I disappeared but I’m (sorta) back

Hey y’all. It’s been a while since my last post, so I just wanted to fill you in that I’m doing okay. At least much better than last summer.

Last summer, I was feeling lost as I finished up my undergraduate years, moved to Ktown and looked for a more permanent job. I made a stupid decision. I entered a really tough situation/pseudo-relationship with the wrong person, craving some sort of close connection during this lonely transition.

Worst of all, I neglected my close ones and hid this relationship from my friends, pushing them away cause I wasn’t really happy with myself. This time involved a lot of crying and I still don’t think I was in the right mind. But you know, I eventually did admit it to others that I was making a bad decision, had to cut my losses and had to leave as painful as it was.

Although I’m still greatly embarrassed about my own bad conduct (lots of cutting words from my end) and intense negative feelings, this experience had made me grateful for those friends who stuck. It’s also made more cautious about those I trusted as well, because sadly some folks are just looking out for their own interests/agenda. At the same time, I know it’s going to be okay in the end. 

I think give it a few years, I’ll be more ready to open up about the details, and maybe write that screenplay about that crazy stupid summer that I was joking about. Until then, I’m setting down a reminder to check in in a year – to see what progress I’ve made since this post.

Is it easier to play the ukulele or ask a stranger out?

Instagram post for accountability:


The #challenge is on! 🙌 Each week for the next five weeks, @gjuarez7 and I will ask out one stranger out on a date. Romantic or platonic, doesn’t matter. Rejection is fine, and makes for an even better story.

📲 Dating apps don’t count, the ask must be on the phone or in real life. The first one to meet their #truelove wins, or at the very least, this #fun experience will help us become comfortable talking to folks! #avocadope

Selfies aren’t New. Neither is Narcissism in the Age of Social Media.

Each year, click-bait pieces claim that today’s youth are the worst yet.* As a result, older folks get the impression that Millennials are categorically self-absorbed, spoiled and entitled. It’s repeated so often. Even mainstream news outlets like NPR, TIME, and Fortune call Millennials the “me, me, me generation”.
Attacking our generation’s love-hate relationship with taking selfies, critics claim that young people are vapid and vain. But who’s to say the previous generations wouldn’t have indulged in the same activity, had they possessed the technology?

Selfies are an inherently narcissistic act, but this quality isn’t unique to Millennials.

People assume Millennials are more narcissistic, because we take selfies. Especially since we take thousands of them a year. We then share our favorites on Instagram and Facebook for “likes”, a social currency externally validating the self-worth of many young people today. Yet, this phenomenon of self-documentation and the quest for adoration is hardly new. Our forefathers were just as vain as us. It just wasn’t as apparent, since self portraits were harder to both create and preserve in a pre-digital age.

Vincent van Gogh, Self-Portrait as a Painter, 1887 – 1888

Even before the term “selfie” was coined, the concept of recording oneself was around. The tradition predates our generation. Consider the glorified portraits that decorate the wall of a fine art gallery, or historical museum.

For these masterpieces to have been created, a wealthy patron must have endured hours of posing in front of the commissioned painter. They paid for these highly-edited reflections to immortalize their youth and power. Instead of Photoshopping their least desired traits like youngsters do today, our predecessors ordered the artisan to refine their physical imperfections with a stroke of a brush.

Likewise, who knows how long royalty and high-ranking officials have waited for their likelihood to be sculpted? Weeks? Months? The process of getting these labor-intensive art pieces done is as egotistical as today’s selfies, if not more.

Like today, people felt insecure about how their peers and posterity would view them. Regardless of social standing, everyone also feared that future generations would forget them. To safeguard their legacy, the rich paid for the luxury of canonizing themselves through sponsoring the arts. Even artists like Vincent van Gogh and Frida Kahlo battled their mortality by leaving behind self-portraits. The rest, unskilled or unlucky in finances, attempted to carry on their image, traditions and life through their offspring.

Robert Cornelius has been said to be the first to take a “selfie”; photo taken  in 1839.

From high culture to low-brow entertainment, selfies are now everywhere.

Some of the oldest photos were selfies. When the camera first came out in the early 19th century, early adopters were pleased that to wait less time in front of a camera person than in front of a traditional artist. Some folks even took control of the camera for themselves. They ingeniously experimented with mirrors to capture images of themselves.

As Kodak and others companies made film cheaper, the public bought cameras. Excited, common folks explored photography as a newly accessible medium. Camera users appealed to their own internal Dorian Gray by taking self-photographed portraits. Self portraits became commonplace among the middle class, and lost their place as an exclusive status marker for the elite. Through these photos, people insured that they were seen by future generations.

New technology through the years eventually boosted the prevalence of selfies. Flip-phones, and later, smart phones sold out as on-the-go devices for selfies. The emergence of social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat made it effortless to share these images. It became easier than ever to present ourselves as who we’d like to be. Empowered, we armed ourselves with a gallery of selfies to show our best self — as artificial as it may be.**

So, you might ask, “What’s the point of ‘selfies’ if they’re mostly self indulgent?”.

Simple answer: selfies bring people joy.

While some view selfies with great disdain, others regard selfies as a positive thing. CNN writes that while looking at selfies lowers life-satisfaction, posting selfies can raise self-esteem.

