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This Semester, October 11, 1998 :: Ben Turner's Soapbox

 

the soapbox @ benturner.com
archived soapbox: October 11, 1998
"This Semester" [permalink]
    keywords: transparency, personal, internet
    soapbox #: 157
    written: October 11, 1998
    words: 3360

"This Semester", an Essay

I'm human. That's right. Did you lose sight of that? Strip away this carefully tweaked web site, peel off the persona of pomp and arrogance...what you have is, plainly, me. A college student, aged 20. I have to get up and go through the daily grind just like everyone else -- I'm not just a scripted bot seeking to entertain you while you stay at my site.

Separation of a personal site persona and the actual person is more difficult than you'd imagine. Example: I had lunch with Bill Osborg last week, who I've known for awhile now through our web sites. I've had lunch with him before. To this date, he's the only person even remotely related to web design that I've met in real life. Shows you how much a part I am of this great community of web folks. Bill's cool though -- he's one of those people who are outgoing both online and offline -- so although he's more like himself online, it's still strange combining the two personae of online and offline into the same person.

If you ever see me at one of those web developer conferences, give me a swift kick in the butt, okay? I shouldn't be there. First of all, I'm only a marginal contributor to this medium and have made little impact on the progress of the use of technology, so slumming with the hotshots like Powazek and Zeldman and Davis isn't in my cards... Second, attending any sort of conference just gives me the spooks -- it's like going to an X-Files conference. Hehe. The first fifteen minutes are kind of cool as you look at the memorabilia and lithographs and other strange fan currency, but after awhile you just stop and look around and wonder what the Hell got into you. The only convention I went to, I left after about twenty minutes (after paying an exorbitant entrance fee), feeling disenchanted and disconnected.

Web personalities are like Beanie Babies, which should be kept in the original McDonald's plastic bag and retain the original nametag. You can collect them, but their value goes down as soon as you actually touch them. They're so keeyyyy-oooot!

Look at it this way: people with personal sites write in a sort of grandiloquent, rambly style (except me, of course ;) ) that's somewhat hip right now, so they click with their readers.

But meet these people in person. No one SPEAKS like they do online. It's fake and shallow. They're regular people. They have worries and bills and insecurities and hobbies, and they speak normally and use normal colloquial English, with a few exceptions. It's normal. If you met me, you wouldn't think much of me, I'm sure -- I don't come off as an interesting person. I bumble and don't explain what I'm thinking well enough. Fun, fun, fun.

So, my point... My point is that I have read some journals that do such a horrible job of explaining who the author is and what motivates him. I hate reading journals when I don't even know the person's name. I hate journals that throw in names and events without ever having previously or presently providing background information. One reason I don't like most online journals is because of these reasons -- these people don't differentiate themselves from the others. Sites like puce.com and justin.org make it perfectly clear who they are. Those are the sites I like.

Now, in an attempt to give you some perspective as to who I am and what material things I'm doing in the real world, instead of on this fantasy land of growing commercialization and isolation, I humbly present this Soapbox to you. This summation of material facts should give your impressions of me some color.

An eight paragraph set-up. Brilliant, Ben.

(You might want to read the autobio first.)

As I said, I'm 20 years old right now, turning 21 the same week I'm planning to go to a big festival in Philadelphia as representative of my company and webmaster for the festival's site.

I am Ben Turner, half-English, half-Chinese. I'm a junior at the University of Texas at Austin, pursuing a major in Latin and minors in Business Foundations, Greek, and possibly one other minor, if I can swing it.

My classes this semester are business law foundations, intro. Greek, management information systems foundations (MIS), and intro. psychology. Registration for next semester is coming up, and I'm looking at taking intro. Greek (2nd semester), marketing, intro. philosophy, and parageography.

At this point in my college career, I'm undecided about going to graduate school and I've finished most all of my requirements with three semesters to go. I have 90 hours, which puts me about a semester ahead of the normal path. What this means is that I have approximately three semesters to take any courses I want while finishing up the classes for my minors. I've finished the Latin component of my major and that's why I've begun Greek this semester. If all goes well, I plan to continue Greek until I graduate, but I want to start another language in my senior year. It would be confusing at times to study a language from scratch while taking reading courses in Greek, but it's something I'll have to do.

Italian? French? German? Spanish? Swedish? I can't really decide, and I can only take one of them while I'm here at UT. On one hand, Swedish would be useful because Anna's family is in Sweden and it would aid communication with parents-in-law I'd know for a very long time. German would be useful since it's unlike the other languages. I have a foundation in romantic languages already. But French is a beautiful language and I could see myself using it more than the other languages.

