Under the Influencer: As You Like It and Social Media

If Shakespeare were alive today, what would he think about social media? This type of question is an imaginative prompt. It is a call to speculate. It can’t be a hypothesis because there is no way to prove it. Without the ghost of Shakespeare communicating with us, we can only use his words and ideas to dream up an answer.

One thing I can say with conviction is that Shakespeare understood the power of social influence. He dramatizes transformative dynamics of persuasion in the comedy As You Like It. In the first scene we have a confrontation between brothers. Their father has recently passed away and the younger sibling Orlando is asserting himself as a rightful heir. This kind of self-promotion, this dogged belief in one’s own rights and worth, has Logan Paul written all over it. 

When he is denied his rightful portion of his inheritance, he fights a professional wrestler. This performance is a public spectacle and because he is willing to risk being hurt or being humiliated, Orlando creates a scene that has a lot of interest for the audience, including the cousins Rosalind and Celia. Make no mistake about it, Rosalind is the most powerful influencer of the play, the Call Her Daddy of the Forest of Arden, but the play begins with Orlando’s fight. Rosalind’s reaction to the occasion is funny and telling.

The title As You Like It might as well be describing how social media algorithms work. As you like things on Facebook, as you spend time on various websites, your desires begin to take shape in the form of data, and this is reflected to you in the messaging of targeted ads. Your affinity for things creates a path paved with offers for those things. As you like it, it is served to you. When we are first introduced to Rosalind and Celia, they are discussing their problems and they decide that to find some escape from their troubles they are going to use love as a diversion. They make the decision to play the game of liking boys.

This decision is followed immediately by an opportunity to meet a hot young influencer. Rosalind follows her instinct for pleasure when she hears about a wrestler who has been breaking young men’s ribs. Of course, she wants to see that. Orlando appears out of nowhere to fight the wrestler, Charles. It is as though their decision to find diversion through love conjures up a meeting. She wants to find a boy toy. Driven by desire for entertainment she meets Orlando. Rosalind and Celia are hilariously explicit in their desire to find distraction through love with the exception that they are not going to take the guys seriously. They are out for a fling, looking to feast on man tears. Along comes young Orlando. Poor unwitting dude.

The wrestling is being performed for the Duke, Celia’s father, so when they all assemble for the match, he sees his daughter and niece and calls them over to him. He asks them to talk to Orlando, to convince him not to wrestle. Poor Orlando is so bummed about his stupid older brother he has become super emo. He says he has nothing to lose, that if he dies then he opens a place for someone else, some real self-pitying stuff. It’s funny because he’s doing this brave thing, but he’s also super bummed on himself. You can see the negative influence his brother has on him.

Orlando shocks the crowd by beating the wrestler and his victory transforms his mood and his status. The women go to congratulate him on the fight, and he finds himself completely enamored with Rosalind to the point that he can’t manage to form any words. Talk about influence. Rosalind from this moment has the upper hand. She is also attracted to Orlando, but he is mad for her.

In Shakespeare’s depiction of their world, it is influence or be influenced and that is true in social media today, too. You are either driving the conversation or following it. Rosalind plays the game expertly. Orlando is such a simp for her that it is easy. She can manipulate him to her will.

Under the influence of his affection for Rosalind, Orlando becomes obsessed with romantic love. He spends his days writing poetry and pining away in the woods. He changes all his habits because of her. Rosalind can influence Orlando the way an Instagram model can get people to subscribe to her Only Fans. It’s all too easy. 

To play the game better, Rosalind takes on an alter ego so she can interact anonymously with Orlando. She convinces the poor sap to pretend that she is Rosalind and to practice expressing his love for her. Orlando thinks he is pretending that this young man Ganymede is Rosalind, when it really is her. Rosalind uses this catfishing technique to test Orlando and to see how he responds. She begins to train him how she wants him to behave, punishing him for being late and constantly questioning the authenticity of his feelings. 

Rosalind has extremely strict rules for how lovers should behave, and she holds him accountable. It is not until Orlando is physically harmed that Rosalind is in turn influenced herself. When she is shown a bloody piece of Orlando’s shirt and it is explained to her that he was injured defending his brother from a mountain lion she passes out. This reversal of influence illustrates the game of social influence and is relevant to understanding how today’s media and marketing functions. As you like it, you allow it to influence you.

Learning to Drive Social Media

Let’s just admit it, social media is pretty dang cool. I’ve met some of my favorite people because of that little smart phone. Social media both provides a way to connect and a reason to create. It is both a network and a stage.

It’s kinda silly to demonize social media. That’s like blaming a car for you driving too fast. We have laws limiting how fast you can drive, and yet we engineer some rockets on four wheels that can triple or quadruple the legal speed. Just because you can drive a car 200 mph doesn’t mean that you should drive that fast, at least not in most situations. It’s an illusion to even think that would be an option. You can’t go 200 mph in mid day traffic. In reality, the moments when it would be possible to push the performance of a high speed vehicle to its limits would be few and close to none.

