Is Social Networking Making Us Socially Awkward?

***Yup. S. Nicole Brown is here again.***

I noticed it one day while walking from class.

Making my way across the  common area of campus on a beautiful sunny day, the sounds of the latest Top Forty blaring from a speaker behind a DJ booth asking people to sign up to volunteer for the next “save the world” project, I looked up from my phone, and looked around.

What I saw, kind of jolted me. Every single person that passed in this very busy area of campus, was looking down at their phone. I realized I had walked halfway across campus without one lifting my head up away from my phone, and noticed everyone doing the same. Watching people swarm around me in a rush to get home or to another class, I realized we had all so mastered the art of texting/tweeting/status-liking while doing other things, that we were on a sort of real time auto-pilot while our virtual lives kept our attention.

So of course, I took to twitter to state publicly my observation, and continued to walk with my head down, and on my phone.

From that day on I noticed more and more the absence of eye contact or basic human interaction when walking into stores, restaurants, on campus, at home. Everyone was seemingly more interested in tweeting and status updating about what they were doing, rather than enjoying the actual experience of what they were doing.

Still, I thought it was odd, but didn’t really realize just how dependent my generation and younger folks had become on social media interaction until I began meeting e-friends and associates in real life. Meeting someone in real life whom you only know online and believe to be super dope, is so exciting. You think about all the fun you’ll have when you finally meet, all the jokes you they’ve said that you’ll laugh at even harder in person.

And then you meet, and your entire image of them is shattered. They are quiet. Or uncomfortable, which makes you uncomfortable. Painfully shy, creepy, or just plain rude. You almost want to send them a direct message and ask if everything is okay with them, since they seem to have had the personality drained from them and you like their virtual one much better. A friend of mine went to a blogger meet up once, and described the behavior of several people as “lurking in real life.”

It’s a weird realization to come to that the very medium meant to foster social communication and connections, could be stunting us socially. More and more people seem far more comfortable to “poke” you or RT you than to call, or say hello to you on the street. People get keyboard courage and fire off statements that they wouldn’t dare say to those very same people away from their screen.

And as awkward as it is for me as a thirty year-old person to get over this, it’s so much worse for the teens and early twenty-somethings, who don’t know a social world beyond high school without smart phones and facebook and twitter. Those people that literally say “LOL” when they see something funny (my younger sister did this for an entire year until i threatened to end her life if she didn’t learn to laugh like a normal human), or think exchanging subtweets and nasty statuses is a way to solve an argument– while sitting in the same house (also witnessed this happen. With grown people no less). I feel so afraid for the youngins. So nervous that they will not know what it is to walk up to someone and say “hello,” or how to be somewhere longer than ten minutes without checking in on various social networks.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of social networking. I’ve met a good number of close friends from just being interactive online (including P to the Jay and Champness). But there needs to be balance. Social media makes it possible to spend an entire day talking without uttering one word. This to me, is scary. Nothing can replace the importance of being able to read body language, of knowing proper ways to interact in different social settings, having self-awareness, and the joy “friending” a stranger can bring through a surprisingly painless face-to-face conversation.

S. Nicole Brown (aka “Muze”) is a writer of fiction, lover of words, and chronic reader happily living the clichéd under-spaced and overpriced life of a NYC writer. You can find her in 140 or less @muzeness or on her blog, Because I’m Write.

***Check out “Yes, Monogamy IS Unnatural (…and so is everything else we do)” — The Champ’s latest at Ebony.com***

So, She’s With A White Guy, Huh?

***Hello, everyone. S. Nicole Brown is here again to bless the VSB pulpit. This time, though, I decided to add some, um, “notes” in red to her piece. Not certain if she’s going to appreciate that, but, well, it’s my blog and I can do what I want to***

“That’s your woman? That is NOT your woman. You know that ain’t your woman, man.”

The man was around 35, smooth brown face featuring a neatly lined goatee, cap to the back, Pepsi in his right hand resting on his denim shorts. Before inviting himself into our lives, he was just another black man at the park that day.

(This was her first mistake. Dude definitely sounds homeless. I mean, he’s chillin in some random park with a Pepsi and some demin shorts? In 2012? Come on, man! It’s her fault for entertaining homeless men.)

