And the tombstone reads: "She sure spent a lot of time online"
Yesterday I drove down the 101, watching the Oregon coastline get battered by heavy showers and surf. Cell service is spotty here; a victim of forests and cliffs, the same way my NPR station floats in and out. I finally landed in Bullard's Beach State Park at the bottom end of the fast-moving showers and checked into the above yurt.
No cell reception bars, no nothing. As a writer, my ability to research my facts is out of reach. However, the peace and quiet that are offered are worth more than anything. That natural silence allows me to wash away the constant barrage of interruptions and life-sucking "dings" that draw me inexorably back to my damned phone.
As with anyone who has an addictive personality I understand the challenge when it comes to the pleasurable notifications we get when some moke( stranger, in this case) "likes" a post we wrote. Our mental and emotional health is increasingly dependent upon our ability to exist without them.
Imagine, said John Lennon. Yes. Let's.
Part of being away from signal is that I can read books on my Kindle. At least those I remembered to download first. This one I had brought along in hard cover form, an honor I reserve for books which are going to get dog-eared and underlined.
Some of these, given my life the last few years full of surgeries, accidents, a big move and massive life changes, have had to wait. This one has become even more essential reading in the years since Covid.
Cal Newport's wonderful book Digital Minimalism is a wonder; it's not just an expose of just how evilly effective the Silicon Valley nerds have been at disrupting our lives in such a way that we can barely function without our screens. It's even better for its advice on how to reduce that dependence and take back the one thing that those devices are stealing: time.
As a 70 yo woman, time is one thing I no longer have scads of, granted. None of us does; our lives are already too short. When we spend up to fourteen hours a day in front of some kind of screen (as some studies have shown) we are giving people who want our attention our entire lives. We are, in effect, their prisoners.
Who owns our time owns our lives.
To the point where our kids are killed- and so are we- either by texting while driving themselves, or someone who is texting and crosses the line wipes out our family. And theirs. That is a fraction of a fraction of the problem; we all sigh and look somber and agree that it's awful, then pass really punitive laws (they are serious here in Oregon) and wonder why not a whole lot changes.
This is a really awful addiction, and it becomes an addiction when it starts to chew up our lives and our relationships. As we found out with the war on drugs and the war on poverty and the war on every other damned thing in America, wars involving a lot of profit aren't won. Why? Because ...profit.
There's too much money to be made on addictions. Including those folks who treat addictions, from the facilities (often frauds) to the Big Pharma folks SOOOOOO happy to sell us more pills to fix the problems their pills often caused in the first places. Profit wins.
So the choice comes down to you and me, the individual. We can't legislate away alcohol addiction or cocaine or oxy addiction. We can't legislate any of those away because each is an individual choice in so many cases.
As it relates to social media use, though, at what point do we ask the question,WHY? Why would you willingly allow an entity which doesn't give a rat's patootie about you or your mental health to own you? Your kids' lives?
Newport's book is so full of critical quotes and information that if I listed all of them, I'd just be plagiarizing the entire book. However if you've not read it yet, here is a fine quote to get you salivating:
“The tycoons of social media have to stop pretending that they’re friendly nerd gods building a better world and admit they’re just tobacco farmers in T-shirts selling an addictive product to children. Because, let’s face it, checking your “likes” is the new smoking.”
― Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World
It's a slap in the face and a major wakeup call. YES it came out in 2019, but we are still not listening.
The way I experience today's dependence upon our devices is like having a large tick with a bottomless appetite attached to your neck. Said tick sucks out your life - in the form of time- daily, until there is no more. Then boom, you die.
We attach the same desperate tick to our babies the moment we hand them the iPhone-as-babysitter, condemning them to a life bereft of critical interactive skills, utterly dependent upon a screen for human validation and life pockmarked by mental illness born of terrible isolation.
That what you want to do to yourself? Your kids?
It's what we already have done to ourselves and our kids.
Raising kids isn't about convenience. It's hard work. If you want convenience, kindly please do NOT have children, and then condemn them to a life without a future.
Of course there are outposts and plenty of kids who have looked at their contemporaries (and parents) in horror and said NOT US. There lies our future, but they are not the majority.