The same is true with social media. We don’t need to be on it all the time. The point is to learn how to use it effectively. That means learning how to respect certain limits. We live in a world where almost everyone can go from 0 to 100 real quick, online. If as many people had sportscars as have access to social media, the roads would be a daily blood bath. At the current moment, our technological power outmatches our experience and responsibility with the tech. Since we don’t want to regulate the Internet, we need to learn to govern our own behavior, to set limits for ourselves.

Part of the problem is that social media is such an integrated part of our lives. One funny paradox of social media shows up ever time people feel the need to announce that social media is destroying our culture, and they do so on social media with the added message that they will be taking a break from social media only to find out a week later that they are back on social media, this time promoting something. It’s like we are trying to get out of our own skins. 

We have to remember that social media is a set of tools. Because of their social aspect, we can experience them with a variety of emotions. They are tools that are closely connected with our social lives. Back to the example of a car, it is a vehicle, a tool of transportation, but it is also psychologically loaded with meaning. Remember way back when before social media, when people would cruise their cars up and down some small town Main Street listening to music. I mean, I don’t remember it. It’s way before my time, but that is how it is portrayed in movies and in stories from your favorite boomers. 

The car was an invention of transportation that took on a whole array of emotional meanings and motivations. It became symbolic of so many things in U.S. lifestyle. Social media has that aspect to it as well. The incidental features, those not designed into the tech, might be the most powerful ones. It is a tool of communication, but it becomes a source of entertainment, a means of promotion, an industry of influence.

As influential as cars have been in American culture, social media is exponentially greater due to the lack of limits. When people would cruise their cars to show off and to see other people, presumably there were time limits. People weren’t doing it around the clock. With social media there is a potential to participate at any moment of the day. It is a 24 hrs smorgasbord of content.

Another major difference is economic. The more you use a car the more it costs. This has a natural limiting effect. With social media, there is no perceived cost. The apps are free, once you have paid for the phone and internet you have basically unlimited use. It is the lack of boundaries that makes social media potentially so harmful to us. We imagine it is free, but it is our time that we are investing and that is our most valuable asset.

Eventually, we will learn how to do social media safely and constructively as a culture. For now, it is possible to learn how to govern your own use of social media without abandoning it altogether. You just need to think of it as the powerful technology that it is. If you respect it at least as much as you respect driving on the freeway, then you can safely use the media without it using you. 

Justice or Just Us?

One of the great ideals that we try to live up to is being just. Having a fair and balanced approach to how we interact with others is key to building stability within a community. When people trust that a system is not going to be discriminatory, then they are more willing to commit and contribute towards that end. If the outcomes will most likely be fair, then we are able to trust in and participate in the process.

One of the things that could help us to overcome our sense of division in this country is to refocus our energies on our core beliefs. If justice is truly important to our culture, then it should be upheld and discussed. If we can come to agree on our ideals, then maybe the details of how we process conflict and how we measure rewards will feel more fitting. With the bizarre social experiments that we are all a part of, it has become beyond challenging to find common cause in our core values.

Justice is a tricky term. In Plato’s Dialogues it has more to do with the common good than with individual punishment. Justice is the ultimate goal, the greatest good. It is a pure version of the truthful relations between people. The effects we have on each other are positive and negative and justice attempts to account for all of that energy. How do we come to an agreement about painful differences in judgment?

We need to return to thinking about our core beliefs. If we really study what justice is and what it requires, then we might be able to help ourselves to see the world more clearly for what it is. It never is just us.

How to Make Social Media Work for You in 3 Easy Steps

The digital world and the analog world are slowly merging together. Their common denominator: strangers. Being in public spaces or interacting online is similar because we are open to the energy of other people. We work throughout our lives, consciously or not, to cultivate relationships that we can trust. The thing about strangers is that you don’t know ahead of time if they are friend or foe.

The obvious dangers involved with encountering strangers in analog life, in the physical world have trained us over time, that is to say we have evolved to understand the risk of people we do not know. World history is essentially colonial. Humans have gone to the most unimaginable lengths to expand the dominion of their group’s power. The chronicles of conflict, an age old history of war, informs us as we step out the front door and onto the driveway. We prepare ourselves to go out in public. We dress differently. We look in the mirror before we leave. We become aware that we may see someone we really like or we might see people with whom we have conflict. Either way, we want to be ready.

When it comes to showing up in the public space of the internet, however, we seem to have lost all discretion. People compose their tweets on the toilet. You might as well go start shitting on the sidewalk. It’s disgusting how little regard we have for our own privacy anymore. We both broadcast too much of our private lives and allow too much public interaction in our private times. It’s not that the line between public and private is eroding. It is simply that we have not learned how to treat the digital world like the public space that it is. 

SOCIAL PUBLIC. The first step to making social media work for you is to treat it like it is being in public. Don’t check your social media until after you have showered and prepared yourself for the day. This step alone would so radically change things for most people, it might be enough on its own. When you start to think about social media as a public space it makes you reconsider what kind of content you might post as well. 

The inherent danger of public spaces has informed how humans act for our entire history. Now we have a public space that feels like we are in the safety of our own privacy and so we are not acting with the same kind of caution. There are different protocols for different parts of the public space in the physical world and the same is true, online. It is totally appropriate to take your shirt off at the beach. In line at the bank, this is not going to fly.

