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Jacob Uitti

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“It takes me back to feeling like a left-out teenager,” says beloved Seattle singer-songwriter and new mother, Shelby Earl, when speaking about her recent experiences using Facebook. “Feeling like someone’s relationship looks healthier than mine, or their music career looks like it’s thriving more than mine. In our regular lives, we compare ourselves to other people, but not as readily. We’re not seeing so many people and what they’re up to all the time the way we do with social media. It can make you feel like you’re the one doing it wrong.

Earl weighed in with a post on her personal Facebook page recently. She asked, “On a scale of 1-to-5 (5 being, “like garbage”) how bad does social media make you feel on a regular basis?” She continued,

Maybe it’s just me, but I find that any time I’m feeling crappy for what seems like no reason, if I stop and search myself/isolate the emotion, I find that it’s often something to do with social media that caused the bad feels. Then again, I also genuinely enjoy seeing what everyone is up to and staying connected with people I care about through these channels.

Earl received 50-some comments in response, many of them agreeing with her plight. So, given that spending time on Facebook, and other social media platforms, so often creates unpleasant experiences, why do Earl and so many others keep using social media? Israeli writer and philosopher Sam Vaknin, who recently appeared in the 2016 Vice documentary, “How Narcissists Took Over the World,” says it’s because we’ve conditioned ourselves to do so–and it’s by design. Social media, Vaknin says, exploits an often ugly incentive structure in our psyche, one based on “likes” and little else. This new dynamic then pushes us toward anxiety inside a platform that too often relies on anger for fuel.

And Vaknin is not alone. His theories are supported by many in the world of tech, including former Facebook higher-ups Sean Parker and Chamath Palihapitiya. An early investor in Facebook, Parker spoke at an Axios conference in Philadelphia in 2017, “It’s a social-validation feedback loop … exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology.” In December of that same year, former Facebook VP Palihapitiya offered his thoughts to the Washington Post, “It literally is a point now where I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.”

While Shelby Earl is not the first artist to bring up the problem in Seattle, she is a respected voice in Seattle’s creative community. Earl, who sells out shows at prominent venues across the country and has played with a myriad of talented musicians, says that using social media regularly leaves her feeling socially and professionally inadequate. She finds herself comparing her career or her relationship to others on a seemingly endless loop. And these comparisons, she notes, are rooted in curated, often two-dimensional exposures that don’t give the full picture of anyone’s real-life day-to-day.

According to Facebook, there were 2.32 billion monthly active users on the site as of December 31, 2018, and 1.52 billion daily active users. Twitter boasts 326 million monthly active users with 500 million Tweets sent per day. Instagram has over 100 million monthly active users. These numbers stagger the imagination, especially when considering these platforms didn’t exist 20 years ago. It may even be the case that you, dear reader, are on social media right now. And if you are a social media user, has this thought ever run through your head? “I should delete my profile…” Probably.

At the outset, social media was sold to the public as a tool for communication and connection. Information is power, we thought, so let’s share as much of it as we can. And if we can achieve this new sense of “closeness,” perhaps all our troubles will diminish. But, Vaknin argues, it’s now evident that social media encourages negative behavior and interactions. And this leads many users to wonder if the platforms are destroying communities, rather than building them.

In a detailed piece released in January 2018, the BBC says that over 3 billion people use social media, about 40 percent of the world. In the report, social media is said to contribute to heightened levels of stress, lowered moods, and an increase in anxiety. The same report, however, noted that social media has some benefits if used wisely. Social media, the report says, is a tool that can help lower depression depending on the type of community one keeps on the platforms. In short, connection to negative responses lowers happiness, while positive reinforcement can raise moods. But can a platform that incentivizes negativity, as Vaknin claims, really ever be ultimately good?

Vaknin, whose work focuses on narcissism and psychopathy, asserts in a recent interview for the documentary, “Plugged-in: The True Toxicity of Social Media Revealed,” with life coach and journalist Richard Grannon, that social media programmers knowingly “built addiction into” their systems. For one, he says, there is no usage time limit. You can essentially chain smoke social media. Secondly, the platforms are built to produce immediate gratification that, when it subsides, causes the user internal frustration similar to withdrawal. As a result, Vaknin believes, social media is a contributor to rising levels of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), depression and, worse, even suicide. This is especially true among young people who have never known a world without it, Vaknin says.

Again, Parker agrees, saying at the Axios event, “God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.” And a 2018 study, conducted by the University of Southern California, found that adolescents exposed to social media see a “statistically significant” increase in symptoms of ADHD compared to their counterparts.

