Finding Hope in a Hopeless World

I’ve always been told that I’m a pessimist. My reaction to events tend to be very pragmatic, and I think this comes off as being negative because most of the time my assumption is that things just aren’t going to work out if it’s something that is out of the ordinary or outside of what I can reasonably do on my own. I always thought of myself as a “realist”, but apparently this way of thinking is just pessimism in disguise. I suppose so.

Previous articles have looked at how I have this huge blank wall in front of me regarding my work life and the future of my lifestyle in general. The job situation is completely out of my control, as I just have to hope for the right opportunity to come along before my current job runs out in a couple of months. My hope is to find something that is a remote position that I can do over the internet, preferably without a real time component. I would love to find something that allows me to go off and work on something on my own time and just get it in by the deadline. I’m not a fan of the “be on call for me” position.

On another facet of my life, I’ve moved away from my plans to use my travel trailer to see the country and I’m shifting back to my first goal: getting into a sailboat and seeing the world. My first three passions are flying, sailing, and motorcycle riding. I’ve had a good fifteen years of riding and I’ll never lose the bug for that, but I’ve had my fill for now. Flying is way too expensive to do on a regular basis at my income level, and though I was in a professional pilot program a few years ago, I had to give it up for personal reasons. That leaves sailing, and I yearn to get out on the water, see far away places, and enjoy day after day away from the craziness of the world.

The purpose of this article is to point out that I have absolutely no reason to believe that any of this is going to happen for me, yet I hold out hope in my heart that somehow things will work out. Many of you reading this probably don’t believe in God, and that’s fine. I don’t believe in forcing my worldview on others, and the Bible calls us to knock at the door, not bust it down. I bring it up because sailing has been one of the constant things in my life that has always been there, even when I was a child.

I remember the early years of my life and how I loved being on the water. My biological father had a sub-thirty foot sailboat that we took out on a fairly regular basis. Most of the time it was in one of the lakes in South Carolina that was owned by the Navy, as he served on nuclear submarines for most of his career. I loved every minute of it, even the distinct memory I have of feeling terror as I watched a huge shape emerge from the depths and then disappear back into the dark water. I was told it was a catfish, which in that lake could be several feet long and over a hundred pounds! One of the craziest memories I have was when we got caught in a big storm and the boat was pitching over waves; my mom was terrified and we were too, but I remember it for the adventure it was.

I yearn to go back to that and have my own adventures. My personality is very introverted, probably because of the life experiences I’ve had so far. I grew up in a very emotionally stunted household and my teen years were filled with video games and internet browsing. The only real social interaction I had was in the high school band program, as our marching band was one of the best in the state. My year in college was somewhat better, but I still kept my personality close.

One would think that the Marine Corps would have been what got me out of my shell, and to some extent it did. Public speaking is no longer an issue for me, and I’m pretty confident when I take up a challenge that I’ll be able to get it done to some degree. Obviously I’m not all that scared of people hurting me, given the training I’ve received, and I walk with confidence out in public. The Marine Corps gave me quite a lot, and I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to go through it.

Still, the biggest problem I continue to deal with is my social introversion. I can fake my way through a gathering and do the “extrovert” thing for a while, but it’s exhausting and I’m constantly waiting for it to be over so I can get back to the peace and quiet of solitude. Friends are few and far between for me, usually one good friend at a time, if any. There are a few guys from the Marine Corps years that will always be “pick up where we left off” guys, but making new friends is hard for me.

I bring all this up because I was having a conversation with a relative of mine and she told me that travel is an “extrovert” thing. I can’t help but agree, but for my part it is the solitude in between the “extrovert things” that I most look forward to. Cabin fever actually is a thing for me, despite my introversion, and it seems to me that after several days or weeks on the water without seeing people will get me in the mood for getting into social interactions. I already feel it sometimes in my daily life when I’m home alone for any length of time.

That was quite a long tangent, but I felt it necessary to share a bit about me and my life and my hope for the future, because the point of this article is sharing how to find hope in what appears to be a hopeless situation. You can see that there is a lot of desire in my heart to move into a new phase of my life, and while I have absolutely no reason to believe that it will actually happen, I still hold onto the hope that it is somehow going to happen for me. So many things are changing for me right now, and sometimes it feels like I’m being lined up to finally do something I’ve always wanted to do.

