Category: Internet

Living in the Age of Distractions

Living in the Age of Distractions

We live in a fascinating era. We’re in the age of intangibility, of information, of personal branding. We have apps for everything: finance, social media, productivity, meditation, and travel. We even have apps that are supposed to help us have fewer distractions from other apps.

The times they are a changin’.

Every generation has a big struggle. The great wars became the struggle of many generations all over the world: they toiled and scraped together what was left of a bombed out and hurting nation. Here in North America, us Generation X and Y people, we have no great war. Our great struggle is one taking place in our minds.

Technology is an amazing thing. We can do so much with so little now. A few decades ago, having a wireless phone was reserved for high powered businessmen on Wall St., or the CEOs of major companies. Now, I know 5 year old kids with their own cell phones or tablets. There are more connected devices on the planet than there are people to use them. The Internet is this colossal monument of information, digital interaction, advertisements, photos, and people’s lives, and it’s available to us 24/7. It’s becoming hard-wired into our collective psyche.

The scary part, is that we don’t really know what it’s doing to us yet.

My generation was the last to really remember what it was like to come of age without the Internet. I was 15 when my mom bought us our first computer, and we had dial-up Internet. Depending on how old you are reading this, you may or may not remember what that was like. For the uninitiated, dial up Internet took forever to connect, made horrible noises while it was doing so, and if your mom needed to use the phone it disconnected. Myself and each of my sisters were allowed 1 hour a day. The Internet was a lot smaller and a lot slower back then. Outside of my one hour online (which I mostly used to build and manage my first website and chat with my friends on MSN Messenger) I had to do… old fashioned teenage things, like brood in my thoughts, listen to music (from CDs), or write in my journals (with pens). I couldn’t even live stream it.

I watched the world change, the coming in of a new age. I got my first cell phone (they didn’t really have data yet when I got mine) at 18 and watched most of my friends do the same. Over the next decade, technology progressed and we’re more connected now than ever before. We’re bombarded with glowing screens and advertisements everywhere we look. We’re so distracted and busy with everything. If we don’t have an online presence, do we even exist? Everything is personal branding and Wi-Fi connections. Everyone has a hook or an edge. Your self worth is your follower count. The latest device is a status symbol: which phone better represents you as a person? We store our lives in clouds. Human interaction: everybody is awkward now. Everything moves fast; our minds move faster to keep up. Check your email. Check your notifications. Did you get enough likes to feel validated? Rinse and re-Tweet.

Stop.

If we try to focus on everything, we won’t see anything.

This is the first time in history that the human mind has been this crowded. We’ve gotten so used to being “on” all the time, that we’ve forgotten how to turn it off. Breathing room. Quiet contemplation is interrupted by anxiety: isn’t there something more productive I could be doing? We’re constantly clinging to and grasping for what comes next. We forget about now. We forget about this moment, and enjoying it as a breathing human being.

It’s difficult to say what the future will look like or which dystopian novel will most closely resemble the lives of our grandchildren. All we can do now is be mindful about how we spend our time. Make an effort to take time away from all the screens in our lives. Appreciate them for what they do for us, but at the same time, make room for quiet contemplation. Meditate. Go for a hike in nature. Spend time with people just having a conversation without emojis. Now more than ever it’s important that we look after our mental health, and practice self love so we don’t fry our brains on information overload. I miss being able to walk down the street and smile at a stranger without them looking confused like maybe they know me from somewhere. They don’t. I was just trying to share a tiny moment of the human being in me recognizing the human being in them. I see you.

When Social Media Becomes Toxic

When Social Media Becomes Toxic

I’ve had a Facebook profile for 10 years now. That’s a decade, or almost a third of my lifetime on the largest social media platform. It acts as my lifeline to a pseudo-social life, a documenting of my time (I post incessantly.), and a memory jogger. I give a lot of time to Facebook, but I don’t get much in return as far as meaningful content or personal growth is concerned. It’s how I spend garbage time. It’s the modern equivalent of sitting in front of the television having my mind filled for me with discount whatever. I click “Like” to show someone I’ve acknowledged and validated them while never saying a word, or to gently end a string of conversation that I’m not sure how to continue.

I’ve taken “Facebook Vacations” before, where I vow to log out and stay out for a week at a time so that I can either focus more on something important to me, or focus less on things that keep me clicking refresh on autopilot with minimal reward.

Every time I’ve taken one of these Facebook vacations, I have this fantasy of deleting my Facebook altogether. Good morning Productive Me. Yet as much as I hate it sometimes, I have tricked myself into thinking I need it. Not in an oxygen kind of way, but in the way that I’ve relied on it for so long to keep contact with people that I’m afraid deleting it will effectively delete everyone I know from my life. Is that a little over-dramatic? Sure, but I’m still afraid. If you do something and there’s nobody around to click “like”, does it still matter?

