Reflecting On Social Media

The current crisis has cleared the road for social media to incise further and deeper into social life. After corona’s final nudge, social media’s unstoppable advancement seems self-evident. Critique, regarding modern technology has shifted rapidly from philosophical to pragmatical. From ‘why do we need it?’ to ‘how do we successfully implement it?’.

Time for the social writer to shift back gears, question the topic in itself and revise some of its sly unintended outcomes. These are earnest effects on the psyche that are difficult to disclose, as the frame of reference became undetectable by the perfunctory yet lyrical reception of another deliberate digital immersion.

The Digital Paradox

It can strike out of the blue. Perhaps during a calm Sunday walk. Or while spending a breezy day by the sea, trying to escape the online world. But promptly it imposes itself. An uneasy restlessness, maybe discontentment. Missed messages, e-mails, news feeds. Perhaps that upcoming zoom meeting. Online matters that disturb the real-life, ending the serenity as they surface from the subconscious; worries that arise out of the archives of our mind, where they continually reside.

The conscious swiftly detects all the information that could be processed. Then there might be panic. Fear, taking over. Digital opportunities lay thereabouts, stored gigantic data centers, but remain ungratified. It’s alluring, even compelling to give in to its temptation, and grab the phone to quench the digital thirstiness, unlocking yet another problem.

For this submission doesn’t upheave the ongoing uneasiness. In contrast. Vice versa, the mechanism seems to work just the same; feelings of guilt appear when reeling through the superfluous news feed, aware that physical (offline) life passes by meanwhile. Offline-life and its digital counterpart seem to balance each other in a mentally destructive status quo. Frankly, none of the two activities can actually be undertaken independently, free from some sort of sorrow in relation to the other.  

One explanation I’d like to pose might have to do with a simple yet striking paradox, which probably originated at the point when online and physical life had grown equally significant. Roughly, this unprecedented historical marker can be pinned at around 2010. It turned out to be a point of no return. 

After this dichotomy had taken place, life was sliced into two. Social technology ceased to be a mere tool to serve ‘real’ life. Its successful campaign was thought unstoppable. To an equal extent, ‘real’ life started to serve social media. And that’s where the paradox commenced. Because these different lives can, however much we like to believe it, impossibly be combined without entering a state of constant discordance. Out of the blue, there were two worlds that contain enormous significance for our identity, well-being and practical comfort. Using social media was not a choice any more. 

Held In A Stranglehold

Under the surface (and sometimes above), the online and physical world are in constant conflict. They are caught in fierce competition for human lifetime, which, unlike life’s environments, hasn’t multiplied. Who spends time online, pays for it with real life time.

Who spends real life time, pays for it with online time. In both cases, time cannot be retrieved. It’s spent and forever gone. And in both cases, one of the two worlds is excluded. This conflict may bring forth a constant state of incongruence, for one brain cannot live in two worlds simultaneously without a sacrifice.

It doesn’t end there. Inasmuch as the human identity may have multiplied, the ancient physique remains singular. Insecure as it is, the human mind is still attempting to resolve the conflict. Some indulge themselves in the digital world by, for example, excessive gaming. Opposers might fully reject technology and choose digital exile.  

But for the masses, ordinary people, the offered solution only seems to worsen the problem. When attentive in one world, the mind is trying to assert what might be happening in the other, and conversely. This contradiction creates the odd disposition in which the brain is actually in none of these worlds. Neither online, nor in real life. Both digital and physical, the lives lived barely become palpable enough to entice a sense of completeness.

The concept of FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out, hits the spot, yet it falls short. The concept should be perceived in a way broader, far-going sense. For it is a constant restless state, not an incidental fear. The missing out is real. 

The Good Sides

Of all possible addictions, social media must be the most widely integrated and accepted one. Every new technology has, in essence, good sides and bad sides. And it is often the good sides that make us forgive its bad sides. Supporters claim that we would never have mentally coped with the corona lockdowns without online communication tools, which sounds plausible on the surface. Yet, these lockdowns and perhaps the entire crisis would not have lasted this long without such technologies.

Without video-calling for instance, society would come to a complete halt, annihilating social, political and economical spheres. Instead, the western society would’ve had no other choice than to acquiesce with corona’s risks, as seen in the economically less fortunate parts of this world. In this sense it is tricky to praise technology -and essentially everything else- as merely positive: it has suppressed our suffering, but it has also prolonged it.

© Stefan Hoekstra /The Social Writer, 2021. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Header photo: Gian Cescon

Modern Conversations, Ancient Philosophy

Conversating for the sake of conversating; chatting with no specific endeavor. For such -seemingly aimless- talks, there’s no room in modern dialogue . In a competitive meritocracy, being well-opinionated is thought inevitable in regard to almost every topic. And certainly, most certainly not to show any doubt in one’s opinion.

Instead, the current approach seeks to defend personal notions till the last shred of blood, with the support of arguments in abundance. To stand your ground, loaded with empirical and statistical frameworks, that serve as ammunition against the views of opposers. Indeed, as being an autonomous and well-educated grown up, it must be exasperating and indignating when proven -slightly- wrong.

The opinionated approach could work well in the political arena, wherein popularity prevails over truth. But when practiced to excavate original thoughts, its rigidity can turn out to be rather compelling. Having an immovable opinion aims not to increase mutual knowledge, but seeks to stick with the subjective view of oneself. In all its pretentious ambition it prefers to convince others, which is as impossible as it sounds. And when others deploy the same strategy, nothing is achieved but an awkward silence. Any valuable or original knowledge suffers a premature death. What could’ve been an intellectual thought exchange between two mature people, might regress into a malicious, infantile dispute.

To prevent catastrophic escalation, both sides may decide on an unsatisfying cease fire. They would ambitiously try to lift the conversation into more superficial areas, before the emotions set in. But after a vicious dueling with words, diplomatic relations may be irreparable. Possibly, one of the offended parties might even storm out of the arena, leaving both misunderstood and hurt, and definitely reluctant for another chat. Well, at least none of the opinionated strongholds had surrendered. 

It all raises one rhetoric question. When in dialogue, one’s opinion is already unchangeable at the outset, what then, is the purpose of the dialogue itself? In such a case, the ‘dialogue’ is in truth nothing more than two deaf speakers promoting their own dogmatic opinion without rebuttal. It appears steadfast like a rock and ironically leaves no room for the core pursuit of both conversationalists: understanding this complex world (and ourselves) a little bit better. 

An Ancient Solution

Thankfully, there’s a gentle alternative. In ancient Greece they were rather good at it: philosophizing. It’s a less aggressive way of exchanging thoughts, demanding patient acceptance. And, if feasible, a warm roman bath.

The relationship between contemporary dialogue and philosophical reasoning has become quite problematic. In these hasty times, where fastness, profit and decisiveness are demanded to stand a chance, serious philosophizing has no place. It would steal too much precious time.

More than before, philosophizing is seen as something superfluous which, at most, could be saved for the tipsy talks in a murky bar. But in what follows, I will set out how this ancient practice can be the saviour of contemporary conversations. 

Foremost, philosophizing is team-work. As Socrates already understood two-thousand years before these ‘advanced’ times, a hard-fought victory doesn’t have to be the prime condition for a talk to be fruitful. In fact, it often proves to be entirely useless to try and convince another. The aim of philosophizing is, in contrast, to merge the thoughts and curiosity of both sides in order to grow wiser together.

Setting doubt and scepticism as a common starting point, the twofold performance of philosophizing aims to declutter complicated matters in a way that’s advantageous for both sides. What makes this additionally interesting is that its accepting approach uncovers and deepens the level of intimacy between two people. In other words: the outside word cannot be understood without exploring the inner world. Ruthless squabbling over an opinion becomes obsolete, as the cooperation makes rigid opinions become inoperative.

It is curious towards the origins of stringent, protective feelings. The gentle and respectful process soothes the emotional need to protect oneself, after which the mind begins questioning its own dead-locked notions. As such, it clears the way towards a deeper understanding of each other and the world.

This way of talking might reveal a whole range of new perspectives, thoughts and insights. And even without a definite outcome, the act of philosophizing itself can be experienced as sincerely pleasant, for the mind is thoroughly instigated by each other’s shared critical yet respectful attitude towards the same inquisition.

The purpose of philosophizing is therefore not to disagree and convince another, or to make a quick decision; the purpose is to set up a shared cause in search for deeper knowledge.

© Stefan Hoekstra/The Social Writer, 2021. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Crisis Morality: A Short Essay

A kind of tiredness that cannot be resolved by sleep. 

How long can humanity still hold on? The crisis has lasted for around one year now. Personally speaking, psychological resources are nearing a rapid dissolution. Fierce headaches, nightmares and fatigue are besieging my wellbeing. But the worst of all is the plain indifference that’s been holding me in a tight grip over the last month or so. My future self may not believe so, but this enormous, world-scale catastrophe, is gradually becoming the most boring, uninteresting and routine part of my life. 

Conditional Hope

Hope does not console when it is conditional, when it instantly needs to concede a wish for change. Hungry for hope, society sways from press conference to press conference, frozen in an utmost boring and predictable regime: numbers rise, more measures, numbers drop, less measures. If virology isn’t your thing, these times are anything but intriguing. Every month or so, the expected measures are conveyed to ‘the nation’ in a patronizing manner through an equally tedious press conference by a dispiriting prime-minister who lacks vision and imagination. 

As always, the nagging cliche ‘Only together we’ll get control over corona’, laughs at you from the pamphlets of the press conference room. But the ungratified hope has made this unrealistically militant phrase sound ironic by now; like an army general who still believes in victory, not knowing that he’d lost all his troops. Perhaps they need to come up with a new one and add some nuance. ‘Only together we’ll maybe, with luck, get control over corona’, might represent reality better. 

After having seen 835483 of suchlike press conferences – I try to avoid it at all cost- they can merely, with difficulty, squeeze out a cynical grin on my face, while sighing lethargy. Newsreaders on the other hand, tell about the tiniest crisis developments. They do so in an unsuitable uplifting tone of voice; British variant, mutation of the British variant, mutation of the mutation of the British variant and so on. 3rd, 4th, or 50th wave. It cannot engage me any more.

The Lower Compartments

Yet it helps to apply some sort of philosophy to this brain-melting crisis. For there is only one reason that people swallow this way of living -which can hardly be called living. It’s simply because they can still bear with it. Our psychological bunkers are damaged, but haven’t been destroyed just yet. Meanwhile, signs of erosion are slowly presenting themselves. And erosion usually starts at the bottom. At the lowest layer of our society to be exact. As always in human history, it’s the poor who suffer first; One hundred years later, we’re still aboard the Titanic, categorized by the sizes of our wallets.

The noble idea is that society strives to protect the vulnerable ones. We must pauze our lives in favor of the most vulnerable. But ‘vulnerable’, here, is in the physical sense: It implies the elderly, the sick and the weak. But the economically vulnerable ones on the other hand, crammed in small flats with entire families, remain unnoticed. They are locked in the lower compartments of the 2021 Corona Titanic.

But when they suffocate and try to break out, they are arrested, put in jail, publicly condemned and shamed for their behaviour. A more interesting question; not if but when, will the ‘higher economic classes’ try to break free and flee the sinking ship. And will the retaliations be similarly severe?  In another metaphor: when will the bunker’s higher parts start to erode? It’s only a matter of time. 

Temporality Morality

In addition to the previous note, I’d like to emphasize the frailty of normative structures by which we measure good and evil. Recent riots as an answer to the curfew demand a closer examination of crisis morality. For morally condemning an act according to man made ethics will always be faulty to some extent. One cannot have moral judgements about past (or future) events, based on today’s morality, without harming the truth. Those who fully supported the corona measures last year, but have reconsidered their opinion today, are not hypocrite or contradictory, or ignorant to the threat.

Liquid Virtue

They have simply shifted their principles alongside dynamic crisis developments. Norms and values are superfluous and deserve a healthy dose of scepticism. The rioters who’ve set the Netherlands in fury and flame after the dubious implementation of a curfew are condemned today, but might be understood tomorrow.

We mustn’t forget that we rely on a changeable set of fleeting, fluid normative structures, invented by imperfect species (humans). Morality has no ties with any natural order. Virtues are not infinite or universal, not even international. This sort of easy shifting might seem both terrifying and liberating; We claim to disregard violence in itself, label young protesters as ‘criminals’, but make an exception for police violence. Football hooligans on the other hand, who ‘helped the police’, become heroes. 

A Choice

Another example; an authoritarian regime might sound unthinkable in the Netherlands. Yet we live deliberately under such a regime right now.Every few weeks, the cabinet might decide regulations that affect our lives more and more severely, and of which the subsequent political debate is purely theatrical. For indeed, all regulations are implemented out of ‘inevitable (technocratic) necessity’. Discussion, the foundation of democracy, seems therefore obsolete. The political arena is surpassed. We live in an empty shell of what once could be called ‘democracy’. And we are (still) alright with it. 

But it’s only the government’s promise of temporality which allows people to acquaint themselves with this more and more restricted life. Normative shifting goes almost unnoticed, perhaps in a way that the so-called decent people will be protesting themselves when time and psychological exhaustion will grant them the possibility. Will they, then, be condemned by their past selves? It is good to remember that all of it is a choice, be it political or social. The reaction to the virus remains an intentional human choice. 

© Stefan Hoekstra & Marina Pribylskaia/The Social Writer, 2021. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Photo Credit: John Webster

Corona Diary #9

Stay safe, stay (physically) healthy. Written on 09-01-2021.

The above-mentioned cliche still loudly reverberates from last year. A particular kind of health is meant here, since societies have fixated most of their efforts on harboring physical health, but have undervalued mental wellbeing. As mental health is declining rapidly, we’re facing a very crude choice: mental health versus physical health. 

We’ve entered a rather curious phase under the corona reign. Its last breath is at hand, if we must believe optimistic virologists. But in contrast to the cheerfulness about ongoing vaccinations, a swift end to the pandemic may be found downright unimaginable; at the doorstep of our long awaited liberation, corona bashes upon us at the peak of her power. 

Record breaking infection rates have unlocked another series of relentless lockdowns and curfews, that ought to strip life from all its pleasure and distraction, hence ensuring minimal social contact. 

Parks are possibly the best places to observe whether citizens indeed comply with these relentless measures or not. And an afternoon stroll through an Amsterdam park reveals to me more than a thousand statistics; they do not. Visitors clutter together in large flocks despite a bitter windchill and the threat of being infected. Moreover, inhabitants seem to embrace a rather bohemian lifestyle; they’re dancing in the eye of the corona storm, and take the risks for granted. 

