**I hope your first observation about this article is the difference between it’s title and that of it’s predecessor. If you haven’t already read Part 1, I think you should- just scroll down. This post would probably make more sense if you did. Thanks for taking the time to read this…. speaking of time…. what a great natural segue:
Hello again, friends. It’s that time again; the time when I sit in the corner of my favorite Starbucks, sipping the same familiar chai, looking around at who I can observe and write about (slightly creepy, my deepest apologies), looking for some sort of inspiration. //
//**It’s not that I lack inspiration, actually…. for me, it’s just a matter of translating all the crazy, sometimes erratic, and personally overwhelming thoughts that swirl around my prefrontal cortex, and turning those thoughts into something comprehendable and worth reading. Not sure how well I’m doing at that, but rest assured, I’m trying my best.
Anyhow, I’m here, reviewing various materials and sources, mainly from TED talks in the episode duo ‘Screen Time Parts 1 & 2’ which you should most definitely listen to, find them here:
http://www.npr.org/programs/ted-radio-hour/440141277 (you’re welcome in advance.)
In all honesty, I’m just trying to recover and work through yet another small existential crisis I went through after listening to those episodes. Not that this is a bad thing- I’m glad it happened. In fact, I was telling someone the other day something I realized during my senior year of high school, post philosophy and theoretical classes that made me question almost everything I thought I knew…. I realized that if a person goes through their whole lives without having a couple existential crisis (of varying sizes and degrees), then I wonder if they have truly lived. Shouldn’t you be as confident in your beliefs as possible, only after questioning them and seeking the truth to it’s deepest extent, as much as possible? Too deep? Perhaps. These are just the thoughts that come to me while I’m driving down the highway, seeing people of all sorts, who seem happy to never question anything. But I digress….
So here I am, recovering from the ExC (let’s shorten things, sounds fun, right?) and I suppose the way I’m recovering is by trying to give this information to other people, via this blog. I don’t know who will read it, or what they’ll do with this information, but I certainly hope it gives your prefontal cortex an extra-interesting bit to throw around the old grey matter, if not something deeper.
Let’s get started. Read this excerpt from a TED interview with Abha Dawesar(full interview linked in sources at the end of this post):
AD: “With no distinction left between the past, the present and the future and the here or there, we are left with this moment everywhere – this moment that I’ll call the digital now. This digital now is not the present because it’s always a few seconds ahead with Twitter streams that are already trending and news from other time zones. This now bears very little physical or psychological reference to our own state. Its focus instead is to distract us at every turn of the road. Are you reading an interview by an author? Why not buy his book? Tweet it, share it, like it, find other books exactly like his, find other people reading those books. Not just is the digital now far from the present, but it’s in direct competition with it.
And therein lies its greatest convenience and horror…..At all times, I can operate at a different rhythm and pace from you while I sustain the illusion that I’m tapped into you in real time. Just how can we prioritize in the landscape of the digital now?”
That last question gets me; how can we prioritize…. no, scratch that, how can we even survive the landscape of the digital now?
This is where the true issue of the matter of digital personalities and reality collide. We’re pressured into having a digital presence, into maintaining it, but seemingly with no limit or reality of actual time, as we’ve known it for thousands of years until now.
*fun side note, during my second year of university in my Cultural Anthropology class we read a chapter from the textbook on the concept of time…. for the first time I fully realized that some culture have no concept of time that we in American society do. We live by the clock, it practically dictates everything we do. Think of the (Western) phrase “time is money!” Well, let me tell you…. I could barely process anything after that really sunk in. Classic small existential crisis, brought to you by Rekiah Stone. Just one of many ‘brain explosions’ I had in that, and many other classes. Never stop learning, friends, never stop allowing yourself to have more ExC’s.*
// Next day///
I might have to write a whole seperate post about this TED talk I listened to this morning. I think I’ll save it for next time, because it impacted me so deeply as I was listening. Stay tuned for that ;)
Another talk I listened to this morning while preparing to finish this post was by Sherry Turkle, who is a social science researcher. She says:
“Over the past 15 years, I’ve studied technologies of mobile communication and I’ve interviewed hundreds and hundreds of people, young and old, about their plugged in lives. And what I’ve found is that our little devices, those little devices in our pockets, are so psychologically powerful that they don’t only change what we do, they change who we are..[gives some examples..].And we even text at funerals. I study this. We remove ourselves from our grief or from our revery and we go into our phones.”
After considering this, I paused the stream for a little. I could not agree with her more; I think about myself, my friends, my family, and people around me. The screens dictate how we behave, who we are, who we try to be, and who we become. Obviously there is some room within the sphere of the digital age that has an effect on us- but most of our lives today are driven by technology. It is our escape and our hiding place, but also our greatest exposure of weakness to the world. Within the digital space lie, as Dawesar put it, our greatest convenience and horror.
What Turkle says next has been a thought I’ve had before, a thought that scares me and threatens things I hold dear. I see it all around me. Turkle says:
“I think we’re setting ourselves up for trouble — trouble certainly in how we relate to each other, but also trouble in how we relate to ourselves and our capacity for self-reflection. We’re getting used to a new way of being alone together. People want to be with each other, but also elsewhere — connected to all the different places they want to be. People want to customize their lives. They want to go in and out of all the places they are because the thing that matters most to them is control over where they put their attention…you can end up hiding from each other, even as we’re all constantly connected to each other.”
