Confessions Of A Digital Native

I grew up a punk rocker in Southern California on the analog sounds of fast music from the seventies, eighties and nineties. Minor Threat was a favorite band of any “true” punk rocker, of course, and a couple of their songs have stuck with me. Their eponymous song, “Minor Threat,” featured the lyrics “Play it faster!” That was crucial to the punk rock “ethos.” Playing songs fast. I remember that iconic piece of advice vividly from my childhood.

A youthful adherence to fast music, however, did not prepare this millennial for the fast-paced lifestyle of the Digital Age. Today, I often think of another Minor Threat song, “Out Of Step.”

I can’t keep up,

I can’t keep up,

I can’t keep up,

Out of step with the world.

As Trace Mayer once put it to me, those born post-1980 are “natives in a digital sea.” I am a digital native.

I, like most digital natives, have multiple nuclear clocks. One on my phone, one on my computer, one in my car and one on my wrist. I try my best to keep them all on the same time, but, eventually, they all tick out of time.

I’d love to say that a few minutes here and there didn’t matter, but we’ve reached the age of the nanosecond, the meridian of speed. As the band Bad Religion asks, “Am I making haste or is it haste that’s making me?”

Does my website need an update? How can I better drive an audience to that website? Should I post my dinner to Instagram? Tweet my most recent thought? Update my Facebook status with my current geographical coordinates? (This reminds me, I’ve forgotten to complete my new profile on Tsu)

The human being has changed since the advent of the internet and the onset of the information age. We are now quicker-reflexed multi-taskers, consistently flipping channels and fast-forwarding towards the future. (the end of the commercial break) I wonder if we have become increasingly shallow in our attempts to keep up with the modern pace of society.

Are We All Out Of Step With The World?

The Feiler Faster Thesis (FTT) is a thesis about modern journalism which states that the increasing pace of society is matched by the journalist’s ability to report events and the public’s desire for increasing amounts of information, and the public’s ability to internalize the information.

As Mickey Kaus, who is credited with the theory, says, “The FFT, remember, doesn’t say that information moves with breathtaking speed these days. (Everyone knows that!) The FFT says that people are comfortable processing that information with what seems like breathtaking speed.”

It’s as solid a scientific fact as you can assert: the pace of world society is getting faster. Time is compressed. Humanity is on a wild, all-encompassing experiment into the validity of the theory of relativity.

Technology has sped up our work and our play. I oftentimes catch myself with ten tabs open in my internet browser while I work. Does time tick faster when I do this? I guess I don’t know. It’s all I’ve ever really known, dating back to my college days, with multiple papers due at the same time. (which I paid exorbitant funds for the privilege to write, the ultimate source for why I must plop myself in front of a device and type away: student debts)

I wonder, if I sat in a quiet, still meadow in a forest and stayed there, staring at naked reality, unhindered by pixelation, would time tick slower than when I sit in my local coffee-shop with my ten internet browsing tabs, telephone and seemingly innumerable apps? Would I once more reconnect with the stillness of life and the universe? In other words, does the humming of hard-drives and the rays of the screens separate me somehow from the holographic universe? Have I been reduced to part of the simulation of life that is the world wide web?

In American society, at least, a history of puritan work ethic has taught us to keep efficiency in the back of our minds at all times. Progress is our common bond, and in its name we work. Technology was supposed to free humans of mundane tasks, so that, theoretically, we could enjoy our lives. But it seems its only imploring us to want to do more.mWe drive ourselves. Hard. But are we keeping up?

I doubt it. I don’t think we are keeping up. I wonder, Am I becoming a faded negative of what I used to be, like when two young lovers forge forward in a dependent relationship and their personalities bleed into each other until their individuality and independence is undermined? Is that what’s become of my relationship with the internet? To the internet?

I know I am not the only one who feels the pressure. These old Irishmen definitely do. They made a short film about how they’re pissed the government disconnected their analogue cable and forced them onto digital cable. “We should have a choice!” they proclaim.