We understand from experience, from education and from the influence of culture how to behave in public. The nuanced social codes become as second nature as driving a car once we have mastered them. In the digital realm, though, we are acting without any kind of caution and are showing very little wisdom about safety. If you didn’t understand how to behave in the physical world just imagine how much trouble you could create. Well, that is exactly what is happening every day and night, online.

SOCIAL SHARING. Extending from that idea of social media being another kind of public is the awareness of a need to create boundaries. Even as you exercise the discipline to not engage on social media unless you are prepared for a public experience, you also have to define your boundaries so that other people know when they can contact you. You wouldn’t just show up at someone’s home in the middle of the night, and sliding into their DMs might be just as inappropriate.

Coming up with a schedule of what you want to share, an editorial calendar, will help to give the whole process a much-needed structure. The problem with social media as we are using it now is that it permeates too much of our lives. Creating boundaries and best practices will allow you to regain some traction in relation to your social media use. But, sharing consistently will proactively help to shape that process. If you decide you want to post 4 times a week to keep the public aware of a project you are working on, then that gives you deadlines that will help to motivate the production of the work. Instead of just randomly posting things when you feel like it, following a plan will give your social media presence the discipline necessary to control the volume, to modulate the amplitude. Social media can be like trying to drink from a fire hydrant. Coming up with an editorial schedule is a plumbing fix. It creates a structure that allows only so much of that activity into your life at once. It makes the whole experience much more productive.

SOCIAL DIET: Figuring out how much you want to share also gives you a sense of how much to consume. Social media can be anything you want it to be. There is as great a variety out there as you could imagine and more. The trick is to figure out what the different values of consuming culture can be, and to create a way of choosing how much and what kind of media to consume. 

You can use social media to learn about fads and trends, to network, to research, to find inspiration, and also for mindless entertainment. None of those things are bad. It is just about the balance and your ability to nourish yourself intellectually and emotionally through that media. We understand that we have certain nutritional requirements, so no matter how good candy tastes we are not going to eat nothing but candy all day every day without some serious consequences. The same is true, culturally. We need to be consuming things that help us to grow in much greater quantities than that which gives us immediate gratification through pleasure but is ultimately a burden of empty calories that we will likely store as fat and have to carry around until we decide to do something about it. 

All three of these shifts will help you to get more traction over your social media use and regain more balance in your life as a result. Remember that social media is another form of public. Treat going onto social media with as much seriousness as you would going in public or at least on a zoom work call. Figure out what you want to share with the world and then create a schedule so that you can build up a sense of credibility and reliability through a measured and regular presence on any platform. Finally, figure out what kind of cultural exchanges you need in order to grow and which ones are simply a fun but empty moment of time and then budget your time the way you would think about eating nutritious food and having a dessert from time to time. You don’t wake up and go straight for the ice cream every day without it starting to affect you in serious ways. We are beginning to understand how powerful social media is, and once we begin to treat it with the respect we do for going out into public, then we will get much more out of it and it will have fewer adverse effects. Social media is extremely new in the scheme of things, so it is only to be expected that there will be some periods of experimentation until we get a grasp on how to use this technology effectively and responsibly.

Resistance Training and Social Media

What is your morning routine? The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is I prepare a cup of coffee and sit down to write. While I’m waiting for the water to boil, I will make my bed, brush my teeth, take a leak or do any leftover dishes from the night before. Any kind of moving around will help to wake me up. Brushing your teeth first thing wakes your mouth up gets the salivary glands firing.

Once the water boils, I follow a series of specific steps to brew a great cup of coffee and then I sit down and write.

Central to my methodology is the refusal to look at my phone for the first hour of writing, the first hour of the day. I turn the alarm off and then I don’t see anything for at least one full hour and two pages of writing. 

I don’t think that our phones are controlling us any more than I think that gravity is controlling us. Some people cave into the pressures of gravitational force, but other people use that existing inertia to build strength. Some people build rockets. By resisting gravity, by lifting weights, by doing pushups, by climbing up hills, we use that negative force to our advantage.

There is a tipping point to strength versus difficulty of  resistance. Gravity keeps things grounded, but there is a certain amount of strength that is achieved through resistance that makes that force less meaningful. When your strength is greater than the forces exerted upon it, there is a freedom from the negative. Strength negates the weakness which is given to us as a precondition. Muscles atrophy without work, but we can train and become a lot stronger than if we remain sedentary. 

The same thing is true with our consumption of culture or food or anything else. The stronger the urge to do something the greater the capacity for strength. It merely requires a knowledgeable plan of action that will lead to increased will power. If you do this this and this, then this will result. In the case of social media, the program of resistance has not been developed. We don’t have social media trainers. The closest thing we have is Gary Vee.

If we lift weights, run, or follow some well-designed exercise plan, we will most likely see some good results. The harder we work, the more we resist quitting, the better those results are likely to be. The same is true culturally. We just need to have a conversation about media consumption and health and then evolve that conversation to be about fitness. Everything is circumstantial. Just like an athlete who is working out with high intensity twice a day is going to have different food requirements, an artist who is producing a lot of work will also have different needs with what they consume.