It took us a moment to realize he was indeed directing his doubting statements at us, and although he was correct in his assumption, I turned my head, eyes wide at his audacity. I could only give a bewildered laugh. The man walking next to me, around the same age as him, slightly spiky brown hair, affable blue eyes, and clad in a “Detroit Soul” t-shirt, turned towards the man, his face serious.

“No, this is my wife.” He wrapped his hand around mine casually, and we kept walking.

(Although the wife move was admittedly a smooth transition, technically your wife would also be your woman, and he should have known that homeless Black men don’t appreciate semantic tricks. He’s lucky he didn’t get spleen shanked.)

This response was met with hushed laughter from the men sitting with our new friend, along with his words trailing us: “I don’t see a ring. That ain’t your woman man.”

(See, I know that’s a lie. Aint no group of Black men in Detroit gonna know what a wedding ring even is, let alone know where to check for it. For all they know, a wedding ring is some shit you find at the bottom of a bowl of wedding soup. Why are you making shit up?)

I shook my head but laughed it off, still in awe.

This would prove to be only one of several instances in which a day at an outdoor summer festival with a friend turned into a social experiment for the writer in me. I noticed all the stares, the shoulder taps on friends sitting next to them, and the not-so-subtle pointing. I was amused and embarrassed by the random and startling honking by cars containing black men as they drove past us, their voices carrying things like “Whiiiiite boyyyy! Yeahhh white boy!” over the music blasting from their stereos.

(I’m not doubting that any of this happened. I’m also not a Black woman who has walked through a summer festival in Detroit with a White man. Still, I do find it hard to believe that this experience is the norm instead of the exception. I mean, I’ve seen Black women and White men together before in Black settings, and aside from random cats asking him to cosign on car loans, they were pretty much left alone. They even occasionally get props and nicknames. And yes, it still counts as a nickname if the nickname is just their first name with “White” added to the front of it.)

I was downright shocked and offended by the three black men who stopped us and plainly asked in so many words what I was doing here with him and why I wasn’t with someone of a brown hue, eyes connecting solely with mine, completely disregarding the white man next to me. I was too much of a “beautiful sista” as one man stated as we passed by his perch, to not be with a black man. I looked around, had to keep reminding myself that it was 2011. It was as if we’d walked into neighborhood full of Crips wearing bright red.

Slowly I realized that the general consensus of the men who’d expressed confusion for our assumed pairing was that I was too attractive to date a white man, as if there is only a certain type of black woman that can date outside her race. Even when I told a guy friend about my experience, his initial response was that “they only said something because you’re attractive. They wouldn’t have otherwise.” I don’t understand. I know more than a few black women who date white men. They’re all very pretty women. That couldn’t be it.

(As your pseudo blog mentor and a person who’s very adept at the ancient art of humble bragging, I just want to say that these last couple paragraphs brought a tear to my eye. Good job grasshopper.)

Eric, my friend, a man who is far more Elijah Wood than Eminem, and primarily dates black women, was baffled himself. “Lisa and I used to come down here all the time, and this has never happened. I guess you are so fly.” He joked about the title of my old blog, but I could tell he was genuinely confused as to why so many brothers felt the need to speak their opinion one way or the other about two people whose relationship had nothing to do with them at all.

(Full disclosure: I have seen Ms. S. Nicole Brown before, and she is an attractive woman. And, because she’s tall and has big hair, she can be rather striking. This being the case, I wonder if the attention she received was due to her being with a White guy or if it was just some brothas having a pissing contest because they didn’t feel like her friend was a worthy partner and thought they might be able to put a bug in her ear. I can imagine they would have acted the same way if she happened to be with a “lame” looking brotha, and I also don’t think it’s a leap to suggest that a Don Draper doppelganger wouldn’t have received the same attention.)

The day was interesting to say the least. From a redheaded little boy pointing out my blackness to his parents, to the unexpected running-into Eric’s ex (black) and her man (white) and the confrontation that followed between the two men (two very square white men fighting over two black women in a park full of people. You can imagine the looks), it was definitely a day of firsts for me.

(I’ve never seen two sober White men fight in public. I know that has nothing to do with the story, but I just wanted to put that out there.)

Frankly, I was shocked. As someone who has seen many, many articles and comments surrounding the supposed stigma of black men dating interracially, white women in particular, and reading complaint after complaint, opinion after opinion from those same men on how black women have an enormous problem with this, I can’t say I’ve ever heard of the issue conversely.

