I sat across the table from my mom and sister listening to them argue about my sister’s lack of focus in school. Which is normal for a high school senior until my mom said “Leave your phone down here, you can’t focus because you carry the distraction with you.” Our phone, a distraction? Fifteen years ago, the most distracting element on a phone was playing snake on the Motorola Razr, but now we have an entire world in our palm. We can research our favorite serial killers on Wikipedia, get directions to the local craft brewery and even create a montage of ten second stories complaining about the latest episode of Scandal. The Internet is the most important tool to the millennial. A millennial (for those unfamiliar) is someone born between 1980 and 2000, grew up on Saturday morning cartoons, and probably read Animorphs as a child. They enjoy Starbucks, Game of Thrones (OMG season 6) and technology. Technology has advanced so much in our lifetime but have we been evolving as fast as our devices? So my question (and the purpose of this post) is, has the internet been a double-edged sword for us in recent years? Not necessarily, but I do believe that social media has drastically altered our perceptions of reality and today I’m here to give my input.
From 1984 to 2016
Let’s go ahead and address it, we are the guinea pig generation for social media. It all started with a little yellow man next to a triangle named AIM. I remember coming home after school and immediately logging onto the computer to talk with the same friends I was hanging out with waiting for the bus. Fun fact: my most memorable screen name was Jawamamawawa (I was a Star Wars geek). AIM became MySpace which introduced creative profiles, then came Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and the newly introduced Periscope. Despite their major differences and upgrades, all these mediums have one thing in common…instant connectivity. Within seconds, one can communicate with another person anywhere in the world, or in some cases, in the same room (depending on how lazy or petty you are). In theory this sounds like a great idea but ask yourself are we really communicating or are we a third-person entity anonymously stalking someone else’s profile? For example, millions of tweets are sent into the digital world daily, and on a good day we may respond to roughly one hundred or so. The rest float on by as lost thoughts on the Internet that will either become a trending topic or be forgotten in the archives. But then again, thanks to Snapchat and Periscope we can witness events that we never could see before. Anybody can tune in and watch the Taiwan Lantern Festival, a Groundhog Day block party or seniors don their graduation robes and say farewell to college. These applications have revolutionized the human experience, no longer do we have to wonder what others are seeing or thinking; we can easily press a few buttons and know exactly how that person is experiencing an event.
From March 21st to mid-April I disconnected. I uninstalled Snapchat and Twitter from my phone in order to refocus my attention on school, photography, and work. I chose these two because, in my opinion, out of all the social media platforms they are the most social. I still used twitter for promotional purposes. When I first disconnected, I felt like I was missing out on everything, from the latest happenings in the world to those events within my own; I stopped hearing about elections, episodes and early morning horoscopes. It was a challenge especially when everybody else in your circle is still connected, but in return I was granted time. So much time! You don’t even realize how much time you spend on your device until it’s no longer there (try breaking a phone and see). Disconnecting is only half the battle, the other is knowing what to do with the time you’ve been given. I started reading books again, developing personal hobbies that I’d been casually putting off and even educating myself about the world. Instead of reading personal opinions of presidential candidates I actually visited their websites to understand their platforms. After the initial shock wore off, I came to realize that you can still be a well-informed citizen without being an active follower.