We need to develop some fundamentals. We need a set of best practices when it comes to social media that anyone can follow and become decently fit, fairly fluid, and more in control of the entire process. That will be a service to humankind to develop that kind of discipline. Figuring out the right amount of time to spend on different activities will help you to build up the will power necessary to use social media without becoming victim to it. These activities, which I will describe soon, will help us to make the most of digital culture.

Social media has a very strong pull on us at the present moment. We need to learn to resist. That doesn’t mean to not participate. If anything, it means to engage more fully. As long as it is going to be a part of our lives, we should learn to use it to build our will power. If resistance doesn’t mean abstinence when it comes to social media, then what does it mean?

We have to create a set of standards and best practices to gain some traction for our personal journey through a social media influenced world. 

Transparency, Privacy and Competition

The way we live now is wild. Reality television has mushroomed into a massive social media explosion. What people show on Instagram is sometimes as fake and scripted as what happens on produced reality television programming. At the same time, people are also sharing too much real information online a lot of the time in ways that professional media outlets wouldn’t, and for good reasons. When does transparency go too far and become a total lack of privacy? What guidelines should we be establishing to safely and effectively use social media? How is this dynamic driven by competition?

Is there any chance that we can work our way out of this mess and back into simpler times? Are we hunters, farmers, doctors, soldiers, influencers, cyborgs or what? People have taken on varied roles in different periods of history. Right now, we are in a period of historical transition and it is especially important to experiment and to envision new ways of doing things. Sometimes, those experiments and periods of growth might best be done in privacy for the sake of going through the process of trial and error without an audience. 

Is it possible to grow and change for the better in a world dominated by social media culture? Or do we just have to change our attitude about cultural productions and the value of making mistakes in public. This might sound strange, but it happens all the time with podcasts. Sometimes a certain amount of dysfunction makes it more relatable to listen to. It’s more like real life. Some podcasts are so polished and produced you feel like you should brush your hair and put on some nicer clothes before you listen. Oftentimes we want something a little more relaxed.

Maybe competition is a normal human response, and the way it’s happening online is simply an extension of how we compare and debate the merits of each other’s lifestyle points in analog life. Martha Stewart was an influencer before there were lifestyle blogs. The number of people who are now able to create content and connect with an online audience is radically and exponentially increased. The Internet adds scale to lifestyle marketing in a completely new way. When it becomes interactive, it becomes much bigger and more differentiated. There is a lifestyle influencer for any imaginable cultural niche. 

While this new media has also created a new economy, we are still working out how all these new forces function. We are in the infancy stages of social media and haven’t developed enough best practices to know what we are doing. It can be a wild and dangerous combination when businesses experience massive scaling through the internet and people are suddenly thrust into positions of immense power and responsibility. Since these massive fortunes have been created within our lifetimes, there is a learning curve like never before. We have new money, oh boy do we have new money.

Bezos, in talking about the infrastructure bill said that he hopes the initiative will help to keep a competitive advantage for the US. His official statement reads: “We look forward to Congress and the Administration coming together to find the right, balanced solution that maintains or enhances U.S. competitiveness.” In that statement you can grasp something of our reality. We don’t live in isolation; we exist in competition. We have to remain aware of external threats to our security. If we don’t do this, they might do that. Businesses may be multinational, but they have national roots. Lifestyle might be the focus of a majority of social media, but it is made possible by macroeconomic and geopolitical concerns.

The policy of the US has historically been isolationist, but in a world with internet and nuclear weapons that is absurd. We are interconnected, and we have to figure out how to make that reality work best for the common good. With the Internet, that means business and social networking opportunities. While we strive to grow and connect to more people, the sense of our identity comes into play.

As long as our interconnectedness comes with the threat of violence, with an attempt at domination, then we will continue to make decisions that give us a competitive advantage. There are some situations, even in a world with hostile threats, where being competitive is counterproductive. If we want to enhance our competitive advantage, then we should be working on creating a stronger sense of team spirit and camaraderie, but we should also look for opportunities for cultural exchange. We most likely have more to gain from transacting with each other than we have to fear from losing our competitive advantage.

Lights, Camera, Influence! Social Media and Social Change Makers

What is digital culture? Culture is one of those all-encompassing concepts that is hazy and hard to see, like Society, and with 5G Internet it is omnipresent. Digital culture is like the smell of air. It’s gotta have one, but we only smell things that are floating in the air, like a puff of weed. Digital culture is both the cannabis we smoke and the air it is blown into. 

Humans project cultural understandings and misreadings onto the world. Through interpreting the signs around us, we recognize the existence of other cultures, subcultures, even microcultures. Culture is the totality of our collective consciousness and its expression. It is an awareness of our differences and an articulation of those difference in form. Learning happens as individuals act, transact, and are acted upon. Digital culture is a massive conversation and collaboration among billions of people.

Culture breaks down into smaller and smaller sub-cultures online. The smaller the niche the more distinct the code. Language is one key part of cultures, and you can see how this local specificity develops in smaller and smaller places with language through slang. This tendency of creating inside jokes, insider codes, is an engine of diversity. If we are constantly addressing the specifics of our spaces and our experiences, then our communications will become narrower and narrower as we adapt to be useful in that specific place. 

Just like breathing, the way we experience culture happens both voluntarily and involuntarily. As long as we are alive and interacting, we are a part of culture, but with conscious effort we can amplify our effect. We can get more out of and give more back to our culture by taking an active role. 

