Monday, December 6, 2010

Living in Public

Last night I saw this compelling documentary called We Live in Public and it touched on certain feelings I have about internet life that have been bothering me for the last few years. I have done research and explored extensively the phenomenon of internet addiction, and even did a presentation at my agency to try and encourage my superiors to take seriously this burgeoning problem. My research unveiled that internet addiction is indeed very real and very debilitating, and can destroy lives in the very same way drugs and alcohol do. Aboujaoude (2006) found that 3-13% of Americans are “internet addicted” and experience negative consequences. I won’t go into detail now, but the experience of learning about the destructive nature of the internet across the world was sobering.

Do you feel like the internet has become one big advertisement that you cannot escape? It bothers me that every email we send, every website we go to is tracked and logged and our preferences are churned and calculated so advertisements come to us that will be most alluring. M.T. Anderson wrote an incredible novel called FEED that predicts a future I believe is entirely possible and horrifying. Having a chip placed in our brains with a constant internet “feed” is not too far off from behaviors many are engaging in now. I feel that the internet can definitely fuel a drive to consume consume consume.

These issues spread too to cell phones… No one wants to leave their internet at home! How often do you walk down the street and see people with their eyes looking up at you with a smile to say hello? No, more often heads are down furiously texting or viewing content on smart phones. When I go to the movies at the mall, I see large clumps of teenagers slumped over couches gazing at their phones and completely ignoring each other. Or they are walking in groups talking on phones and texting, not communicating at all directly with one another. When I went to the Apple store recently a young kid that worked there came up to me and said “Wazzup” as his greeting to ask what I needed. I talked with him and tried to engage him but felt and saw this vacancy in his eyes. The ennui of youth? The desensitization of our youth from internet overstimulation? I know I am making sweeping generalizations here, but I feel like something powerful is happening that needs to be discussed. As I think about having children, our technological age concerns me. I want my children to beg to be outside gallivanting around in nature with other children, not begging to have their own cell phone or laptop. Not fighting with them to get off of the computer. I want them to be connected in person to others, to be connected to the natural world. I realize this will have to be balanced with technology, but I think about it.

As for me, I don’t have a Facebook page. I had one for a little while but I realized it was making me deeply uncomfortable and gave me an “icky” feeling so I cancelled it. I have a MySpace page for my music promotion alone, but even that makes me uncomfortable. And now that I have started this blog, I have a number of these “icky” moments, but I am trying to explore where they emanate from and why they occur. I think my body/soul is not comfortable with the over-documentation and over-exposure of our lives. I think that constantly documenting and proclamating what we think and do (increasingly every moment) takes us out of and not into the present moment. I believe it also may be becoming an unhealthy way to define our own self-worth. How many online friends do I have? How many comments are on my blog? How many people looked at my pictures? How many people follow my tweets? I feel like these behaviors/desires hearken back to high school and junior high when we all just wanted to be accepted and loved and noticed. The desire to be shown we are special and important I have always believed is very dangerous to the spirit and the soul. It is blinding. But it is so strong, that ego is so strong.

I am trying to define this blog in a way I am comfortable with. I want to communicate with others about my thoughts and feelings in an honest and open way framed around a specific theme so that this space does not become just an online journal. I want to keep many things about myself and my life private. But I do see the value in open communicative forums such as this to share ideas, challenge ideas, educate, inspire, and open each other up to new ways of thinking. I get that. But I need to be careful with this. Not worry about who is reading or why, what and how many comments appear, etc. I have to admit this blog is a sort of experiment for me. Can the internet and this global technology be used in a healthy, useful, maybe even spiritual way? Or is the eventual result for many too much time and energy wasted on activities that do not help us as humans to grow, evolve, find peace, or share love and compassion? I’m not sure yet. I do love reading the blogs of those I am close to, I feel like it helps me get to know them so much better. But I would so much prefer to talk to them in person about the issues they write about instead of read them in a removed way. As with everything else, I understand the use of technology and the internet is all about balance. Knowing when to step away, to turn it off, and when to use it etc…

And of course there are so many benefits to the internet that I am not addressing here. Community mobilization, education, support, etc. I truly recognize this. But I can’t ignore the sinking feeling in my stomach that internet bullying and obsessive compulsive internet gamblers/porn watchers/bloggers/gamers/shoppers/facebookers etc are going to be facing some tough life realities. As a student of public health, I think on a larger scale about health issues. What are the long term effects, and how can we head it off before it is too late? Are people going to forget how to relate to each other in person down the road, or prefer not to?

So despite all of this, Brian and I are bringing our laptop with us to travel. Skyping is a cheap effective way for us to communicate with others and I want to write while we are abroad. I was hoping to abandon all technology on this trip, but we are giving in. I want to be careful with that too. I want to spend days, even weeks away from the computer to help quiet my mind, and to be released from the intense stimulation.

My research showed that in China and Korea there are already well developed treatment programs for internet addiction. And that in Korea, children are learning netiquette in preschool and many internet gaming cafes were closed. I’m curious to see around the world the impact of the internet on various cultures…

Wow, lots to say about this. I feel like there is so much more to explore….Not trying to sound doomsday here either (though it may seem like it) and Im not trying to knock the internet in general. I think what I am referring to is overuse of it. I just think it is important to question our social reality and really ask ourselves questions about our use of technology and not assume there is no harm or danger there because high usage is the norm? Other questions beg to be explored too(i.e. cellphones not giving us cancer because we don't have conclusive evidence yet?) etc etc etc. but I will stop for now :)

1 comment:

  1. Katie I love this post! You're right, it is a fine line between wanting to share ourselves with others and then recognizing that we can not expect too much in return. It is hard not to get caught up in others' reactions to this sharing of self, especially when you are being so honest and open. It is inspiring to know that people are reading your words and taking to heart all that you share -know this truth as you forge on!