Unpacking My Suitcase

My name is Erin and I don’t like to be alone.

I felt convicted that maybe I have a problem and its time to start talking about it.

The thought began with a TEDx Talk, “Social Media – Sucking Time or Saving Lives,”  by Kristen Howerton, a marriage and family therapist and professor of psychology at Vanguard University. She explains her traumatic experience with the earthquake in Haiti. During the time, she turned to packing her suitcase to keep herself sane. When it was time to leave Haiti, she found herself with the choice to take her child or her suitcase home with her. This seems like a none issue. Yet, the suitcase had become her lifeline, and for a split second, she couldn’t imagine life without it.

Each of us has our own “suitcase” in life at different times. A suitcase is a thing that distracts us from reality and sometimes even ourselves to the point that we might not be able to imagine ourselves without it.

Like many others, technology, especially social media, has become my suitcase.

Technology allows me to always feel connected to others at all times. As a verbal processor, a person who likes to talk to make sense of the world, this is like being a kid in a candy store.

Yet, is this really helping me?

Sherry Turkle, a cultural analyst, explains her findings on this very topic in her TED Talk, “Connected, but alone?” Her answer is that our constant connection is creating a culture of loneliness.

We are not truly connecting in deep conversation with one another anymore. “And we use conversations with each other to learn how to have conversations with ourselves.” Conversations in real life chip away at the facade that we create of ourselves in the digital world. We can no longer edit and filter ourselves so “when we stumble or hesitate or lose our words that we reveal ourselves to each other.”

Only after conversations – non-editing ones – can we begin the process to discover who we are as people through deep self-reflection.

The catch is we have to be willing to be alone.

It just might be that we are so afraid to find out the people that we truly are that clutch our suitcases so tightly that we never let them go.

This week, I am going to start unpacking mine. I might forget my phone and look up to see the people whom I can connect with face to face.

It’s time to see who I really am not just the person I want everyone to think I am.

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Crap

It is getting to that point in the semester.

Almost every college student would agree that midterms are one of the hardest points in the whole semester. The newness of classes has worn off and the real work has begun. Normally for me, this is the time when the reality of all that I need to accomplish hits me.

I cannot even begin to count the number of times I say or think the word crap at this point each semester.

Most of the time crap is looked down upon.

However, recently, I learned the importance of crap within our lives.

In the world where everything is at our fingertips due to our technology, we need crap more than ever to help us to distinguish what is truthful.

But not just any type of crap, we need C.R.A.A.P.

Currency – Is the information still timely?

Relevant – D0es the information match what you are looking for?

Accuracy – Is the information reliable, truthful, and correct?

Authority – Is the source of the information trustworthy?

Purpose – Why was it written or created?

While most students learn this early in life when talking about written sources, often times we don’t do the same with electronic sources or even everyday information that we see on the Internet.

For example, a new study out of Stanford found that “digital natives,” those who grow up with technology, struggle to distinguish the value of the information that they see on the internet.

Most high schoolers took this picture which was completely made up at face value without checking the facts.picture1

We need to take the time to evaluate the C.R.A.A.P now more than ever with a culture of real and fake news.

Having technology at our fingertips and an enormous amount of information has caused many of us to distract ourselves from real life.

Distractions are necessary at times in order to survive life. Yet, too many distractions leave us unfulfilled.

Kristen Howerton, a marriage and family therapist and professor of psychology at Vanguard University, in her TEDx Talk explains the problem behind our addiction to distraction. We are not allowing ourselves to grow as individuals.

“The only way to work through crappy feelings is to walk through crappy feelings.”

So this week, I am going to start embracing crap instead of shying away from it.

Maybe my knowledge will be sound and my life will be more fulfilled. And there may be a slight possibility that my midterm grades will be higher as well.

 

Real or Fake?

I’ve always thought of myself as an open-minded person. I’ve never thought of myself as one who would shy away from having conversations with those that I did not agree with. I even spent my past summer in conversation with people about disagreements within the Christian faith community. I was always one at the table trying to be engaged with those that I did not quite understand.

Yet, recent political events have changed my self-perception and my world perception.

