This morning, while scraping the bottom of my peanut butter (in lieu of almond butter, trying to be thrifty, not the same!) jar for breakfast, I spent almost an hour trying to unsubscribe from about a jillion marketing emails I get daily. Some were tricky; I had to remember my password to get into the site just to update my preferences, which in the past deterred me (as was their intention - sucker that I am!). Today I pushed through and relieved myself of the advertisements for discounted outdoor-wear, magazines with articles I never read, and those with links I do click through often, hoping for new, amazing inspiration but undoubtedly disappointed with fluffy, rehashed garbage. I kept one daily headline news email, so that at least I can’t totally bury my head in the sand, along with a couple of daily or weekly curated writing subscriptions. More clutter cleared and one more jar of nut butter done and dusted (are there really 14 servings in a jar?).
There was a link on one of the messages I kept that I felt drawn to: “Next year, people will spend more time online than they will watching TV." According to a study from Zenith, a media measurement and research group, worldwide, the average person currently spends almost 160 minutes online (non-work related activities like shopping, social media, etc) and 172 watching TV daily, those numbers predicted to increase in 2019. In the United States the 2018 stats jump to just under 240 minutes of internet time and 276 of TV. That is 8.5 hours combined staring at screens every day. I know, you can’t believe every study we read, but I guess these data points sound like they could be fairly accurate to me.
No, not earth-shattering news. We all know that modern technology, social media and personal electronic devices have taken over our lives, replaced nourishing, in-person interaction with detached, typed conversation and denied us big, comforting, bear hugs in favor of kissy face emojis. The reality is that most of us pretty much, literally, can’t live without the internet, computer screens and mobile phones. I see the irony in posting this on a website. Even if I hand wrote this article out, which is actually how I prefer to write, how would I go about getting anyone to read it these days? Paul’s current employment options rely solely on use of the internet, and depend on widespread online usage.
“For God’s sake, let us be men not monkeys, minding machines or sitting with our tails curled while the machine amuses us… Monkeys with a bland grin on our faces.” D.H. Lawrence, 1932
It’s not all bad. I resisted checking that little (2) on my open Facebook tab behind this document for as long as I could before I just had to see what kind of alerts I had. It’s an old friend’s birthday. I like to be reminded of these and wish everyone a happy day, pleased to be able to stay connected. The notification reminds me of this friend’s birthday party in elementary school when she knocked her front teeth out while we rode bikes around the neighborhood. Luckily her mom was a dentist. It’s fun to see where everyone’s life has taken him or her, and I’m grateful to be able to share my thoughts to a wider audience online.
That said, the link that I followed through this morning echoes thoughts I had lying in bed last night of my own dependence on media, almost all virtual these days, to distract me. Rather humorously (looking back now…), it also reflects a mini - ahem - “exchange” Paul and I had yesterday, ironically while on a steep hike as far away from technology as we could get that morning. Our conversation had unfortunately devolved into some finger pointing and defensive accusations, mostly surrounding our mutual failures to jump in and really get sh*t done that we keep saying we are going to do. I get distracted. I read too many articles, look at too many Instagram pictures, search for too many bloggers writing about what I want to write about - all in hopes of finding ideas and inspiration for places to go, things to do, food to eat and yoga poses to teach. It’s not driven by FOMO really, and I don’t often start feeling sorry for myself or believe that anyone who has 12.5K Insta-followers is better than I. But it’s a distraction. It fills time so I don’t have to face the empty space on my Pages document. It allows me to procrastinate making decisions about how to move forward. And then, at the end of the day, or the next day, or the next month when I’m still just looking for ideas, I get depressed.
I do not spend anywhere near 8.5 hours each day split between TV and internet searches. Thank goodness. But last night I vowed to unsubscribe from all those emails. I reminded myself that even when I see cool people doing cool things - yeah, which can sure give me ideas of new mountains to go run and new gravel to ride - I just go about my own thing anyway, so what is really the point? I never actually make that crazy delicious looking avocado toast; I eat bananas and almond butter. I don’t want to learn how to teach one handed arm balances; I want to teach accessible, restorative yoga. I don’t wear trendy Altras or Hokas; I run in my favorite New Balance racing flats even on trails with an old school drop. I know I’m unique to all those Instagrammers. I don’t want to mimic anyone. Why not spend more time actually doing my own thing?
Obviously those 8.5 hours are everyone’s distraction from whatever they personally want to avoid. Obviously, it’s not making the majority of us healthier or more productive. I am no more than maybe 1% nearer to being self-employed and able to work remotely than I was a year ago, even though I was supposed to be devoting myself to making this happen since I left Bend. I decluttered my physical possessions (though Paul would likely disagree a bit, amidst my small piles of stuff that moves from the bed, to the bench, to the front seat), I decluttered my financial debts, but realize there is still virtual clutter. And it causes mental unrest, distress and apparently occasional turmoil between myself and my very patient partner.
Without delving too far into the recent temporary resurgence of discussions around depression and suicide prevention, there most certainly is something wrong with modern, virtual life. The - to me - trite pleas to the public and social media campaigns to ask for help are basically useless to those that are truly in desperate pain to move on. Obsessive internet use is not necessarily a direct cause of depression and anxiety, but as writer Kristin Powers points out in a thoughtful article she wrote this week, “…most Americans are depressed, anxious or suicidal because something is wrong with our culture, not because something is wrong with them.” We are always looking outside ourselves, looking for more and forgetting that just being our authentic selves is the best way to feel satisfied, as corny as that may sound. We over-consume food, alcohol, luxury vehicles and shoes we never wear to fill a perceived void.
Before our minor kerfuffle yesterday, our Dirty Good Company business meeting, held en route to George Lake, once again recapitulated the principles and Dirty Good Works that are important to us: get moving, stay curious, and consume wisely. The last of these applies to food and drink, material goods like clothing, necessities like gas for the van, and consumption of virtual information stimuli. We are not out here living in a van to deprive ourselves of things and activities we enjoy, but to open up time and resources to consume all that we do value. I’m putting a higher value on what’s inside, devoting more time to exploring and sharing my inner dirt, while appreciating that convenient and amazing information from across the world is right at my fingertips, that our financial life depends on an online community, and that there is, in fact, a need for virtual hugs sometimes.