The Third Consciousness
As with everything there are certain philosophies associated. Thanks to social media we have been forced to create a new third consciousness, a digital version of ourselves (dubbed “Esse” by your’s truly). We’ve got our ID, Ego, and now we have our Esse. If you’re unfamiliar with the first two terms then please click here in order to get a refresher. Just like our physical and mental health, we must also care for this digital self, but it is in direct conflict with our real self. The more we dedicate to the digital the less real we become and vice versa, for they are two ends of the same pole. Through disconnecting I eventually gained something greater, a true understanding of the media platforms we have been using. These applications have their uses but without mediation they can slowly substitute digital experiences for real-life interactions. We use Snapchat to show our daily happenings, whether they are extraordinary or average; but in the moment we’re more focused on sharing it with followers rather than those who are with us. Think back to the last concert you went to whether it was Father, Beyoncé or The Spill Canvas; and remember how many phones you saw with Snapchat open (if you can’t remember seeing that then it was probably your phone). The person doing the posting has a split view of the show, where half of it was spent IRL (in real life), and the other half was dedicated to struggling to uploading footage in a low Wi-Fi zone. Meanwhile the viewer gets only a teaser of the real event, never to experience the moment being witnessed because they are sitting at home scrolling through their feed. Our esse’s end up connecting with each other but our poor ID’s have to wait until we see “posted” in order to enjoy the show. Like many of you reading, I too was a double-tapper, finding myself skipping through stories with no hesitation. Through disconnecting I was able to practice balancing the real and digital world. I rediscovered the value of living in the moment (Carpe Diem, or Y.O.L.O) , and the importance of intimacy. Concerts became more entertaining, trips were now transcendental experiences and one-on-one conversations truly mattered more. Most of all, I learned more about myself. By eliminating the excess influences from tweets and posts I was able to hone in on my own original ideas instead of wondering what new brand of eye-liner the Kardashians were wearing. Then when it came time to re-enter the digital playground I was better equipped and felt more at home than ever before, because my esse and ID were at equilibrium.
Gen X, Y, and Z
I know this post sounds like the musings of a conspiracy theorist but take all of this with a grain of salt. Technologically, we’re moving forward at an alarming rate. Phones have the ability to live stream, answer questions and even crack jokes with you on occasion. My fear is that we aren’t able to keep up with these drastic changes. The world-wide web has been using silky spun applications to further connect us, however it has also slowly been constricting us. A majority of our generation can’t go an hour in class or at work without checking our phones for nonexistent notifications. Text messages have replaced conversations, emojis seem to be the way to express feelings in 2016 and Michael Jordan’s crying face is the most popular piece of propaganda even being used by major brands. Now, we can even find a digital version of love online via Tinder (which Manny will be addressing later), but it all begins with how we use this power.
The truth is, social media is our problem. Generation X is unaffected by new-age technology because they are well off into their ways and Generation Z (my sister’s generation) is full of technological wizards who have mastered the face-swapping filters. The New York Times posted an article pertaining to this new generation which can be accessed here. But us millennial, we kinda suck at this because for the first half of our lives we only knew the outdoors, landlines and gray computers with dial-up. We haven’t come to terms with the anonymity of the internet, the risk of over sharing and filtering out the definite from the distractions. So, this is where I challenge you. Our generation as a whole is struggling to keep it’s core humanity with each new application update. We continue to feed more into our digital self rather than our own passions and dreams. Now, I’m not saying cut off your electricity and start sending messages via carrier pigeon but I am challenging readers to try disconnecting for one to two weeks and journal it. Choose one application from your phone and go on a personal hiatus, or turn your phone on silent and go about your days. You can announce your temporary exit or just go ghost altogether. For added bonus, pick up a hobby or activity that you have been wanting to try for a while. Some notable examples are reading a new book, traveling, photography, making music, beating a video game, taking a class at the gym, etc. Then come back and leave some of your experiences or comments below for discussion.
P. S. I drew my inspiration from various areas which I will list below.
Embarrassing AIM Screen Names http://www.eonline.com/news/546485/remember-when-everyone-was-on-aol-and-had-embarrassing-screen-names
Life: The Biggest Troll (Andrew Aurenheimer) – Childish Gambino https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3d0kWSftV7A
“Modern Romance” by Aziz Ansari
Let me introduce myself right quick. I’m Lee Chapman aka J. Varina and I must say it was a pleasure to be a guest writer on #NES. Thanks for tuning into my ramblings, I’m sure there will be more to come. I also host my own website which I use to document my experiences via photography. You can check my work out at The Golden Moment. Hope you enjoy!