Further, Vaknin says, social media tends to create digital clusters of like-minded people in mediated interactions. It’s purported that these clusters are groups of friends, but in reality, that’s often not the case. Instead, he claims, people interact with “digital renditions” of each other and enough of this behavior can make the user think the digital world is reality. Human interactions, Vaknin concludes, tend to decrease and the user becomes more accustomed to screen-experiences where intimacy is unfamiliar, even threatening.

While it’s clear that millions of people use social media, and that all of this information might sound like a far-off Doomsday scenario, it’s more real than one might like to admit: all over the world, people engage in online communication on social media platforms, regularly expressing hate and anger, even plotting violence. Google the term “InCel” and you’ll quickly find message boards, web pages and chat rooms laden with sexual frustration, racism, and misogyny, all heightened by isolation and incentivized by negative attention.

But is there any going back from a world drenched in social media? For Earl, whose job often relies on it for communication and promotion, the answer is likely no. “I don’t think there’s a very good chance of that,” she says. “Certainly, I know people who are off social media entirely but my sense is that there is no going back from here. I don’t think social media is destroying us, but I do feel like it’s rewriting us. Personally, I would love to take a break from it. But I work in media and entertainment and it all happens online.”

In the end, there are ways to be more impactful and thoughtful on social media. There are worthwhile charities on the platforms that you can engage with. There are new bands to check out, new fashion and art to discover on their web pages. But ultimately for Vaknin, if someone is looking for true closeness or real humanity, social media is not the place to find it, despite what is claimed by the platforms’ CEOs. And reliance upon social media, Vaknin says, breeds connection, but all too often it’s a connection with negativity, addiction, and narcissism, not love and affection.

Professional card counter, David Drury, began his career calculating odds and beating casinos because of a little “divine intervention.” Dury, a regular churchgoer, had picked up a few card-counting tricks from books and was instantly hooked. Not long after, a friend from church started a high stakes blackjack team.“What are the chances?” Drury says. Dury joined, honed his skills, and since he’s flown the country, stayed in suites, and bet thousands of dollars of other people’s money. For a time, he was even known as one of the “most notorious card counters in America.”

Photography Trevor Boone

Drury, who plays in a popular band in Seattle called Tennis Pro, and is an accomplished short story writer, says the lifestyle of a professional card counter is a grind. It’s not often glamour or glitz, despite the fact he might take a casino for thousands in an evening.

“If you’re good,” he says, “you soon find out that it’s not a matter of just walking in and winning every night. The swings are brutal. Like any job, you have to work hard at maintaining your narrow profit margin, play perfectly, and put in the time.”

With a mop of grey-brown hair, Charlie Brown smile, and kind eyes, Drury, now in his early 40s, is as unassuming as any who’s played a hand of 21. But sitting at a table, he’ll give a dealer a fake name and play in ways that win but draw as little attention to himself as possible. Nevertheless, he’s been walked out of 300 gaming rooms and experienced the ire of casino management and security personnel alike.

“Many of them have backed me off multiple times,” he remembers. “About 30 casinos have ‘trespassed’ me, which is to say that if I go back, they have legal precedent to arrest me. Once or twice a casino manager has kicked me out red-faced, yelling with shaky hands. Once a woman in management tried to physically bar me from leaving the casino like she was a linebacker so that they could interrogate or intimidate me further.”

While casinos frown upon and tend to ban card counters, there is nothing illegal about it. “Casino security,” Drury says, “can generally only forbid a professional from playing a specific game, offering, say, slots or poker as a replacement. But to avoid being ousted, a player must keep his ‘tricks’ hidden from the casino.” Famously, the actor Ben Affleck recently tried his hand at counting cards in a Las Vegas casino — and did rather successfully — but was so obvious about his tracking that he was removed from the table. In fact, Drury wrote an article about the occurrence for the Blackjack Apprenticeship, and Affleck reached out to him to fact check.

Photography Trevor Boone

“Card counting requires a lot of ducking the spotlight,” says Drury, “so that by the end of the night I can take it by rights. [From the beginning], I could sense in myself I was not going to be stopped. I didn’t want to just tinker, I wanted to dominate. I didn’t just want to join the team, I wanted to win more than anyone.”For Drury, the game was never about getting rich. It was about the thrill of winning and working

with a team toward a common goal, beating something that was so fortified that hardly anyone turns the edge.