This political season more than ever before in my life, I caught myself thinking things like,  “Those people must be crazy to believe that way!” or “How could any sane person really think that?”

It wasn’t until this week that I understood the severity of my thoughts and why they might be happening.

One would think that these little thoughts would not be all that harmful. However, they display a lack of humility in seeing the humanity of another person. Whenever we stop completely seeing the humanity in each other, bad will surely follow.

We begin to discount anything that we don’t agree with as fake and all that we agree with as truth.

Upon this discovery, I began to worry how I had not noticed this before.

Maybe that’s because our culture, especially with social media, is conditioning us to be this way.

Our social media tools give us the illusion that through our hundreds of friends and connections that we are experiencing diversity. That is only the case if your friends and connections hold opinions that vary in ways from yours and most of us tend to group up with like-minded people. And if you are in the group of people who manages to be able to have a wide diversity of opinions among friends and connections, you may still not be getting all that much of diversity.

Our social media tools operate with algorithms that determine the preference of what you see based on your likes. This phenomenon is known as a filter bubble.

A fellow classmate of mine shared how I could see the results of my own filter bubble on Facebook. It was quite shocking to be able to see what filters Facebook was using to sort information for me. I am not sure whether to be upset or glad that when it came to politics Facebook got it wrong about my preferences.

With social media being a main place where I search for information, it is going to be harder and harder to distinguish between fake and truth.

Oddly enough, I was inspired this week by a post on Facebook from a close friend outline her daughter’s assignment from school that might give some insight on how to start making that distinction.

1. Chose one story from current news.
2. Read about the same event from 3 sources – liberal, middle and conservative.
3. Compare the similarities and differences in the story.

It seems like a good assignment for searching out the truth.

If my social media is going to filter what I see and not allow me to be able to see all sides of an argument, I will just have to start inviting myself to the table by seeking out the other opinions and letting the algorithm know there is more to being human and the truth than always agreeing.

Read All About It

A few summers ago, I got to spend four full weeks in the community of Chautauqua in upstate New York. People have tried to describe it countless times and yet there are still no words to accurately portray the essence of this place.

However, in some aspects, it is like the outside world stops and you are transported back to a simpler time.

Every morning outside the common area, young boys and girls hold up newspapers and yell “Chautauqua Daily. Get your Chautauqua Daily.” Some even dress up in an old newsies outfit.

The urgency in which these children yell their catchphrase to sell papers takes you back to a time when the only way to know what was going on in the world was through the printed news.

However, life just isn’t like that anymore.

Today, news spreads within an instant.

No longer do we have to wait for the papers to arrive on our doorsteps or for the nightly news to know what is going on within your community or around the world. With the invention of the internet, people now have instantaneous access to information about what is happening all around the world.

The concept of journalism has begun to change because of our access.

The journalist has had to adapt in order to keep their readership.

For instance, take the recent movie Spotlight, which tells the story of the Boston Globe investigating a deep secret that no one wanted to pursue. For a moment they were able to stay relevant in a world that is changing at a moments notice.

We, the readers and the bloggers, effect the news now more than ever. Journalism as a whole is being redefined and the professionals are no longer strictly in charge.

In 2015, another movie, Truth, debuted showing the story behind one of the biggest news scandals involving the team at 60 minutes. Fighting the fast moving news cycle, the producer pushed a source that might not have been verified. Bloggers and individuals spoke out against the information. Thus, a battle occurred in which no one is left untouched, even acclaimed journalist, Dan Rather.

This new way of presenting news where we can read all about it all the time has created a sticky situation in filtering information.

Is all that we are reading really true?

Who defines news?

In a world where anyone can share their opinion, we must hope that we can all be one another’s filters pushing each other to be accurate and truthful to the best our abilities.

 

Finding the Space Between Everything and Nothing

Writing a post this week seems ironic.

This past week in my Psychology of Social Media class we looked into the effects of technology on culture and ultimately how that affects our sense of self.

Our opening discussion question made us grapple with how technology and social media has changed our idea of knowledge. With a whole computer at the tip of our fingers that has the ability to give us a million answers to any question we might have or face, did we really know anything anymore?

