I remember the days when my friends and I would run home from our bus stop to continue chatting on msn. I can recall sitting at my screen, messaging friends and waiting for my crush to sign in so that just maybe, if I felt courageous that day, I could send them a little heart (before it was even called an emoji). Fast forward through myspace and dial up internet to the emergence of Facebook, and the internet was booming. Spending time cruising feeds and profiles was actually a satisfying delight, at least for me. I went online solely because it was super fun, and not for anything else.
I used to log in less than a few times a month. That same action very slowly turned into a weekly, daily, and often times, an hourly habit. When I open Facebook or Instagram now, it certainly does not feel as though it comes from the same desire as it once did. More likely, the action is sparked by a strange craving. An odd desire for validation, relevancy, and stimulation.
I talk about this topic a lot. This ongoing conversation of mine is quite likely due to one fairly simple reason: this trend scares me. I for one, can describe a noted change in the function and patterns of my mind since reaching the point where my technology use could easily be described as ‘chronic’. I am certainly more distractible than I used to be, constantly requiring a noteworthy source of stimulation to feed off. I notice the very real attachment to my phone, opening and closing apps constantly, an action that is often void of any true purpose. Of course, this may be somewhat of an exaggeration, but the trend is very real and I know I am far from the exception. I remember watching a Simon Sinek interview a couple years ago where he mentions that if you are spending time with real people and looking at your phone for no particularly important reason, you are not a technology user, you are a technology addict. I can admit that this action often describes myself, and this is nearly every millennial I know. We are consumed by our technology, and this is not necessarily good.
An interesting yet concerning trend I often consider is the growing propensity for young adults to suffer from depression and anxiety. This tendency seems to coincide quite well with the concurrent emergence of cell phones, social media and the internet. We could simply blame apps and cell phones, but how can we assume that these are really the source of the problem? In actuality, apps are helping us connect more than ever. A common argument is that we are inherently social creatures, and these platforms have created the ability to interact in ways our ancestors couldn’t even think of in dreams. From this perspective, it makes little sense why these apps would be the potential cause of the largest anxiety epidemic in history. On a biological level, our social behaviour is absolutely evolutionary. We require interaction. It makes us healthy, it makes us happy, and it aids our survival. Pack animals need to be able to get a long, and our minds have changed to accommodate this. However, does a text message really satisfy that biological craving for social communication? In my mind, even a phone call is pretty far off from the multi-sensory stimulation of an in person conversation. I’m willing to put money on the fact that the human subconscious would agree.
“Our social tools are not an improvement to modern society, they are a challenge to it.” ― Clay Shirky
Something interesting to consider is the drastic difference in child rearing strategies of parents who work in silicon valley and the world of tech, and parents who work in unrelated industries. Recently, the web has been littered with articles outlining this polarity in parenting styles and why it may be happening. Contrary to popular belief, tech parents are far more restrictive when it comes to their children’s time and exposure to technology than the average family. Consider the fact that this information is trending online only shortly after multiple confessions from ex Facebook executives about the platforms chilling effects on the human dopamine response. Many of these tech moguls are in fact publicly announcing their discontinued use of social media all together. With all this information coming into the public sphere, one must stop and ask the question: what exactly do these people know that we do not? I can tell you one thing for certain; they know a lot more than we do, and they are pretty freaked out.
At which point did our appreciation shift away from momentary presence, toward the endless highlight real of our own individual reality? When did we stop caring about things that actually made a difference? Things like interactions, passions, skills and learning, instead opting to share that third post about our recent snack, or the fifth snapchat of our cat. I think we sometimes forget that there are actual people out there living life so well that you never hear from them. People who don’t feel the need to post, people who don’t feel a desire to share, people who don’t login without a purpose. I’m not talking about the people who have fallen behind, I’m talking about the people who simply have different priorities. To the online world they seem irrelevant, like ghosts who have fallen off the social grid altogether, but to themselves and the people around them, they are vivid, full, and conscious. These are people who look you in the eyes when you speak to them, and listen to your words. These are people enthralled in their reality. These are people who are so unforgivably themselves that they don’t need your “likes” to feel special.
These are people worth appreciating, and this is a lifestyle worth living. It seems to me that right now we have it all backwards.
Seriously, nobody cares about your cat.