My birth was timed quite perfectly for me to grow in parallel with the modern technology. The internet was just becoming increasingly common and Nokia grew bigger thanks to their success in the mobile phone market. I got my first mobile phone at the age of 8 to keep in contact with my parents after school. The same year, we got a PlayStation 2 for Christmas. I was 12, when my dad gave his old computer for me to use (for educational purposes, obviously… wink).
And that’s how technology and the internet have been a natural part of my life. They started off as tools, and quite quickly tightened their grasp, as all of a sudden they were expected to be one’s natural extension in order to manage and stay up to date. A lot of time was saved thanks to the practicality of the internet, but ironically, much of the saved time was spent browsing online.
I never watched a lot of tv and when I really discovered YouTube, it virtually stopped. Many of my friends were downloading tv-shows and movies online, but I found no reason to do that. I “got my entertainment” from YouTube. It started off as one innocent subscription, and after realising the amount of great quality content available (okay there’s a ton of junk there too), I soon had more than two hundred subscriptions that I “had to” keep up with. I subscribed to many channels without thinking too much about it. Many of these channels did not live up to the same quality consistently, which led me into checking every video they released, in search for a good laugh or some educational value. It took me a long time to realise what a slave I had become to this habit of watching videos, in the fear of missing out.
To Facebook I got relatively late. Most of the people I knew were already there doing the things one does on Facebook, when I decided to give it a try. I became Facebook friends with people I barely knew, just because I could. As I am a music nut, most of my likes were bands and artists. While most of them were acts that I actively listened to, some were acts that I knew some good songs from and I thought that it would look cool if I liked them – that I would look if I followed them. Facebook was also a medium to stay up to date with all the internet trends, which felt quite important for some reason.
Both my YouTube sub box, and my Facebook feed were filling up with all this content to go through, most of which did not have any value to me. It was like having big bag of sugary sweet candy, with only a couple of enjoyable kinds with some actual flavours, and the rest being just meh. But might as well eat all of them since they all were there, right?
In addition to all of this, I’ve always been a huge technology geek. Even as a kid I was fascinated by all kinds of appliances. I’ve always loved the aesthetics of devices and software, and thus everything that Apple does has catches my attention. For instance, the first computer I bought back in the day felt so amazing that I actually spent time just randomly clicking around in awe and mesmerization.
It was a couple of years ago, when I started to wake up to the reality. I realised that the fear of missing out on digital content and latest internet trends was consuming me and my time. I decided to start slowly cutting down the content, and one by one I unsubscribed from channels I didn’t find reason to hold on to – which were not “worthy of my time”. One by one I unliked things on Facebook and unfriended people I couldn’t call my friends.
Digital clutter, my favourite pet peeve. It is only quite recently that I’ve become aware of the volume of digital entertainment, and how insidiously it drains our time and focus. I’m glad that I was only consumed by two platforms, as there are so many of them, more and more popping out all the time.
Commercial things have always been made “nice” and pleasing to the eye. Now, thanks to the digital dimension, and the amount of commercial content being pushed on us is extensive, reaching us in our everyday moments, new content being created all the time. Most of the things are built up based on the knowledge of what catches and keeps our attention. Indeed, there are dedicated experts researching on how get people hooked. Every bit of human mind is exploited in this chase. For example Facebook and YouTube put a lot of effort into making the viewing process as pleasurable as possible (no matter how bad the actual content). Of course they also make sure they provide the best possible tools for the content creators. Media is created to be addictive and it’s easy lose oneself in the flood of information and entertainment. The more time we spend browsing a certain medium, the more money for them. Thus, it must be you who’s in charge of your time. They won’t tell you to stop.
Going back to the candy metaphor again, when would you stop eating if you had a never-ending source of treats? (Given that you don’t get nauseous, of course.) When is the right time to stop? Just one more? Would the candy taste any good after continuous indulgence? Entertainment can be like a drug – once you get on it, getting off can be extremely difficult. You build a tolerance and you need your fix to get to the normal state. It has been scientifically shown that the instant gratification of browsing Facebook is very similar to the effects of actual drugs.
The key point here is that we must find ways to incorporate gadgets and the internet in our lives in a meaningful manner. Ever since all the money started circulating around the internet, the focus has been shifting from intentionality to mass consumption. We are now exchanging our time for their profit – working for them, essentially. In their core these are amazing tools to make our lives easier allowing us to redirect our time and focus. Let’s do our best to use them accordingly.