The Internet radically changed the way our culture grows and shifts. In addition to the way language and fashion diversify and differentiate influenced by local conditions, the interactive space of the digital network–the world wide web—creates another layer of cultural exchange. What does a website like OnlyFans do to our idea of what our neighbors may be up to? In a world with millions of podcasts, there are more people actively shaping culture than ever before. In that sense, we are becoming more democratic. 

Because of the broadening of cultural participation through social media, there is a much more chaotic cultural scene. Internet culture is so interesting because it accelerates the broader culture in two distinctly different directions. On the one hand it allows for an alliance between cultural misfits, for better or worse. People who are in the minority culturally in their geographical location can connect to likeminded people through the Internet. This networking supports and sustains their culture. Culture needs attention to grow. 

Content creators have the opportunity to participate in the shaping of culture. There are steps a thoughtful creator can take to be more conscious in designing content to have desired effects. There are parts of the larger cultural contexts we want to change, and by understanding the power of cultural influence we can push the needle in the direction we think will be safe, fun and profitable. 

Every time we do a photo shoot, record a podcast, publish a blog and share a story we are starting a conversation. The more effective we are at getting people to care about the things we are interested in, the greater our influence.

You just have to know that the potential is locked away inside of people and change is possible. Listening to Jane Goodall talk about being plant-based inspired me to give it a try. That is one month of not eating meat that is directly attributable to one podcast. I was in a place where I was all but ready to experiment with a plant-based diet and Goodall’s stoic steadfast point of view added that last nudge of encouragement I needed. I’m back to eating meat because I found it impossible to eat enough protein on a vegetarian diet, but it was a great challenge, and is making me more conscious about what I eat and eating more plants than I was before. 

That is an example of a moment when something changed for me culturally. It is a significant change, and a voluntary one. Being inspired to try plant-based eating creates cultural conflict, too. It means joining a minority group. Changing a habit means potentially offending people who are used to that habit. I don’t judge people for what they eat. When you are the only one who can’t eat a family dinner, however, it might not feel that way to everyone. 

Making anything significant culturally means making some kind of cultural change. It doesn’t have to limit anyone else’s options, but even through expanding a new direction, breaking original ground an idea can be revolutionary. Silicon Valley fell in love with the word disruptive because it minted a lot of new billionaires, but it is more than just disruptive when new ways of sharing and creating culture emerge. Disrupting the culture of gatekeeping has been a good thing for innovation.

This is just the beginning phase of social media, though. I think that the first chapter of social media closed with the storming of the capital. That was a moment when we no longer could deny what had been obvious for a decade: the internet is transforming our culture. Social media is not a cute pastime. It is the new stage. It is a stage of development when subcultures can grow in strength and numbers and have undeniable effects on the real world.

This is a moment when we can participate in the process of cultural change, by exercising our powers of imagination. We are taste makers, conversation starters and innovators of culture. Welcome to the show. Prepare to be influenced.

Train for the Change You Want to See: GYB Strength

We have the occasion, during this period of life interrupted, to think about one of life’s great questions: how do we create social change? There are so many ways to approach this topic and I think that one of the great things about contemporary culture and social media is our ability to see plenty of examples and to learn from our peers. 

When you stop and look at the flow of history with the objective of seeing how social change occurs, it becomes clear that most of what we see as social equilibrium is merely an angle of repose that has resulted in a dynamic balance from ages of struggle and collapse. Beneath that image of stability is a violently churning reality. There are multitudes of groups pushing for their own interests and it is some vast turbulent ocean of conflict and cooperation that is keeping things dynamically the same and allowing for some change in certain moments.

We have professional activists who study the situation looking for nodal points of leverage where force or support can be applied to some effect. We have career politicians actively transforming ideas into reality through the drafting of legislation, the execution of mandates, and the judgment of actions. Politics is much bigger than a business or even an industry. Politics are the official and often arbitrary outcomes of power struggles. It is the public story power writes.

It is the people who are doing the struggling, though. In many cases, this struggle results in a form of work that is like existential hysteria, an outward expression of the ultimate grief. The display of displeasure, the story of true human suffering becomes a work, a narrative that can be replayed, retold, reconfigured as evidence supporting our cause. In other words, the people who are publicly hurting are providing us with the ability to discuss our underlying problems. In doing the work to understand how to change the conditions that lead to such unnecessary suffering we are honoring their sacrifice.

In many if not most cases, the people who become national topics of debate do not do so intentionally. Our great change makers often are not volunteering for the job, but people who simply suffer the consequences of an unjust system and who inspire other people through the expression of their suffering. It is through phrases of sheer terror that a truth is illuminated: “I can’t breathe.” It is in the extreme vulnerability of a human being involuntarily brought to the edge of life itself asking for their mother or their father that we see something true about our condition of being. How do we become more humane humans?

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to work with one of my favorite artists, Gillian Young. She is too many things to name, which is why the title of artist is really the only label that fits. She is a fitness coach, a food influencer, a writer, a fashion model, a social activist and a community builder as well as many other interesting things. One thing she is not, however, is quiet about the change she wants to see.