The money part is thrilling, obviously,” he says, “but I found out I mostly just love beating the game day in and day out. I play one-dollar tables the same way I play multiple hands of thousands of dollars each. The lifestyle is fun to talk about at parties, but the truth is that when I am staying at a fancy resort casino, I can’t sleep in or bring myself to order room service because I know there are tables downstairs waiting to be crushed.

While so much of the process can seem nefarious, and Drury must take precaution for his safety, he also has many fans, some of which are the police officers and security directors paid to block his path. “Once three men in street clothes chased me up a parking garage stairwell,” he says. “But it turned out they were police and after making sure I hadn’t done anything illegal with my casino chips, they asked if I could teach them to beat the casino too.”

Photography Trevor Boone

Today, Drury teaches card counting techniques and is writing a book on his experiences. He also appeared in the 2010 documentary, “Holy Rollers,” which focused on his church group of professional gamblers. And while gambling may not be the first thing one thinks of when they consider the church, Drury says they are indeed connected.

“There is something about living life in the margins that feels related to faith,” Drury explains. “Not quite safe, fielding questions that don’t always have easy answers, paying attention as opposed to feeling smug. The heroes of the Bible were penitent, faithful and trustworthy, but they were also mystical, dubious and off-putting. The Pharisees always seemed confused as to why Jesus wasn’t squeaky clean like them, and his response was that if you are so concerned with being squeaky clean, you’ve missed the point.”

If you spent any time in a bar last year, you very likely heard the buzz surrounding single-use straws. Little table tents and posters proclaiming “Straws suck” are everywhere. Across the nation, bars are eliminating single-use straws. But have you heard of single-use foods? No? Well, that’s where Kelsey Ramage, Iain Griffiths, and their concept-driven business called Tiki Trash, come into play.

Founded in 2016 by Ramage and Griffiths, co-workers at the time in a London cocktail bar, Tiki Trash aims to educate bartenders about the myriad values, and multiple uses an ingredient can offer a mixologist. While the name sounds sensational, the duo isn’t literally plucking items from a wastebasket and adding them to spirits. Rather, the idea is to “intercept” ingredients that would otherwise be headed for the trash and teach bartenders — professional and amateur —how to reuse them in creative ways.

“As bartenders,” says Griffiths, “we saw that chefs had a respect for the produce they were using, chefs had an understanding of the value of everything that came through the door. But the bartenders were missing it. So, we thought it’s about creating a mental shift.”

Since its inception, the two founders have traveled to over 100 cities and 120 events to spread their ideas at pop-up cocktail bars and educational seminars, partnering with food scientists and agricultural experts to ensure quality and sustainability. Upon learning about Tiki Trash, New York City bar Pouring Ribbons created a 24-drink menu without one single-use ingredient included.

Photography By- Lyndon French

No matter how diligent and scientific the duo’s messaging, the question remains: what is the average person’s reaction to a drink concocted, created, and poured by folks with the words “Tiki Trash” emblazoned on their chests? “We do make sure everyone knows this stuff hasn’t been in the trash and that it’s safe,” says Ramage. “And our recipes are researched. You just have to look to the non-profit, Rethink Food, in New York City, for another example of how effective this education can be.” Rethink has provided over 61,500 meals to the homeless from ingredients that would otherwise be destined to be thrown out.

Photography By- Lyndon French

While using foods in multiple applications saves the consumer money, it also helps the planet by slowing the growth of landfills. “If all the wasted, reusable food were a country”, explains Griffiths, “it would be the third largest carbon emitter in the world, behind only America and China. This alone is reason to rethink how we consider food waste,” he says.

But saving food can also be an enjoyable challenge. To imagine how one ingredient can be used multiple times can be a fun puzzle to crack. For example, the fennel greens chopped from the base can be used to garnish a cocktail. Or the lime juiced for a gin and tonic can be first peeled and those peels used to make lime bitters for a new ingredient offering.

Photography By- Steve Ryan

“There are so many hacks we can learn,” Griffiths says. “A single piece of citrus can provide 3-6 uses. We have to consider how we can hack the products we’re buying to get the most out of them. Sustainability has to be at the root of what we’re doing from now on.”

Before becoming a renowned cartoonist, Tony Millionaire struggled to find any work at all. But after quitting a middling dishwashing job, he had an epiphany. He decided to go door-to-door in wealthy neighborhoods drawing the manicured mansions to sell to the people who lived there, earning a living one $25 piece at a time. In the winter, though, the drawing work dried up and Millionaire had to scramble to find new income, eventually landing a job as a demolition man.