Even the beloved sports-world is affected, both during the season and in the offseason. It seems fans can’t get enough of unending updates about the minutest details regarding their favorite team. (Bring on that 500 word editorial on the penultimate pick of this year’s draft) Chad Finn explains the new reporting paradigm at Boston.com.

Just a couple of weeks ago, on what was a chilly Sunday night in November throughout much of the nation, major news broke on Twitter near midnight EST by MLB and Fox correspondent, Ken Rosenthal. Hanley Ramirez, a baseball star, had signed with the Boston Red Sox.

The news had been broken in the middle of the night. Anyone who had gone to bed — including reporters — would be late to the scoop. By sunrise the next morning, a virtual eternity will have passed.

“It’s a 24-hour cycle,” said Buster Olney, senior baseball writer at ESPN and a former Yankees beat reporter for The New York Times, about the fast pace of sports reporting. “It feels like it never turns off. The spigots are always on.”

“Every waking minute,” Ken Rosenthal says of how often he feels he must check his tweets. “That part of it is really disturbing, actually.”

In an age when there is always more to get done, and the mediums to get things done are always available, when does one know to retire for the day and relax?

“You could always be working,’’ says Adam Kilgore, sports writer at The Washington Post. “There’s some idea you could turn into a five-paragraph blog post and put it up there if you felt like it. It’s great as a writer because if there’s something you want to say, there’s a forum to say it. But it can also be a burden. What’s too much? What’s unreasonable for a workload?”

Humans are proving voracious consumers of the minutiae, meaning reporters could write about inconsequential drivel, and it will find an audience on the 24/7 world wide web. (even if the audience just skims the headline in order to opine in the comments)

“There’s not one nugget, no matter how boring it seems when you’re writing it, that won’t draw some kind of audience. A post on the [Washington] Nationals’ [Baseball team] 25th-best prospect? People will still read about it. Which is kind of amazing.”

Sometimes it seems the reporters we look to for information are not even paying attention themselves.

“I love noticing the small details within a [baseball] game…and sometimes you look around in the press box and you can count the heads that are down — playing solitaire, checking their fantasy football team or buried in Twitter,’’ Tom Verducci, a writer at Sports Illustrated, said. “Whatever works for you.”

With each passing day which brings us further into the Digital Age, fewer and fewer of us live “in the now.”

Digital Disease

Even my love life, for a time, was dominated by the Internet. OkCupid, Tinder — never before has a man had the opportunity to court so many women. (and be rejected by them)

I decided one day, as I sat on the toilet swiping right on Tinder, that I better download Memrise or some other language app to spare my brain from certain decay.

I sometimes have visions of what some are so scared about.

Digital Phobia

Technophobia refers to one’s reluctance to fully immerse themselves in the digital age. This has created the so-called digital divide between those who find themselves fully immersed in the technology age and those who do not. Generally, the digital phobic have fears before technology’s growing omnipresence.

A recent survey by Foresters found that 31% of the UK population believed technology was preventing us from communicating properly, while 32% thought advances in technology would result in long-held traditions being lost.

April 2014 research conducted by Pew Research Center, along with Smithsonian Magazine, demonstrated concerns about the future. 30% of Americans feared that technological changes would lead to people being worse off in the future than at the time of the survey.

Some have been sucked in.

Our Addiction To Technology Has Never Been More Profound

Internet addiction disorder is basically just compulsive internet use. Internet addiction is a subset of “technology addiction,” which goes back to the days of radio in the 1930s and television in the 1960s. In the 21st century, though, it has exploded. Accessing such entertainment has grown mind-numbingly simple since the advent of radio. Today we only need one device to access basically all of the groundbreaking devices of the past century.

Apparently this ease of access can be distracting.

At a large university in New York, the dropout rate among freshmen increased as computers and internet access became more widely available on campus. Administrators learned 43% of dropouts were staying up all night on the internet. This has become such a “thing,” that there is already an Internet Addiction Test. (I was too scared to take it)

The Digital Detox

A digital detox is a period of time in which a person does not use electronic devices like smartphones and computers and represents an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in real life. (IRL) Some of the reported benefits of a digital detox are increased mindfulness, lowered anxiety, better appreciation of one’s environment and a more social attitude.