I also have time to take philosophy and linguistics, two other areas I'm interested in. As far as business goes, I'm getting out of it as soon as I can...and computer science, well, it would help me out, so I'm considering it too.

I work with computers in the rest of my time. I design web sites and banners with a couple companies, and when the projects get handed down, free time gets cut down to zilch. I'm picking up new tech and also am trying to find practical ways to practice Java and C, two languages I've read books about, but never really had a reason to use. I use UNIX for file management on remote servers and use Win98 at home on a home-built system...the technical aspects are interesting to me. I enjoy playing and testing games, seeing what's hot and what's out.

No, this pursuit does not match up with my major, but considering that it hasn't held me back professionally at all, I don't see the point in listening to arguments against such a path. I don't regret my liberal arts education. The sad thing is that non-liberal arts people think I do. Or something.

They're not sure what to think, perhaps.

"We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, 'O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless -- of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life? Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.' That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?"

-Keating

I have a girlfriend, Anna, who is my love and my life. I talk to her every day online, since she lives in Sweden. A lot of people refuse to think this relationship is a lasting one, a working one. They also don't see the logic behind it. Fulfillment and complete trust are two things I would recommend these people look for in their partners. I don't expect people to understand this relationship, what with their dour expectations from love, but they could at least be in awe.

And that's my song. That's my official line, what I tell people who ask about me. It sounds nice and rosy, and if you're reading this, you probably wanted me to shut up about six paragraphs ago. Well, I agree. Who wants to hear about it? Who cares? You're an egotistic jerk, Ben.

The more realistic story of my present life is as follows: I stay up, at this point in the semester (the slow part), until about 3AM or 5AM working on various projects or studying Greek or wasting time. I get up around 9AM or 10AM, feeling like shit, and then I take a shower, get out of the shower, and become the target of a thermodynamics war as cold air hits my warm, boyish rough skin. I shamble off to class, leaving fifteen minutes before the hour, if I'm feeling responsible that day.

Class is a daze. I'm one of those people who sit in the back, or on the outside...anywhere with a wall on one side. I hate having people sitting behind me. I'm quiet and I don't contribute. I really don't have any reason not to. I'm aware of that. I turn in my homework, understand the lectures, take decent notes. You know. I learn a lot, but I'm no shining example of the prodigious, gifted, intellectually stimulated and stimulating student. My dad's a professor -- he'd hate me as a student in his class.

I eat cafeteria meals 14 times a week. Let me tell you, those delectable dishes such as eggplant wafers and dehydrated chicken are to die for. How DO they wrap up the knife and jackhammer so tightly inside the napkin?

I get average grades. I think of myself as perceptive and a fast learner, but I have a low B average for my GPA. It's not that I don't have the mind to understand it, because I'm dead-on on concepts. It's just that I don't put enough time into studying to grasp the intricate details and nuances that are expected of me. The strange thing is that I don't really care. Call it immature or lazy...I just don't see the point of memorizing details which you'll only see on a test. It's the high schooler mentality. Well, almost. I'm very strict on internalizing the conceptual aspects of a course. That is, I do not know all the specifics, but I could give you dozens of different resources in a small amount of time telling you where you COULD find those specifics. In this era of cataloguing, collecting, referencing, I suppose I've just grown up knowing how to find things instead of knowing those things verbatim.

I remember reading Ben Brown's work and he'd talk about what his professor discussed in the day's psychology class. That whole passage threw me for a loop -- Ben Brown didn't seem like a college student and it was hard to picture him sitting amongst hundreds of frat and sorority kids while the professor boggled them with r and K behaviors. Okay, maybe it's hard to picture him in class at all.

So I get home from class every fucking day, and then I relax by talking to Anna. She's a soothing constant in my life, and I love her for it, as well as for making me feel like I'm the best man in the world. Anna is so far away, in Stockholm, but her power as a human lets her affect the heart of her devoted man even from thousands of miles away. I thank whoever's responsible for me having her in love with me, quite often. We talk for a couple hours or so every day -- whatever we can manage with the time zone difference and school schedules -- and we trade other communications. It works. It works tremendously well. I love that woman.

My evenings are spent hitting the stops on the Web for information and the latest news, answering e-mail in such a droll style that I'm ashamed of what I write most often, updating various sites I maintain, or playing games. Sure, I study. Sure, I work. But time's taken out for watching Fox, that awesome channel which provides us with all those shows we're embarrassed to enjoy, like the Simpsons, X-Files, Millennium, Brimstone, When Animals Attack, Cops, Springer, Melrose Place, Seinfeld, NYPD Blue, and so on. Not that I watch any of them...<ahem> Maybe just some of them. It's the only channel I watch, really. Your options are limited when your non-cable TV picks up only Fox and the Trinity Broadcasting Network clearly. Although the religious Superfly and God vs. Satan can be fun to watch sometimes.