“The people who had money to spend on drawings lived in big, fancy houses,” recalls Millionaire, now a nationally syndicated cartoonist. “If you have a nice, big old house, the garden comes in perfectly, the roof is fixed, the flowers are coming in nicely. How do you put a period on that? You have somebody draw a picture of it. But you can’t really do that in winter. So, I had to find a job in construction. I used to do the demolition inside houses. I’d tear them down in winter and draw them in summer.”

The grueling grind would become a theme in Millionaire’s professional life. But it was also the path that led him to his greatest creative successes. Down and out, freshly single and a self-identified alcoholic, Millionaire found himself one night at his local bar in New York City, a place called 612. Dejected, he began drawing a big-eyed suicidal bird. It was the birth of his most famous character, Drinky Crow.

“I was sad, depressed, and broken-hearted,” says Millionaire. “I went down to the bar, and I started drawing this depressed little crow blowing his brains out. And the bartender looked over at me and said, ‘Oh, you draw comics?’ I said, ‘Kind of.’ And he said, ‘Draw me a comic, and I’ll give you a beer.’ And I thought, ‘Good God, I’ve got a fucking job. This will get me through the winter.’”

Eventually, more customers in the bar began drawing crows blowing their brains out,but Millionaire remained the sole recipient of beer as payment. Drinky Crows ended up on the bathroom stalls and the walls of the bar. And the owner of 612 loved it. Drinky Crow was the watering hole’s new mascot. And soon, Millionaire didn’t have to draw houses for rich people anymore.

You could say Millionaire was fated to be a cartoonist. Despite a lifestyle and orientation to the world that resembled more skid row than MOMA, art remained thick in Millionaire’s blood. His grandfather and grandmother were professional artists, as was his mother and father. And Millionaire credits their talent and encouragement for shaping his confidence.

“I picked up a crayon and started scribbling and never stopped,” he recalls. “At three, I drew an elephant, and my mother said it was the greatest thing she’d ever seen. She continued to convince me I was a great artist and that’s why I am a great artist.”

At 10, Millionaire told his mother he wanted to be a commercial artist. But she had higher hopes for her progeny.

“She said, ‘You’re going to go to art school, take fine art, learn to draw and learn to paint,’” Millionaire says. “She said, ‘Don’t ever worry about your career, just keep working.’”

As a result, Millionaire has established himself as one of the most prolific cartoonists working today. He’s a craftsman. He doesn’t doodle. Rather, he gets an idea for a strip and bangs it out, creating deep, rich panels with expressive, eye-catching characters. He’s a student of the Sunday papers of the ‘30s and ‘40s, an art form that has all but dried up of late due to vast newspaper cutbacks.

This year, though, he relaunched his popular strip “Maakies”, which originally ran from 1994-2016, online, and has used Instagram to get his work back out in the world. Now he has more readers than ever. His comics are drawn with his lush style and quick wit. But most of all, people love the crass, real-life content — the gut-punch lines — like a crow at a bar with X’s for eyes talking about wanting ice cubes in his Scotch, or a character coming out of jail “impregnated” in 4 places in his head, or another character decapitated.

Millionaire likes to drink. He says he can’t draw without it. He loves drinking and doesn’t shy away from it, subscribing to the Rat Pack ethic that says if you don’t drink, then the moment you wake up is the highlight of the day, and it’s all downhill from there. But, unlike most alcoholics, Millionaire has been able to function both creatively and professionally while drinking— a reality, he underscores, that does not work for most.

“When I was young,” he says, “I learned how to be very drunk. Now that I’m older, I’ve learned to be a relaxed alcoholic and I only drink beer. For me, it works. I sit at night and drink and draw. I can’t draw sober, I’m too aware of everything. Everything’s too serious. So, I drink some beer and feel fine and off I go until 6 or 7 in the morning.”

Today, many of Millionaire’s fans sport Drinky Crow tattoos. Drinky Crow even had his own cartoon show. Millionaire has had many books published to go along with his seemingly endless number of strips. He’s an enterprise, and it was a fortune both destined to happen and that was nearly impossible to come to fruition.

“I can’t stop it,” Millionaire says of his production. “I don’t have a choice. To me, it comes down to what the job requires. That’s why I love my comics. I can draw whatever I want. I don’t sketch, most artists sketch. I get bored doing that. I want my pen to do a thing that I’m planning on. But that just comes from drawing too many fucking houses.”