Monday, July 13, 2009

Am I too pessimistic for my age?--A 15 yr old wants to know

Among other things, I talk about social technology on this blog. I've long been curious about the multiple uses and applications of Q&A social media. These "advice" services have grown dramatically in recent years. The ability to get an expert opinion for free is tempting. But you can even pay to get answers on some sites promoting "experts".

Every popular Q&A site has a different value-add, a unique offering. Aardvark, a fairly young Q&A service, was recently talked about in The New York Times. The distinguishing feature of Aardvark is that the application asks only a "friend" or "friend-of-friend". According to the service:
A real conversation with a friend (or friend-of-friend) can be much more helpful than searching the web — all the knowledge and experience in people’s heads can’t be put on a web page!
The idea is that if this person is connected to you somehow they will be more reliable and more relevant. But people who ask questions on Yahoo! Answers, the most popular Q&A social media site on the Internet, get a faster response because there are so many people online to answer the question, and the archives cover a vast storehouse of previously answered questions.

Q&A sites are interesting as social media experiments. Typically, there is a reputation system in place. Users who answer more questions and receive higher ratings from their peers gain more exposure. In other words, power users have more influence on the site. This happens to be true of all social technology.

Tonight, while I was on the Yahoo! search page, a strange link appeared up in the News section. "What came first, the chicken or the egg?" was the "news story" and it directed me to Yahoo! Answers. Once I was there, I read the question, then the answers; and I "friended" a couple of the people whose answers I liked. (BTW, this question crops up regularly on Yahoo! Answers simply because it cannot be resolved).

Within seconds I received an email in my inbox stating someone had invited me to answer their question. I went to the site and the question was this, written by a 15 yr old:
Am I too pessimistic for my age?
I'm 15 and I don't believe in

-true love
-love at first site
-the perfect man/woman
-soul mates

honestly, there's no solid proof that any of these things exist and I just can't find a way to let myself believe in them.

So I kinda feel...empty.
I had nothing to do, so I thought I would answer her question. Why not? At her age, I could have used an answer to that question.

Here is my reply:
You will feel this way your entire life. Some days you will forget, but you will always return to this feeling.

Every human being feels this way. It is part of what it means to be human.

Don't get overly hung up on it.

Use the feeling of emptiness as a positive motivation to make your life mean something.

If you start out with nothing, then you always have the potential to be something.

If on the other hand you start out with everything, you have everything, feel everything wonderful, then what is there left to do?

So emptiness is good. Even if it feels lonely sometimes, it's good.

I look at this feeling of emptiness, loneliness, boredom, etc. as an advantage.

When there is less water in the cup, there is more room. Beliefs are like stones in a cup of water, the more stones, the less room. So not having set, fixed, rigid beliefs actually turns out to be a good thing!

Feelings come and go. You'll always have time on your hands. How will you spend it?

That's up to you.

Your optimism or pessimism will usually depend on something. Sometimes we think of things in a positive light, sometimes in a negative light. Some people are pessimistic by temperament; others optimistic.

There is nothing wrong with being pessimistic. And, on the other hand, optimism is not always good.

You may not have a belief system now, but someday you will. You will have a belief system if you're religious, secular, or not thinking about "existence" at all. You will come to believe in certain things.

You just haven't lived long enough to believe that strongly one way or another about these ideas.

Proof is always riddled with error. You will never have proof, but you will come to believe in things.

You're telling a story about the world and your experience in the world.

It will always be a story.

"Every man believes he's in possession of the truth."

One of my favorite writers said that. Robert Musil, in his opus, The Man without Qualities.

If you want to exercise your mind, read that book.
The unique ability to tap into a diversity of opinions is the essential character of the Internet. Q&A sites are popular for this reason alone. A service like Yahoo! Answers or Aardvark can really help a person. You know the feeling of wanting desperately to know the answer to something.

I enjoyed writing this response to an anonymous 15 yr old. I don't think I'll spend the rest of my days answering questions on Yahoo! Answers, but for a change of pace, it was a worthwhile experience.

We enjoy helping each other out. Especially when we get to share our wisdom and make a sincere connection.

You can see how other people responded to her question here.



5affy said...

The only thing that would concern with that reply is that you don't know is she is coming from having been raised religously in which case their may have been underlaying meaning in her emptyness - a sense of failure which isn't nessaceraly evident.

I liked it though and yeah I could have done with that at 15 except was still trying to deal with the religous wholes I saw and would never have had the courage to admit thats what I was thinking and feeling.

Mobutu Sese Seko said...

Social Media Poll:

1. How much time do you expend answering social media polls?

2. What satisfaction do you find in answering social media polls?

3. If answering them didn't result in any hits or attention for Twitters, blogs or other social media exposure you have, would you expend any time on them?

4. If engaging in them didn't provide topics for blogs, would you bother? I mean, assume you wouldn't get any hits at all for participating: why would you care?

5. Would your conduct be different in a complete vacuum? Apply this to all previous answers.

Lethe said...

I sense a degree of sarcasm in your "social media poll".

Teia Hassey said...

