Reflecting on my Media Diet: The Necessary Balance Between Technology and Reality

When I was introduced to MySpace in 6th grade, I became hyper-aware of my online presence. I thought that posting neat bulletins and the infamous MySpace mirror selfie would make me appear “cool” to all of my middle-school friends. Since then, social media has become an integral part in my life and many cultures around the world. My generation (Generation X) especially relies on social media to communicate and pass time. We are able to choose which pictures we post of ourselves, what we tweet, or who we connect with. It allows users to tailor their online profiles and image, regardless of who the person is in real life – e.g. Catfish. On the internet, we can be anyone who we want to be and present ourselves in whichever light we choose. Social media users have become so invested in online profiles and the web, that it is oftentimes hard to distinguish between oneself and the creation of an online persona. Personally, I agree with John B. Thompson’s suggestion that it is necessary to separate oneself from media to grow and evolve as a person; there must be a balance between reality and new technologies.
In my experience with social media, I notice that I tend to post pictures or tweets for the sole purpose of getting a reaction or feedback from my online friends and followers. One of the main functions of social media is to share thoughts and happenings, which makes me and other users pay exceptional attention to how they will be perceived based on what they post. There is a certain gratification from getting 100 likes on an Instagram picture or double-digit favorites on a tweet. In this way, social media has made me, as well as many of my peers, much more aware of what other people think. I have even caught myself asking my friends things like, “will people think I’m stupid if I tweet this?” or deleting a post that did not get an immediate response from my followers. By placing such great emphasis on appeasing followers and social media friends, it becomes hard to separate oneself from an online facade and evolve as an individual.
As mentioned in the article, A Life Lived in Media, I found Slavoj Žižek’s philosophical concept of media functioning as society’s “small other” that “directly embodies authority” particularly relatable while cleansing myself from media. I noticed the intense grasp and control that technology has on my identity and how social media feeds my ego and “the intersubjective cues needed to fill the void of the empty self” (Blank, Deuze, and Speers). During my 24 hour social media cleanse, I was more in tune with my own emotions and self rather than being shallowly consumed and limited by the opinions of others. In my spare time, I was not preoccupied with tweeting something funny or posting a cute picture; I was focussed solely on my own thoughts and self-formation, rather than being reduced to what my followers would or would not appreciate. Ultimately, my social media hiatus was freeing; it encouraged my individuality and I felt a greater sense of being and independence when I was separated from my online identities.
Rather than forming real world relationships and growing as a person, my social media dependency has encouraged me to live through the posts and profiles of the people that I follow; this has negatively impacted my interpersonal relationships and created a disconnect between myself and reality. When I scroll through a Facebook profile, I am able to discover everything I’d want to know about someone. With everything I could ever need at my fingertips, why would I want to explore the world or meet someone for a coffee date to get to know them better? The internet allows people to create a “malleable and fluid identity,” however, as recognized in Jeffrey Rosen’s article, The Web Means the End of Forgetting, the downside is that whatever we post continues to define us even if we evolve as a person (Rosen). Indiscretions, like posting drunken college photos, will be on the web forever, which is a very scary thought. Employers google potential job candidates to find out more about them; their online presence affects whether or not they will get hired, similar to the way I stalk Facebook pages and form immediate opinions of other people, sometimes even before I meet them. Although there is no escaping posts we probably should not have published, a Facebook study mentioned in Rosen’s article states that, “judgments of people based on nothing but their Facebook profiles correlate pretty strongly with … what that person is really like, and that measure consists of both how the profile owner sees him or herself and how that profile owner’s friends see the profile owner” (Rosen). In this way, it is scientifically proven that I never actually have to meet someone in real life to pass accurate judgment. In the 24 hours that I abstained from media, I appreciated that I was much more present with the people around me and I was not able to brashly judge a person based off their 20 drunken Halloween pictures. This result of my cleanse made me feel closer with others and form stronger face-to-face bonds.
The most intense outcome of my media cleanse was the realization that the constant connection that I have with my phone has also caused me to miss out on precious moments in my life. When I should be enjoying quality time with my family or friends, I am so involved in social media that I hardly contribute to conversation and am not actually listening to what anyone is saying. I hear myself just responding “mhm” or “yeah, wow” instead of consciously paying attention and engaging in two-way communication. In Paul Miller’s TED talk, he similarly recognizes that he puts up a wall between himself and others and is never 100% available when he’s engaged with new media (Miller). As Miller delves into his journey of “pulling the plug,” I see parallels between his experience and my own media hiatus. He brings up how his parents view the Internet as a “utility” in comparison to how younger generations thrive off new media. Newer generations’ lives depend on the Internet, which has made me feel absent in the real world. Looking back on last year’s Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family, it is hard for me to remember an instant that I was not connected to my phone and social media. During my 24 hour hiatus, there was no distraction from conversation and I felt much more in the moment. I enjoyed that I had deeper levels of communication with others that day and was able to give my entire attention.
Although it has many downfalls, there are also several redeeming qualities that social media offers to it’s users. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc., allow people to easily connect with one another and can be used as an outlet for creativity, expression and entertainment. Uploading pictures to Flickr or choosing a filter on an Instagram post have become art-forms that I definitely appreciate and constantly use, however my separation from these social medias has taught me a lot about myself and how I view the world. During my 24 hour social media break, I discovered that it is very easy for my reality to be obscured by my online presence, which confirms the idea that detaching from social media will foster my own self-development. In those 24 hours, I felt a deeper connection with others, more able to live in the moment, and less preoccupied with creating the perfect online identity. As seen in Michael Wesch’s video, The Machine is Us/ing Us, humans have created the web and we will continue to make technological advances (Wesch). While new media has influence on who we are, we are simultaneously creating new media and encouraging it’s influence in society. It is a cycle that sees no end and ultimately, I do not think that we can blame the Internet and technology for the shortcomings of humanity. From my own personal journey with technology, I have realized that new media is necessary to be apart of the functioning world, however, there needs to be a balance between reality and media. Since my 24 hour media cleanse, I have become more independent from my phone and hope to continue lessening my constant attachment to social media.

