Writing by hand on paper is becoming a revolutionary act. Reading a physical book is becoming a revolutionary act. Protecting the books in our libraries, the arts and humanities in our colleges and universities is becoming a revolutionary act. Doing things with warm hand to warm hand, face to face, without photographing them, posting them, is becoming a revolutionary act.
Those two original digital devices you have at the end of your forearms are the means of resistance. As is eye-contact with the world instead of staring at your phone.
She begins her post with screenshots from someone’s downloaded Facebook archive, which showed that Facebook had extensive records of phone calls and other communications that were unrelated to Facebook.
The most valuable thing you have is your attention. It’s also the most valuable condition for survival of the non-digital world.
Here are some browser extensions and tools I’ve been using to make my experience on the Big Three social networks better:
Since 2012 I’ve been using Fix Twitter to swap the right and left columns to put the feed back on the left, as it was pre-2012. Mostly cosmetic, but for me preferable.
Make Twitter Great Again hides two things that have made web Twitter nearly unbearable recently: other people’s liked tweets popping up in my timeline and promoted tweets.
Twitter Demetricator hides all the site’s metrics for followers, likes, retweets, and notifications in order to, per its creator, “disrupt our obsession with social media metrics, to reveal how they guide our behavior, and to ask who most benefits from a system that quantifies our public interactions online.”
I recently enabled Tweet Delete to automatically delete tweets older than two months.
I’m not deleting my account, not yet anyway. For work and other reasons it’s just more convenient to have one. The next best thing to do in response to the company’s rolling malfeasance is to deny them their power source, so I’m using Social Book Post Manager to bulk-delete my old posts and plan to post a lot less. It’s a little clunky, and you have to do the process repeatedly to actually get all the posts, but seems to be working.
I’m starting with the earliest, from the summer of 2006 when I first joined, and working forward. Since you get to watch it work through your posts in real time on your Activity Log, you get to quickly reminisce—or cringe—at all of your status updates and comments of olde (common topics for a while there: Lost, the Oscars, The Office, and the Packers). Once all your posts are removed from a given year, the updates that remain—Life Events, your friending history, photos you’re tagged in—reflect an interesting kind of online anthropological history.
I like Instagram generally, but I don’t like how easy it is to waste time scrolling mindlessly. I also don’t like the feed showing me whatever the Almighty Algorithm decides to show me rather than what was posted chronologically.
My hack for this is to delete the Instagram app from my phone after each time I post a photo. This cuts me off from the mindless scroll, from obsessing over my likes and follows, and forces me to decide whether posting a photo is worth the extra time to download the app and sign in again.
Maybe it’s not so much the command prompt I’m nostalgic for, but the days when the computer wouldn’t do anything without me — I had to explicitly tell the computer what I wanted to do, and if I didn’t tell it, it would just sit there, patiently, with a dumb look on its face.
I really miss how computers used to be “dumb” in this way. The primary computer in my life — my “smartphone” — is too smart. It used to constantly push things on me — push notifications — letting me know about all sorts of stuff it thought I wanted to know about, and it continued doing this until I had the good sense to turn them all off. It’s dumber now, and much better.
Besides text messages and Snapchat pictures of my new nephew, I don’t get notifications on my phone and haven’t for a long time. I can’t imagine how people with news or social media apps subject themselves to the onslaught of Fresh Hell in their pockets all day.
In Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free, Cory Doctorow writes about the need to be protected from computers as they burrow further into our lives and bodies:
I want to be sure that it is designed to take orders from its user, and to hide nothing.
Take orders and hide nothing. Command and control. Pull rather than push. Make Computers Dumb Again.
By choosing to be a reader of websites whose voices and ideas you’re fundamentally interested in and care about, you’re taking control. And by doing that, you’ll chip away at the incentive publishers have to create headlines and stories weaponized for the purpose of sharing on social media. You’ll be stripping away at the motivation for websites everywhere (including this one) to make dumb hollow mindgarbage. At the same time, you’ll increase the incentive for these websites to be (if nothing else) more consistent and less desperate for your attention.
I finally read Joel Stein’s Time magazine piece on the Millennial Generation, called “The Me Me Me Generation.” For the record, unlike some of my Millennial cohorts I hate “selfies” (the term and the thing it describes), I don’t feel entitled to a great job right out of school, and I don’t sleep next to my phone. But I don’t think the article deserved all of the antipathy it received from the blogosphere. I thought it was a fair if slightly fogeyish and surface-level assessment of overall generational characteristics. The problems my generation struggles with — like narcissism and a sense of entitlement — are so noticeable largely because of the times we live in, with everything more public and social technology more widespread. You don’t think the Baby Boomers would have peppered Instagram with pictures from Woodstock? or that Gen-Xers would have had entire Spotify playlists dedicated to their collection of sad and angsty ballads? The manifestations of narcissism by young people today merely belie the human condition that plagues all humankind: We’re selfish creatures, no matter how old we are or how many Twitter followers we have.
