If only privacy was still around Kenny Soto

Fake News, Filter Bubbles, & Data: If Only Privacy Was Still Around

“We are free only insofar as we exercise control over what people know about us, and what circumstances they come to know it.” Timothy Snyder

Thinking about privacy while staring at a screen

Lately, I have seen that online conversations that are supposed to be between two people sometimes get published as screenshots within people’s social media. The context is usually around someone being courted in an ineffective manner through Instagram (it’s commonplace amongst my generation for people to bash on those who “slide into the DMs” and fail miserably). So when I see these screenshots, it makes me wonder: is anything communicated through the internet genuinely private. I could hope that there is something I have online that is only seen and known by a select group of individuals that I choose but, that is a forlorn hope at this point. When I publish anything, whether it’s within a private chat with a family member or on an Instagram account for all the world to see — it’s pretty much guaranteed that other third parties can access that data.

We are growing up in a world where having a tablet at the age of five years old is the norm; the consequences of such consumer behavior yet to be seen. One said result might be that future generations grow up without a sense or a desire to have a private life – privacy may be redefined if not eradicated altogether.

Privacy’s importance is currently dwindling at a pace parallel to the accelerating technological advancements that are occurring every day. And I believe part of that stems from how little we understand what data is. More importantly, the internet is still brand new, and there isn’t a sense of a digital etiquette that’s become embedded within our culture. We are still attempting to figure that out.

When is it appropriate to document a moment?

Let’s start off at the individual level. Any moment that you record and send to a peer could be become harvested and research without your consent nor your knowledge. As we’ve seen with leaked emails of specific political candidates, all systems that house information and data can be penetrated. Everything on the internet has a backdoor — all forms of encryption can eventually be unlocked. Even in the instance that you are sharing messages with someone via Snapchat, as an example, the safety net of getting a notification that the other person took a screenshot is meaningless. Some people simply take pictures of a screen from a separate phone to get around this feature and although rudimentary, it still gets the job done.

Today, one just has to navigate the internet under the assumption that anything sent to another person can be seen by an unknown third party. Because the internet is so new, we have a responsibility to make sure we consider how our actions today build habits for future generations tomorrow. For example, the way in which we tend to normalize certain activities such as, recording a moment and not asking permission to have someone in the video.

To what context do we allow ourselves to be on camera? Should we share live videos of funerals? The birth of a child? Take photos of a child’s life and share them online with friends, family, and strangers to see as they grow up? At what age can they decide not to consent to such documentation—will they even know that their privacy is being replaced for content creation. To what extent do we begin to set boundaries on what we share and don’t share? What are the intimate moments of our lives that we keep outside of the digital world?

We have become our own paparazzi, documenting every meal, special occasion, and amusing facial expression we could think of. And sometimes we include others in these posts, often without even asking them.

Another concern I have is the way data we generate online is extracted and used to manipulate our views of the world. This issue of itself is still new and a lot of us still don’t have a robust understanding of how this manipulation happens to us on a daily basis. An example of how our eroding privacy not only is changing our cultural norms but, also changing how we view the world.

Related: Your Children Will Google You, You’re A Living Time Capsule

The tools for manipulation: social media advertising & filter bubbles

Filter Bubbles And Ad Targeting

Every action we take to navigate a screen is harvested and seen by an unknown party—that’s data. Additionally, we provide all of the data points necessary for marketers and researchers to manipulate our minds. They use cookies and pixels to follow our actions online and harvest as much nuanced information about us as humanly possible. Because of their business models, social media platforms, in particular, need to continue the advancement of their marketing technologies so that marketers keep using them. The more information they can gather on their target audience (that audience being you), the easier it will be to design and get the responses they are seeking.

The desired outcome that all marketers strive for is called a conversion: the desired action of the user used to gather information, some form of monetary value, or both. A conversion could be having you merely fill out a form for a newsletter subscription or filling out a personality quiz to see which Harry Potter school you relate with the most. Due to there being a variety of desired actions being asked of you, from a whole slew of varying publishers and advertisers, social media platforms use a bidding system to determine which advertising units you will see, when, and why.

Aside from how much money one needs to spend to target you, the success of an ad is mainly determined by how much the advertiser can learn from the experiments they are conducting on you. This could simply be figuring out which button color for “click here to learn more” works best for a specific zip code. The ad targeting specs within Facebook, in particular, allow marketers and researchers to learn about any persona’s character traits that can lead to the potential success of any given goal. What’s more concerning isn’t that these targeting options are available to anyone, but that the sophistication of these targeting systems is continuously developed over time and at an accelerating pace.

