The following entry is the fifth in a series. To start at the beginning, go here.
If you read me even sporadically you know about my daily battle with technology. Not in a "Grandma can't figure out how to work the DVD player" kind of way. More like in a "why should I go out and play with the three-dimensional people when I have so many kitten videos to watch?" kind of way. To that end, I have a couple of tidbits of advice to offer up. These are things that I inherently knew were/are contributing to my unhappiness, but that I kept doing anyway. It's sorta like when you think "Well, meth may take down everyone else, but not me---I can handle this shit!" Next thing you know, you're toothless, picking at scabs on your face, wondering how you lost control of your life. For me, these two things are as addictive as a drug, and the chasm between what I know I should do and what I actually do is as mighty as the Grand Canyon. So that being said, I offer y'all the following advice:
Get the hell off the Internet. Fucking run, don't walk. This comes from someone who has spent the last several years mainlining the Internet and mainlining high doses of stupid websites so I can, what? Remain relevant? Be the hippest person on unhip Facebook? Be able to intelligently discuss world news at parties? And I don't just mean social media is toxic, I mean all the crappy video sites, news sites, video-streaming sites, and other timesuck activities that are bombarding you with stories and pictures and activities that will make you feel bad about the world and your place in it. Aside from the fact that you know, deep in your soul, that you only have one life to live and sitting and staring at a screen for 14 hours a day is NOT how you should be living it, everything on the goddamned Internet is designed to make you enraged, divided, argumentative, and bullying.
The Internet gives us the illusion that we're connected, but really it makes us didactic, angry, and fist-shaky. The whole fucking thing is designed to keep us hooked, learning our algorithms and feeding us more of the same crap that we've clicked on before to keep the rage going. So we sit there like a hamster on a wheel to nowhere, clicking on articles that make us furious about the state of our cities, states, countries, planet…on an endless loop…clicketyclick. And what the fuck can we do to solve any of these problems, right? We can't fix the broken political system or do anything about poisoned water. So this enormous ball of frustration and impotence builds in us, and we spend our days carrying around a vague sense of hopelessness and can't figure out why.
Just as applicable today as it was 30 years ago. Just substitute the TV for a monitor.
I am a news junkie, a political junkie, an Internet junkie. There have been studies showing how Facebook activates the same neural pathways as drugs like cocaine and heroin. If you've ever watched me scrolling through my Facebook feed, you'd believe that comparison in a heartbeat. Now. More. Again. Since I got my smartphone in 2008, I've developed arthritis in my thumbs from FUCKING SCROLLING. Let that sink in for a minute. Plus, I have a constant pinched nerve in my neck and shoulder from the way I hold my phone. My body is, literally, telling me that this is not how I was meant to live. Yet, like drugs, the pull is too great, and I succumb, "playing through the pain" like some sad techlete.
We have become a nation of people getting what is laughably called "news" via Twitter and Facebook feeds---angry headlines with algorithms that know to feed us stories that align with our existing beliefs---so then we turn around a spout that opinion on our own pages, thereby perpetuating the hatred, all while calling ourselves "informed." I'm the guiltiest of all, which is why I've severely cut down on the type of stuff I share on my page. The 2012 election about killed my joy for good, so I cut out all the pages having to do with news and/or politics on my feed. At some point, Facebook transitioned from being witty posts from your friends to nothing but people posting articles agreeing or disagreeing with their worldview with angry rants attached. I am the worst offender, so I've unliked all the news sites and political sites to minimize how much crap I see, and I've hidden all ranty and/or negative friends. And y'all, it has helped enormously, both with the amount of time I'm spending online and with my outlook. I can't recommend it enough.
This dovetails nicely with my next pearl of wisdom which is, yes, I know everyone tells you this, but I'm not fucking kidding: You have got to control your smartphone instead of letting it control you. Because it means even when you are out in the world, you're not really in it. Once I had access to all of the knowledge of the world---plus a camera!---at my fingertips, my life became far less rich. Instead of experiencing life, which I used to be very, very good at, I experienced virtual life through a tiny screen instead. I was no longer paying attention to the wonders of the world around me. I developed that nasty neck crick we all seem to bitch about now, the one from having our faces buried in our phones nonstop, and suddenly I ceased to be alert to conversation with friends, possible amazing interactions with strangers, beautiful scenery, towns I drove through. Once it was me and my phone, I inadvertently put up an invisible wall around myself and stopped making myself accessible to all of life's possibilities.
Look, I love having an easily operable camera at my fingertips at all time, and there's no shame in documenting your trip, your lunch, your day. But when you take a picture then spend the next 20 minutes uploading it to all of your various social media, think about the 20 minutes of scenery or conversation you just missed. Talk about failure to be present. I'm so very guilty of doing this, and I'm trying to check myself. Every time I reach for my phone, I try and be conscious of it and think "Do I really need to do whatever I was just gonna do on this phone or should I just enjoy the things around me?"
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The Wife is trying desperately to drag me into cribbage. While I like cribbage and I see what she's trying to do (get us involved in something that doesn't involve drinking and that initiates conversation), I've been dragging my feet. I think it's laziness. It's easier to lie on the couch and color on my phone than engage in face-to-face interaction. Much like doing things that get me outside my comfort zone and force me to leave the house, I'm again opting for the moment of least resistance. What will require the least amount of effort from me? The answer is always gonna be smoking a bowl and watching TV. And that sucks. I don't wanna be that person. I just feel so exhausted most of the time, and that makes everything seem so insurmountable: going to dinner with friends, playing cribbage, going to the grocery store, talking on the phone.
Don't act like this ain't your house.
It's like I've let my mind tell my body that this is all it's capable of anymore. It's nothing more than mental laziness coupled with the addictive capabilities of a doctor with a loose prescription pad doling out Oxy. We don't stand a chance unless we make conscious choices surrounding the technology we have access to. Much like alcoholics must have a plan in place for how they will handle "dangerous" situations, we, too, must have a plan, boundaries, rules---whatever you want to call them---in place for when mental laziness takes over and our brains are itching to zone out and our scrolling thumbs are getting twitchy.
I've tried it all---the apps that track your time on social media sites, setting an "only two hours a day" rule, bribing myself, removing social media apps from my phone so they're not as easy to get to. Hell, I even went into the woods without my phone for 10 days. It was this last one---me going all Thoreau on my life---that remotely stuck. Coming back from that time away from technology, I felt utterly refreshed, and I didn't have the need to jump on my phone when I returned. I've since slid back into using social media too much, but the pause made me stop and think about the amount of time I was wasting, as well as the type of things I was posting. I've stopped posting angry rants about politicians, corporations, corrupt judges, brutal police actions, and greedy billionaires. The information is already out there; I don't need to perpetuate the cycle.
So that's today lesson, my precious pets. Technology is both a gift and a menace. It's up to you which way it leans in your life.