The great thing about hope is that no matter what is happening in your life, you can always look forward to the future and know that there is a chance that the things you’ve always wanted will be there. It may not be money or fame or whatever thing that society pushes on us as what we should want, but it could be something as simple as getting on a boat and living life in a way you never thought possible before. We can’t live without hope, and even in the darkest hours that tiny candle of positivity can get us through to the other side. Sometimes all you can do is have faith.

What do you think about hope? Do you find yourself in a situation you yearn to get free from? What would it take to get you from where you are now into the new life you want to live? We can always find hope in our situations, and life is always ready to make major shifts to change into something completely different. If we keep our eyes on the future and watch for those changes, we can be ready for them and make the most of it.

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Video Isn’t Always Better Than Text

I’m not really sure how to categorize this article. I typically focus on either political ideology, philosophical arguments for human behavior, or topics to help with self improvement on this blog. It could fit within that self improvement column, but in reality this is just pointing out something that our society is moving away from that may not be very good at all, so I suppose this falls under philosophy. At any rate, it sometimes feels like we’re moving away from the written word in favor of watching everything in video format, and that really isn’t a good thing.

The convenience of being able to combine both audio and visual information in a single format is a powerful way to convey an idea. It is a common fact that different people absorb information in different ways. Some are better at learning things by seeing it, while others tend to do much better by listening. Our modern landscape of social media sites and video streaming services has ushered in a new era of learning based on combining both of these into an effective method of communication.

Unfortunately, there is a dark side to this modern way of communicating information. One of the psychological effects that we fall victim to is called the argument from authority fallacy. Well, it’s not technically a fallacy on its own, but it becomes one when the person claiming to know something as a fact doesn’t have the knowledge or expertise to reasonably make whatever claim it is they are trying to convey. It is also known as the “expert fallacy”, which was featured in an episode of a show called “Brain Games“, in which actors pretended to be reporters and convinced people that ridiculous things were happening. They were believed because the people believed they were talking to someone who was legitimate.

The same holds true on a subconscious level with many of the videos that can be found on streaming services like YouTube. Regardless of the credentials of the person being watched, because they are presenting information in a professional, polished format, we are highly likely to accept what we are being shown because the presenter seems to be knowledgeable and an authority on the subject. The best YouTube influencers have mastered the art of looking like they know what they’re talking about, and people follow them without question because they trust what they are being told.

The great thing about written text is that the expert fallacy has much less of an influence on our interpretation of the information. Because we can’t hear the tone of the person and we are not affected by a polished presentation, we tend to be much more critical of the information being conveyed to us. Our natural skepticism is much less inhibited because text alone does not convey an air of authority. It is simply information that we are free to accept or reject as it makes sense to us.

Aside from the unbalanced influence that video content has on our psychology, video content has another downside that many people don’t realize. Written content can be consumed at a far faster rate than an equivalent video episode. Human beings have the ability to exclude unnecessary information and focus in on the important parts of what we are trying to absorb. By skipping over superfluous words and paying attention only to those that convey meaningful information, we are able to “skip over” much of the content to get to the point much more quickly.

When it comes to video, on the other hand, you have no choice but to sit and wait for the presenter to get to the point in their own time. Have you ever tried skipping through a video, hunting to find the part that actually matters to you? How many times have you had to go back and forth through a video looking for that one thing you wanted to get from it? Did you end up spending the same amount of time jumping around as you would have simply watching the video as intended? Because you aren’t able to visually see what part of the video contains the information you want, a significant amount of time is wasted wading through presenter fluff in their attempt to extend the length of the video.

Things have gotten better, especially on YouTube, as one of the more recent features is the ability for content creators to label sections of the video to identify what content is in that portion. However, this still depends on the creator being willing to go through that step, and even then the specific information you’re looking for is still buried within minutes of content that you have to wait for. In the end, the creator has more incentive to make you wait for the information because watch time counts toward their bottom line. There is little reason for them to get to the point.

The great thing about the written word in our modern era is twofold. First, we can skim through an article, ignoring the parts we’re not interested in and focus in on the information that matters to us. I personally save quite a bit of time by identifying entire paragraphs that simply expand on a point already made and skip over them. By mentally filtering out unnecessary additional information, huge amounts of time are saved that can be used for something else.

Second, we have the ability to use search features to find specific words or phrases. This is not possible in video format. Modern search engines are great for finding content, but no way has been developed yet that allows us to use that same idea to jump to a specific part of a video that contains the key word or phrase that we’re trying to find. This may be something that changes in the future, but given how difficult it is to simply find something on the internet that is actually relevant to the topic we search for, it will be quite some time before anything video related becomes searchable to that extent.

