Parents

September 11, 2010 at 12:55 am
filed under family, life, love, music
Tagged , , , , ,

We’re supposed to have a barbecue at my parents’ great new house this Sunday. After 30 years of renting a tiny, dirty little house, they’ve finally bought their own place and it’s beautiful. The floors are clean, the furniture fits, all the paint is sharp and bright and it’s the environment they’ve wanted forever and deserve. They just moved in this summer and things are becoming more comfortable for them there. Sunday, we were going to invite our other relatives over for a barbecue. Something easy and not at all over-the-top. Definitely not a “housewarming,” and absolutely no gifts allowed. Invitations into a person’s home are the warmest and friendliest gestures. Thinking about family members who have moved into a new house and never invited me over leaves me feeling cool and unwanted, not to mention curious about how they live. It’s just that I think it would be a nice thing to do, for my parents to invite others into their new place just to see it. Half the fun of having a new home is showing off your style and taste.

My sister just told me that our dad said the barbecue is off this weekend, and the reason for it is that he and my mom are fighting. Understandable, these things happen, especially to my somewhat socially anxious parents. They’re doubtlessly in love, but the bickering lives freely, and having people over is an added stress I know they don’t adore. So they’re socially reserved.

But the reason for this fighting is an old one, and legitimate. It’s that my dad feels neglected, or he feels like the rest of the world is being ignored, because my mom spends too much time on the internet. There’s one site in particular that she dabbles on that saps her time before she knows it: www.blip.fm.

Blip.fm (affectionately known as “blip,” and the activity of being on the website is known as “blipping”) is one of the most unique social networks I’ve experienced. I’ve made the argument in the past that social networking websites, particularly Twitter, but also Facebook and others, are like clubs that outsiders think they can judge and talk about, but only the users truly “get.” There’s no real way to describe how it feels to log on to Twitter, be inundated with information coming at you from all sides – friends, family, colleagues, strangers, the news, pop culture, everywhere – and then to post something you think is valuable and see if your “followers” find it worthy of responding to or, hope against hopes, reposting. It’s a self-esteem booster for folks who would rather not leave the house to interact with others. If the internet is the information superhighway, social networks are the information stock exchange, and Twitter is Wall Street.

So interacting on Twitter, and blip.fm, is kind of like making friends or picking up members of the opposite sex at a dark, smoky bar with a loud band playing. It’s an exchange among strangers, and it brings excitement, mystery and possibilities. Sure, there’s plenty in the way of actually and thoroughly getting to know the invidivual, but for the moment, the exchange is what entices. The flash of attention is the appeal. Eventually, if you become a regular, you’ll interact with the same people over and over, which adds to the fun of it. The mystery is still thick, but the casual, harmless yet dangerous-feeling friendliness increases.

Hell, it’s not that different from being in an AOL chatroom circa version 3.0, when the internet was still $2.95 an hour plus long distance fees. There were plenty of people in those chatrooms (which were not yet free to every dumbass in the nation), and if you frequented the same ones, you’d get to know their screennames until you’d become buddies. Mystery, danger, yet commonality in interests and choice of social medium.

On blip, communication happens via the posting and exchange of popular music. Your “account” is just your DJ name and a tiny photo of you (or whatever you want it to be). You get one line of information about yourself as your “profile”: your location and, if you opt to post one, a link to a website. It’s extremely minimal and, relative to other social networks, not very personal.

You search for a song, then you find it and “blip” it by posting it to your DJ stream (your own archived playlist, in general). It isn’t necessarily theft or piracy, because it scans the web for a song you want, and up pops a list of sites that are streaming that song. Usually the sites with songs on them are things like YouTube or magazines with music features. The idea is not to record and store those songs on your own machine rather than purchase them, but it’s to post them as sort of a link to the site that’s hosting them, although blip.fm proper does the actual playing of the song.

Anyway, what music lover or person of intellect (including myself) doesn’t want to self-righteously spread their fondness of their favorite music by forcing other people to listen to it, not-so-gently nudging them into the land of all that is right and good? Blip is an easy way to compile a list of your favorites, all the while sharing them with a crowd of real-time strangers. Folks who like what you like will add you as a favorite, and you’ll show up regularly on their streaming list when you’re blipping at the same time they are.

