Biased for honesty, blind to the facts

What do I value? I value honesty. I’ve known this for a long time. Recently, though, I’ve realized how the value has gotten a bit puffy in my head. It’s become a bias, because that’s how a bias operates: it starts as a healthy appreciation for something before inflating like a balloon until it blocks our view of other equally or more important things. It’s so ridiculous! It makes me laugh. But first, I’ll explain.

There was a guy I met in college who I saw pretty regularly for a brief period of time. We met through my advanced Korean class; I was a junior, he was a grad student in East Asian Studies. I don’t know what else to call it other than a semi-regular thingie because we never ventured off the comforts of campus together and there was neither commitment nor risk involved. It did feel vaguely exclusive and intriguing. We would sit and talk for hours at a cafe outside one of the libraries and he was pretty affectionate. And, now that I’m writing this post, I remember how it all started. He had asked for my phone number early in term to get to know me more. He told me all about a paper he was developing—just a personal project, independent of his degree—about his philosophy on relationships: an intricate model involving levels of intimacy and an interesting labeling system. Looking back, that conversation probably solidified my interest in him because at least one efficient way to my heart is through my head, and discussing interpersonal relationships fascinates me anyway.

After a couple of weeks, I recall him holding my hand by that library cafe and telling me, “I want you to know I’m really interested in you, and once I really start liking a girl, I’ll want to have sex pretty soon.” Okay, but what I actually heard was: “I’m not afraid to broach awkward topics, and you can trust me to be honest with you.” All I heard was quality of honesty, and my attraction to him skyrocketed, which inevitably led to major confusion on my part once he stopped calling, things started feeling tense in class and our connection was clearly cut.  Continue reading

20 Qs on 20s: Question 2, on dating in New York

This is a series of interviews with friends between 20 and 29 years of age. The aim of this series is not to capture anyone’s individual identity, but rather to glimpse the bigger beyond of what it’s kinda, generally like to be a “twentysomething” these days. I’m attempting a word-based pointillism.

Question 2: Great. You’re a woman in your 20s in New York City. What is great and/or what do you hate about dating in this city? Continue reading

20 Qs on 20s: Question 1, on issues in general

This is a series of interviews with friends between 20 and 29 years of age. The aim of this series is not to capture anyone’s individual identity, but rather to glimpse the bigger picture beyond of what it’s kinda, generally like to be a “twentysomething” these days. I’m attempting a word-based pointillism.

Question 1: What’s an issue you have seen or are experiencing that seems particular to your 20s? (Or, at least, you really hope so.) Continue reading

The literate city

On my way to yoga one morning, I selected five books for free off the stoop of a neighbor’s brownstone, halting my frenetic walk (I was late) to peruse the unsupervised pile. On my way back home an hour later, I picked up another four books from yet another generous house front. This another-man’s-treasure thing goes on all the time around here, so I’m no longer confused or suspicious (This must be a trick?!) by it. At the same time, I can’t forget how special it is. Around these brownstone neighborhoods, people leave out books left and right. There’s even a house with a standing red receptacle labeled “Lending Library.” I’ve checked it repeatedly; it’s definitely in use. This local circulation of books provides a glimpse into our neighbors’ interior, book-filled lives and still it’s only one of the signs. People here are reading so much that the fact spills out everywhere. It’s a bit of a dream.

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The “semantics of love”

“Semantics of love” is not my term. D and I were at our usual downtown coffee shop when she said it. I didn’t understand at first, but she kept talking and it made sense. People say “love” to convey different things and in reference to different histories. For her, in Spanish, in Puebla, Mexico where she’s from, it’s not something she would ever utter to most friends, acquaintances or strangers. She thoughtfully counted on her fingers the number of people to whom she has said it. She explained the physical ache it denotes. Continue reading

Two Type A girls and Brooklyn real estate

At 10:45 p.m. two Wednesdays ago, my roommate and I got confirmation that our landlord was forcibly removing our third roommate because of her dog, reclassifying our 3-BR into strictly 2-BR only, and inviting us two to stay and swallow the costs of that change. By 11 p.m., we had decided that we wouldn’t; we were going to strike it out on our own. By 11:15 p.m. we were scouring the frenetic mess of housing websites and sending brokers polite but hurried messages (“Hi, we are two working female professionals… loved your listing… background checks are no problem… free for a viewing Thursday night?”). By 1 a.m., we were feeling it: the pressure cooker process of finding our new home in New York.

This process has been STRESSFUL, and the following are some of the observations we made along the way. Continue reading

Attempts to escape personalization

About a month ago, I was doing some hesitant online looking at an item from a rather expensive store called Anthropologie. Around that time, I also clicked through a promotional email informing me about Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “The King & I” on Broadway. Both situations were unusual for me: online shopping is foreign territory for me, which also explains why all my online ads suddenly turned into pictures of Anthropologie pants and “The King & I” logo. It was like that scene where Dumbledore claps his hands and all of the Great Hall banners go from celebrating Slytherin to Gryffindor. Obviously, my situation involved less magic and more browser cookies, search histories and a debate about the merits of consumer privacy. Plus, most people my age are familiar with this minor annoyance. I’m playing catchup on trendy issues, as usual.

Still, I’ve now spent a good month imagining what it must have been like when the Internet was shiny and new and online advertising wasn’t as pervasive. I’ve heard the Internet was hailed as a portal for exploration. I’ve heard it was going to help solve the problem of closed-mindedness. It was a Pandora’s box of surprises!

The Internet I know today is an echo chamber where my interests are repeated back to me. This is partly because I can’t escape myself. I gravitate toward the headlines that tell me what I’m already inclined to believe or support—”When it comes to clean water, some say Silicon Valley is all talk” and “‘No Kardashian Parking’ Signs Crop Up In Hollywood” and “South Korea is both exasperated by its wealthy — and obsessed with them—such that even if I’m learning something, it’s in the bucket of topics I’m already pursuing. But it’s also because the websites I see and the companies they advertise help feed those topics back to me, too. There’s a strong relationship between “customer engagement,” or keeping someone on your website for as long as possible, and “personalization,” or giving you more of what you’ve already picked. It results in the concierge service of the “Recommended for you” sidebar, a beguiling vicious cycle.

A more fitting analogy for the Internet might be a house of mirrors. In these freaky sideshows, one steps through the doors for a chance to look into a seeming infinity at every corner, an endless vision of distance and light and perspective. In reality, the visitor is in a tiny room, surrounded by mirrors, looking at himself, over and over again.

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