A month ago, I wrote about anxiety. I was in beautiful Beacon, having a lovely time, when I found an open few days in my schedule and slowly but surely sucked all the life out of them. And though I can talk about forgiving myself, attitude correction, and mindfulness and all these things are a great path out of something like that, I'd like to talk about how I got there, because I think it's a pretty common, rocky terrain. Multitasking. Personally, and I believe I'm not alone, I forget that multitasking is not a thing. Or rather, that it is a myth.
The myth of multitasking states that the more you can accomplish the better. It's a simple concept and one at the heart of America's enduring sense of yearning. But of course, when you multitask, not only can you not actually accomplish multiple things at once (but rather can quickly jump between things), but the quality of your thought and attention, and therefore the work on each thing, breaks down. I grew up my whole life being taught the value of multitasking and being told by my very smart and talented peers and teachers that it was the only way to get it all done. Cut to: reality. A man in a cute apartment in a cute town watching some cute pets, frantically trying to accomplish so many things that he is miserable and cannot enjoy any of it.
I just finished reading Sherry Turkle's "Reclaiming Conversation" about how phones and email are shifting the way we relate to each other. The number one reaction I get when people hear that I'm reading that book is to criticize Turkle. She's anecdotal, she makes generalizations, she's hyper-focused and so she can't see the bigger picture. I don't disagree with any of these things, but it is telling that the attacks of her work all seem so reactive. She talks over and over in the book about how people, especially adults, criticize the youth for their lack of empathy and their attachment to their devices while themselves being on their phones. While Turkle is interviewing them! We can't help it. It's just a reflex.
If you're defensive about it, then sure Turkle can sound like your mom's friend telling stories about her daughter teaching her how to use emojis and how she DOESN'T GET IT, but none of her stories seem untrue. We are distracted. We are on our phones all the time. They are designed to be addictive. Just because they have many incredible uses and can connect the whole world, doesn't necessarily justify the way we treat each other around dinner tables or at parties. Maybe I'm already converted.
I think I read the book at the right time. I've been on my own doing Shipwreck all year, and one of my main connections to the outside world has been Instagram. Recently, for reasons I still do not understand, likes on my posts have plummeted (around 2% of my followers from 12-15%) on posts that I would judge to be above average in quality. Likes on IG are as close to meaningless as something can get, and yet you become so accustomed to them as a rubric for what success within that medium means that when you don't get it, you start to feel as if your energy really should be used elsewhere. I funnel A LOT of creative energy into Instagram despite the fact that it only occasionally brings me any financial return. But I do it because it does simulate a sense of community. But what is that community really? And how can I measure except in the terms that the app has set for me? But since I've been thinking about maybe shifting my time into finding community elsewhere, I realize, I would never look purely for a large number of connections.
Sure I'd love a large number of customers. But when it comes to strengthening my awareness and community and business, I want strong connections. Good allies who have as much to offer me as I to them. I would be thrilled to find one or two creative cohorts, and would be both totally overwhelmed and skeptical if lots of people were knocking on my door looking to work with me. It's jarring having completely different expectations for the same goal (one for Instagram and one for real life). Instagram is just a tool though. And it's important for me to remember that. It's only one way of looking at success and community. And though it's representative of a lot, it's really just a bunch of data.
Ultimately, I can only really speak for myself. I feel very distracted. I feel a lack of true connection with my friends who are on their phones the most. At the same time I feel addicted to my phone, and when I'm not in the best head space, I feel truly unable to put it down. I have used my phone as a way to not have to talk to my family. I have ignored phone calls and replied with a text, and then suffered the fallout from not fully communicating things that could have been set in a 3 minute conversation. I feel like my conversational skills have weakened since I spend so much time writing email and texting in its place. I feel desperately unhappy about what has happened to dating and people's attitudes about where to find relationships. And though I've met some great people online, I have never formed a real and lasting friendship with any creative peers solely through the format.
I think attempting to measure the changes that are happening goes against the message of the changes themselves. The message being, technology is streamlined to have the solution for everything. If there isn't a solution, then just give it time. We'll figure it out, humans are very clever and industrious. But I think it's important to remind people that technology is just an extension of humanity. And measuring the ways in which technology changes people will always be as flawed and contradictory and complicated as people themselves.
I think stepping away from your devices and remembering to think about them as tools, and not extensions of our selves, being aware of the psychology they are using, really does change the way that we think. Our attitude toward being "bored". Our ability to have difficult conversations. Our empathy. Can a meditation app really, fully work? Can qualifying and quantifying our feelings, our physiology really capture a feeling without changing it? These are good questions to have. Critique of change isn't inherently anti-change, and not questioning your phone use isn't special. Most people don't. But taking a step back, and trying to understand so many of the things that make life seem so hard, and divided and hateful right now, how can you do that without considering our intentions when we use our devices and the intentions built in to the devices themselves?
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