Whenever I see Gillian in person, I have the feeling that I am in the presence of a superhero. She is an exquisitely beautiful woman, with a fashion forward style, flowing with feminine grace and elegance but accented and accessorized with an edginess that speaks to her strength. Her bright and warm demeanor are offset by a tattoo of a knife, by her shoes. This is a woman, one thinks, capable of being a great friend, a valued collaborator, but also one you do not want to fuck with.

Gillian, like anyone mentally fit enough to pay attention, is on a path of awakening to more of the world’s truths and, as we come to understand the depth of the problems we collectively face, it can be daunting to engage. How do we speak up for what we believe effectively? How can we be positive influences of change? What does that look like? 

For Gillian, as a fitness coach and personal trainer, the answer is through training. You don’t achieve fitness goals overnight. They take work and dedication and discipline. Well, why would we think it would be any different or easier to create a healthier society? It’s not. 

It has often been said, attributed to Ghandi, that one of the best ways to effect change is to be the change you want to see in the world. Gillian is taking this idea to its practical level by training to create the change she wants to see. After all, we can’t just be anything we want without doing the work. We have to practice any art or skill we want to improve.

Taking the discipline and the technique of working towards fitness goals and applying them to building a diverse community, Gillian is modeling an effective approach to changemaking. This is a kind of proactive model of protest. It is about building coalitions and sharing stories so that we can coexist more happily together.

But don’t mistake this movement as a superficial and doomed to fail because overly optimistic flash in the pan. This is not fool’s gold, it’s not gold at all. It is good. The common good. Enlightened self-interest. The social agreement. But remember the tattoo of the knife. In order to build community, you also have to have clear boundaries, and you have to establish a seriousness of your intent to preserve the integrity of the group. We are not fucking around, her smile seems to say.

We are here to do the work, her back states, to create powerful social connections and to articulate our vision of equity and friendship to anyone willing to try. Gillian’s brand name is GYB, the acronym for her full name Gillian Young Barkalow, but it also stands for her motto, her mantra, her mission statement, her mandate: Give Your Best.

Certain people are inspiring to be around because of their verve, their spark, their drive for living and this electrical aura is what makes Gillian such a powerful coach. Following her on social media is witnessing a woman building a movement. If you are looking for motivation in your fitness journey, you should consider an interview with Gillian the Great if you are ready to train for the change you want to see.

Creating Great Social Media Content in 2020

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Jacqueline Joy Brenton: Yoga Instructor

We get it, the economy is in trouble, people are scared and fed up at the same time, and nobody seems to have a clear answer to how to solve the problems we are facing. There are plenty of ideas, but the problem is twofold: we need enough political will to execute an idea and we need the organization to keep it going.

 

While everyone is stuck in this quagmire, many have increased their consumption of social media. This is very understandable as we seek connection, want answers and have nowhere else to look. Social media was already consuming an enormous portion of our collective attention and it now has an even tighter grip on us.

 

As someone who does social media marketing, I feel a huge responsibility to make great content. Of course, this is a subjective measurement, but I will explain my criteria for creation and selection.

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Great content comes from hard work. Get up early and get after it.

Social Side Effects

 

First of all, you have to think about the effect your content has on people. You want to put the audience first, and as obvious as this may seem to some it is so common to see marketing that fails at this basic requirement. If you have a brand, an organization or if you are an influencer, then you have to give the audience something they want, something that gives them value.

 

While businesses have the goal of growing their revenue, social media is not a place to make sales. While it is possible, that is not the ideal use of social: it is more for marketing than for sales. This is possibly the biggest problem that content creators face: how do you satisfy business goals without falling into spammy sales-based content. The answer is: if you do social media well, then people will develop an affinity for the brand and that relationship will lead to an economic exchange. If someone loves your brand, they will support it. If you spam them with obnoxious sales proposals, you not only look desperate, but you repel those relationships that you seek to build.

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Motivation and Inspiration to do positive things are key

Professional or Personal?

 

If you want to reach your professional goals with social media, you have to understand that what you put out there on the internet is not for you. This means separating your personal from your professional work. These spheres are blended often in social media as one of the things that people want to see is what is behind the curtain. People crave and respond to authenticity. So how do your share who you are without it becoming too much information or too self-gratifying?

 

This dynamic creates a tricky balance. Even if you are showing aspects of your personal life, it is not for your own joy of sharing, but because the public has some interest in connecting with a person behind the public image. Strategy is always important in social media, but now more than ever as people are in heightened psychological states it helps to pay careful attention to why you are posting and what effects it is having.

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Finding the balance between personal and professional

Social Good or Bad?

 

Social media is a relatively new phenomena in the world, and its massive influence greatly magnified with the advance of mobile technology. With the coming of 5G it only seems inevitable that phones and social media are likely to be a big part of our lives for the foreseeable future. This means that businesses and organizations really need to participate in this primary form of human communication. Like it or not, the phone is where people’s attention is going.

 

Because of its recency, the data that we have about social media is difficult to put into a proper context. We are in the infancy of this global development, and we haven’t grown enough with the media to use it in the best possible ways. Of course, there are dangers that we should be aware of and we should strive to create content that is safe and beneficial to human life.