There are also plenty of people, as Newport writes, who have slimmed down their digital habits so that they are manageable, the same way I slimmed my body down 35 years ago. The challenge, as with weight loss, is sustainability. Digital habits, like donuts, are damned hard to break.
As I sit here at a coffee shop in Bandon, Oregon, where I drove in for a meal and a connection to write this article, the table next to me has two mothers whose two young girls are already glued to their screens.
Would you have handed your baby a cigar to keep him preoccupied?
Look, if he looked like Winston Churchill I'd understand, but then all babies look like Winston Churchill. You still wouldn't hand them a lit cigar.
Plenty of alarms have been raised about our kids, and some are starting to listen. However, are YOU listening? Are YOU cutting back on your device use? Are you and I fully in life? Because we are the example.
As someone who has struggled with food addictions and beaten them, a five-pack-a-day smoking habit and beaten it, overeating and beaten it, overexercising and beaten it, I have a lifetime of experience with reining in the next thing which grasps that tendency and wants to take over. I've gotten a lot better at it.
However. As I have aged, and friends have died, and I have no family myself, the temptation- and it's strong- is to allow my device to fill in where friends need to inhabit a life which is headed towards an eventual sundown.
You and I need flesh and blood friends who "LIKE" us for real, with all our love handles and imperfect skin and belly fat and bad days and dumb comments. We need to "LIKE" our friends for theirs, for in this achingly difficult world, the fake friends fall away like dead moths when it's time to call the sacred circle around someone in terrible trouble. Real friends show up.
Fake friends just unfriend us.
As for those texting and walking, and texting drivers?
So yes, now we have gag reels of people being monumentally stupid:
And while that is entertaining, since Newport's book it's only gotten much, much worse. Every child raised on- and adult addicted to- TikTok or whatever the latest craze is, is turned into a potential murderer driving a two thousand-pound weapon because the isolation of Covid created a terrible, sucking, suffocating need.
Social media was right there. Here's your tick. Attach to your carotid artery. Won't hurt at all.
You get it, you're no fool.
However, how many times did you check your phone while reading this article? While having lunch or breakfast or dinner with your family, assuming you even eat at the same table any more? Assuming that you have a rule of "no phones" at the table?
Individual choice. For a country which loves to think of itself that we are the home of the free, we are all digital addicts. Our collective loneliness has led us to be addicts of far more serious substances, but this isn't that article.
I am not saying cut yourself off completely. As a person who writes online I can't. However I can stop scrolling, stop reading news which hurts and which underscores feelings of helplessness, and having sewage seep into my life when I am trying to stay positive and hopeful.
Life is out there. Out here where I am, walking up to people on the street and talking to them, petting their dogs. Walking on the sandy beach and starting conversations with people whose lives and stories fascinate me.
When necessary, I call in the cavalry if feeling needy for conversation. Not text. Not email. Call, or walk next door. Talk to people I can see hear, and care about. Community is earned, not lined up online like yet another notch on your social media gun.
Community is built one friend at a time, not the soulless, faceless, endless "friends" on line about whom we care nothing but for their likes, and they care nothing about us without our likes.
For the most part, completely soulless transactions.
We are parasites.
Because we have a parasite attached to us.
There's another word for this: zombies.
There's only one vaccine for it: shut that down and go out and live. If you aren't making memories, you aren't living.
But you most assuredly are helping a few other very very very rich parasites make their living.
Finally? If you don't get it yet, this (Thanks, Jim S):
For all those things that everyday folks want to emulate, be rich, be this that and the other, this is the message they miss.
Be like the people who invented this awful thing. DON'T let your kids use it.
As they get older teach how to use it responsibly. Big difference. But you have to model it.
And for heaven's sake, reclaim your life starting now. The silence might be deafening at first.
But like walking outside after a horrible winter, you might find a world outside which needs you in it. It's spring.
It's Life. Be In It.*
Note to Dear Reader: Life. Be In It is a beloved phrase owned by the Aussies and made popular nationwide in the Eighties. I lived there, loved it there, and love this phrase. I give full credit to those wily Down Under blokes who came up with it, and wish more folks had taken the hint back then. I did and I thank all of them for the inspiration to drop 85 lbs and never look back.
Dear Walkabout Saga Reader:
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