United in their hunger for sociability, crowds crack open bottles of beer or inhale the intoxicating fumes from a joint, stand in long queues towards Glühwein stalls and laugh their sorrows away with strangers. Spontaneous and carefree scenes, smiles on many faces, uplifted chatter. The behavior doesn’t arise from denial or stupidity; it is, especially in this phase, an inevitable necessity. After one year of being bombarded by inescapable corona news, hooking our attention into every tiny development, these can only be conscious, well weighed decisions. A heartbreaking dilemma between one’s own mental health or the physical health of another.  

During the first wave, the task seemed feasible, the strong must protect the weak, simply by staying indoors and avoiding contact. Yet, growing disobedience proves indeed that after a year of neglected social needs, the mental capacity to fulfill our duty is evaporating. The source of psychological resilience, of human closeness, has been exhausted at last. Mental illness is lurking, and has become equally threatening as its physical counterpart. 

Contrary to Camus’ description of The Plague, in which Oran is slowly dying from unknown and superior enmity, we are in a crisis that obviously feeds itself on social interaction. To retain good mental condition, togetherness is a key component, especially amidst fearful times. Mental vitality is an often underestimated, nonetheless unmissable precondition in order to win any physical battle. Tragically, it is this subtle individual nuance, untouched by statistics, that has perished at this crucial point. At the moment we need it the most. 

Cover art: Pierre Auguste-Renoir, Le Bal du Moulin de la Galette, 1876. Public Domain. Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

© Stefan Hoekstra/The Social Writer, 2021. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Corona Diary #8

The waterbed-effect, Written on 21-12-2020

Lately I’ve been searching for a comfortable bed that would suit my new apartment. It wasn’t easy. There’s a vast multitude of beds and mattresses, ranging from simple wooden frames to fairy tale princess beds that would only fit if you’d own a castle. During the hunt for a bed, I began to notice the absence of something reasonably common in my childhood, and considered an item of sheer luxury: the waterbed. 

This wobbly bag filled with water promised its customers the most comfortable and healthy night’s rest one could imagine.  Being a kid, its curious workings had always intrigued me. In shops, I would jump onto it, observing the flow of water shifting towards the other side, from where an imaginary person would be launched into the sky; the water needs to go somewhere.

Why am I talking about waterbeds? Well, a high speed train of thought made me connect it to the current management of the corona crisis, somehow. A second lockdown has been implemented for a week now. It’s more rigorous than the previous one in April, which still allowed some sort of human gatherings. 

Now, all public places have shut down for five weeks, except life supply shops. The maximum group size is two people. Christmas is cancelled, new year’s eve paralyzed. Yet, as research (my empiric personal observation) shows, the second lockdown doesn’t generate the effect as did the first one, despite being the strictest lockdown since the crisis began. There’s no spine chilling silence that dominates the streets, like in April. People go out and about. 

Undoubtedly, many of us are complacent and follow the rules obediently. But the willingness has notably decreased with this second lockdown. Like the distribution of water in a bag, people seem to disperse wherever the government puts the pressure. The water doesn’t disappear, it relocates elsewhere. After the closure of nearly everything, the remaining leisure is illegal partying, coffee for takeaway or obsessive grocery shopping. And that’s how people omit the rules and concentrate elsewhere.

Spending money, shopping and eating out are the collective coping techniques of our capitalist society. They have become the means by which our stressed mind relieves its pressure; that’s the circle of our economy. Still, politicians were staggered, even outraged that a record-breaking amount of people ignored the rules for a bargain hunt on Black Friday, or about crowds attending the IKEA for obsolete items and swedish meatballs. The water needs to go somewhere. 

But what if the pressure gets too big and the water cannot go anywhere? As a kid, I often wondered what it might look like when the waterbed would rip apart because of excessive weight. I imagined how it would explode. It was a most harrowing idea, knowing that you’ll wake up in the middle of the night, drifting in your bedroom surrounded by floating IKEA miscellaneous.

Warned by such ominous depictions, my choice fell upon a pocket foam mattress. And I would recommend Dutch policy-makers to change to a more resilient foam mattress too, instead of relying on a market based, consumer oriented waterbed. It’ll enhance their good night’s rest!

Photo credit: Ameen Fahmy

© Stefan Hoekstra/The Social Writer, 2020. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Corona Diary #7

We went on vacation, but the virus didn’t. Written on 22-07-2020.

There is no reason to wrap up this diary just yet. Corona seems to be returning. Better said: it had never left us. A Dutch publicist stated sharply that ‘we went on vacation, but corona didn’t’. Numbers of infections are on the rise once again. Virologists are apprehensive for a second wave. But I’m afraid that we are still riding on the the first wave. Did we cheer to soon?

I have to reckon that I was impatient too and went on a brief train getaway to Czechia, where the virus seemed non-existent. Meanwhile, my fellow countrymen are sunbathing in France and Croatia. Some of us take it a step further and are endangering themselves and others, as they deliberately squeeze themselves into packed airplanes heading to Greece and Spain. This striking turnaround in mindset denudes our fleeting values. Touristic ventures by airplane were thought utterly irresponsible just one month ago, until ‘experts’ praised the plane’s ventilation systems and deemed air-travel entirely safe. And of course, we nod our heads agreeably. But for only a few weeks, Corona didn’t dominate the headlines, and here we are. 