We all know how Facebook was utilized by the Russians during the 2016 presidential election. I believe this is just a precursor to how future elections will be played out. Those who are aware of how these ad targeting systems work will be able to turn the tides within the political battlefield with more ease than those who rely on methods (however useful they may still be) that were used in the pre-social media days. Those that understand how to leverage the new raw material that is data will be much more equipped for the world we are coming to see over time — a world without any sense of privacy and where all our information is used to manipulate our collective and individual perspectives. Outside of granular targeting and ad testing that marketers can leverage to change public opinion, we also have the issue with filter bubbles to discuss.

[Filter bubbles] are something we can only opt out of, not something we consent to.” Shane Parrish of Farnam Street Blog wrote a piece on how our opinions of the world are often skewed because of how our news feeds cater solely to our interests. On social media, taking Facebook as the prime example, any content we receive from a media outlet has been carefully selected to keep you on the platform for as long as possible. If we lean on the conservative end of the political spectrum, it is highly unlikely that we will see news articles and videos from publications that have dissenting opinions on hot-button topics. The platforms we use to feed us content that is agreeable, ensuring that we have the best experience possible while using them. With the development of such bubbles comes the spread of fake news, often targeted, to further manipulate us. And this content’s effectiveness is maximized because of how much data is being harvested from our use of these platforms.

In a recent interview between Ezra Klien of Vox and Mark Zuckerberg, Mark breaks down how fake news has proliferated through Facebook and his plans to stop it. In its most basic form, fake new is simply propaganda. Author Octavio Paz perfectly encapsulates the definition of propaganda in his book The Labyrinth of Solitude, when he states, “Propaganda spreads incomplete truths, in series and as separate units. absolute truths for the masses.” There are three categories of fake news according to Zuckerberg: spammers, who try to pump their content on the platform with the sole goal of monetization; state actors, such as the Russians who try to influence political thought and election outcomes; media outlets, who disseminate information with varying degrees of trustworthiness. The first two categories seem to be less of an issue with new developments to Facebooks artificial intelligence and security infrastructures. It’s the third category that stirs up much controversy, mainly due to the issue of free speech. According to Mark, “Folks are saying stuff that may be wrong, but they mean it, they think they’re speaking their truth, and do you really wanna shut them down for doing that?” Even if the information isn’t shared with harmful intent, the perpetrator that spreads inaccurate information still has a right to share it amongst their networks. That’s false information you could have consumed yourself in the past twenty-four hours.

We all have a voice on these platforms but, who determines the validity and trustworthiness of what we say? What is the rubric they are using and are they willing to disclose that comprehensively to the public? How do we know the governing bodies on social media are qualified to determine what’s trustworthy? To what degree are we held accountable to do our research on a particular topic, to see all the nuances? Some of us don’t have the time and only read the headlines, leading to the core issue at hand: filter bubbles and fake news may be here to stay because we have yet taken the time to develop the mental tools to combat them. Even with all the technological advancements that Facebook and other organizations are making to protect us, as a populous, we don’t have the education set in place to combat these issues.

In addition to the Russian involvement, it was extremely easy for companies such as Cambridge Analytica to manipulate the masses using Facebook, and I don’t believe they will be the last organization to skew votes during an election. Facebook is now at such a massive scale – with over 2 billion users which does not include owned properties such as Instagram – that their goal of creating a global community is closer to reality than one might think. Another issue Zuckerberg is facing is dealing with is determining what the policies should be for people all around the world. How does one organization protect the privacy and the manipulation of an individual’s data across borders? What can the individual in question do to defend themselves?

Related: There Are No Longer Six Degrees of Separation

Global developments we need to consider

Global Considerations

The most historical moment in Mark Zuckerberg’s career to date has been his recent Senate hearing that occurred in April 2018. It showed just how little our government knows about how social media works. Putting aside their lack of knowledge and Zuckerberg’s performance throughout the hearing, one can see that another thought to consider moving forward isn’t how to protect our privacy but more so, how to prepare ourselves to live in a world without one.

Shoshana Zuboff, a retired Harvard Business School professor, adds insightful commentary on the Senate’s recent hearing of during an Open Source podcast interview. According to Zuboff, Surveillance Capitalism was discovered and invented at Google and remains the driving force of Silicon Valley’s growth. Surveillance capitalism is a new genus of capitalism that monetizes data acquired through surveillance, in this specific case data obtained on social media. “Data is used to research every minutia about you and provide predictive insights into your future actions both online and offline.” We don’t know how this data is being used and we don’t know to what extent the insights that are collected are leveraged to influence our daily decisions. We also cannot predict how this influence into our daily lives will continue to grow shortly once artificial intelligence is integrated into these predictive data crunching systems. The general public does not know what’s really at stake; we are figuring this out as we go along.

