Category: Society

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.

The Problem With Trigger Warnings – Thoughts From a Person With PTSD

The Problem With Trigger Warnings – Thoughts From a Person With PTSD

If you’ve spent an iota of time on the Internet, you’ve likely seen trigger warnings. Trigger warnings are, as far as I can tell, a social construct used primarily to advise you that something you are about to read, watch, or listen to, contains content that some may find offensive or “triggering”. You may also have seen people lambasted for their failure to use a trigger warning by someone who deemed it necessary. So, what is a trigger?

The first time I ever heard the term “trauma trigger” was during a counseling session when I was 7 years old and newly diagnosed with PTSD (for the uninitiated, that’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). I continued to see this term and grew to understand what it meant through the magnitude of reading on my condition I did while growing up. Until relatively recently I had never heard the term used in relation to anything other than PTSD. Simply speaking, a trigger is something that brings forth memories of a traumatic experience in someone with PTSD. This can be in the form of flashbacks, panic attacks, or other mental symptoms.

The difficulty with triggers is that they are often things that are difficult to pinpoint and impossible to avoid. They can be things that wouldn’t make sense to someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to be genuinely psychologically triggered. I’m not talking about people who think that “triggered” is synonymous with “uncomfortable” or “offended”. I’m talking about the folks out there who have real mental health consequences to triggers.

My Own Triggers

I’m triggered by the obvious ones, like rape, pedophilia, domestic violence, etc. And then I’m triggered by the ones you wouldn’t expect, like the cologne that my dad used to wear or the smell of sawdust. I’m triggered by certain words, toys, and books. I’m triggered by moustaches. I’m triggered by old carpet. I’m triggered by guns. I’m triggered by high winds or heavy snowfall. I’m triggered by being a passenger in a car. These are just a few examples.

Now, I’m going to say something that seems to be contrary to popular opinion: I am responsible for my triggers. Me.

I don’t believe it’s the responsibility of writers, filmmakers, bloggers, or educators to tell me I might be triggered by something they create for consumption.

Crawling Out of the Darkness

Back when my PTSD was at its worst, I spent nearly 2 years without leaving my home. I had between 3 and 5 panic attacks per day, oftentimes more. I was triggered by everything. Like most people, my safe space was my home, and I was afraid to leave it. If I had continued on that path of avoiding every single trigger to my PTSD, I would still be locked away. Instead, I started to face my demons, and closely observe my reactions to them. I had to if I wanted to survive. What I learned was that by exposing myself to these triggers and learning to cope with them, I took the power away from them. I stopped letting them control me, and it saved my life.  

The problem with trigger warnings is that they make PTSD worse, not better. By avoiding everything that makes you feel uncomfortable, you can never overcome your affliction. You can never face your demons and you will never really get better. You’ll just get better at hiding.

I think most people who use trigger warnings are genuinely caring people who don’t want to hurt anybody. The main problem I have with trigger warnings, however, is that I don’t think they’re helpful. I think they’re a cute way of saying, “Look here. See? I care about your mental illness. I am enlightened. I’m talking about rape but warning you that I’m doing so.” It’s saying, “I’m putting you in a box and protecting you.” as if sheltering a life has ever been productive to growth or healing. I think building these larger safe spaces is counter-productive. You can’t learn to swim if you avoid the water.

So, how did I keep myself safe without trigger warnings? I took responsibility for myself. I didn’t expect my friends to tip-toe around me. If something was triggering me, I’d remove myself from the situation, or I’d sit with it until it went away. I spent time educating myself about my illness until my smarts outranked its strength. Most importantly, I dealt with my demons instead of letting them chase me.

Now

My triggers still affect me, but they don’t run my life or dictate what I can and cannot do. I’m not going to pretend it was easy to get to this point. Facing the things that trigger you and asking them questions rather than closing your eyes is so empowering and healing, but it’s also scary as hell. I learned more about myself doing this than anything else. What’s more is that I stopped letting my abuser and my trauma win. While I did do most of this without any professional assistance, there is a lot of help out there if you look.