Humanities and technocracy don’t run smoothly together, that much is certain. In the heydays of Corona, the health ministry was releasing death-reports on a daily basis, which were then conveyed to the masses by news channels. As cases dropped, the frequency of these reports downshifted along with it, eventually dropping towards a meagre one time a week. From an epidemio-technocratic perspective, this might have seemed logical. Less cases, less attention. But from a social psychological angle, that means walking a very slippery slope. For it should be clear that the contemporary mind is directed by whatever appears (and disappears) on the powerful outlets of mass media (individually customized by algorithms). 

Our Dutch vacation exodus also reveals how we put our blind trust in the government’s choices and advice. Which is erroneous, since even the best informed governments are running behind the facts. Technocratic decision-making is reactionary at most. It doesn’t envisage an ideal or anticipates on future events. It is perpetually in need for the outcomes of earlier research, and perpetually too late to act wisely in the moment. Understandably, the government doesn’t quite know how to anticipate, for the virus is still a big mystery. What isn’t a mystery though, is that certain sectors of economy are losing money.

Likewise, it proved tempting for politicians to act based on what they know, rather than on what they don’t. We know the economy is suffering. Yet we don’t know how dangerous and recurrent the coronavirus actually is. So what do we do? We let economy run free again, because we ‘know’ the sorrows of economy. Yielding to the pressure, the Dutch government had given in to compelling demands to reopen bars, cafes and even prostitution. Economically constrained countries such as India and Brazil never even had the luxury to disobey economy’s impatience. Nonetheless, even the financially backed-up Netherlands have ultimately succumbed to the hasty consumer market.

Unfortunately, also the Dutch reopening of economy was not a philosophically wise -free spirited, independent- decision, it was simply kneeling before the unrelenting power we have attributed to our consumer economy. Virus or not, we need to start running on the money treadmill once again. The future will tell where this will lead to. But the passivity of citizens and the loss of common sense, merged with the unwise hastiness of governments are worrisome predictors. 

Header image: Sujeet Potla

© Stefan Hoekstra/The Social Writer, 2020. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Corona Diary #5

How is the Netherlands handling the crisis?

Written over multiple days in June as part of my self-isolation diary.

03-06-2020 Bike Hell: My laziness tells me to write this note tomorrow, but my discipline tells me to write it today. It seems that this time, my discipline is the winner. The heat of yesterday has backed off a little. Also, corona drifts away quickly from people’s minds, including mine. But to be reminded of it, one has only to visit the city centre or public transport. In my hometown, bicycles have been forbidden, and loose standing bikes are removed and relocated to a faraway depot (you could call it: bike hell).

Today, during a stroll around the city, I’ve seen whole bunches of them being lifted onto a truck and taken away. New, old, rusty, expensive. All types were confiscated, even children’s bikes. And people who drove unconsciously into this sudden no-biking zone, got barked at by diligent stewards and were directed elsewhere. The rules that allow the municipality to do so, have been installed in order to prevent many people from merging too much, hence preventing corona spread.

Nonetheless, I don’t think they took into account that people have been riding their bikes for over a hundred year through these streets. So a paradigm change won’t occur within three days either. Anyway, the removal of bikes and sending away of drivers seems to be a cumbersome, ineffective activity which I don’t think will last very long.

In public transport, people are obliged to wear facial masks. It is a saddening sight, because the human countenance which makes people human, is hidden. Our daily dose of smiles from strangers has been reduced drastically since the introduction of masks, and will possibly lead to an unhealthy deficiency in unspoken outings of kindness. And since the smartphone revolution already, suchlike gentle acts of mutual recognition had been become meagre. A worrying development. 

04-06-2020 Vacation:  Corona seems miles away, and the Dutch are shifting their worries from a deadly virus, to forging holiday plans. France and Spain have announced to reopen their borders in Juli for tourists by car, so that the exhausted Dutch families can once again enjoy their well-deserved traffic jams on smoggy highways and annual family camping dramas. 

14-06-2020 Washing hands: Corona measures are increasing but my understanding of them (or willingness to do so), is decreasing. As part of our ‘intelligent lockdown’ strategy, a large survey amongst 64.000 fellow dutchies was conducted to map their compliance with corona rules. It unveiled that keeping distance is getting harder, but washing hands is still feasible. There is a serious error (perhaps on purpose?) in this research: washing hands is not a corona measure. It is the very basis of personal hygiene. But the respondents still confirmed obediently that this is something corona-related. 

So I confirm herewith the internationally claimed assertion that Dutch people have the dirtiest hands. It is culture specific, and I as a dutchman, can acknowledge this: the gross of Dutch people doesn’t wash hands after having used the restroom. The country’s overall cleanliness and absence of deadly diseases might give an explanation. It’s amazing. Here, it is so clean that we even dare to shake the unwashed hands which just wiped an ass. It is quirky, but when abroad, I have always washed my hands obsessively. But when back in my home-country I started skipping it once again. Finally I unlearned it, after my girlfriend Marina shared with me her disgust about this stubborn, culturally inclined habit. I came to even like it, for washing hands is maintaining your body and therefore a small act of self-respect.  