(I honestly think that women “against” interracial dating are more against the idea of it than the actual act. I also think that Wendy’s spicy chicken nuggets on a bun with some grape jelly is the best off menu fast-food sandwich you can buy. Whatever you do, though, just don’t try to order it after 9pm.)

I also can’t say I’ve ever witnessed a black woman blatantly confront a black man walking with his blonde-haired, blue-eyed companion, and impose her opinion of their coupledom on them, whether positive or negative. I’ve never seen a black woman say “oh you got you some soul alright” to them as they walked past, minding their own business.

(Of course she wouldn’t confront them in person. That’s what Twitter and blogs are for. Duh!)

I’ve never dated a white man seriously. I’ve gotten approached by my fair share, as the natural hair seems to be a magnet (lol but no, it really is), and had a few dates, but a relationship has just never happened. I love black men and I always will, but I can’t say I’d be opposed to dating outside of that if my feelings led me that way. I for one would not even be here if not for the lovely chocolate-vanilla pairing that was my father’s parents, and my family consists of quite a few mixtures of love, so interracial coupling is quite normal to me.

(This paragraph was sweet and shit. Also, it’s proof that we could never date. Although I’m not particularly racist, I do seem to be attracted to racist Black women. I don’t know exactly why — Maybe I want my kids to be racists? — but I’m beginning to suspect that “racist Black women” just equals “Black women.” Anyway, you’re a bit too post-racial and shit for me.)

If I decided to do so tomorrow though, I am now overwhelmingly aware of the fact that black men will not mind letting me (and my date) know how they feel about it.

(And, by “Black men” you mean “some homeless Black men at a pre-Calicoe concert cookout in Detroit,” right?)

S. Nicole Brown (aka “Muze”) is a writer of fiction, lover of words, and chronic reader happily living the clichéd under-spaced and overpriced life of a NYC writer. You can find her in 140 or less @muzeness or on her blog, Because I’m Write.

***Just wanted to take some time and thank everyone again for the well-wishes and prayers. Like I mentioned yesterday, she just needs all the positive energy she can get. Writing this and reading the responses has definitely helped me, and I hope it’s left me better equipped to help her.***

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly Couch

***Hello, VSB nation.We have a treat for you today. S. Nicole Brown is here again to bless the VSB pulpit. Sit back and enjoy***

I like living alone.

With obvious hyperbole, there is nothing like being able to open the door to your home, strip down to the bare essentials–or just to the bare–pour a glass of wine, and listen to the soothing notes of John Coltrane fill each room as he sings an ode to Naima with the pads of his fingers, no voices asking who ate the last slice of turkey, or in an one-sided argument with the TV over a bad call. And you haven’t fully lived (alone) until you’ve grabbed a brush or invisible mic and pretended you were Beyonce at Madison Square Garden or performed “Ain’t Nobody” along with Chaka Khan at the top of your lungs for an audience of no one but your mirror.

There’s a delicious peace in being with and by yourself, happily feasting on a big spinach salad with a side of green juice one night, and questionable Chinese “meat” and Starburst ice cream the next, with no regard to what someone else might want to eat, drink, or have to say about the curious sweet and sour slop on your plate.

But as wonderful as blasting Jazmine Sullivan while eating ice cream in comfy Target-sale Hanes while watching a Bridezillas marathon may be, my absolute favorite thing about living alone, is the ability to decorate a place to my liking. To make the the space within the walls I’ll be inhabiting mine completely, if only for the duration of a year-long lease. To create a home out of the emptiness, with fresh white orchids in the kitchen on Sundays, plush green towels in the linen closet, and Abeena and Ameena, my two very fly bald African priestesses, hanging in frames on the wall in the entryway, greeting each visitor at the door.

Moving to New York presented an opportunity to do just that: mold from scratch a cool, hip space in the greatest city on earth. Having sold or given away most of the furniture I had in Michigan, I was so excited to start anew. I lived on ApartmentTherapy.com, drew sketches and floor plans of what the finished product would be. I made lists, noted every detail, every piece of art.

A change of plans soon presented a small glitch; I wouldn’t be living alone. But, given the free rein I was assured I’d have if I moved in with Beau, I wasn’t worried.

