January 5, 2017
It’s an odd-numbered year, which always makes me feel uneasy about things.
I mean, what good could come of a year that ends in the number seventeen? The last time seventeen and I met, I was sneaking out of my bedroom at one o’clock in the morning, discovering that beer came in forty-ounce bottles (GENIUS), and playing rap music on volume ten—while (get this) ***still being able to multitask.***
Ah, the luxury of youth. These days, anyone even so much as hums in my presence and I’m all, WHAT IS ALL THE MEANING OF THIS STOP THIS MADNESS IMMEDIATELY! I mean, I’m so old, the other day I was walking around Target and realized I was waddling. Like, as in, old lady waddling. Like, as in, I have finally stopped caring whether or not my stomach is sucked in, or my breasts are perked out, and now I’m just walloping down the aisle like a bowling ball thrown by an eleven-year old boy. And I don’t even care. I really don’t. Go ahead, get in my way, I dare you. I am in my thirties and yes: I WILL CRUSH YOU.
And, so anyway, when you’re a waddly woman in your thirties, you’ve got a certain responsibility to think about things. There are no more reckless acts; no more just winging it. You’ve got a duty to yourself, and to mankind, to not be a total absent-minded asshole—which is nice, you know? And lately, in doing my duty to avoid becoming a total absent-minded asshole, I’ve been thinking a lot about the problem that everyone has, but few seem to notice:
ONE HELL OF A MASSIVE INTERNET ADDICTION.
I spent the past couple of weeks in NYC and Philly, and you know what I saw? A bunch of disgruntled, numb humans who all look like they’re in a trance—not happy nor sad but robotically indifferent, as they stare methodically at the light of their iPhones seeking something beyond the screen. I’m sure you’ve seen it. In fact, you’ve probably done it. (WAIT A MINUTE, ARE YOU DOING IT RIGHT NOW? BECAUSE IF SO I'M WEIRDLY EXCITED.) We’ve all been guilty of indulging in a little too much screen time. But…what if it’s more than a rude gesture at the dinner table? What if it’s more than just a little Facebooking to pass the time?
I have a theory, and it’s not a cute one: I believe the more we advance in technology, the less we’re going to advance as humans. We might advance as a society, but that’s not the same. And it’s an important distinction. More and more, technology and humanity seems to be at odds with one another, creating an inverse relationship that not only takes away our humanity, but our happiness. Which is weird, right? The idea behind technology was that it was suppose to make our lives easier. And, it certainly has: But does that necessarily make our lives better?
I’m not so sure.
Whenever I’m in the room with anyone who’s engrossed in their cell phone—and “engrossed” is absolutely the right word here—you get this sense that they’re not really there with you, as if they were a ghost. And conversely, whenever you find yourself “engrossed” in the same type of behavior, you suddenly look up and it’s as if you’ve been sucked into this time-warp: Half the time, you’re never listening to what anyone else is saying, you’ve lost track of time, and you come off of your phone feeling almost punch drunk and disoriented.
And I can’t help but wonder that if we’re spending years and years and years in this constant state of absenteeism from our own lives—and what does that mean for the way we feel about living them?
Most people chalk that nagging, low-level background feeling of despair up to stress: Work stress. Money stress. Family stress. Health stress. And certainly, stress is a major factor. But why is no one making the connection between the one thing that’s right in front of their faces—literally—and the decline in feeling…well, good?
We’re suffering from an addiction. I think we’re desperately addicted, and I think it’s becoming a real problem. I think that we’ve given ourselves a socially acceptable way to check out of our own lives, the same way an alcoholic might use wine to check out of hers, or a drug addict might use heroin to check out of his. And just the way those devices create this sense of void in the life of an addict, technology—despite all it provides—is creating a deep void in ours.
But because everybody’s doing it, there’s no pressure to stop. But what if the same thing you’re looking to escape—your life—were getting incrementally worse every time you escaped it? What if you were Facebooking yourself into an actual coma? What if that stress you feel every day…is actually the result of the very thing you turn to as a stress-reliever?
It’s worth considering. After all, this is all new territory for us. We’ve never had these kinds of things before. We’ve never had 24/7 stimulation at our fingertips; we’ve never had this open-ended portal in which we can check out of reality anytime we please. AND WHY IS NO ONE WORRIED ABOUT THIS? Why is no one considering the long-term effects on our humanity, and our brains, and the way we interact with the world? Why is no one worried that our kids are going to grow up not knowing how to talk to one another, or develop real-world social skills, or know how to DO things? Christ, even today I went to the bank to deposit these archaic checks that someone had sent me, and for the love of god I couldn’t remember if I had to sign the back of the check to deposit it, or only if I wanted to cash it. But that’s precisely the key word, isn’t it? Archaic. With technology comes change, and on one hand, we’ve got to adapt. But on the other:
Where do we draw the line between adaptation and incapacitation?
At the rate we’re going, we’re not only going to be helpless; we won’t know how to help ourselves. Because even though the alcoholic knows she should stop drinking…she can’t. And even though we know we should spend less time online…we can’t, either. And that’s a problem. It’s a serious problem. And it’s hurting us in ways we can’t even fathom yet.
As someone who makes a living online, I’m grateful for the tools that we’ve been given. Would I go back in time and give ‘em all back? No—nor would I ever suggest such a ghastly thing. But with greatness comes great responsibility, and I do think we’re desperately lagging on that front. It’s like we’re 350 million kids in a candy shop, scattering around ding after ding after ding, desperately searching for our next hit of sugar.
And the worst part? Most people don’t even notice.
And so, that’s why we write about things: To create a conversation. To draw attention, to ask hard questions, to make other people wonder about things, too. Because while it might be easier to numb out; to click out of this piece and scroll through Facebook; to take a selfie and post on Instagram, instead, easier is not always better. In fact, sometimes easy is actually lethal.
And in fact, sometimes, the easiest way is actually the hardest—once you stop to think about it.