Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday, October 25, 2013

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Creating life's composition: Are you?


by Matthew Bennett (

Facebook. Twitter. Soundcloud. Instagram. Linked in. Pinterest. Tumblr. Life in general. The appearance of ourselves that we all try to portray on social networking sites - and throughout all aspects of life - is a composition. Whether we feel that it is or not, we are composing an identity online. This is a good way to consider how you present yourself, although it is nothing new. People have been composing their identities since the humans have walked the earth.

Even animals show some characteristics that reveal to us that they are also composing their identities. When an animal puffs up to look bigger to a potential enemy, it is actually composing for itself an identity that doesn’t really exist, or is just a smaller part of the whole, in order to portray to another animal that “I am not to be taken lightly”. I really don’t know (no one actually knows) whether these animals do these things instinctually or if the reaction comes from actual consideration on the part of the animal. Somewhere in the evolutionary process, one animal must have understood that “the bigger I look, the better the chance I have that I will avoid this fight”. It is in the nature of being that we recognize other beings and attempt to say something about ourselves to these others.

The Extent of the Composition

Relative to the vastly more complex human mind, we have more topics and issues and beliefs to present to others as a reflection of ourselves. And we have the technology to do so in some very unique ways. The videos we record ourselves or share, owned or shared pictures, status messages, comments on others’ messages - all of these are a composition that we use to say “this is who I am.” Taken as a whole, it is one huge (or small) masterpiece explaining who we are.

This is not unique to online social networking. We have always composed ourselves in the way we dress, the lifestyle we live, the car we drive, the conversations we have about the shows we watch, our personal reactions to the news... people will forever be writing the stories of their lives to others, portraying it in their personal way as an artist composing a song, painting, or any other medium that you could possibly think of. We have always done this with our family, friends, acquaintances, co workers, strangers, etc.

Now, however, we have new mediums of “spreading the word” that weren’t dreamed of even twenty years ago. The single greatest benefit to the internet is to offer a worldwide audience to these compositions. Don’t get me wrong, I love all online benefits - but people having the ability to chime in, voice their opinions, and relay ideas publically is the most important aspect of the technology. Our voice can now be heard. The enormity of this situation is heartening, but it also suggests that the manner in which we choose to present ourselves is becoming even more vital.

One negative example to demonstrate: 20 years ago, when you complained to your friends about your jerk of a boyfriend, and made yourself look petty in front of them, it wasn’t that big of a deal, and your friends understood that you were going through a lot of pain, and that you needed to say these things to let off some steam - it made you feel better even if you didn’t quite believe what you were saying. Today, however, this happens largely on Facebook or other social networking services. (This leads to a quite different topic that’s worth exploring: do you proclaim these things on Facebook now simply because you have a larger audience, and you have somehow influenced more people with your thinking?) These social digs can now come back to haunt you in a much larger way - for instance, a prospective employer searching your posts to see if you are the kind of person that she wants to hire may not consider you because you made yourself look mean and petty, which is sad when you are a genuinely happy person that was having a bad moment. To reiterate, this is just one example relating to social networking services amplifying your masterpiece, your composition. There are more negative and more positive ways in which your voice can be heard.

The extent of this composition is far more, and far deeper than just public image. It is an aggregate of all of the images we choose to portray in all areas and aspects of public life. And it is fluid. When we think of a composition, it’s usually writing, or a music piece that is complete. But the composition of our lives is constantly flowing, changing, contradicting and being harmonious in the same breath, the same line, the same stroke. It is flexible, and it means different things to different people, depending on the degree in which they relate to us. And the composition continues after our death. Possibly in some sort of afterlife, but definitely in the compositions of those we were close to, and those whom we affected, or inspired. Our compositions live on. This, above all, makes it worthy of our attention and consideration.

The Validity of the Composition

Can we trust the validity of the masterpieces of others? I see two ways to look at this question, one renders a YES and one renders a NO. If you think of it as “I am composing myself the way that I want others to see me,” then the answer is a solid NO because you can’t necessarily trust the motivation behind this. People have a nature to try to appear better than they are. However, if we look at it as “I am composing myself as the way I want to be,” then this is wholly trustworthy. We understand that every individual has flaws, and doesn’t always act according to their beliefs, but to look at the whole of their image we can come up with a pretty good idea of how he or she wants to be seen. And this gives us even deeper insight into their character and even reveals ways to encourage and inspire on an individual level.