Data is a new raw material, in which we are still learning to what extent it is lucrative and to what extent extracting data from people can both benefit our lives and cause damages to them. In response to recent events both in regards to Facebook and other prominent Silicon Valley companies such as Google, Europe, in particular, has taken steps to combat the issues in the tech world with legislation.

There has been a new law passed called the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The law requires all internet based companies who handle the data of E.U citizens in particular to, “…be explicit in their efforts to seek consent from consumers before collecting their personal information. Companies also have to give consumers easy access to their own data, and to delete that data if the customer requests it (source: The Washington Post).” Companies are also required to, “…notify users quickly of data breaches when they occur — under the new rules, they have 72 hours to inform the public after a breach is discovered.”

The GDPR provides two changes to a previous law set in place during the 1990s called the 1995 Data Protection Directive. The two changes are as follows, “The first, ostensibly, is universality: a common set of rules and practices that apply across the continent and, it is hoped, the world. The second is enforcement: the capacity for regulators to fine any company in breach of the G.D.P.R. as much as four per cent of its total worldwide sales (source: The New Yorker).” Again, this is largely a response to the global influences that large tech companies such as “the American gafa—the French coinage for Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple,” have on our economies and political landscape.

To what extent this will, in turn, affect the digital lives of Non-European citizens is yet to be seen, there haven’t been many changes to how American companies continue to extract data on US citizens for the means of marketing and research. However, there is hope that other countries will begin to follow suit, “Brazil, Japan and South Korea are set to follow Europe’s lead, with some having already passed similar data protection laws. European officials are encouraging copycats by tying data protection to some trade deals and arguing that a unified global approach is the only way to crimp Silicon Valley’s power (source: The New York Times).” There are signs of change that may occur within the United States as well. According to NYTimes European tech correspondent Adam Satariano, “[A] group of Democratic senators announced a resolution to match G.D.P.R., a sign of how United States policy may change if control of Congress shifts in November.” So for now, one can only hope that legislation can affect (however minimal it may seem) on companies that supply our data to those who wish to harvest it, without telling us what they plan to do with it and why.

So far, what most companies have done in response to this law is merely have more extended privacy policies. Others have decided to block their sites within EU countries. According to Washington Post policy reporter Brian Fung, “Some companies have chosen to go blank in Europe instead of having to comply with the expansive privacy regulations.” The adverse effect this has on general consumers is that we are caught in the middle of a war between those who wish to extract the precious raw material we produce and those who want to protect the very last vestiges our privacy. And if a certain side of the battle wins, a very dystopian future isn’t that far out of reach. In fact, there is already a nation that shows what a world without privacy would look like.

China: A perfect example of the end result

China Privacy

If we don’t begin to take the matter of our digital privacy and education of the digital world seriously, we may end up having our digital landscape influenced to the point that it resembles that of China’s. I use the example of China not only because I’m currently experiencing their digital regulations myself, but also due to how much their influence is growing throughout the globe (seemingly right under the USA’s nose). I first discovered the differences in China’s digital world before I decided to live there, when I read an article from Wired maize titled, “Big data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens.”

I have been somewhat familiar with the term Big Data for a little over a year now, understanding that it’s the emergence of large pools of information that can teach us things about people at a massive and unprecedented scale. What I didn’t know until relatively recently, is how big data can be used for the governance of a nation. China’s political and social landscape has its differences from the Western world due to the sheer size of its population, among other historical developments (i.e., The Great Leap Forward, The Cultural Revolution, and it’s relations to foreign powers such as England and Japan). Like all nations, China’s unique governance structure is needed because of the unique issues it has to face. How does a government help keep 1.3 billion people in order? How does it ensure the people’s happiness and harmony? Harmony being the operative word in question, China’s answer to this begins with the use of creating a social credit system that rates its citizens on their overall trustworthiness. This system can be seen as akin to the rubric Facebook is implementing to grade the integrity of media outlets on its platform.

China can implement such a futuristicdystopian system for a variety of reasons. One of the primary ones being that people can adapt rather quickly — being spied upon continuously doesn’t have negative connotations once it’s normalized. The Chinese government has allowed eight privately owned organizations to contribute to a pilot scheme utilizing their systems and algorithms, which will be used for testing before mass implementation in 2020. Two of the eight companies are China Rapid Finance, who helped develop the social networking app WeChat (an image of the platform can be seen above) which has 850 million active users and Sesame Credit, ran by Ant Financial Services Group (AFSG), an affiliate company of Alibaba and is the developer of Alipay. Both companies are big-data behemoths, with the ability to process large amounts of information at blazing speeds – which is precisely what a government would need to monitor its constituents. These apps are used to pay for almost anything, from car loans to electricity bills and all of that data is stored and parsed on a consistent basis. Nothing is left to chance, all of your actions, if you are a citizen or even a resident within China, can be and is being tracked.

