There are days when I do not feel inspired to write. When my mind feels empty. Alone. Solitary in its thoughts.
The words are falling on paper like splots of ink and yet I am completely ignorant of the picture they will finally form.
My usual recourse would have been to dull my mind in endless games on my phone. Endless scrolling through media that did nothing more than drain my soul of any feeling.
I may have disconnected from that source of mindlessness but this was soon replaced by endless staring at internet pages on my laptop, with absolutely no connection to the initial quest for information, followed by incessant breaks to watch yet another video I didn’t actually have any interest in seeing.
It was like being in a virtual – perhaps even literal – hypnotic state, invisibly controlled in ways many know about but very few acknowledge and understand.
Now I sit in a void with neither cell phone or internet
And it can be a scary place.
No I am not depressed, at least I sincerely hope not, I just feel like I have been in a constant state of passivity which I am aching to break free from.
I want my legs back.
I want to run again.
I want to feel alive with life.
And not just existence.
I love technology, I truly do.
I even think the social side of social media is great.
But something is not right.
I may not be the type to jump onto the latest fad and have to be equipped with the latest of the late, much as those rushing to wear the latest fashion or buy the latest “i”, but I still consider myself an early adopter.
Before social media was even invented in its current form, having local friends was never enough for me and I would correspond with people from literally all over the world. People young and old I had never met, total strangers, we would exchange written correspondence on a regular basis and always add our name address and interests to an ever growing list of people which we would forward and distribute in those letters.
Haha social media before it was even social media, it’s a wonder my parents even allowed it! Some of my correspondents even came to stay with me and I with them!
I remember the early days of Internet. My father had it at work and I remember him coming home one night telling us about a cool website called “Ask Jeeves”. Growing up in the UK Jeeves and Wooster had been one of our favourite shows, always eager to see how the illustrious and all knowing Jeeves was going to get Bertie Wooster out of even the tightest of spots and always with the utmost elegance.
If you’ve never experienced it, go watch a series or two. You will not fail to be entertained!
In which light it was with utmost excitement we discovered Ask Jeeves, the all-knowing butler who could answer any question you could possibly ever have dreamed of. Pop it into the little box and tiddledy pink there you go!
Really any question?
It was an age of wonderment and the concept was breathtaking.
Soon after Google appeared and by university days this had become our mainstay, more fondly referred to as Dr Google.
Our quest for knowledge and for information was limitless.
At the touch of a button we could explore anything we wanted to know.
Blogs became a main source of entertainment as we followed people through their life adventures, illustrated with luscious photographs, sharing with them even as some of them found love, got married and had children.
And forums were a place to connect and discuss and share experiences and ask even more questions.
Of course you always had your trolls popping up and getting bopped and then reappearing under a new alias, but it was all part of the online world we were getting to know, and for the most part would tap in and out of it as and when we wanted.
And then social media arrived.
Admittedly, as forward-thinking, early adopter as I may consider myself, I actually held social media at arms length for many years.
First because I didn’t want all my personal data going online, and second because I saw most of it as pretty stupid and futile.
I seriously didn’t see how giving one line near minute-by-minute updates about baby burping or the fact you had just had beans on toast for breakfast was in anyway useful or interesting or even social. And I could think of infinitely better ways to be using my time than mindlessly scrolling through endless pages of that twaddle.
In fact the only reason I finally succumbed was to network and be able to keep in touch with people I had crossed paths with in university, and as a way to start growing my business and taking it more online.
And in doing so I too fell into that world of endless scrolling and feeling the need to constantly check updates and comments nada nada nada.
I told myself I was doing it for business so that was ‘ok’, but even as I scrolled, habits and social media was changing beneath my very eyes.
Blogs were disappearing, forums turning into ghost towns, all eyes and fingers were becoming increasingly fixated on central social media hubs, the names of which giants I do not even need to mention.
