Challenge 76: Information Awareness

We’d like to extend a special welcome to 3 new challengers this week.  The BestMe was founded by a small group of individuals who decided to squeeze more out of life, seventy-six weeks later we’re still growing strong!

We’ve discussed the idea of “uniqueness” in many forms, and for good reason.  We live in a culture in which almost all of our daily experiences are prefabricated or mediated in one form or another.  This has been the case our entire lives… from the time we rise in the morning, to the time we fall asleep, almost every object we come in contact with has been designed by another human being to fulfill a specific purpose, or to assist us in accomplishing a specific task.  From the clothes we wear, to the tools we use, yes… even something as simple as the hammer was invented, and iteratively refined.  An interesting thought experiment is to consider: what elements of your environment have not been design or engineered to facilitate your daily life?

You may not be aware, but the face of the internet has also changed drastically in the past few years.  In his riveting TED talk, Eli Pariser reveals how facebook has begun filtering out friends with views that oppose your own, and how google has begun to drastically alter it’s search results based on what an algorithm believes you will want to find.  What does this mean?  It means that the very tools that we use to explore new realms of knowledge are guiding us back towards the familiar.  In short, our prefabricated experiences are now being tailor made not for us, but for the person whom an algorithm believes we should be.  This information is not intended to be shocking, our hope is only to raise awareness, and the decision about what to do with this awareness is entirely yours.  You can go back to life as usual, and completely forget about these words, or you can fight to carve out a slice of the beautiful universe that is wholly unique, and completely your own.

The Challenges
For our seventy-sixth weekly challenge, please choose one of the following. Use the provided link to register your challenge selection.

Challenge One (register)
A week without any social media website.

This would involve deactivating the account and removing all contact emails that are sent out even though the account is inactive.

We won’t deny that social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace have numerous benefits.  They allow us to organize, voice our opinions and keep in touch with one-another like never before.  But while social networking sites can often be our saving grace, they can just as quickly become our ball and chain.  Let’s face it, time spent checking up on your friend’s whereabouts or tending to your virtual farm is fine until it starts diverting you away from the tasks you were doing in the first place.  For this week, go without these diversions and pay attention to how it changes the structure and output of your week.  Were you more productive? Did you find you had a hard time going without it? Or did you fill the time you would have spent on Facebook with something else?

Challenge Two (register)
Make someone’s day. Surprise them with something out of the ordinary to make their day better.

SURPRISE!  Your good friend just baked you a batch of your favorite cookies completely out of the blue!  Ok… so this isn’t true, but could you imagine how happy you’d be if it were?  This week make it your goal to bestow that kind of happiness upon someone else!  With just a little bit of effort, you can completely make someones day, and you don’t even need to bake goods.  Brainstorm some ideas and tailor your surprise for your friend… you could burn a CD of songs that remind you of them, or just write a nice little note and decorate it with stickers.  Not only will your friend enjoy this surprise, we guarantee it’ll brighten up your day as well.

Challenge Three (register)
Practice any form of meditation, schedule yourself at least three sessions that are 15-20 minutes in length.

It’s possible to gain the greatest joy from the simplest things in life.  We can spend time at the gym pushing ourselves to become stronger, faster, and sharper… but we should keep in mind that often the correct path involves slowing down, and simplifying.  Meditation is simply an activity that  focuses your mind completely on the moment at hand and enables you to be purely present.  Regularly practicing meditation can infuse your daily life with rejuvenating energy and help you keep a clear head during times of turmoil.  Set a timer to prevent your mind from lingering on how much time has passed. We have provided several meditations here, if you haven’t tried the Orange meditation, give it a try this week!

Selected Quote
“I have discovered that we may be in some degree whatever character we choose… practice forms a man to anything.”
-James Boswell

This Week: You Should Know
Behind the Scenes of New York’s Same-Sex Marriage Act

Last week, the State of New York became the sixth U.S. state (along with Washington DC and the Coquille Indian Tribe) to legalize same-sex marriage.  Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law on June 24, fulfilling a major campaign promise despite one of the fiercest legislative battles in recent history.  To those outside of realm of New York state politics, the achievement might have come as a surprise.  However, for months leading up to the vote in the New York State Assembly an unlikely alliance combined with an intense lobbying campaign made the historic moment possible.

Governor Cuomo was sworn into office in January 2011 after having promised his supporters to make same-sex marriage legislation a major legislative priority throughout his campaign.  The months ahead involved redefining the battlegrounds over the issue: changing minds in a Republican-led New York State Senate through an unlikely alliance of politicians, lobbyists, celebrities, activists, and even former President Bill Clinton.  Republican senators Mark Grisanti and Stephen Saland decided to vote in favor of the bill on Friday, allowing it to pass by the slim margin of 33-29.  “I cannot legally come up with an argument against same-sex marriage,” said Seland, the only Republican to support the measure.

The New York Times reported about an alliance of “top Republican moneymen helping a Democratic rival with one of his biggest legislative goals”: Republicans feared conservative backlash (i.e. diminished campaign and political support) for supporting the bill, but deep-pocketed libertarian-leaning donors, like billionaire Paul Singer or Hedge Fund managers Cliff Asness and Daniel Loeb, assuaged their nervousness with political support of their own.  When the alliance forged, minds began to change.  What many saw publicly as an emotional appeal for gay rights that won the day was perhaps more of a brilliant display of political opportunism and maneuvering privately, led by a stalwart Governor taking advantage of the changing dynamics in the conservative opposition to same-sex marriage.

When the legislation goes into effect on July 24, 2011, the population of same-sex couples in the country is expected to double.  Same-sex marriage is currently legal in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Washington DC.  California approved it only to see it banned later from 2008’s infamous Proposition 8 ballot vote.  New York is the largest state in country to approve same-sex marriage, and its achievement will go down as perhaps a major turning point in what many are calling the civil rights battle of the 21st century.

Original Content Provided by BestMe 2011.

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