14-06-2020 Priorities: A school example of hypocrisy. Is family less important than vacation? Dutch travel organizations cannot wait to send their customers to the all-inclusive hotels they’d initially booked. Since today, vacations within europe are possible again, after Spain and Italy (which we first didn’t want to help financially) reopened borders for tourism. Now, after we had to fear a severe lung-disease for so long, the second worry is whether we can go on holiday or not, whether we can drink unlimited cocktails at the pool while being served by underpaid labourers, whether we can stuff ourselves again with fast-food, alongside a beachfront crammed with concrete hotels. 

The government understands this impatience of travel organizations and holiday-goers very well, and promises full safety when they travel in aircraft to their destination. The crammed, profit oriented, polluting flying barrels which we call airplanes are not only more liable to an outbreak amongst passengers, they are also the worldwide delivery service for corona. For a great deal, air travel was responsible for the fast corona spread, a couple of months ago, and now, suddenly, they will be fully functioning again. And not for loved ones or family to finally reunite. No, for vacation. 

Even more poignant is that I need to show an impossible amount of proof of relationship to be able to get my loved one here. Me and Marina are excruciatingly separated because we don’t have the paperwork, while Dutch vacationers will be criss crossing throughout europe with all the risks involved, for this one vital activity: leisure. Or should I say, for economy?

I hope that one day, our government will have understanding for people like us, too. We don’t want leisure, we only want each others proximity, for I consider us family. Is family less important than vacation? According to our government, yes. Is paperwork more important than the risk of an outbreak? According to the government, yes.

Photo Credit: Kayla on Unsplash

© Stefan Hoekstra/The Social Writer, 2020. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Slow and Hard: An Enrichment

It’s probably one of the most characteristic slogans in contemporary advertisements, smartly used by tech-companies to sell their newest electronics: ‘Quick and easy!’ And the moral it serves is fully embraced by its audience. Devices seem to constantly ‘beat’ their predecessors with another added feature to easify the lives of its customers even more.

Already when you’ve just purchased that brand new smartphone, a newer, faster, and better version is available in stores. Also, you can count on a sneering look when admitting to a computer specialist the prehistoric lifespan of your laptop (which is barely two years).The underlying notion tells that technological progress would make things ‘easier’ and ‘faster’. But this alleged easiness brought along with it the exact opposite; an incredible complexity which increased dependency. So if you allow me, in this writing I would like to promote a more ancient approach; ‘Slow and hard!’ 

Anno 2020, most ordinary households own a five-hundred channel multifunctional 50 inch smart-TV with wifi connection and voice recognition. Limitless smartphone possibilities allow us to order a pizza, make a business call, scroll through the latest news updates while messaging acquaintances in New York and Amsterdam all at the same time. To a varying extent, many of us have become volatile multitaskers. The outdated -and emotionally vulnerable- processors that are our minds, need to run a tremendous array of tasks simultaneously. 

Considering the multitude of options nowadays to supervise all aspects of life, it might feel like a defeat when only one activity is undertaken. Yet, this might just be the key to finding an orderly state in the mad world of social media and technology.

Removing easiness and comfort from life might sound a bit silly at first. Deliberately withdrawing ourselves from modernity’s practical comforts can feel even counterintuitive. Because it would cost valuable time (which we don’t possess), it would require effort and patience (which we don’t have). Altogether, why would people even try to deprive themselves of the very technology they’d initially invented to ease up life?

There’s a good reason to do so. For every new gadget, app or device, with all its advantages, makes its users instantly dependent, and setbacks might lead to fargoing, often shameful behaviour. This helpless dependency reduces painfully the parameters by which we measure contentment throughout a day, because expecting everything to be quick and easy, means it also needs to be always quick and easy. But what if it isn’t? What if modern technology doesn’t keep its promise?

Well, then frustrations flourish; When a smartphone doesn’t work, an entire day is ruined. When Netflix is unavailable, the evening is wasted. When the online food order is late, we’re angry and might shout at the poor delivery guy. 

The slogan Slow and Hard on the other hand, does exactly what is expected of it, and likewise evokes no unpleasant surprises. I’ve therefore listed a few analog items considered to be ancient by now, but which nevertheless might make life a little slower and harder, in a gracious sense.

The items described underneath are terribly slow, very unwieldy and excruciatingly hard when compared to the fluidity of modern gadgets. But precisely therefore, they also stand a little closer to the true, sorrowful and tragic nature of life. No miracles are expected of them. Yet, their variety is rich and its dependency negligible.

Items to make life slower and harder:

Newspaper – Structure and Eye Health 

Days primarily consist of staring at screens. Sometimes even at multiple screens simultaneously, for instance, when looking at the smartphone while watching TV. The impossibility of such activities is well demonstrated when towards the end of the evening, neither the netflix movie was finished, nor is remembered what we were actually doing on the smartphone meanwhile. Yet, the real damage it does, is to our eyes.

