Tag: 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.

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

Her Morbid Fascination – Digital Death

Her Morbid Fascination – Digital Death

Something I’ve never shared with you guys is a weird addiction I’ve had surrounding death, which started a few weeks after I was widowed several years ago. If you asked me for a reason why I started, I’d say I just wanted to feel like I wasn’t alone.

I might as well just come out and say it: I’ve been obsessed with death and everything surrounding it. There have been times where I’ve spent hours watching videos of people dying. Hours clicking link after link, each one taking me to some new horror: Here’s a man putting a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger; I see blood pour out of his nose and mouth like a faucet turned on full. His white shirt turns red in seconds. Another link takes me to a video of a beheading, where a man’s screams turn to gurgles before falling silent as a machete removes his head from his body. Another video shows a group of angry people in some part of Africa burning men and women alive. They keep kicking them back into the flames until they stop trying to get back up. One man submits to his fate and I watch his skin char and peel away, exposing pink flesh underneath.

A slew of suicides. Violence, hard to comprehend a reason for. Murder, up close and personal in the era of camera phones and surveillance streams. All of these video clips sought out by a girl who desperately wants to desensitize herself to her past. A coping strategy that, rather than hiding from it, brings death front and center and stares it in the face. No death is unique. It’s an inevitable part of life for each and every one of us. After watching thousands of people meet their end, it’s become apparent that no death is special or more tragic than another. Life is life. Loss is loss. Whether you get sucked into a jet engine or bleed to death from a fatal stab wound, the end result is the same. People will mourn the ending of your life, and for those closest to you, it will be earth shattering.

Has subjecting myself to this morbidity helped me in any way? It’s hard for me to make that judgement. I do know that it has provided a sort of comfort during some dark times, but I don’t believe I’m desensitized. Where Internet pictures and videos are concerned, I can watch anything without flinching or really reacting at all. While it doesn’t apply to real life scenarios, it’s disturbing to me that I can watch a video of a woman hanging herself and not be negatively affected by it. The people I see in the photo files and video clips mean nothing to me, aside from the fact that we are fellow human beings spinning through life on the same rock. When I look at their faces: the eyes, noses and mouths of people who had lives and loved ones, I don’t see anything familiar. They are just faces, but I feel a disconnected love for them.

It is only when someone close to you dies that the mechanics of death begin to suffocate you. You know what was lost. You felt them; heard them breathe. You had conversations and secrets. You knew what made them happy and what made them cry. You made memories.

I’ll never be desensitized to the icy sting of death. I no longer want to be, because that would mean I’d have to lose more people I care about. I’d have to keep losing them until I couldn’t feel anymore, and what kind of existence is that?