When we think addiction, we usually think drugs, cigarettes, alcohol and other substances. We generally don’t think of digital devices as sources of dependence. But they have become a large part of our lives, and our relationships to the devices, and its affect on our lives, have not been considered by many digital natives.

My life has become a motion picture of multi-tasking as my critical brain has been sacrificed for devotion to the short-term: headlines, excerpts, pop songs and YouTube. My life experience seems “at arm’s length” from life itself. My heart beats for the ad naseum thrill ride of the internet. How about yours?

Functional questions present themselves for us digital natives: Where do I cast my digital line in the digital sea when I do log-on to the internet? What is worth my time, what is not?

As much as we have gained, we are losing to this new, fast-paced world. I have seen academic rigor sacrificed for the tabloid nature of reporting so many of us have proclaimed to despise throughout our lives. All the major newspapers, at least in their online presence, are becoming tabloids, because, as online writers quickly learn, click-bait works.

“…Let’s face it,’’ Buster Olney, the ESPN sports writer, admits, “accuracy is a natural casualty when you’re dealing with 140-character reporting. I do think there are a lot more mistakes made because it’s fire first, ask questions later.”

Ken Rosenthal, the MLB correspondent, feels the same way. “There’s a level of inaccuracy there that is different than what those of us of a certain age grew up with. And that’s bothersome to me. But fans don’t even care. They’re so quick to move on to the next thing. It’s a different time and a different standard. I’m not sure it’s ever going back. In fact, I’m pretty sure it isn’t.”

It is the type of inaccuracies which might have gotten a person fired ten-to-fifteen years ago. Nowadays, falsely reporting a story comes with the job.

Death Of The Ritual

In researching this piece, I found this quote, the origin of which I could not find: “Journalism has long brought us together through shared rituals — reading the morning paper, watching the evening news, etc. — but as people find the news on more platforms, on their own schedules, those rituals have diminished in importance.”

I think there is a lot of truth to this quote. The digital age could indeed represent the beginning of the end for ritual. Traditional rituals still exist — births, weddings, funerals — but how many of us, when we are at those rituals, will spend a considerable amount of time staring at a screen, on Facebook, Instagram, checking our E-mail or Tinder? And if that is the case, with one foot in and one foot out, are we ever truly participating n the ritual itself?

I don’t have the answers. The Digital Age is new to me. And it’s all I’ve known. Though, you might find me trying to get my hand on some vinyl records, grasping at a physical past I never personally knew, running from my own love affair with my computers. As Bad Religion writes,

I love my computer
you make me feel alright
every waking hour
and every lonely night
I love my computer
for all you give to me
predictable errors and no identity
and it’s never been quite so easy
I’ve never been quite so happy
all I need to do is click on you
and we’ll be joined
in the most soul-less way
and we’ll never
ever ruin each other’s day
cuz when I’m through I just click
and you just go away
I love my computer
you’re always in the mood
I get turned on
when I turn on you
I love my computer
you never ask for more
you can be a princess
or you can be my whore
and it’s never been quite so easy
I’ve never been quite so happy
the world outside is so big
but it’s safe in my domain
because to you
I’m just a number
and a clever screen name
all I need to do is click on you
and we’ll be together for eternity
and no one is ever gonna take my love
from me because I’ve got security,
her password and a key.

Reading the newspaper daily (or a magazine monthly) to get a scoop is now a relic of a yesterday, as is the evening news. I was reminded of this recently while I visited my grandmother in an assisted living community where she stays. I was struck when, after having walked by an empty TV room multiple times throughout the afternoon, the room was packed at 6:00 p.m.

The elderly had all gathered to watch the evening news. As I walked by the room I felt like I was moving at relative hyper-speed. It’s a feeling I get whenever I am around somebody watching the evening news to stay up-to-date. I was told I could not take a photograph of the elderly watching the evening news out of privacy concerns, a testament to the digital divide.

Silly me for thinking these people had no right to privacy just because I, in the post-Edward Snowden world, assume I don’t.

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