 

Because of the vastness of social media and the billions of photographs with messages being posted every day there is no way to say if it is good or bad. It is clearly both. People organize social movements for positive change on the same channels that scammers try to steal your information by tempting you to click on a link that is supposed to lead to some kind of sexual fantasy. There are genuinely philanthropic actors making change on social media and there are parasitic mercenaries taking advantage of weakness to make a buck.

 

Either way, social media is not going to go away, so we can either figure out how to do it well and tip the scales in the balance of good, or we surrender our agency and just accept that the lord of the flies will reign.

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What message are you sending the world?

What makes social media good?

 

When you scroll through Instagram, look at your Facebook, peruse Twitter or study LinkedIn what has a positive effect on your mental state and your well being? How does it affect you?

 

I think that this is a very personal question and the answers must necessarily be personal too, but it has universal importance. For me, it has become a very interesting tool of research. I have created some amazing professional relationships by reaching out to someone with whom I resonated. I like it when people are showing me something that makes me want to do something. Photographs of waves make me want to get in the ocean. Photographs of trails make me want to go for a hike. Great portraits make me want to photograph people. Seeing awesome art gets my creativity fired up. I like the food influencers who are creating delicious looking things that are also good for your body and the planet. Social media helps me to find likeminded people and brands. It can be a source of inspiration and networking

 

What makes social media bad?

 

When we see content that doesn’t inspire us or give us something to look forward to it can be a horrible time suck and a distraction from productivity. It is your responsibility to curate your timeline so that what you are looking at is beneficial to your mental state. The things that make social media bad are numerous, but they all come down to causing you to feel unworthy.

 

At its worst, social media is a huge distraction and a mental health hazard. If we are reckless in our consumption and production of content, then we risk it all. The Internet is a kind of pseudo-public, but we often act as though we are safely at home with the content. The failure to understand the division between real life and social media has cost a lot of people a lot of their lives.

 

Putting bad content out there is like littering. It is just plain bad for everyone. How do you know if your content is trash? What standards do you use when you decide whether or not to post something? Having some way of measuring what you are putting out there is a good idea. You have to develop some sort of quality control.

 

How is social media like books and art?

 

Many if not most people have some degree of discord with the culture they grew up in, whether that is their family, their hometown, or their era in history. Almost nobody is a perfect fit to their place and their time. Many people throughout history have used books and art to connect with likeminded people who are physically unavailable. I remember when I first started taking art and writing seriously, I was obsessed with William Blake. His drawings and poetry gave me a kind of buzz and excitement that I couldn’t find among the people I knew. It was across this vast distance of space and time that I found one of my artistic brothers.

 

Social media can do this for us, too. But even more amazingly, we have the possibility of connecting with people who never would have been accessible to us in the past. Now, I can direct message an artist in South Africa who is doing something with photography that I find compelling. In this way, social media can be an amazing enhancement to life, and not a negative thing at all.

 

The Social Future

 

As we navigate this unprecedented time, and we look at our phones hoping to find some news or inspiration, we have to take responsibility for our part in creating culture and building the world over for the future generations. This means rewarding accounts that post things that you find to be beneficial to your life and ignoring the streams of self-aggrandizing or complaining or otherwise energy sucking media holes.

 

Your social media is yours to do what you can to make our collective experience better. You can incite hate or promote love. The choice is up to you. What are you going to contribute to our social future?

Discipline, Pain and Outlook

The virtue I possess that adds the most value to my life is my desire to continue to improve myself. I have a hunger to be better, to do better and to be a better partner in all of the relationships in my life. I believe that we generally can become smarter about a lot of things in life and can build up amazing reserves of wisdom and strength by doing a little bit every day over a period of time. My desire to improve keeps me interested in the details of life, in the day to day choices we make and in the research that we are learning from as humans about what the possibilities of being human really might be.

Every day, I work on writing, photography, research, running my business, being a dad, being in a relationship and more. It is this interconnectedness that gives me the most energy and leads to the feeling that I would describe as thriving. When my energy and inspiration are at high levels and there is plenty of work to do, I feel excited to attack each task.

The question is: what do you do when you aren’t feeling inspired and your energy is flagging?

In part, my answer to myself is don’t let it get that way. It is much easier to maintain a sense of purpose and motivation when you have momentum on your side. With that said, there is always the possibility of having to start from scratch. How do you motivate yourself when the chips are down?

As with so many things, you have to embrace the feeling of growth. If you focus too much on results or numbers, then you run the risk of too much friction from the frustration of not reaching your goals. If your goals are about growth and not about some baseline standard, then you have a much better chance of pushing through. The thing is: how do you know what is enough? That is always going to be the tough part. I can’t tell you how many times in my life I have experienced what I thought were limits only to one day burst through that imagined ceiling to reach levels previously unimagined. Whether that is going from hiking 10 miles to 20, from 300 pushups to 720, from writing 3 pages to 10 there are these activities I have done where when I push myself to go twice as far as my normal limit, I have some breakthrough experiences.

The thing is, it takes a lot of discipline to break through those barriers of discomfort. For me, the hardest part is the decision to begin. Once I’ve committed to something, I generally will put my shoulder to the grindstone and get it done. So, I know for myself that working on decision making is key. Having good time management and energy management helps, too. In order to commit to doing something epic that is going to really expand my sense of the possible, I have to create the space in my schedule for that to happen. That requires a lot of daily discipline.