The primary use of the system isn’t only to monitor China’s citizens. The primary function of the system is to slowly influence China’s citizens into conducting themselves as the ideal citizen, an ideal that is determined by the government. “So the system not only investigates behavior – it shapes it. It ‘nudges’ citizens away from purchases and behaviors the government does not like.” In addition, your friend’s and family’s scores affect your own and vice versa, so there is social pressure easily embedded into the system, “…instead of trying to enforce stability or conformity with a big stick and a good dose of top-down fear, the government is attempting to make obedience feel like gaming…your rating would be publicly ranked against that of the entire population and used to determine your eligibility for a mortgage or a job, where your children can go to school – or even just your chances of getting a date.”

With the gamification of such a system, it will ultimately lead to its normalization. China’s citizens are already used to having no sense of privacy, so being rated on their every digital action will not cause as much uproar as one may hope. Within the credit system, citizens are rated on the following: their credit history, their ability to fulfill contract obligations, the ability to have verifiable information, their online behavior, and their social circle. The products one buys, the people they spend time with, and how often they pay their bills on time all affect their overall score. With the utilization of big data, this isn’t only possible in China – other developing countries that may feel inclined to follow in China’s footsteps may create similar systems. One could make the argument that the Chinese government understands Surveillance Capitalism even more so than Silicon Valley and the Europe Union. Perhaps that is why the EU is taking preemptive measures to make sure the spread of similar surveillance systems doesn’t proliferate outside of China. The reason why I’ve mentioned Facebook so much in this article is that the company has also taken measures to establish relationships with China.

In a recent New York Times article written by Michael LaForgia and Gabriel J.X. Dance, there has been a recent discovery that, “Facebook in recent years has quietly sought to re-establish itself [within China]. The company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has tried to cultivate a relationship with China’s president, Xi Jinping, and put in an appearance at one of the country’s top universities.” And all of this has been occurring since the social platform was banned in 2009. Both the leaders of China and Facebook could benefit greatly from working and learning together. Facebook in itself could be considered a digital sovereign nation with the number of people it needs to monitor on a daily basis. Certainly, other nations such as Russia and Turkey may see a system such as this to benefit their regimes. I wouldn’t put it past China to find a way to “package” the system and sell it to the highest bidders. Could one speculate that part of governance in the modern era is the ability to efficiently monitor? I only ask these questions to put into debate our current lack of education when it comes to how data is being used on a daily basis.

Part of the issue isn’t only those who use our data; we are also part of the problem. The public needs to be exposed to the issues of data manipulation and digital privacy. We must seek knowledge of how data is used. Without this knowledge, we won’t become privy to how our data is used to move markets and minds.

Questions to think about

How can we set systems in place to educate the generations who use the internet the most? How can we prepare them to think about data as an extension of themselves and not something far removed from their lives? What is proper online etiquette and how do we form thoughtful discussions about it? To what end do we sacrifice our privacy for the sake of optimized user experience?

These are the questions we must ask ourselves now, to better ensure a future in which the individual and the state continue to have proper boundaries. A future in which people still have a semblance of freedom of privacy and where we aren’t being censored on a daily basis, whether in an obvious manner or covertly. And the protection of this ideal future begins with the education about the digital world and how our data is being collected and used.

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Works Cited

  1. Snyder, Timothy “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From The Twentieth Century.” Page 88, Tim Duggan Books, Penguin Random House LLC, 2017.
  2. Paz, Octavio “The Labyrinth of Solitude” Page 68, Grove Press, Inc, 1985.
  3. How Filter Bubbles Distort Reality: Everything You Need to Know
  4. Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook’s hardest year, and what comes next
  5. Cambridge Analytica whistleblower: ‘We spent $1m harvesting millions of Facebook profiles’
  6. G.D.P.R., a New Privacy Law, Makes Europe World’s Leading Tech Watchdog
  7. The G.D.P.R., Europe’s New Privacy Law, and the Future of the Global Data Economy
  8. Why you’re getting flooded with privacy notifications in your email
  9. Facebook & the Reign of Surveillance Capitalism
  10. Big data meets Big Brother as China moves to rate its citizens
  11. Facebook Gave Data Access to Chinese Firm Flagged by U.S. Intelligence
  12. China’s trillion dollar plan to dominate global trade
  13. Does China’s Digital Police State Have Echoes in the West?
  14. The Great Firewall of China: Background
Teaching children kenny soto

Challenges In The Classroom: What I’m Learning By Teaching Children

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”

— William Arthur Ward

Nostalgia occurs every day

Being a teacher (lǎoshī/老师) in China is the most challenging job I’ve had thus far. I’ve been entrusted with helping educate young children with a foreign language and it’s my first time ever being in an official teaching position. Reflecting on these past two months of teaching, I’ve frequently found myself reminiscing over memories of my own childhood.