We have rapidly moved away from more traditional forms of information transference, and while there are many benefits in doing so, we must always be aware of the downsides that come along with the progress we are making. There are so many reasons that video content has made things better for us, but at the same time we need to understand that one form of distributing information is rarely superior to another. Video has its place, but we should never forget that the written word is still right there at the top as one of the best ways to get our points across. We should be sure to keep our reading and writing skills sharp so we always have an efficient way of learning new things.

What do you think of video content? Is it always better, or can the written word be more effective? Have you ever wished you could just read through an article rather than sit through a lengthy video? Sometimes the old way of doing things is far more efficient than the new, and if we can differentiate between what is cool and what works, we can have a much better mix of ways of learning about the world around us.

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Should America Allow More Immigration?

We like the idea that people come to this country because they value what our society stands for. The world at large sees America as a beacon of light, and the reason so many flock to our borders is exactly because we offer something most of the rest of the world does not: freedom. This is completely understandable, as our founding fathers fled oppression from their own government to start a new life here, and we sympathize with those who want to flee their own oppression to begin anew in a place where they are free to make their own way.

The unfortunate truth, however, is that we can’t take every person who wants to come here. It isn’t even just about whether or not they are criminals or would be meaningful contributors to our economy or society. There are just too many people in the world to allow everyone who wants to come here free access to our resources. America is a huge country, but even we have limits to the amount of people we can directly support, and we have to be extremely careful about balancing our desire to give freedom to others with our need to maintain a healthy population balance here at home.

One of my favorite arguments against the more liberal idea of immigration in our country uses gumballs as a visual aid to describe the problem. The number one reason that most people want to come to the United States is because they live in poverty and are hoping to find a way out of that. Unfortunately, the truth is that virtually all of the people who really need help will never have an opportunity to get out of the situation they are in. The people who come here are at least modestly wealthy in comparison to their countrymen, and those are the people with the least need to move. At least when it comes to economics.

It sounds like such a good thing to welcome people from other nations into our borders because we think we’re helping them escape a bad situation in their home country. In many cases, this is the truth. There are several areas of the world where violence and oppression reign and the only way to escape it is to move to a country where this isn’t the case. But the vast majority of people coming here are doing so for financial prosperity; the hope that they can elevate their status by coming to America and making more money.

The problem with this is that America only has so much to go around. We struggle simply with taking care of our own population, so it is incomprehensible that we somehow think that we can take care of the world’s population as well. When immigrants come into our country, what we have available to use as citizens must be further divided amongst those who have been added to our numbers. As more people come in, less and less is available to each individual. We can see the eventual result of this process.

As harsh as it sounds, the solution is to severely limit the number of people we allow into our country and start focusing on helping people around the world where they are. We will never be able to allow enough people into our country to make a serious dent in things like world poverty or escape from oppression. Rather than trying to take in the entire world, we should be actively working to help those less fortunate than us abroad, taking the money we spend on so many other useless things we do and reallocating it to investing in other parts of the world. This will not only begin raising these parts of the world out of poverty and violence, but also increase our own wealth over time as these parts of the world begin contributing to the world economy.

Many times, the best solution is the one that sounds the harshest and the hardest to do. People today don’t like to hear the phrase “tough love” anymore, but most of the time that is the best way to handle a situation. As the saying goes, “you can give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime”. At some point we need to stop feeding people and start teaching them to fish. Only then will we truly start making a real difference in the world.

What do you think of immigration and poverty? Does allowing people to come to America make a difference, or is there a better way? What can we do to bring people up out of their terrible situations and make their lives better? Most of the time we want to go after the low hanging fruit, but the right way is usually the harder one. We truly can make a positive difference in the world, but we have to balance our compassion against rational thought and make better decisions.

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Revenge is a Dish Best Served Not at All

I read a story on my social media about a person who was going through a drive through. Apparently the person was taking too long to order for the person behind them, and they were obnoxiously honking their horn to get the person telling the story to get a move on. The author decided to pay for the meal of the person behind them and the other driver found out about it and looked ashamed. The story looked to be going very well until the the author stated they then took not only their order, but the order of the rude lady they paid for. They took great glee in the fact that the person would have to drive around again as “punishment” for their impatience.

It is in our nature to want revenge for the bad things that people do to us. Even as I read that last part of the story, the primal part of me couldn’t help but want to laugh at the woe of someone who was being obnoxious because it felt like they got what they deserved. It didn’t take but a moment, however, for me to get back to the person I want to be and shake my head and lament that our culture finds it not only acceptable to get back at people, but encourages it.

