Monday 23 March 2015

It's Time To Stop Blaming The Internet For Our Problems

Why I'm bored of people shitting on the internet, and the truth about the link between cyber dependency & personal happiness.

The air is thin and the incline near vertical, and my quivering feet struggle to dig into the rocky surface deep enough to provide sufficient grip to keep climbing. Greg stomps past me with irritating ease, pressing on defiantly against the wind toward the mountain's summit. He pauses and glances back at me. 

"I can't do this!" I wail jokingly with a dramatic arm flail, "I'm a millenial!"

He laughs before turning back into the howling wind. "Which is exactly why we have to do this." He says.

I smile and continue my clumsy clamber, but that brief exchange settles deep within me and stays with me for the rest of the trip.

My thoughts about this are later catalysed into epiphany whilst reading a chapter in Amy Poehler's 'Yes Please' on the plane home, entitled The Robots Will Kill Us All - featuring subtitles such as; 'My Phone Doesn't Want Me To Have Friends', 'My Phone Wants Me To Feel Bad About How I Look', and 'My Phone Wants To Show Me Things I Shouldn't See' and I found myself genuinely pissed off. I've always regarded Poehler fondly and been a fan of her work, but this chapter just left a bad taste in my mouth.

Whether it was an attempt at humour or genuine truth, I found myself equally frustrated as to how she was able to accredit all her flaws to technology and entirely remove herself as being responsible, and the patronising way she regarded younger generations as being socially inept and totally crippled from complete immersion in social media.

I slammed the book shut in anger and sat back in my chair, gazing down at the neon veins of whatever city lay below, and one important, all-encompassing question settled atop all of these buzzing thoughts in my mind.

Why is it that we constantly put the internet at fault for our flaws?

Taking A Break & Two Very Different Trips

Around the middle/end of February, I was in a shitty place. Dropping out of Uni had thrust me into the real world sharply and I was struggling. I spent my days trawling through endless social newsfeeds and timelines, and let the internet totally absorb me as I became this pathetic, over-exposed and over-underwhelmed slob completely devoid of enthusiasm. 

Of course I blamed the internet and social media for infiltrating my mind and making me feel so worthless. How could I not? After all it was other people bragging about their successes and others' incessant complaining which had got me so bogged down. Luckily my Mother proposed a very last minute getaway to the sunny shores of Lanzarote, and I jumped at the perfect chance for a social media detox. My phone stayed on flight mode for 98% of the holiday and I was pleased at how little the withdrawal affected me negatively. It felt so GOOD to be free from the constraints and sycophancy of the cyber world and feeling the cool sea breeze dance across my skin I felt so present.

It was an amazing trip.

I returned detoxed and invigorated, with freshly realigned goals and purpose.

Last week was my long-planned holiday to Iceland with Greg to witness the solar eclipse. We'd had this booked for such a long time and I was positively bursting with excitement when the time came around.

One of the more unexpected aspects of this volcanic and icy Viking island, was the abundance of free wifi everywhere.

We filled our days taking hundreds of photographs of the stunning scenery, the city and the wilderness, excitedly comparing shots and edits. We spent our time hyper-connected and actively posting our coveted shots to instagram, thoroughly enjoying the second-hand perspective this gave us. At the end of each day I found myself looking back through all the photos with a tinge of nostalgia as if it were all over, only to wake up and realised with excitement that we were not only still here, but that we had so much more to experience. Being actively engaged with the internet whilst on holiday didn't impinge on our experience at all, in fact it was a vast improvement, and made us more excited, happier and so much more grateful for what we were experiencing. Also, the end of day nostalgia made the holiday stretch out to feel like months long, instead of just a few days. I felt so present.

It was an amazing trip.

And so I found myself confused.

How can I find such equal joy, happiness, freedom and gratitude at two opposite ends of the internet spectrum - completely absent and completely involved?

Because, as I actually began to realise, plain 'internet usage' did not correlate to my happiness at all. The way I perceived the internet, the way in which I used it, and what I allowed myself to react to it, was.

The Internet Naysayers

The idea of being online and updating your social media whilst on holiday seems to divide opinions. I'll always remember one friend chastising me for editing my holiday pics before uploading - tinkering with the brightness, exposure and shadow levels and picking a filter to truly maximise the potential of the image. 

"But you're lying," She said to me, "That's not real life."

And my god did that agitate me.

I mean, I'd understand if she'd found me photoshopping the shit out of bikini shots to make me look like a Victorias Secret Model, but when I was just upping the sharpness to disguise some blurry suncream fingerprint I'd left over the lens? SO SUE ME.

Here's a little bit of truth for ya: Adding a filter to a photo is not deliberately and maliciously misleading! Clicking 'clarify' is not a crime! Choosing to take a pic from a flattering angle is not cheating or lying to anyone!!!
It's a form of creative expression - its art. It's adding personal context to something you have experienced. It's like seeing a dress on a website with a plain white studio background vs. a candid street style shot taken on location - it's the exact same thing but with perspective and context and THAT'S what makes it beautiful. Instagram is not just about your life, its how you see your life. It's showing who you are and what you're about as well as what you're doing. After all, a picture speaks a thousands words. It would be an incredibly insightful experience to put 25 people in a room with one object and asking them to take a photo, edit and post a picture of it, then trying to determine which photo belongs to whom.

But that's these Internet Naysayers for ya, those who seem to be really enjoying this new bandwagon where it's cool to shit on the internet and any who are actively involved within it.