The combination of the influence of technology and how we collectively were reared — being told how special we were by over-protective helicopter parents — also contributes to how we are currently growing into adulthood. Generally speaking, we’re able to postpone full emergence into adulthood and still live with our parents because (a) we can and our parents don’t seem to mind (or at least don’t say so), and (b) because the economy sucks and has changed so much that traditional jobs and careers aren’t as feasible anymore. The Boomers were anxious to get out of the house and their parents were eager for them to leave, so naturally the way things are done now clashes with the way of the past. Welcome to The Present Reality.
Having said that, we can’t abdicate responsibility for making choices about our lives. We don’t have to live with our parents or check Facebook ten times a day or start a YouTube channel to get famous, but we do anyway (well, not me, but the collective We certainly do). And that doesn’t just go for Millennials: Facebook usage is declining among younger people because their parents (Boomers! shakes fist) have slowly taken over. Magazine columnists can try to pin the narcissism epidemic on young people all they want, but when I go to restaurants nowadays I see just as many if not more parents on their phones than younger people. We can’t simply blame the times and the technology for our behavior, because we’re human beings with the capacity to choose whether to succumb to societal forces or to instead carve our own path, peer pressure be damned.
I think we’ll be all right. Like generations before us, we have a great opportunity to make things better. That will involve some pushing back against the political and cultural acrimony that has characterized the Boomers’ ascendency and reign, but every generation has had to clean up the messes of its predecessors. We Millennials will inevitably make mistakes, and our kids will have been formed by them in some way, for better or for worse. Let’s just hope it’s for the better.
There’s a scene in Saving Private Ryan when Matt Damon’s Pvt. Ryan and Tom Hanks’ Capt. Miller sit and chat, waiting for the impending German offensive to hit their French town. Ryan’s three brothers had recently died and he can’t remember their faces. The Captain tells him to think of a specific context, something they’d shared together. When the Captain thinks of home, he says, “I like of my hammock in the backyard or my wife pruning the rosebushes in a pair of my old work gloves.”
Ryan then tells the story of the brothers’ last night together before the war took them away, his enthusiasm growing as his face brightens with the look of recognition. After he finishes the story, he asks Captain Miller to tell him about his wife and the rosebushes. “No,” the Captain says. “That one I save just for me.”
In this the Age of Oversharing, this is a refreshing if soon-to-be anachronistic sentiment. I’ll admit to feeling the ongoing urge to inform The World via Twitter of funny or interesting things that happen to me during the day, or to display my pithy wit with a topical one-liner. But lately I’ve been compelled by a new urge, similar to that of Tom Hanks’ laconic Captain Miller in this case, which tells me to think twice before sharing whatever it is I want to share with the world.
Perhaps this is due to my being an inherently reserved person, reluctant to simply give away every little thought that enters my brain. Some people, I fully realize, aren’t built this way; they want to share themselves and their lives entirely and get fulfillment out of this. That’s perfectly fine. But I like the idea of keeping some moments – the rosebush prunings of our lives – special, not posted on Twitter or Instagram or even a WordPress blog.
This requires a lot of discipline. Being hyperconnected to social networks makes sharing intentionally easy, so overcoming the desire to post a picture of a sunset scene you’re sharing with a loved one is tough, especially when the desire to share has been engrained and even encouraged by our plugged-in culture. But I think a special moment like that becomes a little less special when every one of your Facebook friends and their mother shares it too.
This notion runs counter to many of my identities. As an amateur techie, I marvel at the capabilities the Web can give ordinary people to express themselves and enhance their lives. As a history buff and librarian/archivist in training, I understand the value of information as the record of history and the zeitgeist of an era. And as a user of Twitter, Instagram, and WordPress, I’ve come to enjoy having easily accessible and usable media to help me share cool photos, links, and thoughts short (on Twitter) and long (on here) whenever and wherever I want.
In spite of all these conflicts of interest, I’m OK with, once in a while, letting moments and images and quotes pass by undocumented and unshared, if only so I can feel in that moment that I got a glance, however fleeting, at something beautiful or inspiring or funny or tragic or all of the above, and that it’s all mine. The memory of that moment may die with me, but hey, that’s life. No matter how high-quality resolution the camera or beautifully eloquent the prose, these second-hand records will never be quite as pure as the real thing, the moments they seek to honor.
So here’s to, once in a while, living in the moment and only in the moment.