Revenge is one of the primary reasons why our species has so many of the problems we still deal with. How many wars have been fought as a response to some insult? What crimes have been committed in a fit of anger because someone slighted us? How much suffering has been inflicted or people killed over vengeful leaders with access to large armies? Genocides have been committed simply out of the revenge of one group onto another. There is nothing glorious or noble about taking revenge.

It is important to note the difference between revenge and self defense. Many times we get confused in mix them together. We convince ourselves that an action is necessary to prevent it from happening again, but the truth is that we are angry and want to hurt the person who hurt us. Action against a person actively doing something to you in the moment is self defense. Punishment of those actions by those who were hurt is not. This is why we have a system of government that makes vigilante justice illegal. Actions taken by hurt people are never just.

As we move into the future, we need to start educating our citizens on the ideals that we want to take forward with us. Revenge can never be justified because there is no rational thought behind it. The actions taken come from a place of pure emotion, and the human heart is about as corrupt as anything possibly can be. Instead of laughing or cheering when we see someone taking revenge, we should be shaming that person just as hard as the original perpetrator, because that attitude is what is going to keep us from evolving into a more advanced society.

Revenge is one of the major reasons why our political system has broken down to the point that it has. The two party system in which we now exist operates almost exclusively on getting back at the other side for things it did in previous administrations. It’s more about getting our own way than working together in common cause. Rather than let go of what happened before and figure out the right way forward, we simply push our own way in the same vengeful manner that the person at the drive through did. There is no good in it, just raw emotion.

Unfortunately, revenge is a basic part of our emotional makeup, and it isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. I can write to encourage people to let go of their hate and “turn the other cheek”, but unless this message takes root and spreads, we will continue to be dominated by the darker side of our nature. Society can be so much better than it is today if we put just a little bit of effort into thinking with our heads instead of our hearts, but the discipline required to do that has been slowly eroding for many decades. We can turn the tide, but only if we actively push for it. We must shame ourselves into acting justly.

What do you think about revenge? Is our society centered around it, or should we be looking at other ways to resolve our problems? What should you do when someone hurts you? Our natural instinct might be to hit back, but perhaps we need to be thinking about our lives in a different way. We need to decide what kind of society we want to live in, and if that ideal does not include such negative actions as revenge, we need to push forward in a way that chokes it down until it can no longer continue in our hearts.

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Should Having Power Limit Your Privacy?

America was founded on the idea that all men are created equal, and part of that sentiment has traditionally been the notion that no matter what your status in life, you do not have the right to exert yourself onto the people around you. Unfortunately, the modern world has reverted back to the old way where those who have much impose their will on those who have little. The caste system is alive and well in America, and while it may not be Lords and Ladies in castles, status in America dictates the direction of our country.

I tend to get annoyed by people who say that we should be taxing the rich more to cover the costs for the rest of us because the attitude is very unfair. These days, however, I can no longer support that viewpoint because the rich and powerful are not just working to acquire wealth for themselves, but they are actively working to change our country to grab power. Too many people in our government owe their allegiance to big money and big tech, and those relationships have created the swamp that President Trump went to Washington to drain.

If we believe in the idea that we want a free society, there is an unfortunate necessity to ensure that way of life continues forward: imposing limits on the privacy of certain people. No one likes the idea of a police state, and for the general public I would never suggest it. When it comes to those we elect to public office to serve our interests, though, I have come to believe it is critical to the honest continuation of our form of government. These positions are too important to our future to allow them to be corrupted by greedy individuals looking to secure their own future at our expense.

My justification for this attitude comes from another part of my life that has a fairly similar requirement. I served in the United States Marine Corps for more than a decade of my life, and part of that service meant that I voluntarily gave up certain freedoms and the expectation of privacy. My oath to serve my country meant that I willingly lost my ability to make my own choices and I put myself under the direct scrutiny of those charged with keeping the standards of the Corps at the highest possible level.

This same approach should be taken with anyone who chooses to run for and become elected to public office, except that because they are in a position to affect the lives of thousands or millions of people, this should be taken to the highest extreme possible. We need a watchdog organization that monitors every interaction of our politicians and records everything they say and do and makes it public for everyone to look at. No more backroom deals, no more saying one thing in public and doing another in private, no more getting away with doing bad things by playing the “plausible deniability” card. Complete and open transparency dictated by the people on those who choose to run for political office.