I’ve been thinking of who were my favorite teachers and why. Why did I enjoy math during the 5th grade so much? Was it because of my teacher’s apparent enthusiasm in the subject? His constant belief that his students weren’t being pushed hard enough, that he believed in us so much? Or was it because he was so funny? And these questions come up with various other teachers and professors I had in high school and in college.

All of the classes that I enjoyed had someone who wasn’t speaking down at us from some high pedestal. They were speaking with us, perhaps with a hope that they could learn more about the very subject they were teaching from the questions that their students were asking them.

They weren’t just doing their job, they were good company. They could talk about how their morning commute was on the way to school and you would be enthralled with every detail because that’s how they received your own words when you were trying to unpack a difficult concept. I believe the common thread amongst all good teachers is that they made learning enjoyable.

With that being said, creating a vision of what a good teacher is and manifesting that vision in the classroom are two entirely different tasks.

My new challenge: Learning how to entertain kids

Keeping a child focused in a classroom isn’t something you can study in a book. Even with the training given to us when we arrived in China, I still struggle with my new profession. I personally have zero experience in teaching children, so this new profession is often both exciting and stress-inducing.

I’m learning new skills every day, one of the many being how to entertain. I’ve been learning how to be an entertainer ever since I’ve been playing guitar in high school. Studying music in college helped me become comfortable performing in front of people but, kids can be the harshest of critics. Have you ever had a child blatantly roll their eyes in front of your face for every little thing you say? Or have a kid scream for twenty minutes straight because you scare the living daylights out of them? Children teach you that you can’t control other people’s emotions or reactions they have towards you, you can only control your own and go with the flow. Without a deep sense of equanimity and focus on what has to be achieved, the classroom will never be a productive place.

For some of my students I’m the first foreign teacher some of these kids ever encounter. Some of them start their education at my school at the age of three, others at the age of four or five and they haven’t even begun their public education yet. And no amount of preparation before a lesson can account for what a three-year-old will do in a classroom. Children teach you to be comfortable adapting to chaos.

Simplifying my language, engaging with shy students, not being afraid to be stern for classroom management, and trying not to get them to simply recite what I am saying is just a small portion of the challenges I am facing. I notice that if you aren’t deliberate in achieving the goal of teaching them, they lose interest immediately. If I simply have them try to repeat my speech, they stare blankly at my lips and some stop speaking if I only mouth the syllables. Teaching English to pre-K and kindergarten level students is more than just having them learn new words – I’m teaching children the foundations of how to learn. This wasn’t something I prepared for going into this profession but, now that I know this I’m even more excited about what I will be doing about the coming months.

I’m beginning to see some of my own strengths as a teacher. I believe that my kindness is one of my most redeeming factors. Although this is an impediment when it comes to keeping rowdy students in check, shy students have slowly but surely become more responsive to me over time. I also try my best to be as engaging as possible, I don’t want my students sitting in their chairs for every forty minute lesson I have with them. If they are not having fun with me while I teach, they won’t ever look forward to the experience of learning. After a while their boredom can affect me and the last thing I want is to be bored teaching them. It’s not only my job to teach them English, it’s also my job to make them want to learn.

Related: ¿Being Bilingual: Navigating The World With Two Identities?

Present, Practice, & Produce

Another teaching goal that I have as an English as a Foreign Language instructor is ensuring that my students not only produce the English language but, that they also understand new and old concepts about the world in English. Anyone can recite words they hear from someone else, however one doesn’t effectively learn the words they are saying by merely parroting them. They will remain sounds that they can vocalize and nothing more. The end goal should be enhancing their ability to create meaningful conversations with others. Careful consideration must be put into the context and the content used to present new words — when the goal is effective teaching.

I’ve found that no amount of practice without the proper demonstration/presentation of the word will help them produce it on their own. Reflecting on my current journey in increasing my proficiency with Spanish, exposure to a language isn’t enough to help me use it. We have to feel as if the words we are using in a new language is a part of us — it is only when we identify with the words we are using that we can begin to use them comfortably. Having the children describe how they feel, what they like and don’t like, and what they did over the weekend are some discussion topics I have leveraged so far. I am also attempting to have them speak to each other in English, although this task in and of itself is extremely difficult since they immediately default to their native tongue whenever I’m not monitoring them.