Viral hits were no longer the stepping stone to better days, but rather a blip in the spotlight before being reabsorbed into perpetual oblivion.
I write these words in full knowledge they will probably never be picked up or attract any readership, but part of that is also a case in point. Yes, I appreciate being able to quietly write in my corner of internet homesteading. My website may currently be a cabin in the wilderness, but it is mine, not constantly being usurped by others shouting and fighting for frontpage presence, so any who are looking for a quiet retreat to read information without being constantly bombarded by other distractions, take off your shoes and pull up a chair by the fire. You are most welcome. Let me get you a warm drink :)
Yes, writing has also changed. Articles no longer being purely informative or entertaining, each one is clamouring for your well-sought after attention. It can be like driving out of the desert into the big city where you are hit by an endless entourage of billboards, each louder than the next, each yelling for your attention. Next time you scroll through social media open your eyes to it for just one minute and tell me if it is not exactly like that.
A bustling market where each and every person is pushing to sell you their wares.
The difference with this market though, is once you step into it, it is almost impossible to get out.
The craziest being we don’t even realise the extent of the possibility. Because we all think we are free to come and go as we please.
But are we?
And this is exactly where internet and social media finds itself as we speak.
As. I. Write. These. Words.
I stop for a moment to repeat that these words are simply a product of my reflections and observations and personal experience. I would be more than interested to know yours, so feel free to pull up a chair and join the conversation!
The turning point came this summer. I was talking to my cousin who to this day has still not created a single social media account. He recommended I watch the film The Social Dilemma.
I recommend you also watch it.
One line in the film completely stopped me in my tracks.
It was this:
There are only two industries which have users
THE NARCOTICS INDUSTRY
THE SOFTWARE INDUSTRY
I will let you go away and watch the film and reflect on those words for yourself and draw your own conclusions.
My conclusion was obvious.
I wanted out.
I have never been a substance user and never will be, the idea that I was was terrifying. In the past I have broken free from other ‘addictions’ I hadn’t been aware of, for example, a few years ago when I radically changed my lifestyle and working with a fitness trainer and nutrition coach I decided to cut sugar from my diet. He explained to me that it would take three days (72H) to get the cravings out of my system, and he was correct. I know because I did it multiple times lol.
I decided to try the same strategy with my mobile phone.
And yes, it was brutal.
Even more than for sugar.
For three whole days my body was screaming at me to pick up my phone.
And then suddenly it calmed down.
I still had frequent urges but they were not all consuming.
After 30 days they evaporated.
And until now I still limit any phone use to essential and brief actions when I am outside, such as to check maps or to check and reply to messages.
And sometimes to take photos or edit videos. Nothing more.
In fact I remember about a month into the experiment I was waiting for a friend outside and to pass the time I decided to check some information on the internet. “Hello Google” lol. And what is interesting is that that simple action of checking and scrolling alone made me feel incredibly uncomfortable, I could feel myself become shaky and anxious. Much like the behaviour of a recovering addict.
Currently, especially since I created a space for my phone to ‘live’, I have felt complete detachment towards it. Of course, I still get mild or casual urges to play games on it, but I strictly disallow this, because I know probably like a recovering alcoholic it would only take one game and I would be completely under again and I have no desire to enter that type of endless circle. I would much rather move forward and upward.
And so this is where I come to the title of the article: Has the internet and social media seen its heyday?
If we were to liken the metamorphis of the internet as I have outlined above to the food industry, we could say everything started out with the excitement that people could set up their own little food joints and create and consume to their hearts content. An endless array of eclectic and haphazard choices spotted everywhere but many with truly wonderful colours and flavours. (Seriously, go back to see some of the early webpages lol!)
Then came the food trucks. People wanting to create content, often starting very simple and basic but eventually evolving into these gourmet food trucks (aka blogs) which people kept coming back to – and their food creations were truly delicious!
I’m not sure where the early days of social media fits in this picture, perhaps just simple no-frill night markets which later turned into the Uber of food delivery.
