I was at my parents' house this summer, and going through some old boxes in the basement, when I found my old high school journal. I found myself paging through it with amused interest, when I noticed that the meandering, often very emotional entries abruptly stopped on June 19, 2001.
I had to keep the journal for my high school "Writer's Craft" class, and I used it as a way to sort out my confusing feelings regarding my own sexuality, the withdrawal of one of my closest high school friends, and the issues I was having figuring out what happiness looked like for me. It stopped because class ended, but that had never mattered to me before -- I journalled obsessively through my high school years, in class and out of it, writing bad poetry and long sappy letters to crushes I had. What happened was the Internet. I stopped journalling because I got online.
I was online long before that, of course; we had a computer in my ninth grade year and I started to use ICQ, one of the first instant-messaging programs, at the end of eleventh grade. I would stay up late, chatting to friends, and checking my extremely basic Hotmail account. There was no Facebook then and there was no YouTube. I spent maybe two hours at most online per day, mostly chatting to friends that I would later call on the phone or go out to see. When I say I "got online," I mean I started to spend a lot of my time online. And that's been my life since.
I was reading an article on a friend's status today that mentioned the rise of technology in our lives. We think about technology almost all of the time. Most of us carry smartphones and check them a million times in a day. I know that I can literally walk around for hours, holding onto my iPhone. I don't even have to be using it -- I just hold it. And that's definitely a disturbing trend that I'd like to stop for myself. But how did I get so addicted to being online? After all, online content is extremely consumable, and takes less than five minutes to check and read, in many cases. There's no reason to stay on your phone for hours and hours.
My addiction started that summer after that Writer's Craft class ended. In my first year of university, I joined a site called LiveJournal. It's a journalling site that was one of the first blogging sites out there. I joined because when I put down my paper journal on June 19, 2001, I missed having the outlet to vent. With LiveJournal, I could vent and journal, and people would actually read my entries, comment, and give feedback. It was more than just a place to write down thoughts -- it became a way to communicate.
As a budding writer, that was invaluable to me. And as a lonely, depressed early-20-something, it made my first year of university, where I knew only a few people, a lot better. The people online, from all over the world, became my friends. They became friends that listened without judgement. They were people who gave advice and shared parts of their own hearts, too. And I stayed on LiveJournal for over 13 years, faithfully journalling my struggles and successes, dealing with online drama (of which there could be a lot!) and fostering online friendships.
So, my online addiction was borne out of always having people at my fingertips, ready to listen to anything I had to say. As my online life spilled over into social networking, I made more friends and reconnected with old ones. And nowadays, a large part of my day is reconnecting with people online. I don't think that's a bad thing, but I am realizing that reconnecting, thinking how to package myself and my experiences in a palatable way, and "making memories" is getting in the way of actually living them.
Despite my misgivings with my current use of online social networking, I don't vilify people who spend a lot of time online, Instagramming their food or taking selfies. I personally don't Instagram my food, but that's because food isn't a big part of my life. I don't really cook and I'm not interested. I do Instagram things that are important to me and things that I find beautiful. I also find myself thinking about how something will look Instagrammed a lot of the time.
I am a dedicated selfie taker -- I admit it. I take selfies firstly because I want to see my body type normalized and I want to feel beautiful. But I also take them because I want to remember moments in time that aren't just holidays or special occasions. Like when I felt beautiful that day in the sunshine. Like that day that I spent cuddling my sick cat. No one else is here to take pictures of me, so I do it. Many people might even think that those moments are stupid to document, but they don't live my life and they won't be leaving behind my legacy. I will be. And I do it for me.
In an effort to curb my extended online use, I deleted my LiveJournal a few months ago and haven't been back to the site really since. I find I don't miss it. A lot of my friends are on my other social networks, and some I know in real life, so we see each other outside of the online space, which I think is important and healthy. It helps to foster less intense relationships, and helps me to reconnect with people in the real world.
One thing I have found with having my life online is that relationships online are lived through text, pictures, and videos. It's one moment in one hour at one time. And that moment can be misconstrued. Real-life relationships help me remember that people are more than intense text on a screen. They have nuances that I get to know and enjoy. And this all might seem quite obvious, but the fact of the matter is, our society does take place largely online these days. These things are important to remember because they do seem obvious. They seem so obvious that people ignore them in favour of being on their smartphones through dinner and the movies.
Though I understand why people are concerned about our online society, the current annoyance surrounding the online space and technology use in our society gets on my nerves. I don't think that we are the first generation to be caught up in trying to document the moment, and we won't be the last. The many different incarnations of technology over the years have proven that. The telephone offered a chance to communicate without having to wait weeks for a response. The television and wireless radio brought entertainment and news right into our homes. And I don't believe that hobbies have suffered as a result, either. Technology is addicting, but it's also shared ideas and given us a different point of view. I still read. I still write. And I still take time to do those things, despite my smartphone sitting beside me on the table.
I live a lot of my life online. I don't apologize for it and I probably won't have a change of heart and completely erase myself from social networking. I like connecting with my friends, I like reading the news on Twitter, and I like blogging and sharing my thoughts with people who talk back.
But what I have been doing, and will continue to do, is taking more time to connect in person and to reconnect with myself. I don't need to fumble with my phone while waiting for the bus. I don't need to read an e-book on the subway. I can sit and reconnect with my thoughts or with the people around me.
That is the one thing that today's technology has taught me. I may be able to get information and companionship instantly, but it doesn't mean that I should. Sometimes, some things are worth waiting for, savouring, and experiencing in real life.
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