Staring straight into bright light almost uninterruptedly for a day, is an unhealthy business for sure. It is unnatural and tiring, and influences the quality of sleep. Looking at multiple screens in a literal sense might, if you manage to even do so, leave you with crossed eyes. The old-school newspaper offers solace to this problem. Finding it waiting for you on your doorstep in the morning might interlude a more orderly and less tiresome day. And despite its old fashioned image, the newspaper still satisfies our insatiable hunger for information, yet in a somewhat healthier way. 

Book – Discipline and Creativity.

Firstly and most importantly; it runs without a battery. No need to cry and yell about specific cables or chargers that are missing. Secondly, one might reinvent an unmissable virtue; inasmuch as starting to read a good –physical– novel is easy, it requires discipline to finish it. In modern multitasking, there are plenty of examples wherein an activity remains unfinished, which can be quite frustrating after having started it enthusiastically.

Discipline is the ability to persistently sustain a single activity in favour of a greater goal. In this case it’s understanding the novel’s plot, with the side effect of escaping our beeping and buzzing devices. Overcoming many pages might enable the ability to extrapolate this forlorn habit (discipline) towards daily life. Also, flipping through the pages of a talented writer can provoke one’s own creativity, hence interesting ideas. 

Postcard – Nostalgia And A Touch of Melancholy.

Slower than its digital counterpart the email, but surely more meaningful, and far less liable to end up in the spam box. It’s a gift to your future self, as written postcards are the physical evidence of having travelled in faraway lands. Furthermore, finding an old postcard awakens memories of different times and reminds us of the gradual change to which life is subject.

Postcards are connected to the people we’ve met in past journeys, or to the difficulties we overcame before sliding it into the mailbox many years ago. Somehow, the safe arrival of a postcard is quite miraculous, as it went through many hands and exotic lands, ultimately onto your doorstep. It requires more effort to send a good old postcard, but without effort, it would be without meaning. 

Vinyl player – Calmness & Care.

The opposite of quick and easy. A classical vinyl player requires delicate care. Letting the needle land softly on the disc is a movement of profound carefulness. Surely no other activity can be undertaken simultaneously. Then, a pleasant feeling of relief arises when after a short rustle, the selected song starts playing.

Dropping the needle carefully and listening closely to the music is not as easy as turning on a Spotify stream, yet this analog device is certainly less complicated, deprived from irritating song suggestions, commercials and incoming messages (it doesn’t even have a screen!)

Chessboard – Insight and Concentration.

A game of chess must be a true nightmare for the average multitasker. As for a tense game can last half an hour, possibly the entire evening, or even more (the longest ever recorded chess game lasted over 20 hours.) Losing concentration because of checking incoming emails or a dodgy match on Tinder might cost you the victory. Doing so, the vast complexity of chess encourages our concentration to fixate exclusively on one specific endeavour of finally being granted to whisper that famous phrase in a mocking manner: check…mate.

Where most smartphones have a swift and intuition-based interface, the strategy which is involved in chess makes an appeal to our insight. Instead of being led by the smartphone’s suggestive interface, the chessboard demands its players to see three or four steps ahead and take all possible risks into account. At the end of a phone scrolling evening, you might feel tired and psychologically unsatisfied. Chess might leave you even more mentally tired, but it is needless to acclaim that it didn’t satisfy the mind’s hunger to be challenged.

Stove – Patience.

Worryingly, cooking at home is falling out of grace rapidly. Instead, streets are swarming with numerous delivery cars, bikes and scooters, racing through red lights to suffice all the online orders. Why cook if you could watch another episode on Netflix, while a delivery restaurant cooks and also brings your dinner? could be the argument.

Cooking is a time slurping activity. Washing dishes included, it might take an hour at least. This way, one might easily overlook its positive sides. It is less costly and generally tastier. But the advantages of cooking aren’t limited to only saving expenses and having tastier (and healthier) food. No, cooking is a true sanctuary, to which you can escape from the digital madness. Mastering different taste combinations, supervising three pots and pans on the stove demands patience and focus. Being distracted by your phone might leave you hungry, as your dinner has burnt to dust.

Additionally, cooking gives the (sub)conscious a well deserved rest after another day of staring at screens. And that enhances the further processing of whichever bothering thoughts are floating in the mind. 

Pencil – Anything.

A true dinosaur amongst the forgotten artifacts. There might be plenty of them dusting away around the house, already unused for years. Strengthened by imagination, this humble, stick-like mixture of wood and graphite allows you to draw or write anything or anyone, and it expresses hidden feelings or thoughts.

Consequently, converting unpolished ideas into smooth passages, catchy drawings or sketches might enable your occupied brain to classify the important things out of the unstructured jungle that is our psyche. Having a sheet of paper as his companion, this little friend here can mean the very departure from which wondrous works of art and literature arrive. But even more wondrous; the imperfect artistic revelations, uncovering your soul’s deepest depths.