Works Cited
“A Life Lived in Media.” DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly. The Alliance of Digital Humanities Organization, n.d. Web. 7 Oct. 2014.
Miller, Paul. “A Year Offline, What I Have Learned: Paul Miller at TEDxEutropolis.” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2014.
Rosen, Jeffrey. “The Web Means the End of Forgetting.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 24 July 2010. Web. 7 Oct. 2014.
Wesch, Michael. “The Machine Is Us/ing Us (Final Version).” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 7 Oct. 2014.

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Testing

On October 1, 2014, I went a full 24 hours free of social media. This meant turning off my phone and blocking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. from my computer using a program I downloaded called “Self Control.”

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When I began my day free of media, I was excited to see how my day would turn out. I thought I would be social, productive, and feel more involved in the real world. It turns out, I felt very “off” the entire day. Times when I would’ve usually been so connected to technology – like when I was on the shuttle going to class or sitting in the IC – I felt awkward and bored without it. I wasn’t any more productive than I would’ve been and I would constantly momentarily forget about my media-free day and try to reach for my phone only to realize it wasn’t in my bag.

I thought that not having social media would force me to be productive, however, I still found other things to waste time, like playing with my puppy and catching up on my TV shows. Blocking social media apps and turning my phone off for 24 hours made me feel more connected to the world and I felt that I created deeper connections and had more meaningful communication with friends and family.

I realized that I spend a lot of time on social media, but I also realized that it’s not as negative as I thought it was. I learned that social media doesn’t affect my productivity; with or without social media, I still find ways to procrastinate homework and ignore my responsibilities. I don’t think that I

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Media Diet Proposal

For my media diet, I want to shut off my phone and block access to all social networking sites from my computer for a full 24 hours.  I really dislike that I waste so much time on useless apps and social networks and I want to test my productivity when these things are cut out of my life.  I know that I’m a motivated person, however, I feel that my media usage is a set back and I could accomplish a lot more of my school work and responsibilities without these distractions.  When I go all day without media, I want to test what I’m doing during my downtime instead of scrolling through Instagram or Twitter.

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Walkthroughs

I decided to walk my friend Tori through my usual Facebook scroll.

When I logged on, the first thing I did was check my notifications and respond.  I was tagged in a god awful photo of myself and decided to hide it from my timeline.  It made me realize how easy it is to form an online creation of who I am and choose how I represent myself online.

