Sinkhole

By now I am pretty sure there are not too many people who are ignorant about how social media is willfully designed by Silicon Valley to keep you hooked. In fact, you probably stumbled upon this post while scrolling mindlessly down your Facebook news feed, and for that I am thankful, even though you ultimately lose.

I am not even one of the paying social media advertisers who funnel money to Google and Snapchat and Instagram so that the software engineers there can research fun new ways to keep you addicted. These advertisers essentially pay the social media firms to hijack your eyeballs. You should charge a fee for the use of your retinas...

Even knowledge of social media's explicit brain hacking doesn't seem to deter many people from engaging with social media. That's because the addictive qualities of social media target the emotional brainstem, a far more potent part of the brain than the cerebrum (rational brain). Each time you get a like or a comment or a share on social media, your brain gets a tiny little dose of pleasurable dopamine reward. Not quite enough to bring you significant pleasure, but just enough to keep you searching your feed for the next microdose of pleasure.

More often than I'd like to admit, I find myself mindlessly scrolling down my Facebook feed looking for something interesting, even when I know full well there is nothing there ever. I have to consciously will myself to stop. I think that my daily morning meditations have been beneficial in helping me disconnect from social media. Every morning, I meditate for 15 minutes. The mental exercise is to focus my mind on my breathing and dispel extraneous thoughts that invariably creep in. When they do, it requires conscious mental effort to recognize that my mind has wandered and then push the thought(s) out of my mind. I usually do this by visualizing the extraneous thought as a drawing on a piece of paper, which I then mentally crumple up and throw away in the virtual trash can in my mind.

Escaping social media's clutches uses a similar strategy. I have to first make myself aware that I've been sucked into a social media sinkhole and then willfully stop, usually by logging out of the social media app I am in or turning off my device entirely.

Terrifying Travels in Trump Territory

Waukesha WI is well known as the right wing extremist and election fraud* capital of Wisconsin. It would be the white supremacy capital as well, except for the fact that dubious title is held by the city of West Bend WI.

Outside of the blue collar, progressive cities of Milwaukee and Madison, rural Wisconsin is largely a red and hateful state. Since Donald Trump got elected, this has only gotten worse.

I don't often leave the safe and progressive comfort zone of Madison WI, where I live with my wife Deborah among groovy, albeit aggressively nice, people. I won't lie to you...I don't like most right wing conservatives. They are usually either willfully ignorant or irrationally fearful and hateful for religious or other reasons. Sometimes both. I don't have time for people like that and, honestly, their mental state and self destructive behavior scares me a little.

That being said, my distaste for the undesirable people that aggregate in Wisconsin's "red zones" is not sufficient to dissuade me from pursuing fun things that happen in those places. This past weekend was a perfect example. My friend Sherry and I had signed up for a social bike ride on Sunday, called the Chimichanga Ride, with the Wisconsin Bicycling meetup group. It takes place on a stretch of the Glacial Drumlin recreational bike trail between Dousman and Waukesha WI and we have participated in it for the past three years. This year was the first time it has happened under an extremist right wing Republican dictatorship in America and I was curious to see how this political climate had affected the atmosphere of fear and hate outside Wisconsin's blue zones.

When we arrived at the start of the bike ride on the main drag of puny Dousman, Sherry went into a local diner to use the restroom.

"I got some really dirty looks," Sherry said when she returned. "I don't think they liked me using their bathroom."

"Did you buy anything?" I asked her. "Sometimes these provincial establishments have arbitrary rules that only paying customers can use the facilities. It makes no sense."

"No," Sherry replied. "I didn't need anything."

"I wouldn't mind a cup of coffee to warm myself up," I said and headed toward the door of the diner. It was a sunny but brisk spring morning.

When we entered the diner, a homely woman employee scowled at us but said nothing. A slightly less homely hostess behind the front counter gave me a dead eyed stare and asked, "Can I help you?"

At a visceral level, every ounce of my being was telling me to flee this hostile place immediately, but instead I asked, "Can I get a coffee to go?" I should have left it at that but I could not resist adding, "...with soy milk?" Even though these rural places devote thousand of acres of arable land to growing soybean monocultures, Wisconsin is still very much the dairy state and non-dairy beverages are considered sacreligious abominations.

"We don't have soy milk," the surly hostess snarled.

"What about two percen...?"

"We have half and half," the hostess barked, cutting me off.

"That'll work," I acquiesced. "Small coffee with half and half then...and a cookie. Are those macadamia nut cookies?" I enquired, pointing at some macadamia nut cookies in the plexiglass display on the counter.

"Yes they are," the hostess said.

"I'll have one of those."

"Just one?"

"Yes. And the coffee."

"So a cookie and a coffee to go?"

"Correct." She rang up my tab and I paid, leaving a hefty tip mainly to ensure the minimal amount human spittle in my coffee.

The hostess bagged one of the cookies for me and then disappeared into the back of the diner for a length of time I thought excessive for pouring a cup of coffee. When she returned, she said, "Creamer is on the tables. Just take some from there." I did so, and also unfurled one of the cheap paper napkins on the table so I could use the spoon within to stir my coffee.

"Is there somewhere I can put this?" I asked the first, more homely hostess, showing her the spent napkin and silverware in my hand. I didn't want to just leave it on an otherwise clean table.

The hostess sighed and said, "Just give it here." She took it and we high-tailed it out of there, back to the familiar group of cyclists gathering near the bike trail. Some other bikers tried to use the diner's facilities after us, but they reported they were explicitly refused entry for this purpose along.

The bike ride was enjoyable, involving a lunch stop at a Mexican restaurant at the halfway point. Although it was mostly on bike trail, we had to cross a few intersections with busy roads. This is where I observed a much higher proportion than usual of penis-enhancing automobiles, particularly pickup trucks with oversized wheels and jacked up suspensions. These have always been regular sights in rural areas, but there were definitely a lot more of them and their drivers were discourteous to the cyclists trying to cross the roads, notwithstanding signage mandating that they do so.

"They are doubling down on douchebaggery in Trump country," I commented to Sherry.

*Note: Waukesha has over 100% voter turnout in its elections, a fact which has yet to be explained mathematically and investigated. Election fraud is different than voter fraud in that it is perpetrated by corrupt election officials, not voters.