A line of conversation is allowed with each song you blip (about the length of a tweet, I’d wager). This allows room for pleasantries or greetings to other blippers/blipsters/people on blip. The blip community encourages you to make friends with as many fellow blippers as possible, allowing you to give other DJ’s “props” by clicking a thumbs-up icon next to a song title you approve of. Props are tallied up and displayed at the top of your DJ profile as a scoreboard of cred. The number of listeners you have adds even more credibility and is displayed in an even flashier format, in a badge in the corner of your avatar pic with the nearest round number of your listeners, in amounts from 50 (for users like me) to 50K (for users like ladypn). You can send songs directly to other DJ’s publicly, as with Tweets, by addressing them @theirDJname, and you can reblip (RB) just like a retweet (RT).

What it becomes, more than a pointless venue for posting random songs, is a conversation among “friends,” with lots of room for intellectual exchange, cleverness in timing and content of exactly what you post and to whom, as well as a place to profess your admiration to others for their impeccable or eclectic tastes, as well as an opportunity to receive accolades for your own. That’s one of the biggest parts of it – getting recognition. When something as individualized and nebulous as musical taste becomes something you can make concrete and show to others, and then others can publicly and concretely approve of it, the whole process provides a form of sincere and personal validation that runs deep, to certain people. People like my mom.

She takes music seriously. It’s her past, present and future, her passion, her fun, her joy, her sadness, her gift, her story, her escape and her livelihood. She’s changing the world by sharing her talent as a piano teacher and organist. I think she also wants to leave a mark on others with “what” she likes. Her taste connects her to other people on a deep and human level. When someone loves a song that you love, a song that takes you somewhere or brings back memories special and specific to you, and they have their own story to tell about it and why they love it and you can share in it or reminisce together, that’s a bond. That connection it inspires among people is music’s reason for being art. Empathy is one of my mother’s strongest characteristics, and it’s so strong in her that it’s something that I think makes her a gift to this planet. Relationships with other people, and the legacy you leave because of those relationships, are the reason for living.

So you form relationships with online strangers over bonds that you have with each other based on a common appreciation for certain songs, composers and rockstars. A distant affection forms for DJ names you see often online at the same time as you. To some extent, those relationships begin to matter to you, because they make you (and your very personal taste and style) feel valid. So you take time to thoughtfully choose songs to post, carefully testing each one to be certain you don’t blip the dreaded “unavailable” link, or worse, Joe Schmoe’s YouTube cover. Your relationships with the blip universe never really intensify with any particular individuals, even though there are some you like more than others, because it’s not really a channel for intense direct communication. But your relationships with strangers do increase in quantity, and your followers grow in numbers with every greeting, prop and reblip. Your confidence somehow builds with the number of people who add you as a favorite. All of this takes time.

The biggest danger in doing this (aside from the possibility of creepy net stalkers stalking you – but I digress), is that you are drawn to your computer to spend time doing this stuff. It takes your time away from doing other stuff, non-computer stuff, such as spending time with your newly retired husband in the house you’ve just moved into, or other productive possibilities. All I mean to say is that if you let the validation or the approval or the confidence that you let strangers provide you with surpass your desire for closeness or time spent with your loved ones on a daily basis, or if your time on blip makes your partner insecure, even if it’s irrational on his part — if you are at all compromising the quality of your most important relationships, that’s a level of imbalance that isn’t good.

My good friend and ex co-worker is 29, and her dad just passed away on Friday from a sudden heart attack. Her mom is a wreck and their whole family is devastated. Just heartbroken. He was a great man, funny and full of life, here one moment and gone the next while spending Labor Day weekend in his beautifully decorated, hard-earned vacation home in South Haven, his favorite place to be.

My other friend from high school is 25, and her dad just passed away the other day from losing his battle with cancer, which they only knew he’s had for six months. Her younger brother, with her and her mother, watched him suffer for weeks before he found peace.

My friend from choir just let us know that her daughter, age 47, died suddenly the other night, and they don’t know why or how it happened. Her daughter lived in Ohio and there wouldn’t have been any chance for a goodbye. She’s torn apart, shocked at the death of her girl.

My best friend at work let me know on Friday that her boyfriend’s brother was identified as the individual whose body parts, just his limbs, were found lying on the streets near Eastern Market in Detroit last week.

This string of sad events shook me up enough to remind me that some things really don’t matter. The opinions of strangers on the internet, I have to say it, are among the things that matter least. Fighting about whether someone blips too much, or being insecure about possible online friendships that might steal your special someone away, aren’t worth it. All we have time to do is nurture the few relationships we’re lucky enough to make in this world. Love your wife or husband. Invite your family over for a barbecue. Enjoy living in the peace-giving environment of your new home. Try to understand if your partner has a hobby that involves spending time away from you and interacting with others. But listen to the music that you love and create friendships around it, away from your computer, and you might still feel fulfilled.

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