In my head it was perfect: an autumn-hued living room straight out of a scene meant for Love Jones or a dimly lit lounge where everyone snaps instead of claps. We’d have Mahogany tables with volumes of poetry and philosophy fanned out like literary peacocks, eat from hand-glazed Pottery Barn bowls, and span our impressive collection of Important Books against two entire walls of bookshelves, stacked floor to ceiling. Unique and meaningful art found at cultural festivals or made by me would occupy the walls not covered with books.

See? Perfect.

Of all the decor plans I had, none included the ugly brown sofa that took up roughly one-fourth of the living room, smugly letting anyone who entered know what the prized centerpiece of the largest room, and therefore apartment, was.

“Do what you want.” Beau said as I looked around and squealed in delight upon first seeing the rectangular abode for which the rent was toodamnhigh. It had so much potential: nice hardwood floors, plenty of wall space, a setup not backwards like some I’d seen while shopping. “But I’m keeping my sofas.”
-record scratch-

I felt like he’d suddenly cursed at me. Like he’d somehow just insulted my family name.  In a scene right out of Think Like A Man, He’d actually chosen an old couch over My Vision. “But … It’s brown. Dirt brown. And not even true dirt brown. It’s like an ashy, throw-up, dirt brown.”

He was not amused. “I like my couch. It stays.” I knew by his finite tone and heavy plopping down on the cushiony blob he lovingly and hilariously referred to as Couchneesha, that there was no changing his mind. I was stuck with this impossibly unpleasant sofa.

I ran to my computer, discreetly deleted the beginnings of a Craigslist Ad I’d begun to find what I had thought would be the soon-to-be-orphaned sofa a new home. I’d known he was attached to it, but inseparable? This was not my NYC dream. How could I decorate around such a bland and uninteresting lump of a material?

I sank into its cushions, it welcomed my form like an old friend, its plushness inviting, homey even.

I hated it.

The cup of deeply pigmented red Rosehip Hibiscus tea sitting on the coffee table in front of it tempted me to move my arm clumsily, accidentally spill its contents onto one of the oversized cushions. I weighed the consequences and decided I’d just hate Couchneesha in stubborn silence, try to pretend it wasn’t there being the big eyesore in the middle of the room.

Everyday I’d lounge in its comfort and plot ways in which I could convince him life without this sofa was better, only to be reminded that Couchneesha was his boo whom had always been there for him. If anything, I could count on a laugh out of his various responses, but sadly, never a “you’re right, let’s get rid of it.”

…That was a year ago.

Since then, his love for the throw-up brown sofa hasn’t waned. I’ve reluctantly accepted that it will be with us until it decides to kick the dust, or has a tragic encounter with a cranberry juice and olive oil cocktail and needs a slipcover. When I casually mentioned I was writing about his microfibered love, “she’s such a good girl.” was his wistful response.

But  as I’ve learned in living together, there is an endless supply of subjects and items to argue over and about, least importantly a sofa. I’ve learned that huge, pretty throw pillows are the antidote to Couchneeshas. And surprisingly, I’ve decided that the couch isn’t so bad.  It’s soft and plush and has grown accustomed to my form, my pretzel-crossed legs sitting on it for hours-long blocks, typing away on my laptop. The time spent and  memories created (folded into one another watching movies, being tended to while sick, jumping on it and nearly killing myself in an hilarious episode of  Of Mice and Muze) on this admittedly extraordinarily comfortable sofa have begun to slightly outweigh my disdain for its presence.

When this lease is up though…

S. Nicole Brown (aka “Muze”) is a writer of fiction, lover of words, and chronic reader happily living the clichéd under-spaced and overpriced life of a NYC writer. You can find her in 140 or less @muzeness or on her blog, Because I’m Write.

***This Saturday, October 6 is another edition of Reminisce, our all 90s everything hip-hop/r&b/dancehall party at Liv Nightclub in Washington, DC. It’s free before 11pm with RSVP (http://reminiscedc.eventbrite.com) and there’s an open bar from 930-1030pm with no dress code. Come to party, leave to remember. Reminisce. Peep the flyer and FB invite: http://www.facebook.com/events/325601340869364/ ***

***If you haven’t seen it already, Panama was named the “Hillman College Alum of The Month.” Not sure how one becomes the alum of the month for a college that doesn’t exist, but P found a way to do it. Kudos***

***Lastly, our fundraising campaign is still going strong. Check out our Indiegogo page if, well, today is pay day and shit***