But even that wasn’t enough for them.
Obviously the food delivery became super popular (aka advent of internet and social media on mobile phones) because people could now eat when and where they wanted – I was super excited about this period too, a new age of freedom – but yes, even if we became avid consumers dipping in and out of our phones, this was still not enough for the ‘big boys’ (we all know what their names are!).
And so this is when the automatic food machine, food conveyor belt, food shover, lol, whatever you want to call it, appeared.
Strapped into your chair you could consume at your absolute pleasure! If you have ever seen the cult-film Idiocracy you will know exactly the scene 300 years into the future which I am talking about. If you haven’t watched it, go watch it straight after the other things I’ve recommended.
What few realise is we are living that scene right now.
No offense to the wonderful content creators working so hard out there, in fact you of all people will know exactly what I mean as I write this, online information and entertainment is on an endless stream and conveyor belt constantly being pushed to the consumer.
The near exclusive access to the consumer comes through the conveyor belt (aka social media). Only the super popular stuff or the stuff from the highest bidder (enter ads) is put on that conveyor belt and thus in front of the consumer. Gourmet food trucks, many of them are still out in the parking lot, their delicious food going cold, and to waste.
The food that is prioritised is the food that can be eaten fast and then onto the next, the next, the next, the next, the next, the next---
See how that works?
And it is not just about the content.
We may be the content creators, but the conveyor belt is owned by the big boys (aka big social media and a certain search engine company). And that is not all they own.
They also designed the chair (aka our cell phones) we sit in, how comfortable and relaxing it is, and all the surrounds. We don’t even want to get out of it, it’s that comfortable!
We fall asleep in it!
Eat in it!
It’s even designed for the bathroom!
Have you been there too?
I’m even wondering if I cut myself off from something good lol!
But go watch The Social Dilemma to begin to understand how every single one of these elements were actually designed based on human behaviour and psychology. This is also my field of research, so when I tell you it’s not something to pass over blindly, we actually shouldn’t.
Then watch Idiocracy to get the full visualisation of it.
And even now, coming back to the analogy of the conveyor belt, the food being produced has been reduced not to that which is the most nutritious, or creative or delicious, but that which is most addictive (aka perfect sugar and fat/flavour balance) and can be consumed mindlessly and endlessly.
What we don’t see is what’s happening below the conveyor belt, our metaphysical waistlines or brain space.
The very first podcast episode I produced three years ago was actually entitled Learning and the Fat Issue - Are we becoming 'intellectually obese'?
And these were my opening lines:
We are facing an obesity crisis. An obesity crisis we may not even have heard of. An obesity crisis we may not even be aware of.
I originally wrote it to illustrate the impact of current learning practice and how we are absorbing knowledge, like a giant accumulation without actually turning it into productive or quantifiable output, and that this could lead to a metaphysical state of intellectual obesity.
Between then and now things have further deepened into this void.
I am not writing this to start or add fodder to any of the conspiracy theories or doom and gloom perspectives out there. But when we stop and openly analyse the current state of internet and social media, I do feel we need to ask questions.
If we were able to come in on this situation from the outside and you were to ask any rational thinker do you want to become part of it, hmmm, as a researcher I cannot legitimately finish that sentence haha, but just go and think about it from several perspectives.
I am also not saying that we do not need internet or social media. I just question whether we still need it as much or in as much quantity.
I feel as if I am pushing my chair back from the conveyor belt and saying I’ve had enough of having food pushed into my face at a near constant pace. Sure its a free limitless buffet, but actually I’m full.
I think I’ll go for a run.
And later when I’m actually hungry, I will consciously stop at one of those gourmet food trucks for something really delicious.
I will eat it, not in ‘the chair’, but in the park, where people are eating together and engaging in legitimate conversations.
Coming together and creating the future of community and interaction--
What is your vision?
RZ 2022 01 11