An Online Turned Offline Encounter

A few days back, I was able to have the great pleasure of meeting Cydney Alexis over at Material Lives in person. The way that we first met on the internet was quite fascinating.

Cydney works over at the Admissions department in the University of Madison-Wisconsin, and she happened to have a photo intern working for her who heard about my street photography from a photography professor. Cydney’s intern then went to my site and liked the template that I was using, and suggested to Cydney that they use a similar style for their blog. Cydney then checked out my photography, and enjoyed my images, and emailed me inquiring about how much I charged for my prints. I still have the email stored in my Gmail account:

Thu, Jul 30, 2009

Eric–

I am sure I cannot afford one of your photographs, but I thought I’d inquire anyway–how much do you tend to sell them for? They are just gorgeous.

Best,

Cydney

Upon hearing such kind work about my photography, I was quite touched and offered to send her a few prints (free of charge). After sending her the images, she was extremely gracious and after that we hit it off. We found out that both of us had interests in audiobooks, photography, as well as blogging. She recommended me a bunch of books, one of them being Kafka on the Shore, written by Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. Over the year, we were able to keep in touch via our blogs as well as through email.

This summer my girlfriend Cindy went to the University of Madison-Wisconsin to take a Vietnamese-intensive program called SEASSI for the summer. I promised her that I would visit, and before I left Cydney came to mind. I wasn’t 100% whether Cydney was in Madison or some other city, so I shot her a message and got in contact with her. After confirming that she indeed was in Madison, we arranged to meet in person (for the first time) sometime during the week.

After exchanging phone numbers, we arranged to have dinner together, along with Cindy and another friend. We met up and ended up eating at Dotty’s Dumplings, one of the favorite local restaurants. Over some amazing fried cheese curds, chili-cheese fries, and hamburgers, we talked for the first time in person and had a wonderful time, grabbing some amazing Gelato afterwards.

I recall when I told my other friends that I was going to meet a friend that I only knew online, they gave me curious looks. I have to admit, there have been times that I have met people online in the “real world” and was quite shocked that their offline persona was the exact opposite of their online persona. Not only that, but some people even had deceiving online profile pictures which looked nothing like themselves in real life.

The thought of two people meeting perchance via the internet, nearly half a country apart and meeting in person and eating dinner together is quite an unusual encounter. Such things would have never been possible even a few decades ago. However Cydney’s and my online turned offline encounter is a true testament on how the internet is closing the geographical gap in the world and bringing people closer together.

Also in the case of Cydney and I, meeting in person for the first time was quite natural and not awkward at all. I had never seen a clear photo of Cydney, and wasn’t 100% sure what she exactly looked like. Upon meeting her in person, I found out that she dressed quite trendy, and even rocked a sweet tattoo on her shoulder. Also while talking in person, it was interesting that we had so much to talk about, when referring to one another’s lives via our blogs or based on the comments we would leave one another. I felt that I grew to know her quite well on the internet, and nothing about her life truly caught me off guard when meeting her offline.

However at the same time, I still feel that it is important to make the point that online interaction could never replace offline interaction. Even though I did know a great deal about Cydney through the internet, the way in which we were able to interact in real life brought an entirely new type of energy. Through the laughs, tasty food, and good conversation we were able to connect to an extent which could never be possibly recreated online. However with the permeation of online virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft, The Sims Online, as well as Second Life, how close can online interaction replicate offline interaction?

Anyways, I still have a few days left in Wisconsin and I should be able to meet Cydney at least once more. And sorry Cydney– I haven’t been able to upload our photos yet, hopefully they will be up soon!

edit: here are the photos

Me and Cydney
Me and Cydney
Deep Fried Cheese Curds--mmmmmm
Deep Fried Cheese Curds--mmmmmm
Chili Cheese Fries
Chili Cheese Fries
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UCLA Sociology Commencement Speech

Hey all,

So as you may/may not know, I recently graduated with a B.A. in Sociology at UCLA. Here is a speech that I submitted to be a student speaker at the Sociology graduation, but it was not accepted. However, I would like to share it with you guys regardless:

“Voices of the Class”—Sociology 2010 Graduation Speech

I don’t think that anybody starts as a sociology major. Us sociology majors seem to always stray from one major to the next until we end up with the best major, which is sociology. I remember starting off as a biology major my freshman year, because I was forced by my parents to become a prestigious doctor or something like that. The day that I realized I shouldn’t go down the pre-med route I remember calling my mom and telling me that I was going to switch to Sociology—the study of society or something like that. You can imagine how that went.

I then remember sitting in my first Sociology 1 class in which I was introduced to the wonderful world of sociology which caused me to question everything that I have been socialized into believing. It gave me the power and inspiration to assert myself as an individual, rather than letting social conventions define me. It inspired me to go out in the world and make a difference, and to do what I truly wanted to do, rather than what my parents or anybody else wanted or expected to do.

There have been many instances in which I have been criticized or questioned for being a sociology major. Sociology? What are you going to do with that major? Become a teacher or a social worker? How do you expect to feed your family in the future?

I have heard the following quote from a fellow sociology major: “A sociologist is someone who, when a beautiful woman enters the room and everybody looks at her, looks at everyone.” Sociology is a major which teaches us to evaluate the ways in which we present ourselves to others, how we interact with others individually and through a group. It teaches us to analyze and be critical of what we are told by others, whether it be through facts or statistics. We learn to question the structure of the family—and whether human nature is more nature or nurture. We learn to appreciate the beauty of everyday life.

Through the guidance of many of my teachers and mentors at UCLA and in the Sociology department I have been able to participate in so many different opportunities. Through Professor Emerson and Rachel Fretz’s Sociology Immersion Program I have learned to conduct ethnographic research and learning how to appreciate “members meanings.” The graduate students in the sociology department have given me great grad school advice, and told me what it is to truly be a sociologist. Professor Jack Katz gave me the opportunity to help assist him with his research, in which I learned how important it was to be organized, self-driven, as well as professional with my work. I have always looked up to Terri Anderson as my personal mentor, and now she is my faculty mentor for a USIE class that I am teaching which is titled: “Sociology of Facebook and Online Social Networks.”  We truly have one of the most prestigious Sociology programs in the world, which is defined by the professors and teachers whom teach and guide us.

Sociology is not about being passive, it’s about doing. We cannot call ourselves “social scientists” while studying society through a microscope. However we must do sociology through interacting with others and using what we learned to critique and hopefully improve society. I will now share the quote that got me into college and will use it as a springboard as I graduate: As Ghandhi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Passion

In the philosophy of existentialism, to “exist” is to be passionate. Passion gives us the motivation to take control of our lives and gives us a reason to live. According to this philosophy, no matter how many oppressive forces that we have in our lives that may hold us back, we all ultimately have the power to make our own decisions in our lives. College is the first time in our lives that we become independent from our parents by moving into the dorms where there is nobody constantly looking over you and telling you what to do. We get to choose whether we want to wake up in the mornings and go to our lectures, whether we want to study or hang out with our friends, and even what time we can go to sleep. All of this freedom without the constant nagging of our parents.

In college, we are also allowed to choose what classes we want to take and what majors we want to study, instead of being spoon-fed the same curriculums in high school. This freedom can thus empower us with the ability to shape the context of our own education, but it can create a ton of stress as well. Although we no longer live with our parents while we are in school, there can be constant family pressure to pursue a certain major or field of study for us to be “successful.” We are often told to choose “practical” majors which will give us high-paying jobs that are full of prestige such as being a doctor, a lawyer, or even an engineer.

However you must decide to choose a major which you are passionate about. You cannot let your parents dictate what you are to study. I have a great first-hand experience when it comes to this. When I was entering college, my parents wanted me to be a doctor and thus I chose Biology as my major. However only a few weeks in the curriculum, I found that I genuinely despised the material and didn’t feel that I was getting anything fulfilling from it. I told my parents and they told me to simply “suck it up” and continue. I attempted to just “stick it out,” but I found myself getting more and more depressed the further I delved into the subject material. I knew that I had to switch my major and pursue another major that I was truly passionate about to find meaning and satisfaction.

I soon stumbled upon Sociology and it sounded interesting as it addressed many different subject matters when it comes to society. And with it piquing my interest, I made the plunge and took a leap of faith and changed my major. After a quarter of studying Sociology, I knew that I made the right decision. I found myself for the first time in my life actually wanting to go to class and I immersed myself into the class materials and readings. I felt empowered by the knowledge that I was learning and my world-view started to change. I started to see things for the way they truly were, rather than what I was taught to believe by society. And three years later after my freshman year, I find myself wanting to get a Masters and a PhD in the field.

Family pressures can often be a very difficult obstacle to overcome, but you must realize that in the end, you are the one who can make the ultimate decision. Regardless of how much pressure you may face, you are the only one able to choose your major, not your mom or your dad. Sure your parents may even threaten of disowning you if you decide to pursue History or another major instead of being that world-famous doctor they wanted you to be, but don’t worry; those are all bluffs. Your parents have dedicated the last 18 years or so raising you with love and support, so they will continue to support you regardless  of what decisions you make.

So decide to pursue what you are truly passionate about, not what makes a lot of money or sounds “practical.” College is not job training, it is “life training.” Through college, you learn about the world around you and learn to see it in a different way, while developing the critical skills in being an independent thinker. You will also learn how to better interact with other people and create some of the deepest bonds in your life. You have only one life to live. Live life to the fullest without regrets. After all, if you don’t pursue your passions, you will always feel empty and longing for more. And on a philosophical level, fail to even exist.

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus

So I recently threw the audiobook of “Men are from Mars,Women are from Venus” into my mp3 player and recently finished it. It was fascinating to listen to, but I couldn’t help but squirm when the author constantly used words like “different” and “natural” to explain many of the male/female gender differences.

Having taken a Sociology of the Family class last quarter (which is also a women studies class) I have learned much when it comes to the difference between “sex“and “gender.” These two concepts may sound identical and interchangeable, but the subtle difference in the definition in the words makes all the difference. Sex is what you are born with and what you cannot change, for example having male or female body parts. Gender, on the other hand, refers more towards your sexual identity in which one acts typically “masculine” or “feminine.” Therefore a person may be a man by sex by having male body parts, but by dressing in a typically female way and talking in a high voice that person’s gender would female. So in a nutshell, sex is determined biologically, whereas gender is socially constructed.

Never once in the book does the author mention these societal differences between men and women and sticks true to his hypothesis that “Men are from Mars, and Women are from Venus,” asserting that differences in communication and understanding in men and women are based on biological reasons. And according to him, because men and women are so inherently different, we must accept these differences and treat our partners differently with this in mind.

The author states that men hold true to values such as courage, strength and power, they are naturally more goal-oriented when it comes to problems and often “retreat into their caves” when they are having problems to “deal with it themselves.” However females are “naturally” more gentle, caring, and emotional which causes them to rather seek people to listen and support them when they are going through problems and become more social when stressed or going through problems. So therefore if you learn to accept these inherent differences between men and women and learn how to act loving and supporting in the light of this, your relationship with your partner is supposed to get much better.

It is strange because while listening to this book, a lot of it seemed very true. For example I always find myself to “problem solve” whenever people tell me about their problems, and I recall hearing that women like to “voice out their emotions” and just want others to “listen” to their problems rather than try to solve their problems.

However there are many loose ends in this book which it does not address. How do you treat your partner if they are gay, lesbian, or even transgender? This is when the gender lines become blurred and not so concrete. Do you treat your partner more according to his/her gender? Or his/her sex? And not by delving into some of the sociological topics when it comes to gender, I feel that the author loses his credibility (especially by having a PhD). I would have given the author more credibility if he said that these differences between males and females were socially constructed and thus by identifying these gender differences we must act accordingly, but by making it a biologically-driven argument I refuse to listen to what he says.

But in the end (what makes this still worth reading/listening to) is that the author ultimately preaches the messages of love and acceptance. We can’t always expect to mold our partners into the people that we want them to be, and must accept them for who they are. This shouldn’t discourage us, however, from trying to change some of their bad habits that may be destructive. But if your partner is a little forgetful or foolish sometimes we should let those instances just slide by. And also by spending more time to listen to your partner is a good one too. Although he directs the “listening” argument more towards women, men and women should both strive to listen to each other more. By listening to one another we can get a better feel of how they are feeling which will ultimately make them feel more loved and cared for.

But this is simply my opinion of the book. Yours may differ. But if you decide to listen to it, don’t take everything for truth. Just because it is written in a book by a guy with a PhD. doesn’t mean that he is entirely right. This is one of the most important things that I learned through college. To hold true to your own beliefs and don’t simply just throw them away when someone tells you otherwise if on TV, the internet, or even a book.

My simple piece of relationship advice is the golden rule said by Jesus over two thousand years ago which still holds true today: “Love one another as you would like to be loved.”