Even now, I see it. A group of 4 high school age girls walked in to the coffee shop I’m at. They’re all clutching their phones, peering down at their screens instead of at each other…. except when they pause to take a picture together, or a Snapchat of their lattes, or to giggle and show the others a picture on their screen. Alone, but together. This is the world we live in today. I’m not here to say that they, or others like them (myself included, at times) don’t ever share meaningful moments…. but those moments are clouded by screens, and taken away from by the tapping of fingers.
I remember the days when people would suggest ‘hanging out’ and that’s all it really meant- being together. When I was in middle school (seems like eons ago now, thank God), I didn’t have a smartphone or a laptop, so when I was with a friend, we were talking, watching tv, cooking, or laughing about something stupid- we weren’t usually glued to a screen. Eye contact used to be a thing. Now, I feel it’s been replaced by a camera, a touchscreen.
//Sorry to sound so negative. Am I? I think at some point, in this tech-saturated world we’re in for a rude awakening. I think this duo of TED Radio Hour episodes (Screen Time pt. 1&2) and a couple other articles I’ve read recently have been my rude awakening. Yet another small existential crisis. An even bigger fear I have is that people actually won’t have an awakening at all…. rather, that they’ll just keep staring and staring and staring at their screens until no one looks up at all. Sound a bit dramatic? Perhaps. But completely improbable? Not to me. //
“Human relationships are rich and they’re messy and they’re demanding. And we clean them up with technology. And when we do, one of the things that can happen is that we sacrifice conversation for mere connection. We short-change ourselves. And over time, we seem to forget this, or we seem to stop caring.”
This really hit me. How many times have I just ‘connected’ with someone, instead of having a genuine conversation with them? Actually, how many times have I been trying to have a real conversation with someone and all they wanted to do was connect? On a surface level, one that they could control. No one wants to commit fully to a deep conversation, because vulnerability is a scary thing. It’s so much easier to just pull your phone out and put a pause on conversation, and simply ‘connect.’
A phenomenon I’ve encountered much too often, especially in conversations with (drum roll please)…. millennials (for further thoughts on why I always cringe when I hear the word millennial, refer to previous post, also that article by John Green referenced in that post. You’re welcome)… yes, ahem, so the strange concept I’ve run into so often recently, especially in younger crowds is the idea that, if one person pulls out their phone, everyone else is obligated to as well. Or, even more commonly, you’ll enter a room of people being ‘alone together’ aka all facing their screens, and you’ll sit down, try to engage in conversation of the genuine sort…. but be greeted only with connection. No one puts their phone away, sometimes barely acknowledges you’re there, and proceeds to click and tap away. You, feeling awkward and sad by the lack of response, feel obligated to pull out your own device, and start scrolling until someone agrees to conversate.
This is a sad, sad, state to find oneself in. I myself am very non-confrontational. I don’t want to be the one to say “hey! Put your damn phone away and listen! I want to be with you- no, really with you, not to just be the afterthought of the screen in your hand.” I want to say that, but I also don’t want to be mean or abrasive… So eventually, I usually just give up and pull out my screen, or leave.
I feel like I always say this about every quote I insert from a TED talk but…. this one, as I heard it, kind of wrecked me for a little while. I feel like Sherry Turkle and I, though she’s literally been doing the research, have come to the same place.
“When I stepped back, I felt myself at the cold, hard center of a perfect storm. We expect more from technology and less from each other. And I ask myself, “Why have things come to this?”
And I believe it’s because technology appeals to us most where we are most vulnerable. And we are vulnerable. We’re lonely, but we’re afraid of intimacy. And so from social networks to sociable robots,we’re designing technologies that will give us the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship.”
[This. Is. So. Profound.]
We, as a society, are afraid of intimacy. Of being truly vulnerable, of ever putting ourselves in a position where we could get hurt. People complain because they’re so lonely…. on Facebook. Instant audience, right? Instantly people commenting or messaging them, instant connection. You get the connection, without the ‘baggage,’ or without the same emotional insecurity you feel when talking face to face, screen free, with someone. People hide behind a screen, edit and delete their true feelings, and only become who they think they want to be- without the pressure of being open or weak.
“…the moment that people are alone, even for a few seconds, they become anxious, they panic, they fidget, they reach for a device. Just think of people at a checkout line or at a red light. Being alone feels like a problem that needs to be solved. And so people try to solve it by connecting. But here, connection is more like a symptom than a cure. It expresses, but it doesn’t solve, an underlying problem. But more than a symptom, constant connection is changing the way people think of themselves. It’s shaping a new way of being.”
I feel like so much of young people’s self image is an image of themselves, in the digital space. That’s where they seek validation, value, connection, and love. Our screens have shaped who we think of ourselves as, and how others perceive us.
Here I am, trying to hold on to the remaining shreds of whatever genuine life we had before technology. Call me old fashioned.
//Feeling a little extra morose than usual, could you tell? It might be the lilting Vivaldi violin concerto I’ve been listening to… but I know, deep down, that our landscape is changing before our own eyes. On screens. So, I, in response to this, am going to continue to seek genuine conversations and relationships with people. I will try to lovingly confront them if they keep the screen out, and will try to actively maintain genuine connections with those around me- screen free. Join me? //
Stay tuned for a potential Part 3. Thank you for taking the time to read this, if you’ve made it this far, you deserve a gold star. Check out the resources below for more potential ExC’s.
I highly reccommend this entire playlist, about “Our Digital Lives”:
An interesting look at virtual reality technology:
A heartbreaking look at the subculture of shame within the digital space:
The transcript of the TED interview about ‘the digital now’ entitled ‘How do our screens distort our sense of time?’ with Abha Dawesar:
Transcript of TED interview with Sherry Turkle called ‘Connected, but Alone’: