Layla E. is an incoming college freshman and young social activist writer. Her writing ranges from newspaper articles to slam poetry, as well as a blog where she accounts her personal struggle with weight gain: http://donotfearyourvoice.blogspot.com/2016/07/becoming-one-with-flowersand-myself.html. With her writing, Layla wants to share her thoughts and opinions on the social injustices marginalized groups experience, as well as her own personal accounts. Layla desires to use her voice to speak out against cruelty against people – and hopes to reach an audience that will listen to her important points and hopefully provide people with a new outlook on a situation. She wants to educate and inform others on many issues that most people are unknowledgeable on. Her writing mostly takes a spoken word/slam poetry approach as she desires to use beautiful and creative language to get a powerful point across. She is truly an inspiring young woman. She is a writer for the people.

What inspires you to write about the subjects you choose to address in your poetry, blog posts, and articles?

In middle school the whole reason I started writing changed. In the sixth grade, I got an Instagram account; I don’t know how it happened but my Instagram account kind of – I didn’t follow anyone I knew in real life I somehow ended up in this community of people with like mental health illnesses and eating disorders. I was reading a lot of stories and hearing a lot of things. That stuff is so toxic for somebody – but these people had each other to rely on. I knew that a lot of their stories were voiceless – I initially started writing to make them feel better and less alone. That is what started it, that was my first poem outside of school – it was for one of those kids I was talking to (on Instagram). It was a really dumb but cute poem. And now, the things I write does talk about eating disorders, or mental illness because I’m still very impacted by what I had heard of or read back then. Even though I don’t run that Instagram account anymore and I don’t really know what happened to it, because, you know, I just needed to step back.

Do you feel what you see on social media influence the subjects that you write about?

Definitely! I know one of the most recent things I wrote was based off of what was happening in Syria. I was really upset about it. Also, at the same time, I can’t force myself to write something for someone and have it come out as genuinely me. I have to write something for myself. Sometimes I want to write about things, but I can’t get myself to do it. For example, I wanted to write about what happened with that lady who harassed me in the street, but every time I tried to get into it, I-I hated what I was writing because I couldn’t express what I was feeling, plus I didn’t want to give her a voice because it wasn’t worth it. It was only until the very recently at the Adelphi poetry conference that I wrote about her and only because we were writing from a different perspective and I wrote mine from the perspective of Islamaphobia and I took her and I did that. Beforehand, I couldn’t do it, you know what I mean? But when I see stuff on social media and in the media I do feel impacted and do think it does impact my writing to an extent about like how angry I am or what I want to write about or themes I’m thinking of incorporating. Definitely themes I want to incorporate. Some of the language I use is definitely impacted by that. I don’t know if you read my poem, but it’s called Anorexic Hijabi and it basically – it exemplifies everything that I’m saying right now because I talk about an eating disorder which is something I had a lot of exposure to in the past, but it also talks about – I also use language that I read online that people used like to bash Muslims and stuff, so there’s that aspect of it.

Referring to your blog, that was shared on Facebook, because of how personal it was, how did you overcome the fear of sharing it with others online?

I guess like – I didn’t really think anyone would see it or care, sharing it with you I didn’t care because we’re friends, but I wrote it because when I was going through all of that, I never saw anything that talked about it that made me feel comforted so I was like I don’t care I’m just going to deal with this. At this point in my life, I really don’t care what the people in my school think of me, or what they think of the things I do or the decisions I make because they ultimately are not living my life and their acceptance is something that is so momentary. It took me a really long time to understand that. I don’t need the approval of others to just continue on being myself. Yeah, that’s basically why I did it because I- looking back into what I’ve done in the past, there’s so much I regret because I just never gave myself a chance to be me. The person I was, was okay enough to be appreciated by others and it was so useless. I am not about to change so I can become friends with somebody else and I’m not about to put more effort into pleasing somebody if it’s going to take away from me. I’ve spent a long time being miserable about myself that I was just very done with that feeling, and I was done with all the other perspective people had (about me) and what they thought about me, and that’s why I shared it and posted it. It’s something like, it means a lot to me because I’ve seen the impact of language against like gaining weight and the culture around it that it was upsetting.  I just wanted to say something about it and I didn’t really care if anybody saw it. That was a big reason why I wasn’t afraid of sharing it and stuff. In the end, I ultimately don’t care if- about fame or whatever. I just care that one person read what I wrote and my writing can help them.

When you share things on Facebook articles about specific things, things like what Muslim people endure, and you share it with a predominately Jewish friends list (as the majority of our high school is Jewish), how do you overcome the fear of someone kind of disagreeing with you or counteracting what you have to say?

That’s a really good question. I don’t know if you remember this, but in August of 2015, I believe, there was this big bombing against the Palestinians and I was so upset. I had just gotten Facebook at that point and I was so ready to start talking about it, and my mom was like “Layla wait, be cautious, you shouldn’t be doing this”, and I was like “why?” and she responded, “look at the people who surround you”, and I was like “so what?”. I -I have things to say and I want people to hear me while I’m saying it. Being- you know what it is? If I live my life being scared of what other people have to say then I’m not living. I-I’m not – there are people in my school who don’t like me because of the way I look or my background, but being around them has opened up my perspective and my understanding of other people and Jewish people in particular because not a lot of people get to have that background. I remember I was talking to an someone who is Egyptian, and they asked “aren’t you afraid living where you do?” and I was like “No! Of course not! Jewish people don’t hate you, some may just not understand you, they don’t understand your perspective until you start talking to them”. I feel like a lot of people who are afraid of Islam don’t actually know any Muslims to actually base their fears off of it. They just hear what’s being said – I’m on Facebook and I see an article and I share it – I’m sharing it because I want people to at least give it a chance and read it. Obviously, sometimes I think maybe I shouldn’t share this – it’s too much, but what defines too much? I see people sharing things supporting IDF and the establishment and Zionism, so I don’t see why I should be limited in what I have to share. We both have our perspectives and I’ve been able to have really nice discussions about the whole issue with people because I have opened up my opinions. I’m not particularly afraid of it anymore – I share these articles so people can read them and understand there’s more to the Muslim narrative than what’s being said by the general media. There’s more behind it.

What is it that you want to accomplish with your writing especially when it’s online or to an audience?

I just want to say what’s inside me. I’m expressing what I feel and I’m giving a voice to myself as well as other people, that’s what I’m writing for. Sometimes I don’t write with a specific goal and other times I do. You can touch the hearts of so many people who may not have experienced the same thing you have, and that’s what I’m writing for. I’m writing for myself, just to take the words that are wrapped around my heart, and I’m also writing to – I feel like I should be expressing what I have to say and I have this duty onto myself to do so.

Being a young activist, do you feel that your writing is a form of activism whether you’re sharing it online or performing your poetry in front of other people?

I do. I think writing is definitely a form of activism, especially if – I think writing is one of the best ways to send a message across to anybody. When it’s spoken or shared online it’s definitely more powerful than a piece written on paper. When you’re reading someone’s piece on a war that night be happening, or a mental illness they might have and stuff like that, they’re informing you and you’re becoming a more informed person in the process, you’re learning. That in it of itself makes that person an activist for the cause that they wrote about and shared. When you’re writing about something personal, it’s really hard to share it with other people, so they are also growing as people.

Social Action

Usually, I’m not one to participate in online discussions, unless it is something incredibly important that I feel an urge to contribute. I’m generally afraid to put my opinion out there for others to see as I’m not really one to argue or debate with my acquaintances or people I do not really know at all. This assignment really pushed me out of my comfort zone. For my Writing as a Social Action response, I decided to contribute to a conversation on the newly sparked issue regarding Pepsi’s tone-deaf commercial. Recently there has been an enormous amount if backlash regarding the commercial and how it completely disregarded the immensity of what it was trying to light-heartedly portray.

In the commercial, Kendall Jenner hands a police officer a Pepsi in order to break the tension between the protesters and the officers. After receiving the Pepsi the officer shrugs and the protesters cheer as if the Pepsi has ended all of the social injustices once and for all. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter took to twitter to respond to the commercial, and her response was incredibly powerful. It was then shared on a multitude of different platforms, including the one I used Tumblr.

I came across the screenshot of her tweet and began to read the comments in the “notes” of the picture. I stumbled upon comments condoning the commercial, some of which were stating that people who support or are a part of the movement, Black Lives Matter, should be happy and not going crazy over a “silly commercial” and that we should all be thrilled that they are publicizing the movement. Obviously, that is completely problematic in the sense that Pepsi was not trying to raise awareness for BLM, rather exploit the movement for monetary gain.

I decided to respond with my own personal thoughts on the subject (pictured below). So many people were commenting their distaste for the commercial, I wanted to also participate in the anger over the commercial. I wanted to address those who were excusing the issues it so clearly contained. The cool things about Tumblr is, it’s a great place to have a conversation and share your beliefs. I reblogged the photo with what I had said to my followers and five people had reblogged the screenshot along with what I wrote at the bottom of the picture in the caption to their blogs. I know five people isn’t a lot but I really appreciated that people who I don’t even know liked what I said and shared it. I do wish that more people would have responded or commented their own opinions and thoughts on the subject to spark more of a conversation amongst us.

tweetresponse

The All-powerful Video

The first time I really delved into video editing was for my school’s annual history fair. I decided that I would create a documentary on my topic, rather than just make a board or website. I found I really loved editing videos from making documentaries in high school, so when we were given this assignment I was extremely excited to take part in it. However, it was a bit daunting, though, because I had not used my own footage to make a video and I haven’t edited a video in quite a while, so I was kind of freaking out. Also, the fact that it had to be a creative and new idea, not a dry subject pertaining to history was also a bit intimidating as I’ve never taken on something like that before. After finally coming up with the idea for my video and spending a good chunk of time editing out certain portions of my footage, playing with the editing software, and trying to make everything fit cohesively, I realized that there are truly both pros and cons to taking a video approach to explaining a concept over just plain text.

With video, I found that I was able to really put forth my idea in a whole new way. I think using the voiceover as well as the specific footage I chose to film for my video allowed me to set a specific tone for my concept that I don’t think writing would have easily allowed. I wanted the viewer to feel relaxed or at ease. With the footage as well as the music I chose, I feel I was able to accomplish that; with reading a piece of literature, it lacks the effect that a video can have.

Video allows the creator to explore their imaginative side, and get their point across in a way that allows them to put themselves forward; meaning they can bring to life their creation with their personality. That was definitely seen with many of the videos presented. When I think of creativity, and bringing animation to their project, a few videos come to mind. Will’s video “BEST MOVIE EVER!!!!”  really illustrates a creative approach that would not have the same impact if it were written text. The skit between both Will and himself allowed the viewer to get a sense of the characters and the hilarity that Will brings forth with the conversation they have. Reading something is very different from the way the filmmaker/editor presents their creation. Another video that comes to mind would be Amanda’s video “The Art of Subtweeting”. Her video illustrated a step by step explanation on subtweeting in an inventive way. Her visuals and her enthusiasm that she presented in her video were captivating and kept the viewer interested. If that were to be presented in plain writing, you lose the charm and charisma she provides.

Though videos do provide some constraints in the sense that you must find footage to film, then edit your video which can be both fatiguing and time-consuming, however, writing can prove to be the same. With writing, you must come up with an idea, formulate and structure your piece, actually write it, then edit your final product. Both hold a similar a constraint, yet video editing isn’t as simple as editing a few mistakes in a paper.

I find videography to be a great way to get across your idea because you have the ability to put yourself into what you’re creating and connect with the viewer in a way that writing cannot. The images, voiceover, and music you put into your video can have an impact on the concept you’re trying to illustrate.

Life: Public By Default

I mindlessly scrolled through Facebook on my phone when, from the corner of my eye, I saw a little red mark appear at the notification symbol. I stopped to ponder (for about a millisecond) what could this notification possibly be for. Did a friend tag me in a post that he or she found hilarious? Was it a reminder that tomorrow was an acquaintance’s birthday? Did a friend upload a photo pf the two of us? I clicked on the notification only to find I had been horribly wrong. It was my mother commenting on an embarrassing photo of myself from the year 2010, every millennial’s worst nightmare. Why was she on my profile looking through my old photos and commenting on them? Embarrassed was an understatement; although thinking about it, the entire situation seems insignificant. I proceeded to delete every photo that I found to be mortifying.

danah boyd encapsulates teenager’s sentiments towards social media relatively accurately in her literary piece, “It’s Complicated”. boyd delves into an analytic approach on the sociology behind the way young adults utilize the internet, social media, and technology. boyd strays away from criticizing social media, taking on a different method from Carr and instead providing raw insight, unbiased commentary, and real examples of the influence and change that technology has brought about for this generation, such as, parents checking up on their children over the Internet and even commenting etiquette between family and who the status was intended for. Her points are thought-provoking; I began to question my usage of social media and how I may use it differently from an acquaintance of mine. I found that not only do I agree with the points boyd makes, but as someone who has dealt with and thought about some of the notions mentioned in the text, I was able to relate.

boyd uses a sociological lens to further her points, making her examples stick out to me. She provided an example of the difference between a black high school soccer player, who was not provided with a name, and his white high school classmate named Matthew. The black student focused mostly on portraying his profile in a way that resembled a resume to impress potential recruiters, while Matthew, the white student, shared images and other statuses that could possibly have negative connotations when interpreted in the wrong way. Personally, I try to remain somewhat ‘clean cut’ on Facebook as I am friends with my family and old teachers from high school. It doesn’t occur to me even that I subconsciously think about something before I post it; I can create myself on Facebook and the person I want to portray. However, there might be more to say on the topic of race. When looking at the situation between the black and white high school student, there is a disparity about how race may play into the social freedoms of posting whatever you want online. There could be a possibility that I may be thinking too in depth on this subject, but with the injustices towards black people, how they are constantly scrutinized by the public while white people are excused for most things, the idea does not seem too far gone.

boyd explores this idea of customizing yourself on social media and who it is you want to be. You can hide certain parts of your life, treat the Internet as your diary, or generally joke around about your identity. There is so much power to that and a general concept that the older generations do not understand. boyd illustrates that there is a completely different mentality online, on social media rather. We understand that we control certain aspects of what people see, what we say, how we say it, and who we interact with. In other words, taken from boyd, if you so choose to, your life can be public by default.

Easily Distrac-

Just the other day, when I was in the grocery store with my father, we began unloading our shopping bags filled with items into the shopping cart. Looking through the window I saw the sun was setting, so I decided to check the time on my phone, as soon as I unlocked my phone I went onto Facebook to check in. My immediate cease to help my father, just so I can briefly glance at my screen for a millisecond, resulted in an unwarranted response from a man standing behind me on line. “Wow, kids these days. Always on their phones and leaving everyone to do the hard work on their own.” My father then chimed in, without question, “I know! It’s like they’re a part of their bodies or somethin’.” Extremely taken aback by this interaction, I began to question everything; did something wrong by using my phone in this situation? Am I on my phone too often? Is Carr right? Are we always distracted by technology? So many thoughts were racing through my head just because I looked at my phone for a fleeting moment. I eventually came to the realization that, while yes, we can be easily distracted with technology, it’s not as big of an issue as Carr makes it out to be.

We get it, Carr, you seem to reiterate the same notions throughout the entirety of your piece. The concept that the internet is changing the way we process information, or in other words the way we think, might be true in some respect, but it’s only advancing society for the most part; it was even brought up on multiple occasions how incredible technology can be for human progressions, like with the creation of ELIZA for example. I think it’s important that we see technology as something to benefit, rather than something that can potentially harm our reasoning. Yes, of course, there are downsides to the Internet, it is, indeed, easy to become sidetracked when we have anything and everything we need to know at the tips of our fingers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we can’t devote our undivided attention to a single task. The mere thought that we have the ability to access vast amounts of resources should be something of praise and not so much of critique. It was difficult to sit down and complete an assignment, the Internet or no Internet.