The technology exists today to do this. We all carry around smart phones that we know can be tapped into at any time by hackers to record audio and video, but we don’t even need to go that far. We have police precincts that require their officers to walk around with body cams, and the same should hold true for our politicians. Create a Bluetooth version of this that pairs with their phone to live stream their entire day, and you have instant accountability for every politician across the country. Live GPS tracking of their location via their phone will allow us to know who met with who and when, so even during things like restroom breaks we can at least know who was involved when a shady deal surfaces.

As a person who believes in individual privacy and liberty, it hurts my heart to have to suggest something like this, but our politicians have proved to us that such a system is necessary. We have been shown time and time again that when push comes to shove, nearly every elected official will choose their pocketbook over the good of the people who sent them to work for them. The only way this can ever be resolved is if there is maximum accountability that forces our leadership to act in accordance with our values and not those of the people who want to crush us into submission.

As Stan Lee liked to quote, “with great power comes great responsibility”. It would be nice if our leadership would take this proverb to heart, but the reality is that our basic human nature makes it exceedingly difficult for even reasonably decent people to do the right thing. When you are being offered huge sums of money to get something done, you can rationalize almost anything. It is only when we are held accountable that we truly put others before ourselves, because we don’t want to live with the shame that comes from getting found out. By implementing strict controls on our leadership, we can start getting back to a place where the general public is free to live their lives away from the oppression of those who crave power over them. It is time to crack down on corruption.

What do you think about the influence of power? Should those charged with serving us be free to do whatever they want while in office? What measures can we take to ensure they act on our best interests instead of their own? We are at a critical juncture in our nation, and if we continue to allow those we elect to be corrupted by shady figures with unlimited funds, we can’t expect to survive much longer. It’s time to start taking back control of our country, and it starts with holding the leadership accountable.

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Human Beings Are NOT Inherently Good

I mentioned in a previous article that we create laws with the idea that people are good and just need the right rules. Many of the ideologies floating around in our modern societies extol the virtues of human goodness. These sorts of viewpoints assume that human beings are naturally good entities and it is because of circumstance or situation that we end up doing bad things. We are not inherently evil, we just react to the world in evil ways because we are forced to due to events that are outside our control. In essence, we are conditioned to be evil because that’s how society trains us to be.

The naivete of this world view never ceases to exasperate me. It is exceedingly difficult for me to follow the logic behind these kinds of statements. The evidence simply doesn’t bear out this “best case scenario” ideology, most significantly because we see horrible behavior in all strata of society. People do evil things to each other in all walks of human life, not just in the places where life is filled with burden.

It isn’t difficult to come up with examples of people being naturally evil. If you walk by a homeless person and are more concerned with not being made to feel uncomfortable than feeling sympathy for their situation, that’s evil. If you’ve ever dangerously cut someone off in traffic because you’ve decided your time is more valuable than another’s, that’s evil. If you’ve ever gossiped about your friends because the topic was just “too juicy” to leave alone, that’s evil. If you’ve ever done anything in your life that was good for you but bad for someone else, you have evil inside you.

We are all a mix of good and evil. The evil part of us is not dependent on the world around it; it is that part of us that is selfish to the point that we are willing to do whatever we must to get what we want. Selfishness is part of our biological need to survive. Society is the net that contains that evil, not the fire that creates it. It is in spite of civilization that human evil exists, not because of it. As long as a human being stands to gain at the expense of others, evil will exist.

This lengthy lead up about evil takes me to one of the topics that is most important to me: self defense. If you’ve read any of my other articles, you know that I am very pro Second Amendment. One of the goals of this blog, in addition to talking about how we look at our society in general, is to build a case for why firearms are an important part of a free society. When we talk about legitimate reasons why deadly force might be required, understanding the concept of innate human evil becomes a necessity.

We’ve all been in situations where we felt very real fear of danger. No matter how sheltered we may have been as children, once we go out into the world the safety of our homes is cast aside and we are exposed to the ugly reality of the public. It might have been walking past a group of very scary looking men, or driving through a dangerous neighborhood, or even just watching riots and looting on the news. The adult life is one where fear is never far away, and that fear is completely justified. There are people out there who truly want to hurt you.

If we can understand this most basic fact of human life, and set aside the unrealistic expectation that we can somehow legislate people into behaving the way we would like them to, it then falls to us to thing pragmatically about how we’re going to deal with the evil that our world throws at us. Unfortunately, part of this way of thinking requires that we seriously consider that we may have to take a life to save our own.

No reasonable person wants to kill. For the vast majority of people, the thought of killing someone turns our stomachs. It is incomprehensible to us to think that we could ever take someone’s life, primarily because we’re so afraid of losing our own. Our society is build around trying to build a construct that shields us from the necessity of repelling violence and potentially having to go through a “kill or be killed” situation.

The unfortunate reality is that there is no construct we could ever build that would completely protect us from this continually existent threat. At any point you can walk around a corner and have a criminal ready to hurt you. What do you do then? Call the police? Even in the most responsive areas, they won’t arrive in time to save you. The best they can do is clean up the mess and try to find the person who did it. You’re on your own.

The goal of this post isn’t to rehash points I’ve already made, however. The arguments about police response time have already been covered. My primary goal with this post is to bring the human nature argument to the forefront of the discussion. Once we accept that we can’t stop bad people from doing bad things, it becomes much more difficult to continue imposing laws that only make it harder for law abiding citizens to defend themselves. You can’t justify taking the guns out of the hands of the good guys while simultaneously understanding that the bad guys won’t follow suit. To suggest otherwise is another example of human evil.

There are a lot of reasons to advocate for the protection of our Second Amendment rights, but I don’t know that any of them are as fundamental as understanding the nature of primal evil in human beings. No matter how many rules we put in place or how much we shame those who would break those rules, there will always be people who want to do what they want and damn the rest of us. As long as those people exist, we have to be willing to stand and fight, and that means risking the consequences of that stance.

We’re going to suffer one way or the other. At least with access to adequate means of self defense, we have a fighting chance to ensure the best outcome. If it’s a choice between a person committing acts of evil or you, that isn’t really a difficult choice. You might have to live with some guilt over it, but better than than your family having to live the rest of their lives without you. Sometimes you simply have to choose the lesser of two evils.

What do you think about human nature? Are we naturally evil? What do we need to do to protect ourselves from that evil? This is a conversation that too many politicians are afraid to have, mostly because when they look at themselves they can see that same evil within. As concerned citizens, it is our duty to ensure our voices are heard. What are you willing to do to make sure you can still have that American dream?

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The Cost of Free Content

I am a product of the technological revolution of the 1990’s that is the internet. The concept and basic framework was around long before then, but it wasn’t until the last part of the last decade of the twentieth century that the internet really started taking off as a mainstream part of our daily lives. I remember the first time I heard that iconic dialup connection tone and thinking that it was so cool that I was able to connect my computer through the phone line and see amazing things from other places right there on my monitor.

The funny thing is that while in the real world we are used to paying for the things we enjoy, free content has pretty much been a constant thing ever since the internet started. In the early days, people were so excited just to be a part of this new trend that most of us never thought to monetize what we were putting up for everyone to see. We just wanted to participate. From the very beginning I was able to find all sorts of things for free and never found a reason to pay for content.

What is crazy about all of this is that free content not only didn’t fall away as businesses and other enterprises entered the creative space…it increased exponentially. Web based advertising became a very real nuisance, especially in the form of spam. Your IP address was logged and your information was used to send you solicitous emails trying to sell you products. All the way from the beginning our personal information was used against us for the profit of big tech.

This only got worse as time went on. We bypassed the typical way that new ideas enter the market. Rather than starting out as a cool idea that eventually required payment, businesses went all in on the free content model. They understood that if they offered a basic service for free, such as video streaming, then they could draw in millions of people who would willingly trade their personal information and viewing habits in exchange for free content. As theses social media platforms grew larger and larger, they became monopolies in the virtual tech space, and still hold that iron grip today.

The problem with all of this is that while we have access to endless amounts of free videos, pictures, written content and more, the lack of healthy competition in the online media space has made it exceedingly difficult for others to make it in this new era of digital content. Setting aside individual writers such as myself or individual video creators on streaming platforms, simply establishing a brand new platform as a direct competitor is nearly impossible against massive entities like YouTube or Facebook or Twitter. Who can reasonably compete against these giants?

Where this becomes a danger is that a monopoly in any space exerts unreasonable control over those who use the product. Even though we are not required to pay for these videos or blog posts or other forms of digital entertainment, the unseen hand of the developers behind the platforms quietly monitor and filter what we see. Something as benign as the algorithm behind YouTube’s “recommended video” feature looks great on the surface, but how many new content creators are blocked from your potential viewing list because of it? How many new ideas are you missing out on because we’ve put convenience over trying new things?