The next thing I did was scroll through my feed.  I noticed that I have a tendency to “like” things that my close friends post solely because they’re my good friends and I feel like I’m an obligatory “like.”

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I also have a tendency to “like” posts that are relevant to my life or things that I actually enjoy, hence the post that I “liked” on the left – I’m only a liiiitle bit obsessed with Boo the puppy!

While observing my Facebook friends on my feed, I also noticed that I am not actually close with most of them in real life.  Out of all 1,181 Facebook friends, I am probably actually only friends with 100 or so.  Consciously noting the fact that I don’t know a lot of these people made me feel kind of creepy. I know so much about them from their Facebook profiles, even if I haven’t even met them in real life.

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The last thing I did on Facebook was check out what my actual profile looks like.  Even though it’s kind of a weird thought, I like to look at what other people will see if they click on my name.  I think this aspect of social media has made me more self-aware of how I represent myself online, going back to hiding a photo from my timeline.

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Video Capture

While using new media, I suspected that I would laugh or show emotion towards whatever I was looking at, however, while using Camtasia, my reactions were not what I was expecting.  I scrolled through my Facebook feed during this experiment.

Instead of looking happy, I looked kind of crazy.  Even if I were liking photos or commenting on content, I displayed little to no emotion and was very zoned into my Facebook.  My brows were furrowed and I looked very concentrated.  It made me feel uncomfortable and kind of crazy that I was so attentive to Facebook because I find it hard to observe other things that I think should matter in the world – like art, politics, music, nature, etc., with such energy.

Overall, I think that the video capture experiment made me realize how closely I monitor my Facebook/social media feeds and made me wish I directed this much effort towards other things.

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Field Notes

While taking field notes, I realized how in tune I was to my phone rather than the world around me.

My notes made me conscious of the fact that I would text and tune out the people around me instead of listening and engaging with them. I would find myself saying “mhm” or “omg yeah that’s crazy” without looking up from my phone or even knowing what the other person would be saying. In incidences like these, my friends would ask me if I’m even listening and were clearly peeved that I was paying more attention to my phone rather than them.

During downtime, I noticed that I would automatically check my phone. On the shuttle to class, in between classes, during lunch, on the L, etc. I would pull out my phone almost robotically. I don’t think that the people around me during these incidences noticed as much because they were all doing the same thing.

Another thing I noticed while taking field notes is that I would alternate between several social media apps.

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While having my Pandora on and headphones in, I would refresh Twitter, then go to Facebook, check out Instagram, reply to SnapChats, and so on. There was a never ending stream of new content, which made me feel like I needed to be constantly refreshing my pages.

Overall, field notes helped me gauge that I am very attached to my phone and my realm of social media rather than my real world experiences.

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Step 1: Track (My Findings)

IMG_1220I wouldn’t say I was “surprised” by my media habits, but I definitely got a rude awakening.  During my observations, I noticed that I am more aware of my online world rather than the actual world in front of me, I tend to ignore my “real life” friends while scrolling through social media, and I have a strong desire to stay connected to my phone at all times.

The instant I wake up, I lay in bed and check all of my social media apps on my phone.  I pay very close attention while scrolling through my feeds and will blindly like something just because a close friend posted it.   I am also very aware of my own online presence and monitor what other people see on my profiles.

Throughout the day, I constantly have headphones plugged into my phone and I carry around a spare phone charger just incase my phone gets low on battery.  This literally tunes me out of the real world.  By being on my phone 24/7, I didn’t notice as much about my environment or what was happening around me.  For example, I noticed that I have a tendency to look at my phone rather than looking where I walk and I noticed that I would brush people’s shoulders or even completely run into people because of how oblivious I was to the real world.

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Basically, I feel like I new media has become a very engrained part of my everyday life.  I use new media all of the time, especially when I’m bored and could be doing something productive.  I noticed that I waste so much time on my phone using silly apps to procrastinate things I need to get done and ignore my real world responsibilities.

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My findings made me feel sad and hopeless.  Although I knew the intent of the experiments were to gauge my media use, I wasn’t really ready for what I found.  I especially don’t like that I ignore my friends to tweet things or insta a picture and that I waste so much valuable time on my phone.  I feel like I have lost a sense of what it means to be present in the real world.

 

 

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