The beautiful thing is that when someone is composing himself as he wants others to see him, in general he is also composing himself as how he wants to be. In other words, as people are lying and impressing, and posting and saying things that you don’t necessarily trust, they are inadvertently saying something about themselves that they can’t hide. They are telling us their desire of how they want to be seen. Whether they are being completely honest in their composition, or completely dishonest, we can view it from the scope of their desires and the end result is exactly the same. When we consider these narratives we should be thinking about desires, motivations, and perspectives, and we should NOT be thinking about truth or facts. This will put us on an equal playing field no matter whom we are dealing with.

The Methods of Composition

My composition is exhibited by video, sound clips, blogs, multimedia websites, social networking websites, photography, extremely amateur paintings, professional magic and music shows, personal interactions, and probably dozens of means that I am not even aware of. I also have a couple of private compositions going on in services like Evernote and Google Drive where I discuss with myself  my own thoughts, feelings, and desires. (In truth, my own validity to these internal conversations, composed in external forms, may be questioned. There are times that I say things to myself to inspire or spur on, or even disparage or malign myself, all of which I know are not precisely accurate, yet they are intended to achieve some end result that I do desire, so these are allowable and necessary invalid thoughts and concepts.) Only a fraction of who I am gets mentioned in the narrative (public and private).

These fractions are parts of a whole to which no one, including yourself, will have access in their entirety. You can look at all your Facebook activity and say “That’s who I am”, and then look at your Twitter feed and say “That is also who I am” and then look at everything that you’ve posted or liked on Pinterest and agree “That is also who I am” and there may be very few intersections - or many, but at the very least each medium will reveal somewhat new information about your personal composition. The method will vary by composer, and the method itself is insignificant compared to the composition.

Types of Composers

There are only two types of composers. Active and passive. Either a person is completely passive in their composition and simply living out their life unaware of their creation as a whole, or else a person takes an active role in the production. As soon as someone is aware that they are indeed composing, this person becomes an active composer, with very little ability to go “back to the way it was”.

In some ways, everyone must be an active composer. Since everything we do or think or feel is part of the composition, as soon as you make a choice regarding your life, such as the choice to go to college, you’ve made an active choice in the composition. But for my categorization, this doesn’t count unless you understand that you are composing a life. It can be argued that this is all semantics, but I say that unless one makes decisions about who and how one wants to be, one is not an active composer.

A Word of Warning

Always, always remember that some people are composing a Beethoven symphony, some are composing a Nine Inch Nails tune, some are writing mysteries, some are painting beach scenes, and others are photographing a cold winter day. No single composition is more valid than another, and the art of life is as subjective as all other art, and there will always be fans of Beethoven, and fans of NiN, and there will be intersections of the two types of fans more often than you would think. You will draw some people in with your art, and you will push some people away. Don’t be offended, it’s simply a matter of taste.

As you create your composition, it is very easy to get caught up in the composition itself. Keep in mind that life cannot be categorized as easily as we would hope. I spend a lot of my time archiving moments of my life in words, pictures, videos, and more, and I am still worried that I will miss something. The problem with this is that I may be spending more time archiving the past than living in the present. My wife drives me crazy sometimes in this respect, because she will tell me about a beautiful something-or-other that she experienced, and I will ask if she got a picture, or wrote down what she was thinking. But she tells me no, she just lived the moment. That is a beautiful thing - and admirable, and that is a huge part of what life is all about. The composition exists whether or not it is recorded, whether or not it is made public, whether or not you remember. It exists.

So be wise about your composition, but don’t worry about it. Don’t spend your life being too active of a composer. Instead, go out and live those moments, as many as you can. Be happy. Be real. Share what you can, what you remember, what you recorded. Don’t worry if you missed something. Keep moving forward. For the most part, the composition will take care of itself.