© Stefan Hoekstra/The Social Writer, 2020. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Photo credit:

Newspapers in Metro: Peter Lawrence

Men playing chess: Vlad Sargu

Postcards: Anne Nygard

Man cooking: Aaron Thomas

Novel: Kelly Sikkema

Vinyl player: Luana De Marco

Pencil on paper: Lalaine Macababbat

Corona Diary #1

A note taken from my self-isolation diary, written on 27-04-2020.

A Pandemic Of Technology

The elderly in care homes stay connected to their families through video calls, as well as those separated by closed borders, distance or quarantine. Birthdays are celebrated safely with the help of smartphones and tablets. Nearly every matter of such interactive kind takes place digitally and online since Corona had arrived to European shores.

But inasmuch as this accidental pilot of extreme digital usage reveals its advantages, it allows us to observe its disadvantages. And those have appeared to be about equally plentiful. Besides, some of the presumed advantages might be only psychological disadvantages in disguise. 

Video calling for instance, seems to be helping many separated people to stay in touch, which I can acknowledge, having my girlfriend being stuck in another country. But even so, we mustn’t forget that missing and longing are an inevitable part of the human emotional spectrum, and a very important element of valuing and cherishing the ones from whom you’re deprived.

Sometimes it’s good to just sit down, close your eyes and actually feel the poignant pain of missing each other and become more acquiescent with the inevitable separation and loneliness inherent to life itself. You can merely hope or pray that it won’t last forever. And the unexpected intensive use of technology to transcend these emotions has led to showing to me a tragic paradox; that it cannot be transcended by technology, as humans aren’t merely a sum of their parts. Not every part of the human soul is visible and tangible. They cannot be detached, fixed and replaced like a car engine.

It is evident that we live in technocratic times in which it is thought that this tragic condition can be overcome by science. But human complexity is supposed to be placed above technology, and not otherwise. Human complexity is mysterious and incomprehensible while technology is logical and (still) comprehensible. 

I dare to say so, as being a profound user of video technology myself. But it has never taken away the tormenting longing for my girlfriend’s true proximity. Irregularly, video calling even feels like talking through a glass made fence, confronting me only more with the haunting deprivation of what could’ve been. Seeing each other through a screen can –on bad days– feel as if witnessing your loved one locked in a prison cell, unable to be reunited because the last key is missing: The essential key to unlock physical proximity.

And that’s exactly what such technologies –however advanced they are– cannot provide. How can it else be that some people are praising our digital era, and at the same time act contradictory and admit that they long for human warmth and closeness. That yet, they miss their family in spite of all our innovations. 

For true togetherness when not together, I’d rather suggest a deep reconnection with meaningful memories of tenderness, as recalling experienced emotions might be brighter and more vivid than technological gadgets can ever compensate. Relocating formal meetings exclusively to video calling on the other hand, can count on my full support, as you then have control over the volume knob when a tedious colleague starts stringing together a bunch of agonizing cliches again. 

Modern technologies are wonderful tools, but they have proved once again to be exactly that: tools.

Header Image: Anna Fedorova

© Stefan Hoekstra/The Social Writer, 2020. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Teachings Of A Crisis (II)

Quite remarkably, some countries are already forging plans on how to restart their economies as quickly as possible. To get things back to ‘normal’ as soon as they can. Yet, this rather impatient attitude surpasses a very simple question, but one of enormous importance: 

What was all the suffering for?

Dispersed into multiple questions it might look like this: For the sake of what is humanity suffering from so much anguish and despair? And for the sake of what are people dying lonely in their hospital beds, covered under a plastic dome without the possibility to say farewell to their loved ones? 

To find meaning in this dreadful pandemic, there’s no need to suddenly become religious or make an appeal to some other supernatural entity. In fact, turning this misery into something worthwhile is far more comprehensible than that: 

We can show those who gave their lives some class, simply by learning from the teachings of this crisis. 

Naively confident, I dare to hope that the unrelenting lashes of Corona will clear away all the clutter of modern life, exposing us to the things that truly matter; virtues which lie closer to the essence of human nature. That ultimately, gratefulness and discipline will outweigh overconsumption, and patience will transcend greed. 

The sufferers of today should be the martyrs for the world of tomorrow. A kinder world wherein new, more humane endeavours prevail and in which we are gentler towards nature. And more practically, where the importance of healthcare and humanities is acknowledged more broadly. 

If we don’t learn enough from it all and repeat our foregoing mistakes just the same, the only cruel thing we should blame ourselves for, is that it was all for nothing. That all those who have suffered and passed away, have done so in vain. 

To learn from those who are reading this article, I’d like to make an appeal to your thoughtfulness, and invite you to elaborate in the comment section on the following inquiry: 

What can we (humanity) learn from this crisis?

Header image: Varun Tandon

© Stefan Hoekstra/The Social Writer, 2020. Unauthorized use/and or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full name and clear credit is given to Stefan Hoekstra and The Social Writer with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.