The cost of all of this is two fold. First, as a reader or viewer we are blocked off from new ideas in the quest to cram as much content down our throats as possible. We don’t want to risk wasting our time on bad content, so rather than branching out and trying out new things that we might not like, we are funneled into watching or reading the same content over and over again. It’s comfortable, so we just smile and click the next video, never realizing how we’re limiting our own experience by voluntarily participating as a cog in the machine.

Second, those of us who have a desire to try to make a living as a creator are many times totally cut off from the opportunity to get noticed, not because our content isn’t good but because we don’t truly understand the inner workings of system we’re forced to participate in. I have mentioned in a previous post that I struggle with things like Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or conforming my posts to work with the soulless algorithm.

I just want to write about what I care about, but instead of being able to just put my thoughts down and focus on the quality of my writing, I have to do double duty as a marketing expert (and I’m NOT!) just to get past the new gatekeeper. The only reason this blog is growing at the rate it has been is because WordPress has a pretty good default SEO setup. Platforms like YouTube aren’t nearly so friendly to creators.

The reality is that if we want to make our internet more of an open system, we have to start moving it toward a traditional free market model. This means that we have to start moving away from these huge, faceless companies that offer us free content in exchange for our souls to smaller outfits that require direct payment. By removing our support for big tech and sacrificing a bit of capital now to bring up new competition, we can invest in the future of this amazing means of sharing information.

Competition has always been what forces us to make things better. A free price tag might feel good, but as the saying goes “you can’t get something for nothing”. These social media platforms are using you as their product, digital slaves fed with free content. If we want to break free of this bondage, we will have to make some sacrifices and take some risks. It will hurt at first and feel wrong when we can get what we want at no cost from the major players, but we will be so much better off in the end. One day we can look back on this era of the internet and wonder how we were so gullible and rejoice that we found our way to freedom.

How do you feel about free content? Is it a blessing or a curse? Is there a benefit for paying for content, or will free content continue to rule the online space? We don’t usually think about these kinds of things, but as the internet becomes more a part of our lives we must start considering how we are being used to make money in the virtual space. If we are not careful, we will look around one day and wonder how things got so bad.

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Living in a Long Winded World as a Get to the Point Person

As I continue to write on this blog, I have been conducting research on ways to get more traffic to my site with the goal being to pull in a big enough audience to begin monetizing the site. It’s a lot harder than one would think it would be because of the way the search algorithms work, so unless you have an active audience that shares your content, you have to figure out ways of manipulating your content to get your articles to be looked at more than those who just write what they want. This is something I will struggle with for a long time because I don’t want to compromise the way I write to accommodate technology, but you can’t really get anywhere if you don’t.

One of the factors that has consistently come up in my research has been that longer articles tend to do better than shorter ones. Some of the recommendations go as high as 1,500 words per article, and while I can certainly extend my articles out that far, it just seems overly pedantic to do so. I’ve always felt that it was ridiculous to use ten words when five would do, and worrying about word count rather than focusing on the topic takes away from the quality in my opinion.

I previous wrote about writing for shorter attention spans, and the idea for that article came after I read a few paragraphs of an article on a subject I’m actually interested in and gave up on it because they just wouldn’t get to the point. The entire thing felt bloated and unwieldy, and as I sat there mucking my way through the unnecessary filler, all I could think was why am I still reading this? It seemed to me that most people are like this, and we could all benefit from writers who cut their content down to the bare essentials and convey only the words necessary to make their point.

This obvious is in contradiction to the statistics, however. Longer and more wordy posts apparently do significantly better than shorter posts that are more succinct. I try to keep my posts between eight and ten paragraphs, and I try to keep those paragraphs between three and five sentences, and I’ve noticed that hitting 1,500 words within those constraints is very difficult without writing huge, nearly run on sentences. Who wants to read that? I certainly don’t. I can’t even get through the first three paragraphs if the point of the article doesn’t surface by then.

It is one of the biggest frustrations in my life that my personality just doesn’t click with the way that the world works. I am a very direct, get to the point kind of person living in a world where everyone wants to dance around the subject hoping to impress you, or at least not offend you. This unfortunately has the effect of causing me to struggle to make it in situations where others seem to flourish. I am a contradictory person, and I hate conforming to the ways of others. It is difficult to be this kind of person when trying to use a system that thrives on conformity.