If people want to use trigger warnings on their writings? By all means, be my guest. On their own, a trigger warning is little more than a disclaimer and not harmful by itself. It’s just information. The real problem arises with the talk of mandatory trigger warnings, or when people allow themselves to become upset at content creators who don’t use the warnings. It’s simply unreasonable to expect the world to contort and become your personal Safe Space. Living with that sort of mentality will only hurt your mental health in the end. A large number of triggers are unavoidable out in the real world anyway, no matter how many people vigilantly use trigger warnings. Sooner or later, a person needs to take responsibility for their own healing process rather than expecting everyone around them to act as an emotional airbag.

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.

Generation Internet – Growing Up Connected

Generation Internet – Growing Up Connected

I consider myself to be among the elders of Generation Internet, AKA Generation Y… or X depending on who you ask. I used Yahoo before Google existed. I learned HTML coding in high school. I hung out in IRC chat rooms and used ICQ messenger. I remember when 128MB was huge and it took a week to download a single song through IRC (as long as the person you were downloading it from didn’t go offline). I had profiles on Hi5, Bebo, Friendster and MySpace before Facebook was even a thing. The first website I ever built was on Homestead.com and until about a year ago, it still existed (It was a Tom Green fan site and one of the first results that came up when you searched “Tom Green” on Yahoo search). My second website was on Tripod.com and it still exists. As embarrassing as it is to look at my old websites now, they hold a great deal of nostalgia for me. I remember every detail, sitting at the small desk in front of an old IBM computer my mom had purchased for the family, tapping away and connecting with people and information from all over the world. Each of my sisters and myself were allowed 1 hour of Internet per night, unless my mom had to make a phone call. Waiting for dial-up to connect after my mom taking forever on the phone was torture for a 16 year old who just started talking to boys on ICQ or MSN messenger.

I think I live in a pretty unique generation. The last to remember what it was like to grow up without a cell phone or Wikipedia, but still young enough that my mind was partially shaped by the Internet during those developmentally important teen years. I’ve watched the world shift, and while I’ve shifted with it, I’ve watched others older than me get left behind.

As I watch the world around me, I see people defining themselves by a series of glowing screens, myself included. I spend a great deal more time developing my online presence than I do my physical self. Online communication is easier, and takes the place of face to face interaction until you no longer feel like you’re capable of the latter. I watch people younger than me sit in groups, but each of them interacts only with the phone in their hand. Texting, tweeting, Facebooking, updating their Tumblr blogs, yet not making eye contact with the boy or girl sitting next to them. I don’t yet know what this means for the future, or whether it’s good or bad.

It makes me feel old to note the difference between my generation and those who are just in their teen years now. Though we have access to the exact same Internet, and even use the same websites and devices, there’s a big difference in how we handle the information. A lot of it has to do with prioritising, I believe. If I’m in a room with someone, they take priority over anything that happens on my phone or computer. If I get a text, I wait to check it after the person I’m physically with leaves or becomes otherwise distracted. I have friends just a few years younger than me (and even many the same age or older. Hi Paul.) who will stop mid-conversation or even mid-sentence to check a text message on their phone (I’m looking at you too Lindsay!).

We live in a really unique time right now. The human race has never been more connected. Sometimes it feels like our brains are spun; hard-wired into the web. Just a few decades ago, if you wanted to talk to a friend or family member in another country, it would cost you a hefty long distance phone bill to talk to them, or you would have to send them a physical letter, which could take weeks to get there. Now, you can connect with anyone on the planet in couple of seconds using Skype, or you can send an email that gets delivered instantly across the globe.

As connected as we are on a communicative level, we’ve become so disconnected in other ways. Today, I smiled at an older lady when walking home and she honestly looked surprised, then smiled gratefully back. We avoid eye contact or pretend to be preoccupied on our phones to avoid interacting with strangers out in the wild. I’ve been practising looking up more often, and I’ve noticed that this new way of things is more prevalent than I previously thought. Most people won’t meet your eye and if they do, they look surprised when you smile at them. Very few actually smile back.

Being the mother of a young boy, I can’t help but wonder about what the future holds for the human race. We live in an incredibly unique time in history. It’s exciting to be part of Generation Internet, but it can also be a little bit scary because so much about the long term effects on our psyche is still unknown. Will we reach a time when our entire lives are lived online? Rather than having to remember facts, we need only remember to bookmark the site where we learned those facts, to quickly recall them as needed. Our brains are being exercised, but in different ways. What will this mean a few generations down the bloodline? Will body language become obsolete? Will our bodies become obsolete?

Signing off,

Wendy: Proud Member of Generation Internet