Overwhelmed. This is the word that I’ve been using for the past two years when I think about social media, all the information online, the news, television shows, books, even sewing patterns. There is so much. More than our brains can handle. It is amazing. Like the biggest candy store ever, and we have unlimited access to it, from a tiny glass screen most often. We manage to get overwhelmed so easily, because we’re multitasking constantly, looking things up, reading what so-and-so posted about whatever is happening in the world, getting distracted by someone’s cute skirt in a status update, trying to remember to respond to that email about something that is lost in the shuffle of messages, picking the perfect emoji to send back to your sister’s text about her vacation.
Another word is distracted. There’s so much. Just doing the dishes sometimes feels like a vacation from my life, because I’m focusing on one thing and not ten. Granted, being a parent and pet owner, there are many eyes on me most days who need stuff and want stuff so that also keeps me overwhelmed, distracted and running around as well. But I also have myself and my technology habit, which is keeping me distracted with the multitasking and candy store atmosphere that is always just a reach away.
I keep hearing that the elite technologists, more often than not on the left coast I’m guessing, are doing away with smart phones. Is this some kind of canary in the coal mine signal to the rest of us? We are lost in the glut of content, so much so that angry trolling is expected on social media almost all the time, and communication is often taken out of context. And we are addicted. I’m definitely addicted. I can see out of it still, though, and this is what makes me pay attention to the fact that some people are going back to dumb phones.
Attention. This is another word. I have a note on my bulletin board at work that says ‘Pay Attention.’ I got it at a training where we used improvisation to work on our listening skills. I think paying attention is really important in this world. Both in our daily moving through the world: doing dishes, listening to my kids, listening to my coworkers, but also in our digital moving through the world. The digital space is where attention is so tricky. On the one hand, we pay too much attention to our devices and our feeds, to the detriment of the real things in front of us. Our attention is directed at this swarm of voices and ideas always just a reach away.
On the other hand, it is really hard to manage one’s attention online. And this is a big problem. When we try to pay attention, we get lost. There are no trail markers out there, no one is carving the paths – there are just more and more billboards and intersections and we can often never get back to where we want to be.
I remember when I first starting using the internet in earnest. It was for an English class in college in the late 1990’s. It was an awesome class. I learned how to write HTML and read critical commentaries on the nature of networked information in the humanities. I would bring this experience up every day if I could, it had such an impact on me. But even back then, I had a taste of the way the web is now. We sat in the computer lab in the library, our assignment was to search the web. Find interesting things. Link to them on our website. I remember writing in my group discussion board post about how much of a ‘down the rabbit hole’ experience it was, and how two hours of lab time went by in a flash. The nature of hyperlinks, which as so awesome, is also part of what reduces the trail markers. Publications like books and journals and newspapers create the trail markers for us, but out there in the wide world, we are all independent researchers. And while that is fine if we are trying to research, more often we’re just trying to go for a hike and get to the view. But we’re not getting to the view, or we get presented a view and it isn’t the real one. Attention. Distraction. Overwhelmed.
`That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
`I don’t much care where–‘ said Alice.
`Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
`–so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.
`Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, `if you only walk long enough.’
Alice felt that this could not be denied, so she tried another question. `What sort of people live about here?’
`In that direction,’ the Cat said, waving its right paw round, `lives a Hatter: and in that direction,’ waving the other paw, `lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad.’
`But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.
`Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: `we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’
`How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.
`You must be,’ said the Cat, `or you wouldn’t have come here.’