Friday, February 11, 2011

How life (and the energy conversation) are like a long, awkward first date

Today, a friend of mine sent me a link to an article about finding love--rather specifically, in the Modern Love column of the NY Times, the article entitled "GPS on a Path to the Heart."  This friend and I frequently speak about dating, the ups and downs, the frustrations, and the basic lack of self-awareness I have in regards to what I want as an outcome from my gallivanting about New York City.  I think we did reach a breakthrough today however (to end that bit on a more positive note).

The thing is--neither of us are looking for a long term relationship at the moment.  But this article was talking a bit comedically mind you about modern ways of attracting other mates (i.e. via texting, Twitter, using Craigslist and having people apply to date you).  We all know how much I love Twitter--so my attention finally caught on there.

The columnist, Daniel Jones, was talking about "seducing" other people on Twitter, via a mysterious picture (i.e. one where you may not be able to exactly see what a person looks like), but can ascertain that they are A) attractive and B) through their tweets--it's apparent they have a "good" personality (they've got the "wit" in "Twitter").

A back and forth may begin (which I personally like to call "flittering"--my portmanteau for twitter flirting), but then what?  The in-person meet cute will be almost ridiculously impossible to live up to after all of the "twitty" banter back and forth online, right?

Jones says, "Of course, it’s almost impossible in these circumstances for the encounter to live up to the fantasy. Which is the downside of imagining one’s romantic future based on a smattering of thumbnail images and glib phrases. Which is increasingly how we meet each other these days. Uh-oh."

Yes--uh-oh.  The question emerges:  How do we better personify our online glib selves into our actual in 3-D person to person interactions (with even more depth and honesty of course)?  The first thought that came to mind was along the lines of allowing more silences to pervade our conversations--time to think and filter what we say.  But I don't foresee the penetration of the "awkward silence" increasing in the near future.

The reason I'm even talking about this relationship commentary on a blog supposedly about music and the environment, is that I see this pervade both the music industry and the environmental movement (and energy industry too).

Let's focus on energy (for now).  If you spend any amount of time reading about energy--regardless of your political leaning--whether it be in the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, NY Times, The Economist, Time Magazine, The Guardian, (insert any news source you like here--you get it)--there is not a lack of strong arguments (especially for increasing our clean energy and clean tech).  Arguments are well-formed, sometimes bipartisan, sometimes non-partisan, and most have a substantial precedent in talking about that which they address (in that we've been dependent on energy, no matter the form, forever ish).  We even know the background to some extent of the people formulating these arguments, and a lot of the time--they should be doing what they are doing.

These articles are glib.  What?  Didn't I just argue that they are well-formed?  Well yes--they are well-formed.  They are somewhat persuasive.  At a basic level, they make sense.  In adding political context and economic and financial context, further understanding may be brought to the table as to why our economy does not in fact have more clean tech.  But--they are glib (definition: lacking in intellectual depth) for the previous reason.  It's rare that a holistic reference appears in each article (i.e. they assume previous or background knowledge to a point) and most importantly, they aren't as easily brought to 3-D person to person interactions!

In no way am I arguing that all of these articles talking about energy are not incredibly valuable and important and sometimes even policy shifting.  What I am saying is that the energy movement still is failing to deeply engage those it needs to engage most.  Like the environmental movement for the last 40+ years, we are still disengaging those we need most to make lasting changes.

Is it the job of the journalists to fix this?  No.  They're already all doing a seriously awesome job covering the issues.  But we're missing an integral layer in the human interactions and conversations surrounding energy, and an even thicker set of layers for that surrounding the environment.

We're missing the human layer. The layer that brings online banter and conversations to life, and really begins an invigorating, two-way relationship.  Like dating (especially online), the most important moment is the first few minutes of your real 3-D interaction.  But, from what I've witnessed, we're missing out on this unbelievably short but valuable time, and jumping straight to the point.

Take this date that I went on the other night for example.  We messaged back and forth for around 3 weeks before we met in person.  We both cared about international relations, had similar childhoods, loved to travel, liked good indie music (or so I thought), and were excited about where we lived (NYC).  But what we failed to do was take a step back, and allow for the seemingly unimportant banter back and forth of the first few minutes of meeting a potential romantic partner.  We didn't let anything build up...we'd already said so much in our emails, that we treated our in person interaction as a continuation of the emails.

What's so exciting about first dates is not in fact a deep conversation about issues you care about--but the simple treasures you can find out about another person (hobbies like rock climbing, that they had a really silly broken bone story from college, or that their last date was ridiculously awkward, you get my point).  It's the in-between the lines stuff that really builds a relationship that is more comfortable--one where both parties can actually dig deeper eventually, feeling as though there has been some give and take on a lesser layer or plane, what have you.

We're missing this fluffy comfort level in our energy conversation.  The environmental movement has a heck of a lot more layers to build--but I think the energy conversation is a lot closer to being understood on both sides.  But what we have yet to build is that cushy layer of comfort and trust between all parties.

I don't really know how to step backwards from where we are and reestablish each actor involved as a real person.  I think some developmental psychology, and some dating advice could in fact come in hand.  Just like romantic relationships, we need to have a strong ground from which to build a longer lasting sustainable human relationship into energy issues.

But many of our movements have started off with strong online conversation, and excruciatingly terrible first dates.  How do you build a substantive, fulfilling relationship after your first date didn't meet your expectations?

It's pretty darn hard.  And I think that's akin to what we're up against with energy and the environment--a bad first date that's extended for a darn long time.

Has anyone ever had an absolutely wretched first date, and then ended up with the person?  I would bet this is the case (and I know of friends who have).  This is what gives me hope (both for myself, and for the energy and environmental movements of course).

More on the music industry and dating next time!  Happy Valentines Day in advance, and here's to turning what's been a long and unpleasant first date into a sustainable and engaging relationship around energy.



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