All this being said, while sometimes you just have to learn to change your ways to accommodate the things you need to do to make it, I prefer to stick to my short and sweet approach to writing. I could start adding extra superfluous paragraphs and use flowery language trying to catch up to the algorithms, but I just don’t want to do that. It isn’t my style, and my writing will suffer trying to be someone that I’m not. I can only hope that with enough time, enough people will come across this blog and find it valuable enough to share with others. Word of mouth can be almost as good as SEO optimization.

The point of this post is partly to lament my struggles with the internet, but also to tell you that you should always stick to who you are. Adapting yourself to meet the expectations of others, even if it means you might succeed, isn’t being true to yourself. It is better to have smaller success doing what makes you you than to sacrifice what makes you great to appease a wider audience. You might make more money, but you won’t be as happy. Fulfillment is in what we do and how we do it, not how much money it makes us.

What do you think about being who you are? Do you like this tendency to drone on in today’s articles, or do you value someone who just get’s to the point? Would you support that person if you knew that they wouldn’t make it otherwise? We tend to think that quality is everything, but sometimes you can be really good at what you do and still never get noticed. Let’s not leave it up to the system to decide what is valuable. With a little bit of effort, we can lift up those whose work we respect and encourage them to do their best work regardless of algorithms.

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Learning to Be Content with What You Have

We live in a society that teaches us that we need to be constantly striving for the next level. Social media convinces us that there are so many people who have it better than we do, and as we watch these fake lives play out before us we start to jealously crave what other people have. This unhealthy desire forces us out of a mental state where we can find peace and contentment and casts us down into a pit of despair and self loathing.

It is incredibly hard to ignore the success of others. Part of our biological make up is designed to compare and contrast our status with that of the people who surround us. This is mostly a primal urge to not only pass our genetic information on to the next generation, but also to wipe out the competition. It’s in the very building blocks of who we are to want to have a leg up on the people around us.

Aside from biology, our social structure is predicated on status. We have a natural adulation for people who have found a way to become successful at the things we find meaningful. While this usually generates genuine admiration, there will always be a small part of us that resents such people because we wonder why they were able to do it and not us. Why should they be so successful while we toil at the bottom of the food chain?

The most interesting part to me about all of this is not the jealousy of those who haven’t made it, however, but the attitude of dissatisfaction that even very successful people can impose upon themselves. There is a part of us that has a certain end goal in mind, and as long as we haven’t reached that point we feel as if we simply haven’t made it. We look at what we have and it just isn’t good enough, no matter how much money we might make or how well other people might see us.

The world today is filled with angst. Most of it is probably justified, but a lot of it is simply an inability to be content with what we already have. All we can see is our dreams for the future and that our lives today don’t match that yet. Rather than be grateful for what we have accomplished so far, we struggle to find happiness in the present because of our yearning for the future.

This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t continue pushing toward the next step in our lives. Being content with what we have doesn’t have to mean that we stop trying to move forward. It simply means that we don’t allow what we haven’t earned yet to become a weight we carry on our shoulders. We look at what we have and allow ourselves to be proud of it, and make a rational decision to continue down the path.

Our lives have many facets that we have to manage all at once, and one of them is learning to be happy. It isn’t a feeling that we have and try to hold onto, but a state of mind that we have to cultivate and incorporate into who we are. Searching for a feeling will usually result in disappointment, but a disciplined system of choosing to be happy about your life can make all the difference in the world. You’ll never feel happy all the time, but your life can be happy if you choose it.

Perhaps the trick is simply learning to be happy with what you have before you try to move on to the next level. If we create a process where we don’t allow ourselves to move on until we find peace and contentment with where we are, it becomes much more likely that we will experience that feeling of happiness far more often because we are removing that feeling of failure that always seems to hang around. By fully completing one step before moving onto the next, we can be even more proud of what we accomplished because there is no baggage from the past weighing us down.

In the end, though, happiness is simply a choice. You can’t always help how you feel, but you can control how you think. When you sit down and decide that you’re not going to allow dissatisfaction to become a major influence in your life, you stand a much better chance of staving off the kind of depression that so many of us struggle with every day. Take a hard look at what you have accomplished and decide if it’s really as bad as your feelings are telling you it is. The likelihood is that you’ll be very surprised at how you really feel.

What do you think about being content? Is it a way of giving up, or can it help you to find a better life? What things in your life do you need to just be happy about? If we can learn to accept our accomplishments for what they are, we stand a much better chance of avoiding so many of the unnecessary problems we deal with. All we have to do is learn to change our frame of reference, and things can be so much better.

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