I am glad you went with your feeling of responding to this 15yr old. I could have used someone else's opinion at that age too.
Some of my family are religious and others not. At that age I was pessimistic and read books like crazy trying to figure life out. I think we all develop our beliefs through our own experiences in life. That's how we become who we are. It seems more adolescent kids need this advice too.
We are so fortunate to have advice and life experiences from others on the Internet to learn from. It seems to bring the world to a closer place.


emertron said...

This kind of makes me want to make out with you because that's what we used to do when we were 15 (or maybe it wasn't until 17) & wish you would have shared some of these thoughts with me because I was having them too & I probably would have stuck with you instead of going back to that idiot captain of the wrestling team who was bad in bed.

Or did you dump me?

Can't remember now. Guess it doesn't matter because we still talk & I haven't heard from him since the last time he tried to get in my pants (4.5 years ago). And did (4.5 years ago). And was still just as bad as he was in high school. It was pretty sad.

kira_arg said...


I think 5affy wrote "Religious wholes" and not "Religious whores". Still that doesn't make sense!

I agree with your reply to the 15 year old.

Also agree about the whole religious background factor. (i.e. having to force oneself to believe in God just because one's family believes in it. I'm sure in many strongly religious families doubting one's religion is akin to coming out as gay.)

Very charming the way you've written your answer: gentle, understanding and encouraging:

"Use the feeling of emptiness as a positive motivation to make your life mean something.

If you start out with nothing, then you always have the potential to be something.

If on the other hand you start out with everything, you have everything, feel everything wonderful, then what is there left to do?"

I think the teen is in a wonderful position even though at this stage in life she might struggle. I have a feeling that this particular teen has the potential to grow up and become a good scientist and if not, then at least a mature adult who doesn't take things at face value. A mind that questions is a very valuable mind! :) If I knew her personally I would give her a congratulatory hug.

Lethe said...

5affy: You bring up a good point. Religion changes a lot. Maybe she's ashamed, I don't know.

Teia: "We are so fortunate to have advice and life experiences from others on the Internet to learn from." I totally agree. The Internet is valuable in this sense, as a form of wisdom.

emerton: I never dumped you. I always thought you were so cute and sexy.

Kira: "I have a feeling that this particular teen has the potential to grow up and become a good scientist and if not, then at least a mature adult who doesn't take things at face value." This is a very good observation and one that I didn't make myself. Her question definitely says a lot about her character doesn't it. Even her intelligence. You won't find most 15 yr old asking questions like that. I have hope.

ChaSchva said...

I think that was an ambitious and positive act. Certainly a good exercise in humanity and I hope it helps her.

If only someone would have shared such an experience with me when I was 15 and thinking like that. Heck, I'm 23 and it's still good to hear!

Lethe said...

Thank you, ChaSchva

aaster52 said...

You said it kiddo; ahh.. to be a 15 year old child again. I love you honey; keep up the good work. Yer Ma here in Palatine, IL. a NW Burb of Chicago, IL.

ST said...

mI feel this girl is a precocious one- too ahead of her age, but not necessarily pessimistic. She has her own way of looking at things and is not easily swayed by what society or the opinion makers think, which I really, realaly appreciate. I also appreciate that you took the time to give her this very thoughtful explanation. Way to go!

Lethe said...

ST: Definitely precocious, I agree. And thank you.

Timothy Wright said...


I believe that we all need hope. This young boy needs hope. I hope he has enough people around him who love him and walk him personally through this. While it is good for him to ask this question, his despair will be healed by the people who love hi, believe in him and walk with him through this difficult time.


sarah said...

yeah I ment holes or gaps/contrdictions etc... sorry having huge problems with spellings at the mo :(

Showeda said...

Love this reply and your spin on emptiness...Would have loved a brother's/friend's wisdom at the time too...The emptiness you describe is rarely mentioned in such comfortable tones...Hence, I believe it to be so misunderstood and feared in life...Your thoughts on facebook connections reinforces that with LOl moments...You are a great writer, love this YOU !

Terri Lloyd said...

I think one must consider where one was at when one was 15. Then one must consider the emotional quotient, the hormonal quotient, the peer and family pressures and societal pressures upon kids --today.

I don't find the youth pessimistic at all. I find this person to be a critical thinker, challenging all that has been foisted upon him/her, in search for his/her own meaning of self and life. (Which is what should have been said. Instead of some long diatribe. Kid is 15, remember? Attention span...)

It is important not to accept all that is presented via the internet, mainstream media, the church or even your parents. This is 15.

It is important to provide youth a sense of acceptance and understanding in their quest for meaning. Even if we don't get it.

So, is it really an emptiness or is it something else? Maybe a not understanding of self, yet?

Perhaps this isn't emptiness at all, but the moment before discovery.

Isn't that what being 15 was about? Breaking away from the familial unit (leaning independence) and asking hard questions and waiting, anticipating the moment of self-discovery.

Alyssa said...

I'm fifteen years old, and from my point of view your response was good. It was hopeful, but it wasn't the blind optimism that people under the age of 18 usually get when they're having doubts.That's something that I think a lot of children would appreciate. Although I feel there was more to this person's problem than just his or her beliefs (or lack there-of), I think you answered this the best you could have with the information you were given.

I don't look at blogs often, so I apologize if I'm doing or saying something strange, but after coming across your blog and reading what it said I thought I should show my support.

Lethe said...


Thank you for leaving your comment! I hope you come back to visit soon . . .


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