We can agree that passive act of constantly consuming selfies is dangerous, because it’s deceptive to compare one’s daily life to the curated highlights of another person’s. Millennials can even experience “FOMO”, or fear of missing out, when they aren’t included in their friends’ selfies. Additionally, critics blame selfie culture for the growth of eating disorders and body dysmorphia. However, more likely the pervasiveness of digitally-edited bodies rather than selfies themselves have caused these unrealistic standards.

On the other hand, posting selfies can be a beneficial way to track development and life events. Fitness models show off their “gains” through progress photos. Parents and kids alike swap photos of fleeting moments like high school graduations. Travelers memorialize their ephemeral presence at historical-cultural landmarks. Selfies have also united people of color through online communities, where members can embrace their ethnic beauty.

If it hasn’t already happened, selfies will ultimately transition to a normalized means of documentation for people of all ages. Well-known galleries have even started collecting selfies, so it isn’t too far to consider it an accepted art form nowadays.

Call us the “selfie generation”, if you want. Millennials are no less vain than their predecessors. We should admit that humans historically have been predisposed to narcissism and self-preservation. In fact, we are all members of a “remember me” generation, even if we embrace different art forms. With or without selfies, humans will continue to find ways to express our personal vanity. It’ll be exciting to see what will come in the future.

*Amusingly, The Atlantic points out the ongoing tradition that the old will always find fault with the young. Google the term “juvenoia”.

**I find it just as genuine to share something on Instagram as we do through physically scrapbooking or writing an autobiography. While some argue that selfies are highly-edited and narcissistic, these other means of self documentation also carry the bias and half truths we often tell others.

One Red Paperclip – A Social Experiment and Game Examined

Some of you might already be familiar with Kyle MacDonald’s “One Red Paperclip” project. If not, be sure to see his blog: One Red Paper Clip, and TEDx Talk below:

The concept is simple. You start with a small object with relatively low value, and approach people to ask if they would like to trade you anything for your item.

Some folks explore this concept as an economic experiment, where your goal is to trade up. Others, like myself, just play the “game” with brave friends to just enjoy the experience. While we do split up in the beginning, we’re not there to compete. We gather at the end of the day and recollect our experiences interacting with strangers.

I personally love this game, because 1) it provides entertainment for you and all those involved at little to no monetary cost, 2) it pushes you to talk to strangers and improves your social skills, and 3) it give you appreciation for people’s generosity and creativity. We jokingly state that this is middle ground between pick-up artistry and salesmanship.

Having played this game on several free Saturdays, I’ve come up with some observations.

If you ask with a smile, you’re more likely to get what you want.

It’s no joke when they say positivity goes a long way. People seemed more open to interact with us when we expressed more enthusiasm and positive emotions. after a few cold call approaches, we could better read people’s faces to know if they would respond well to our requests. If we smiled, and they delivered a genuine smile back, it was pretty much a guarantee that they would accommodate our request.

People are less likely to trade after they have spent money.

We’ve played in Downtown San Jose, San Jose State University, UCLA’s main campus, Eastridge mall in San Jose and a shopping mall in Pasadena to list a few places, so I’ve noticed differences on people’s level of receptiveness based on setting.

One of the most remarkable thing is that some people at the mall shut us down by stating they have spent too much money. According to the scarcity mentality, when people fear that they don’t have enough to provide for themselves, they are less generous.

On the opposite end, the university setting removed that financial stress. At this liberal setting, most college students seemed very receptive. They readily handed us their pens, pencils and small doohickies right out of their backpacks. I should note though, things might have been different had I been interrupting a class or scouting for students near the Financial Aid office in Murphy Hall.

Young people are more open to playing, even though they have “less” money.

Older people often professed that they had nothing to give us. They were looking for items with equivalent monetary value to match our item. They tried to avoid engagement. However, young people were inventive about how they approached the situation. We got stickers, candies and erasers as they eagerly entertained our requests to trade. In fact, our youngest trader at 7 years old got so excited to give us her chocolates.

People want to help others who they feel are more relatable. One could argue as we age, we become more conservative while youth are more open-minded. This might echo the scarcity mentality, mentioned earlier. However, we should also note that the young people felt more connected to us due the small age difference, therefore seemed more willing to help us out.

If you can’t speak their language, people are more reserved about trading.

Feel free to refute this, because I’m making a huge generalization. However, my friends and I noticed that first generation Asian students and immigrants were very skeptical about playing this game with us. They wanted explanations, but still shied away from trading. At first, I thought it was a cultural thing for immigrants to be risk adverse. However, that doesn’t make sense! They literally made the biggest gamble of all by leaving their lives at home behind.

Instead, I believe it’s more of a trust issue when there’s a language barrier. Since my friend spoke Spanish, she was in a better position to encourage folks to trade. However, since our Mandarin, Vietnamese and Cantonese skills were quite limited, we couldn’t effectively convince first-generation folks to participate. This severely limited the quality of our communication with them.

Fun does not need to be attached to a dollar sign.

Entertainment can come cheap if you are creative. Often times, you can just enjoy the free company of new friends and learn quite a bit from listening to stranger’s stories. It’s really nice that each time this game ends, we’re left with a physical souvenir to remind us of all the wonderful people we have come across.