At the origin, the bandwagon was to claim social media was a fad, then it became to be excited about it, soon it became to be completely dependant on it, and now the bandwagon seems to be to turn our noses up to it and proudly announce at dinner parties that 'I don't *do* social media' and internet anonymity is the new black.

People who act superior and brag about not needing the internet are just as bad as the people who are unrelentingly glued to biggin' themselves up as a hot piece of ass online and rely solely on social media for their instant gratification hit. It's the same thing, just showing off in a different way. And believe it or not, showing off ain't a new and exclusive trait born out of social media.

And ironically I find that its those naysayers who act as though the internet is entirely unimportant to them who are the first to blame it for the problems with themselves, others and society. 

In 'The Robots Will Kill Us All', Amy Poehler writes

'When I was younger we used to have these things called "Parties". They were fun hangouts where young people would get together and talk and maybe dance. During these "Parties" we would take pictures on things called "Cameras"...They would be a reminder of a good time but not something that kept me distanced from the experience.' 

I actually felt my blood boil at this. Because if there's one thing in the world I cannot stand, it's older generations treating our generation with derision and scorn because of our digital upbringing, believing we are some socially inept devolved species that would have an anyerusim if presented with a floppy disk and asked to explain what it was.

Why must we always have to persistently overcompensate just to earn one tiny shred of respect? Why must we always act like we have a debt to pay because we're 'hopeless' and 'cotton-wrapped' millenials? Why must we go above and beyond to prove ourselves as worthy of being heard, just because we come from the never-going-to-be-taken-seriously internet generation? 

'When I was a kid it was all about scraped knees and playing out in the street, now it's about who has the latest iphone or video game.'

I'm sick and tired of people thinking they are better than us because they grew up without the internet, and casting us out as write-off's because they blame the internet as having melted our minds.

I'm not blind to the negative social mannerisms of the increasingly young, but why must we all be generalised by the actions of some? What about all those young, talented people who are creating and achieving incredible things through the web? What about 18 year old Raury's incredible music and 'Indigo Child' movement, empowering the spiritually aware and driven youth? Or bloggers such as 14 year old Tolly Dolly Posh and 15 year old Lauryn Anderson who are changing the face of the internet with their inspiring positivity and passion? Or people like Tavi Gevinson, who began a style blog at the tender age of 12, and by 18 is the founder and editor of an international magazine for young girls, political activist and pioneer of feminism and equality?

The Truth About Our Dependency
A.K.A - 'The internet is not the problem... you are!'

For me, Lorde sums it up perfectly in her song 'A World Alone'

'Maybe the internet raised us... or maybe people are just jerks.'

I look back at what I first wrote in this post:

Of course I blamed the internet and social media for infiltrating my mind and making me feel so worthless. How could I not? After all it was other people bragging about their successes and others' incessant complaining which had got me so bogged down.'

See where I'm going with this?

This is perhaps the one fundamentally important thing we seem to all overlook and is our biggest downfall, including my own - we as humans don't like to admit it's actually pretty much our fault.

The internet isn't a thing. It's not a person. It's not a friend or a foe, a parent, an enemy or a sibling - it's not even a place. It's about as physically tangible as wind.

Yet we continue to personify it, to humanise it and try to establish a relationship with it, like some tempestuous neighbour we have to try and negotiate with, because it makes it easy to reason with ourselves why we get fucked up by it, because then we have someone to blame.

I more than anyone am a strong advocate for frequent internet breaks and hiatus', but that's not because the internet is mean or harsh or hostile. Its because I'm overwhelmed, I cannot handle it and some people are shit. Those flaws lie in humans and individuals, not the machine that helps us tune in. Don't shoot the messenger and all that.

It's not your phone's, your laptop's or your tablet's fault. It's not Apple's, Window's, HP's or Google's fault.  It's not Twitter's or Facebook's or Instagram's or Tumblr's or whatever your chosen browser is' fault. 

The problems we develop from the internet are purely human, in both cause and effect. It's our inability to be able to put down our phones, to switch off our monitors or not open the link of something we know will disturb us. 

The fundamental thing I have come to realise here, is internet usage - whether you're abroad, at home, if you're young or old, obsessed or uninterested - does not affect your happiness or wellbeing.

What will affect your  happiness and wellbeing is how you treat it, you operate within it and you perceive it.


At the root of this all, happiness is a choice. 

And although it might be difficult to put down your phone and remove yourself from the web sometimes, don't ever fool yourself into thinking you don't have a choice, because you DO.

You can also choose what you want to create with it, should you wish. Because your level of involvement within the internet does NOT define you. No matter how much millenials get shit on for it. But what CAN define you, is what you do with the internet, should you wish. 

And I know personally I wanna be one of those people who uses it for good, creates beauty and helps out other passionate young people, so that when some snarky generation X-er turns up their nose at my job title, profession, purpose or credentials I can turn up my palms and be like do you even know how irrelevant your opinion of me is, or...?

And THAT is how I could be just as happy and present and enjoying life to its full vitality away from the internet on holiday, and active on the internet on holiday - because it was all down to how I was using it, and what that meant for me.

And hopefully this means I'll never have to punctuate my time with internet breaks when it 'all gets too much' because with a healthy attitude and mindset toward it, I'll never get to that point. But even if I do, knowing that the problem stems from me, makes it a hell of a lot easier to figure it out and work it through.

'Cause yeah, your problems with the web might all come from you, but that also means the solutions come from you too.

And I think it's about time we as millenials use our internet-given intuition and interconnectedness for good, and realise that for a better future and richer lives, it's time to stop blaming the internet for our problems, and start getting better at figuring ourselves out instead, so we can garner the respect that we rightfully deserve, and come together to create some kickass shit.