I check the MUDs and even IRC every once in awhile, dropping in on The Zone and Six Degrees and Quake/Quake 2 servers. I'll usually have several browsers open for looking at different sites, and also telnet to various shells to maintain things. I check out pirated games (I do actually pay for applications) and listen to pirated MP3s. I know what you're thinking. Pathetic college student computer geek loser. Well, yes. That's how it goes. No one will tell you they pirate, but they do. Maybe not so far as to know people who are couriers and end-users, but I'm pretty sure most any personal site out there has an author sitting behind it typing away at a disjointed web site journal entry using pirated FrontPage or Word or something, with MP3s blaring in the background (Ani DiFranco for those girly teens, Puff Daddy for the guys, Tori Amos for the guys who wish they were girls). With the identity that the Internet has, what do you think the commercialization of it brings? It brings a world of freedom of information together with a world of anal pricemarking, the end result being an Internet rife with illegal activity and a contingent of companies and people who hate what the Internet has done to them.

My social interaction level is at a minimum -- I can't really stand other people very much -- so I'm not a fratboy or a clubhopper or one of those people who go to the library to "study". My social circle is quite small. It, of course, does not bother me in the least. And when you're in love, doing things without your partner is nowhere near as sweet, and in some ways you feel guilty for doing it.

I live a very comfortable life, when put in perspective, and I'm very lucky compared to a lot of people out there. It's not like I'm bitching about what life is like -- I'm just letting you know what's up with me. Many people have to contend with lives without parents or with a violent assault or tragedy... I'm lucky enough to be comfortable financially and to have a stable family relationship with two very cool parents. I don't lose sight of how fortunate I am.

The worst part of my life, as I periodically write in the Soapbox, is that I'm constantly doubting my abilities. The more I learn, the less I find that I know. That is, as I discover more about history and the world, the more apparent it is to me that I'm a nobody in the grand scheme of things. My writing's unclear and unfocused. My designs are simple -- my portfolio thus far embarrassing. My grades are average. A million more things wrong with me that need correcting. I'm learning a lot, but it's going to take me perhaps half a decade at least to begin learning lessons from the self-corrective stage I'm in now. This period in my life keeps me honest and keeps me striving to become better, so I wouldn't say it affects me negatively or detrimentally at all.

One of the worst things you can do to yourself is deny your weaknesses.

This is who I am. Oh sure, I could throw in some witty quotes from classic works of literature, and I could quote some rarely-heard-yet-still-amazingly-cool music group's lyrics. But I'll be honest with you -- I think that when I (and most others) do that, it's a conscious effort to find a quote in order to impress. Unless you think people just rattle off the perfect quote from memory in order to make a concept more tangible. Yeah right. It's all for show. One of the most common tools for the personal site author is a book of quotations. I recommend Bartlett's Familiar Quotations if you really want to impress! ;)

At the root of it, I'm a guy who creates mediocre work, gets only a few hours of sleep during the week, and who has a lot to experience in life before I can say I know what I'm talking about. I'm young and I have many years to go yet before I reach anything close to a level of expertise or mastery. Nevertheless, I continue to write and publish my thoughts online because I need a catharsis, and also because I want to contribute to a medium which has made such a difference in my life and in this period of history. I can also plot my progress based on the work on my site.

I don't ask for much from you, reader, except that you look past your own perceptions of me and see what I have to say as a whole, and not deconstruct my arguments ruthlessly and without any care. I know most people are immediately turned off by my tone, and I know some make rash judgments about me because of a few small problems they had with something I wrote. I know some people send gushing e-mails to me professing their respect. I have spent this Soapbox pointing out that I am not perfect, nor do I consider myself perfect. Far from it, actually. Most of the comments I get about what I write are directed at the tone of the content, and not the content itself. The very nature of a rant is intended to get you riled up and to project an air of superiority in that situation. I know that already. The reader should as well. So stop sending me letters bitching about my tone!

I am fully capable of writing the objective essay, but I'm not looking to persuade anyone with my writing. This is a crucial thing to keep in mind when reading what I say. I'm venting, ranting, getting out excess frustration. 'Kay?

I'm also fully capable of writing a more genuine, confessional essay, much like this one. I have no problem admitting my weaknesses and comparing them to my strengths. Lots of people make sure I know about every single chink in my armor. Believe me.

But I've chosen this way of doing things, and I'm subject to the limits and freedoms that it grants me. The nature of the rant is mine, but the ideas are for everyone to talk about. Put up with it.

I'm Ben Turner. I'm very human. Abnormally so. Nice to meet you. I am an experiment. Feel free to observe. Do you have a better idea of who I am now?


 
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