I recently watched Black Mirror (a Netflix show you should absolutely watch) and it really got me thinking, like all good television shows should, about how I use social media. I already know that I spend too much precious time and give too much priority to Facebook, or to YouTube, or to Instagram or Reddit. The amount of time I’ve spent just in the last month sending stupid Snapchats to my friends could have been better utilized to finish editing my novel. I have over 2,000 images in my Instagram account. I know I need to learn how to turn off this hyper-social-consumption part of me on a regular basis.

I’m a human with a lot of aspirations. I thrive most when I’m learning and expanding my mind, opening up little doors to different parts of my self. I think that’s why I’ve grown to love Medium so much. In the short time I’ve been on the site I’ve read life changing articles that have challenged how I think. I can’t say the same thing for an endless Facebook Newsfeed filled with dank memes, as entertaining as some of them might be.

I’m sure most people don’t have these problems. Most people probably have an iota of self control that keeps them productive, but I feel like I lose myself a little bit every time I waste an hour here or there on things that do nothing to challenge me. I’ve got an amazingly addictive personality, which equates to entire days flushed down the proverbial “social” toilet with nary a thought. I will procrastinate entire weeks away watching makeup review videos. The worst part is that I know that when I take that same energy and put it toward something goal-oriented, there’s nothing in the world that can stop me.

I would never say that social media is inherently bad. Like most things, the magical world of moderation gives it a prescribed value. To a growing chunk of the world, if you don’t exist on social media, you don’t exist at all. It’s not going anywhere and will only get stronger so I will only alienate myself in exile from it.

Rather than take a Facebook vacation this time around, I am issuing myself and anybody else who wants to participate a permanent challenge: to limit yourself to a combined total of 1 hour of social media per day. For myself this will be Facebook, YouTube, and Reddit as that is where I spend the most unproductive time. In its place I’ll spend more time reading and writing, two things that are more in line with the person I know I am.

I’m From the Internet: Part 1 – Online Narcissism

I’m From the Internet: Part 1 – Online Narcissism

 

I’ve had an online presence for nearly 17 years now. It’s kind of strange to think that more than half my life has come with a built in Internet connection; a direct line to virtually the entire planet. When I finish writing this blog post and it gets published, it will instantly become available to anybody who wants to view it, on any device, anywhere in the world. Although only a few hundred people visit my site every day, there’s a huge potential audience out there, and billions of devices my words could be displayed on. Effortless.

There are two kinds of people on the Internet: content creators, and consumers of that content. Most of us are both at one time or another. Content could be anything from a status update on your Facebook page with an audience limited to your friends list, or a full-blown video production that anybody in the world can see on YouTube. There aren’t many people who use the Internet who don’t also contribute to it in some way.

Some people share more, some share less. I’ve known people who use the Internet solely for the purpose of consuming content; they shy away from putting any information about themselves anywhere online, they don’t create profiles or upload photos, and any accounts they do sign up for are anonymous. Others are very comfortable sharing stories and experiences, photos and video, art of all types and advice.

So, what makes some people so willing to share with the world? I’ve heard it referred to as online narcissism or attention-seeking behavior, and to some extent, I’d have to agree. Yes, I primarily write this blog for myself and everything is written because I love it, but I wouldn’t make it public if I didn’t want people to see it or read it. Really, in a way we’re all just online narcissists hoping people will pay attention to us. Every video upload, blog post, status update, forum post, photo, website, or profile is the online face of someone yelling “Look at me! Look what I made/said/did/recorded/want/think!”.

I often think of the Internet as being the digital version of real, tangible life. In that sense, I guess posting things online is about as attention-seeking as putting effort into your appearance and then going to a party or a bar. Never posting anything online is the Internet equivalent of never leaving your house; a sort of online agoraphobia. The size of the audience is different, but the concept is the same.

A very diverse spectrum exists; the type of content and how much of it you create determines where you lie. I’ve been creating websites since I was 15, started my first proper blog when I was 18 or 19, and have consistently had at least one blog on the go since then. At over a decade of blogging, I’ve created a lot of content, and maybe that does make me narcissistic, especially when I post like this, which is essentially brain vomit that I hope someone will read. I find my audience somewhat divided. Some think it’s weird that I share so much of my life, while others love it and always want to know more.

I blog because I’ve led an interesting life. I blog because sometimes my posts help people. I blog because I want to be heard and I blog to stay sane. I love getting feedback; those little messages that say “thank you for sharing so I don’t feel so alone”, “Your post helped me with X”, or “Your advice really put things into perspective for me”. It’s nice to reach people through words and it’s great to receive positive attention for something you’re passionate about. It may be self-indulgent and narcissistic to write the way I do… some kind of writer’s masturbation, but as long as I still have things to say, I’ll continue to pour my heart out on this blog to be consumed by anybody who is interested in it.