access and SMS alerts.  The conversation time with offline loved ones is not as sacred anymore.

When I got my first BlackBerry, probably around 7 years ago, the novelty of always-on and instant e-mail was a cool one.  I didn’t have to interface with a full computer to communicate, and it fed the impulsive nature of information adoption and consumption.   This was “cool”, as in I would be the first to know what’s going on, and would be able to inform conversation and decision making.   But this was largely e-mail, SMS wasn’t yet popular in the United States, and turning off the Blackberry just meant a pause from work, and the home life wasn’t really as affected.  Sure, it was annoying to answer an e-mail in personal life, but these were one-off dialogues that usually took mere seconds.

But now, with the rise of Facebook, and Twitter and other social networks, it’s gone from “always-on” work, to “always-on” life.   The Truman Show analogy not withstanding, it’s extremely difficult to turn off the “online” life, since now, the “online” life has met the “work” life in many cases, and the only one left, the “home” life begins to suffer.   And so, “the battle for who could care less” (thank you, Ben Folds Five), is “always-on” too.  This battle involves real-time prioritzation of tasks, people and results at a blistering pace, and those who “care less” in this analysis, usually lose to those who would “care more” at that given moment.    These interactions all contribute to “who you are” – but which bucket (“personal”, “work” or “online) they fall into – grossly unclear.

Now, even with the never-ending pace of technology, some immortal truths remain.  We have a limited amount of hours in the day.  Our brain can only handle so much.  Human nature remains pretty much the same.  People tend not to react terribly differently when we present them with the same situation.

So, what do we do? How do you handle “avatar exhaustion” – does it take you away from what you love? Is it really possible to unplug?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.