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Photo from Mobile Text Alerts. “Young People Texting”

On the car ride home, after the incident at the grocery store, I let this feeling of turmoil sit inside me long enough so I turned to my dad and asked him why he said what he said. We had a heated debate on the use of technology, and how in his opinion, it was poisoning society. He then decided to bring up an observation, that when I was in high school and I would be doing my homework, I would be on my phone sometimes instead of really doing my work solidly. I then asked him if it were easy for him to just sit down and do homework when he was my age without becoming unfocused at all. He didn’t answer.

In my first response, I defended the ideas that Carr provided, the internet could possibly be a potential danger to our ability to just simply sit down and read a book without it becoming a daunting chore, but I’ve changed my mind, and in fact see it as kind of silly to completely blame the “Net” for that issue. Not fully committing to a task might just be human error, it’s hard to completely dedicate all your time and effort to something without being overcome with the feeling of boredom or fatigue. To my disappointment, Carr doesn’t seem to provide new insight, nor does he change direction at all besides just providing new ideas like, “the brighter the software, the dimmer the user” (216).

How exactly can we as a society change, if the use of the “Net” is so detrimental to our capability of staying focused, of loosening our ability to memorize, and changing the way we think? How can we “rewire” our brains in order to not let the Internet forever have a negative imprint on our thought process. I wish Carr at least provided us with an answer.

The Need to Be Plugged In

I allow my fingers to maneuver across the keyboard in almost record speed. It suddenly dawned on me that I did not know the exact age of Robert Downey Jr. and the desire to disclose this information was a matter of urgency; ten dollars were on the line that he was not over the age of fifty and I was not about to miss my opportunity to take my misinformed friend’s cash. I slightly tapped the enter key and my question was answered within nanoseconds–  just like that, I was plugged into the vast and ceaseless world of the Internet.

It had never really registered with me how constant my Internet usage was and how it became increasingly difficult to shut out the world when burning questions like ‘how old is x celebrity’ took over the entirety of my thoughts. The persistent need to be ‘plugged in’, whether that be looking up answers to trivial questions, reading up on current events in the New York Times, and/or continually checking Facebook every hour to see what my acquaintances were up to had been a part of the majority of my day. Without using the Internet, it feels as though the world is no longer turning.

Nicholas Carr’s understanding of this phenomena ignited a realization within me. “To read a book was to practice an unnatural process of thought, one that demanded sustained, unbroken attention…It requires readers to place themselves at…’the still point of the turning world’. They had to train their brains to ignore everything else going on around them” (64). It is incredibly difficult to veil the relentless world in which we live in, especially when we have the greatest distraction of all, the Internet. Reading has, indeed,  become a daunting task. Recalling the past, especially during my childhood,  I never had such a problem sitting down and enjoying a good book– reading for hours on end, sometimes even finishing the piece of literature. Now, I cannot sit to read one chapter without taking a “break” and checking my phone to reconnect myself back into reality. I couldn’t fathom the idea that my attention span was that of a squirrel, the realization that I could no longer simply immerse myself in a book was heartbreaking. Of course, I can most certainly try to alter my way of thinking, as Carr believes, we are altering our way of thinking every day, but it not exactly a simple task. I am by no means trying to portray the Internet in a negative light, it is this remarkable treasure that allows us to gain so much knowledge about the world, but also serves as a distractionary tool.

Carr really brings to this situation that most of us suffer from to the forefront. Comparing our predicament to those who struggled with reading during the Middle Ages, except, their issue was that of literary comprehension and taking the time to form their minds into literary ones. We already possess that ability, it’s the notion or question rather, are we able to leave the ever turning, ceaseless world for a moment? Are ten dollars really worth my inability to focus?