Hello world: Social Media, Technology & Switching Off

I left Facebook months ago in an attempt to gain back some control – of my emotions as well as my actions, as it is the former that guides the latter – which had become an increasingly ephemeral presence in my life. Freed from the clutches of shallow techno-fantacism, I experienced a brief period of renewed vigour. No longer was I stupefied in the glow of artificial light emanating from my phone, the infinite scroll flashing past my retina at hyper speed. I was free, for a time. I now scroll through Instagram, (which gives me the same dull satiation) and Twitter (which fills me with righteous indignation), even going so far as LinkedIn for a quick fix when I’m really desperate. My phone is permanently silenced, unless I’m expecting a call, and my notifications are always muted. However, this does not stop me from checking my emails at all hours of the day, the absent-minded fear of missing out guiding my hand to the light. In a typically banal fashion, I have switched out one crutch for another.

Until a few years ago, I was somewhat of an adherent of techno-solutionism; the belief that technology alone will solve societies biggest problems. Social media in particular did a relatively good job of connecting disparate groups and giving voice to the voiceless (components of which I still believe it achieves). The turning point came during the research phase of my MA essay into the ‘Fuck Off Google’ campaign in Berlin, Germany; an anarchist centred movement focused on resistance against Google’s development of a ‘Google Campus’ in the area of Kreuzberg. This formed my understanding of what has been coined ‘Platform Capitalism’ and the monopolistic tendencies of global tech-giants, along with numerous other issues surrounding privacy, Big Data, tax-avoidance and governance. I now have a much more complex relationship with technology, summed up most accurately by Melvin Kranzberg’s first law of technology:

“Technology is neither good nor bad; nor is it neutral.”

My relationship with technology – a heady mix of ambivalence and despair – echoes that of my recent mental state. Having grown increasingly pessimistic in outlook, verging on fatalistic nihilism, I felt increasingly unable to make decisions about my life – what I wanted.  I have recently started counselling; an attempt to realise entrenched patterns of behaviour and their origin. The focus of these conversations has been on self-care, mindfulness and to regain some of the control I had lost, clearing the way for pro-active solutions. 2019 has been challenging thus far, for a number of reasons that I do not wish to elaborate on here, but to summarise, I have been supporting those close to me whilst neglecting my own mental and physical well-being. At the risk of sounding clichéd this is untenable, as without administering self-care you cannot be strong for others, certainly not indefinitely. I still face many of the same problems, but I am learning, albeit slowly, to deal with them more pragmatically.

When I look around, I see my friends, colleagues and loved ones facing similar turmoil. I can’t help but thinking that this ambivalence proliferating amongst society stems from the uncertainty of our collective future; the recent International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report has given a stark reminder of our imminent climate breakdown; Brexit has left the country in an economic limbo and divided the country; and Boris Johnson has just assumed the mantle of Prime Minister – our very own populist demagogue. This uncertainty spreads through societal networks, creating increased anxiety and frustration in everyday life. As we are barraged with a constant stream of information, with click-bait media headlines that serve to shock us into reading, it is no wonder that anxiety is on the increase in millennials. These problems are systemic, and require a multitude of solutions, many of which feel out of our grasps. We might not be able to change the world over night, but we can make small changes in our daily routines to help us cope better. So, whether that means switching off our phones, surrounding ourselves in nature, exercising, walking, writing, reading or staring into space, it is high-time we started administering some self-care.

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