It takes daily discipline to get together the economy of time and energy to take on an epic task that will double your sense of the possible, and then it takes the courage to commit to that adventure, and finally it takes the discipline to follow through when the going starts to suck. At the beginning of a challenging hike you feel so great. Your legs are full of energy, you have a bounce to your step, and you are generally without pain. At the last half mile, though, you are basically causing yourself agony with every step and as much as you breathe or focus on form it doesn’t matter. Pain is an inevitable part of this growth, which is why the question might not be discipline or masochism, but how much pain is the right amount of pain?

I also do believe that fighting through the pain that you encounter when you set yourself some challenging task builds up the strength that you need in life to deal with the pain of loss and defeat. When you are hurt by things that happen to you outside of your control your response is going to depend upon your relationship with pain. I’m not suggesting that we look at pain as a positive, but that when we embrace it as inevitable, then we can fight through the resistance it can create. If we want to accomplish our goals, then we are going to have to be willing to put up with some hurting.

If it is true that it hurts to be human, and we embrace this basic fact which makes us stronger, then how do we shift our thinking about feeling? If pain is just a temporary discomfort that is the price you pay for growth, then it becomes some sort of battle between your lack of understanding of the importance of growth and the resistance to the pain required. In other words, the way we battle our demons is by reminding ourselves why it is so important to grow that we are willing to go through tremendous fear and pain. In some ways our willingness to go through pain is a direct measure of our love.

Our character is forged from the daily decisions to undergo the discomfort of discipline or to face the horrors of disappointment. When we don’t do what we can we feel a sense of wasted opportunity, of the lack of love. When we succumb to apathy our lives are unenthusiastic and dull. But even worse, they are toxic. Because growth is also often alimentary. There is something intrinsically healthy about many kinds of growth. The kind of growth that derives from consciously chosen work generally is of a healthy variety. Occasionally, as in the case of Olympic athletes or astronauts that drive can go too far into unhealthy zones of activity. And there is cancer, of course, and suburban sprawl…

Are we suffering as a culture from too little or too much discipline?

One of the most fun feelings you can experience as a writer, and as an artist generally, is to be in a flow state. When you can stop thinking for long enough to just allow something creative to happen you can really create some interesting things that are entertaining to you and to other people. I am convinced that those flow states emerge out of practice and are a result of the work you have previously done. The more reps I get in, the better the results. That is why I want to keep trying to radically increase my workflow. The more I do, the better I get, the more response, the more fun, the more I want to do, etc…

And yet, burnout is a real thing. How do you explain that? Everything requires a balance, and mental fatigue is just as much of a factor as physical exhaustion. What is the connection between burnout and not getting the results that you want? I believe that burnout is a real thing, but I also believe that the answer is more work not less. How many hours can you work in a day? What about spending time with your kids? What about fun and play?

These are all important questions and I don’t have all the answers, but it also depends on what you consider to be work. Work is anything you have a resistance to doing, right? Like if you just fucking love doing bench press then that is not really work for you. You might need help with flossing your teeth. That is where you need work. Everyone knows what they need to work on but finding the time and the courage to commit to it is another thing altogether. And, as much as people might complain about things in their lives that they don’t enjoy it is not as common to find people working hard to get through the barriers to their happiness.

Is happiness a choice or is it a result of having done something? Is happiness a decision or a side effect?

I find that my happiness comes from little things I do almost every day. When I complete a workout, while photographing the sunrise or sunset with my love, delivering photos to a client, making posts on social for a client, making slime with my daughter…there are so many little things that make me happy. I love cooking food for my family. I love listening to podcasts. The wealth of daily joys I get to experience is vast. I feel extremely lucky and I want to make the most of every day.

One thing that discipline does is it limits us in a productive way. By choosing to do certain exercises you stress your body in this way and not that way. We make decisions based on the results that we want to achieve. I think that this is also true in art, and one of the decisions that I have made recently is to radically minimize the amount of energy I use in making my art. The last thing I want to be doing is driving long distances to find some spot to get a great photograph. No, I have limited myself to a five mile radius for making art.

Because I live in such a beautiful part of the world a five-mile radius still gives me a ridiculous amount of spots to choose from, but there are two or three that are my go-to spots. By not wasting time traveling to a location and by conserving my energy in making that decision ahead of time I get to focus my drive on different kinds of innovation. That means that I have to push myself to look for more things in the same places, to think about making photographs differently and to really own these locations.

The sunrise is the best opportunity for great photographs for me because I start the day without any internet and by writing. I wake up at 4:30 and drink two cups of coffee while I write five to ten pages before I’ve even looked at my phone. Fresh from dreaming, straight into writing and then out the door to photograph the sunrise, this is a moment in the day when I have my thoughts all aligned and ready to make the most of the best light of the day. Yesterday, we headed down to the wharf and the sunrise was popping off. Watching the colors of the sunrise is the closest I come to painting these days, and it is something I enjoy wholeheartedly. I hope you enjoy this photo. Thanks for reading my thoughts about discipline, pain and mental framework.