Insofar as my current experience has allowed me to see, all children learn differently. However, the practical application of such an obvious statement isn’t as apparent as one might think.

Related: Perfect Practice Makes Perfect vs Practice Makes Perfect

A child’s development is extremely complex

The first four years of a child’s development is vital for building neural pathways in the brain. During the initial stages of my training we went over the theories proposed by Jean Piaget on child psychology and child development. Simply reviewing his Wikipedia has shown me how complex a child’s mind can be and how that complexity differs throughout their formative years.

Children at the age of three to five years old differ drastically in their educational needs and in their personality traits as compared to children ages six to nine. There has to be a constant balance of teaching the content designed for the lesson and being creative in how said content is delivered. Although there has been extensive research done on how to teach mathematics, manners, science, world culture, music, art, and various other subjects within the context of English language education – certain topics will be too difficult to grasp if a child’s individual needs aren’t taken into account. Even with all the lesson preparation done beforehand, if the particular student’s needs aren’t also considered then everyone’s time will be wasted. Besides one can never truly plan a lesson in which everything goes “according to the script”.

And that’s where my final challenge lies. In the year that follows, I’m going to be tasked with not only teaching my students English but, also with providing them a foundation in which they can see their own progress in learning various subjects. I believe that the earlier we are able to see the fruits of our own labor from within the classroom setting, the faster we can begin to optimize our own self-education and take responsibility for it. This is what I believe is the ultimate goal of teaching. The students shouldn’t be merely reciting new words but, learning how to have conversations about topics that interest them. Learning how to develop a curiosity of the world, utilizing multiple languages.

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Surviving As A College Grad Isnt Impossible Kenny Soto

Surviving As A College Grad Isn’t Impossible, Right?

“Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.” — Jerzy Gregorek

 

What I wish I knew before graduating college

It happens once every year. Parents full of tears and hope for their children; professors, college administrators, faculty, and staff watch as young and hopeful students ascend from their 4-5 year journey from academia into the professional world.

With a promise of new opportunities and fulfilling their dreams and aspirations, graduates look forward to their future adult lives. However, as they are thrusted into the market and entrusted to be responsible young adults – some look to the future with unease. An anxiety creeps in as a realization occurs, “I am no longer a student. I’m an adult now.”

I never self-identified with the term millennial until I graduated college. Being placed into a category that’s often looked down upon didn’t jibe well with me. Now that it has been two years since I’ve graduated, I’ve had more time to think about why so many people my age are suffering from huge amounts of stress and angst.

Having taken the time to discuss the issue of life after college with recent grads, I’ve found that the general sentiment the majority of us feel is, none of us really know what we’re doing when we are starting our careers.

This realization is reassuring only in the fact that we are all going through this struggle together, regardless of the varying degrees of internal strife we may feel. Some get past this hurdle faster than others, some hide their angst better than others, and others try to espouse a nonchalant approach towards their future considering how much time we have to “figure it out.”

I’ve been pursuing some reasonable approach that I could use to tackle the issues at hand, with little luck. I find that trying to create a solid identity, one that really encompasses my passions and allows me to truly have an impact on society, to be utterly difficult to accomplish.

“Advice taken from the past doesn’t always relate to the new and unique challenges that our generation is facing today.”

For seventeen years of my life I have identified as a student. Now that this is no longer the case, I like many of my peers alongside me have to figure out what to is my identity. Moreover, we find ourselves in a position in which, for the most part, we’ve never experienced before.

We have new responsibilities, with no manuals available to help us navigate the new world we are entering. Advice made taken the past doesn’t always relate to the new and unique challenges that our generation is facing today. Both the domestic and global job marketplace is constantly changing. Job security is a thing of the past and yet, for the most part, we have been taught in a way that helps us navigate the markets of the 20th century.

No one will make your schedule for us, there are no handouts, and we all have to assume our own responsibilities. It’s more than just identifying with a profession.

Understanding fully well that a career isn’t built in a day, there still seems to be this unspoken pressure from so many places. Perhaps this pressure I personally feel could be coming from the fact that I’m a first generation American. I’m certain that I’m not the only one who has a unique “chip on their shoulder.” Whether it’s from your parents, social circle, society – the pressure won’t go away. However, the pressure that should take priority is the pressure we give ourselves to succeed and find happiness in a way that we define.

 

Related: 5 Tips To Use When Surviving Life After College

 

Finding a dream job vs. your place in life

It’s easy to settle for the first comfortable job that comes your way during your first six months after graduating. Your parents stress the fact that you need to start contributing to the household. Or if you live on your own, you need to keep maintaining the lifestyle you’re building for yourself. There’s also the added pressure of competing with your friends who have also graduated. “Peter has a new gig as a (insert generic entry level position) at (some prestigious firm)! His prospects are very promising.”

