Is Social Media really just a “Cool Place”?

Concerning the first half of It’s Complicated, I, probably along with many who read this book, share in the authors sense of nostalgia as she presses her argument on the networking of high schoolers in our technological age. I’m taken back to the days where I spent hours online role playing with friends or taking quizzes in class because everyone was doing it or instant messaging the guy I liked the second I got home just to have an “out-of-school” conversation with him. I find myself agreeing, out of these personal experiences, with plenty that Boyd has to offer in the way of teens being pressed for publics where they can interact with their friends on their own level. When I think about it, it’s true that kids these days do not have the same freedoms that our parents or even their parents had in their younger years. Gone are the small towns and home before dark curfews with only a vague knowledge of where the kids have wandered off to in that suburban safety mentality. However, the notion Boyd seems to argue that teens need this technological “cool space” from social media, that it isn’t nearly as distracting as we may think it to be seems a little farfetched to me.

I found the introduction of  It’s Complicated extremely eye opening in this sense of how the “persistence, visibility, spreadability, and searchability” of content and information have not changed over time but merely taken up a new format. With these new formats though come complications, such as the book title implies, that can be tricky to get around but I applaud Boyd’s optimistic view of the creativity of teens. Certainly teens will find a way to communicate with as many people and friends as possible while trying to bypass the constant surveillance of their parents, but is that really all they use the social media for? Boyd even illustrates a situation later in chapter 1 in an example about the website “4chan” where young boys use the freedoms of this website in “problematic or destructive ways” (42). With all the freedoms of the internet and social media websites that can offer anonymity and a secure sense of invincibility, these outlets meant to afford the accessibility of material for teens then become publics ripe with other, more pernicious activities. As neighborhood playgrounds are intended to be fun safe environments for kids and adults to gather for social interaction, they can also be potentially rampant with predators, drugs, gangs, etc.

There is something to be said about context too, which Boyd elaborates on throughout the first half of this book. Though I believe that at any point in time people have constantly been taking the words, actions, or intents of others out of context, the internet sure does make it easier to do so. I include a clip of Trump singing “Closer” by the Chainsmokers as an example of just how easy it is to play with the context of anything. Trump

We Aren’t the Problem, Technology is

The title of this blog post is a thought that was subconsciously going through my mind while reading The Shallows. The loss of our concentration, our focus, and our ability to hold face to face interactions all stem from an increased use of technology, as Carr intricately laid out for us throughout the book. Nothing was ever made to seem like it was our fault. We just fell victim to the technological revolution. However, chapter seven made me deeply question the reality of the situation. The chapter goes into more depth about our need for instant gratification, how social media can lead to self-consciousness, and how people can barely resist the urge to use technology.

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A free photo taken from Wikipedia Commons to demonstrate the importance of choosing what to pay attention to and how that affects what we think about.  

As I read through the chapter, I began to question whether or not technology is really the cause of all of these problems or whether it is just the fuel to the fire. I think people have always been self-conscious, craving gratification, and feeling a desire to be constantly connected. The difference is that now through technology we have a way to reveal those issues without judgment, because it is apparent that others feel this way too, while in the past we did not. I am starting to believe that technology is not the problem, but the way we choose to use it is. It is within our own personal power to resist the pull of technology, to set our phones down at the dinner table, to be comfortable enough in our own bodies that we don’t define ourselves by how many likes our Instagram pictures get. 

I feel that maybe Carr does not touch on that outlook very often until the further chapters. In chapter eight he includes a quote by novelist, David Foster Wallace: “Learning how to think’ really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.” So maybe technology is not the problem, but the way that we think is. It can be concluded from Wallace’s quote that if we consciously think about how technology is affecting us, we can choose to let it have less control over us. Since our education, careers, and social lives are wrapped up in technology this may be difficult to do; however, just exercising the slightest bit of resistance to technology can help us find the technological relief we are looking for. I think this would have been an important quote for Carr to include at the beginning of the book rather than the end, so that readers can keep an open mind on the subject, but I also think it would have been damaging to the argument he presented in the first half of it as well.

The World Wide Web of Overthinking

After finishing Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows”, I must confess that it opened my eyes to some of the disadvantages and downsides of our frequent use of the internet. I also think Carr makes some compelling arguments for how our brains quite literally change in response to this usage. Overall, I enjoyed the book and thought it revealed a lot about how the modern brain works. However, I felt that the arguments, though fascinating, could be redundant and I almost felt as though the book could have been half its actual length.

Nevertheless, as I pored through the second half of the book, I couldn’t help think about a point that Carr quickly touches on. He claims that the minds of those who use the web are far more prone to a chaotic series of thoughts, as opposed to the calm, rational sense of thought that one acquires from reading books. “It is the very fact that book reading ‘understimulates the senses’ that makes the activity so intellectually rewarding… The mind of the experienced book reader is a calm mind, not a buzzing one” (Carr 123). From Carr’s perspective, then, the process of reading books forges a reasonable, non-catastrophic form of thought that one cannot get from using the internet. This is because unlike the internet, there isn’t so much happening at any one time when one reads a book, as to scatter our thoughts. What I then interpret this quote to mean is that the web is generating a population of “over-thinkers”.

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A free stock image I’ve scaled down of a cursor and help icon over a keyboard from Pixabay.com (By user Geralt). This image sums up what the internet may be doing to us: coercing us to overthink and question our decisions.

I consider myself to be someone who has a chronic problem of overthinking virtually every action that I perform (including writing this post). Even the most mundane, trite, everyday decisions that I am forced to make come at the cost of me scrolling through every conceivable consequence in my head. What’s more, the vast amount of catastrophic and disproportionate thinking that I do can be exhausting and physically taxing. This all being said, Carr’s quote regarding the use of the internet and a chaotic thought process made me think (or, perhaps overthink) about my own thought process. Perhaps my propensity toward falling into a pit of destructive thinking can be attributed, at least in part, to my repeated, almost impulsive use of the internet for everything from schoolwork to entertainment.  After all, general anxiety, attention deficit disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder have all been on the rise in the United States in recent decades. Understandably, these factors cannot be entirely accredited to the internet, as there are so many environmental and genetic factors that play into the the chemical makeup of the brain. And yet, given that Carr has said that the internet can change the way we think, perhaps it may be a contributing factor to an increased number of worried minds. Thus, my question to you, and the question that he got me to think about, is: do you think the internet had led to an increase in overthinking and anxiety?