Both the social pressure of trying to seem like you have everything figured out and the balancing act of trying to simply survive and pay off any college debt you may have add to the hasty decision-making for getting the first job that comes your way. That’s what happened to me.

I thought that if I took a job at a startup, I’d at least have something to show for myself. I believed that it was a good starting point as any other and if it didn’t work out I could just move to another company. So that’s what I did.

I moved up the corporate ladder until I got into my dream job, but something didn’t sit well with me. Even with all of the hard work I put into keeping up with appearances and advancing my career I still felt unfulfilled.

I fell into the trap of listening to other people’s expectations they had for me and not designing the expectations I had for myself.

There is no perfect path. There is no reason for you to decide that what you studied in college is what you need to actually do. And going immediately back to school to get a master’s degree or a higher one doesn’t boost the prospect of you getting your “dream job.” It will most certainly guarantee an increase of your debt.

I believe one of the shifts in thinking all us need to adopt is that just because we have college degrees doesn’t mean we are special. What will truly differentiate us in the market is the accumulation of life experiences and the purposeful adoption of struggles and discomfort we make over time. These things aren’t obtained through a college education – that’s why we shouldn’t rush into things.

Sure, with all practicality in mind, we do need to pay our bills. At the same time, need to be very calculated with the opportunities we say no to because it’s the no’s that will create the foundation of our careers.

Our time is the most valuable tool we have right now.

”How can I help people and enjoy my time doing it?” This is the question we should be asking ourselves. It all begins with doing a self-audit of our desires and interests, and it’s not too late to do that even if you’ve already begun working in that lovely cubicle or desk you’ve vied for since leaving the academic world.

A fulfilling career isn’t obtained in a day, it takes a tremendous amount of time.

 

 

Do not confuse cognitive ability with maturity

Keeping the challenge of obtaining our dream jobs, realizing our identity outside of school, and surviving our first decade as adults in mind, there is another shift in our thinking we need to make.

We must not confuse our cognitive ability with maturity. They aren’t the same.

Our educational system coddles us in a way. We expect our time to be managed for us. For things to be clear cut, which doesn’t work with reality. If we can’t break away from the patterns that were predefined for us, how can we create our own in the future?

Maturity is accepting responsibility and choosing our struggles before they are thrusted upon us. However, it is difficult to accept our own responsibilities when we are comparing ourselves to our peers.

Comparing yourself with others can lead to a dead end. If you find yourself jealous or stuck ia n rut because you’re not checking off the boxes – you’re not alone, but you need to stay grounded in reality. It’s impossible to know all the nuances that led to someone else’s success. Envy can be used as a tool to help you succeed, but only if you stay grounded on what success means for you. Just because you received good grades throughout your academic career doesn’t mean you can manage a home on your own. It doesn’t equate to any skills that could be used to help a team grow, it doesn’t ensure that you can be an asset.

Focus on the small things first. Can you create a budget? Do you have the ability to set your own schedule, to say no to the events and opportunities that have nothing to do with your daily goals? Can you set a plan and stick to it? Are you auditing your friends and social circle to make sure you’re being celebrated and supported, instead of being tolerated and doubted?

All of these questions have to be asked frequently if we want to make sure we are staying on track. “Adulting” only occurs when we first define what type of adult we want to be and work our way backwards to where we are today.

 

Related: Creating Your Own Curriculum For Self-Education After College

 

We all go through the growing pains of “adulting”

“Adulting” isn’t impossible. It sure is difficult and arduous, but with enough time spent thinking about our lives – we can tackle our issues with full force. We can achieve our goals, no matter the time it takes to do so. However, it all begins with a realistic view of our futures.

The world is constantly changing. Our education cannot cope nor can it adapt to the changes from technology. It’s up to us to assume responsibility.

We have to create and venture into our paths of self-education. This isn’t the same as getting a higher degree. A master’s degree or PhD won’t solve issues regarding our character.

Travel the world. Volunteer and work for free – see if you actually enjoy working in the field you studied before you invest decades into it. Leverage the internet to not only consume content, use it to help you learn.

You will make mistakes and that’s okay. We all have our own paces when it comes to learning; we all have our unique struggles. What we have to do is assume responsibility for these struggles because it is through them that we will grow up.

Remember, there is no easy path. There is no manual.

 

This blog post was inspired by a podcast episode with Professor Jordan Peterson, when he was interviewed on the Joe Rogan Experience. If you’re a fan of audiobooks or podcasts in general, I highly recommend listening Dr. Peterson’s interview with Joe as accompanying content to this article. In this podcast episode, Dr. Peterson discusses the challenges that young people are currently facing (among other topics). The point of inspiration I gained from the episode comes mainly from his claim that in order to justify your suffering that comes from living in this world, you have to assume responsibility over your life. I wouldn’t do any justice to what he says by paraphrasing him any further, this article is mainly pointed towards the reflections I have made while struggling with life after college.

If you have any tidbits of advice or personal stories you’d like to share, please leave a comment below and let’s chat! How you are “Adulting” right now? How do you define the term?

 

Related: A College Grad’s Biggest “Adulting” Challenge: Managing Money

 

A special thanks to Alejandra Barraza, Rachelle Campos, Kenneth Reed, Matthew Jacquet, Rene Jimenez, Kenny Moreno, and Devin Rajaram for discussing these issues with me and for helping me write this article.

 

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Kenny Soto China

Days 3-9 – A Lot Has Happened, Living In China Isn’t Easy

Proper preparation prevents poor performance

I must admit that even with all the preparation I did before arriving in Beijing, I have found myself to be overwhelmed. This feeling tends to persist every day, mainly due to all the challenges I have faced.

I faced my first toilet challenge at a shopping mall, of all the places it could have happened. Even with the time I took beforehand on YouTube to research how the toilets are used here—I still forgot to carry toilet paper and hand sanitizer with me at all times. Traveling is comfortable with the internet but, only if you remember what you’ve learned. With that said, there are other subtle aspects of life in Beijing that I still have issues wrapping my head around.

This feels like 1984

Another part of China that I still need to get used to is the sheer amount of cameras that seem to be in every subway station and public vicinity. Even at my job, cameras are commonplace. The Chinese love to take photographs of foreigners (lǎowài/老外) whenever they can. We are an oddity to them, and the concept of privacy isn’t a thing here.

Cameras are used to deter crime (both violent and petty) and to maintain the public order and harmony that ensures a stable society. In one subway station alone, you can find over 40 cameras staring at you from all angles.

I feel as if I am living in Orwell’s nightmare. However, I am not as disturbed about this as I thought I would be. In any given room in the States, there are as many cameras as there are people. Perhaps China isn’t as different in this regard, maybe as time goes on our own concept of privacy will erode as well—we are already used to being tagged in photos on social media without our approval beforehand. In addition to that, we don’t really know how our data is being used to influence our lives (*cough cough* Cambridge Analytica).

Adaptation Comes In Many Forms

My ability to adapt quickly is undoubtedly being tested now. I recently purchased a new phone so that I could have access to cellular data while I’m here. However, I feel like a child with this new phone in my hand.

I have no idea how it works, not only because I’m used to Apple’s user interface—most of the apps on this phone are in Mandarin. Even with all of my language settings converted into English, some of the apps needed to live in China (Alipay, JinShiSong, Didi, Taobao, and Baidu) only have Mandarin or limited Pinyin text. I wish I had the foresight to unlock my iPhone before leaving the States so that I wouldn’t have this issue but, I guess this will help me pick up the language faster.

Another aspect of China I’m still getting used to is the nightlife. There are a large number of bars that cater to expats, and I’ve already learned how to purchase some beer (píjiǔ/啤酒), the hard part is getting used to all of the prostitutes who try to solicit my friends and me. They are incredibly pushy and even when you say “no thank you” or bùyào/不要 (which has become my favorite word since I’ve arrived, considering how many people try to sell me shit I don’t want), they still persist. They think that if you’re just drunk enough you’ll succumb to their pitches—even though the majority of prostitutes I’ve encountered both by my own experience and from stories my friends have told—are all in their 40s to mid-50s. I don’t see myself ever getting accustomed to this aspect of Beijing’s nightlife.

There’s An Economy Based On Illiteracy

Lastly, I was able to see the Great Wall Of China. The experience on the wall itself was terrific but, getting there was a hassle. My friends and I arrived by bus, and we ended up getting lost in a parking lot as soon as we got there. After that, we ended up walking past the main entrance twice. We kept going into a shopping area for tourists and those who have already completed their journey on the wall.

As we were walking, we ended up stumbling into a photo booth/ticket area. When we purchased our tickets, we believed we were being scammed because we were guided into another area to take photos. Since no one could speak English, we were under the assumption that we didn’t need to pay them for the pictures we took. If we had known how to say “no thank you” correctly or “what’s going on?”, we could have avoided the whole awkward moment in the first place.

What worries me is any future situation in which people actually have nefarious intentions. Will I be able to see what’s about to happen before it occurs? It’s a persistent fear that I have right now.

I guess I just have to get used to the fact that I am not as smart as I thought I was back home.

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