The most profound answer was the simplest of them all.

We know everything and nothing at the exact same time.

See, we no longer trust in our ability to retain information. We have no need for that because it is all within reach. We just have to know where to find an answer instead of what the answer is.

In this way, our digital devices have become an outward extension of our minds. Thus, creating two spheres in which we conduct our lives. Abha Dawesar describes this new reality as the “digital now.”

The “digital now” defies our ideas of time. It is neither past nor present nor completely the future. In fact, Dawesar goes so far to say that it disrupts our lives by destroying the natural rhythm of life. We are trying to store our lives away without actually experiencing them.

This idea of the “digital now” rocked me to my core. Was I really storing away my precious time without really living it?

My knee-jerk reaction to this situation is to quit technology altogether and start living life like in the olden days.

However, culture has already started to change the average everyday life. My memory is partially in my brain and partially within the contents of my devices. It would take me a while to retrain myself. And then I would be disconnecting completely from the world that is being created around me.

Instead, I want to find a balance – to live within the space between everything and nothing.

I want to spend the day with my friends hiking up a mountain or spending time with my grandmother learning an old family recipe without checking my phone every twenty minutes. I want to fully be present in that one moment to experience the sights, the tastes, the sounds, and the feelings it creates for me. I want “tune in to the ebb and flow of time,” as Dawesar put it.

Yet, I still want to add this experience to my memory through both my physical and my digital extension. I just don’t want the focus to be on creating the perfect picture to get the most likes or the most attention. And I don’t want to document my experience to only add to my virtual persona.

I need for the two worlds to begin connecting in a way that the line is blurred – the space between. For it is there that the true self is developed and we can use our technology in a way that adds to our humanity without distracting us from it.

 

The Power of Connectedness

This past summer I attended an intensive training for my current job. As part of the requirements, every employee was required to take the GALLUP StrengthsQuest assessment. The test identifies a person’s top strengths from a list of 34 possible strengths.

I loved this assessment because it seemed to encapsulate so much of my personality with just my top five strengths:

  1. Connectedness
  2. Learner
  3. Achiever
  4. Intellection
  5. Input

I can say with much certainty that connectedness is most definitely my top strength. I have this innate feeling that every part of life is connected.

Things don’t just happen.

I take notice and often verbalize when I see little connections or big connections. Social media has increased the connections I notice.

So one might guess the shock I felt when my professor assigned a book entitled “Everything is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder” by David Weinberger for my psychology of social media honor’s seminar.

To open up this book, felt like a punch in my connectedness soul. The world could not be miscellaneous and connected I thought.

However, as I read, my connectedness soul was surprisingly warmed.

In the book, Weinberger describes the order of order in the physical world using a library – now my connectedness and learner souls were quite intrigued. The physical world contains two levels within the order of order.

The 1st order of order is the physical place that a book takes up on a shelf.

The 2nd order of order is the card catalog telling a person where to find the book on the shelf.

However, the digital world has opened up the 3rd order of order. We now can have things stored in an infinite number of places with an infinite amount of information about them. Nothing has a specific place anymore.

Since nothing has a specific place, a number of connections we can make are infinite.

Unfortunately, I experienced the effects of this truth the other night when I was preparing for the class discussion for this specific course. Like normal, I had music playing in the background. One song I heard on a playlist lead me to think of another.

I switched over to YouTube to play the song and then on the side of my screen I noticed in the suggested videos there was another song by the same artist I wanted to listen to. When the first was over, I clicked on the next. As that one played, I noticed another suggestion, again.

At some point, I looked down at the clock and realized I had wasted over a whole hour watching and sharing random videos without even noticing.

This 3rd order of order in the digital world had connected all these songs that I once would have never connected on my own. While I enjoyed the experience of finding new music, I had wasted time due to the abundance of connections.

Ironically, our class discussion included the power of social media to distract us. We question whether it is here to stay in our lives or if should we just give it up.

I felt very discouraged about the possibility of social media to truly connect us without distracting us from the real world.

That is, until, I found Tristan Harris’s TEDtalk, “How better tech could protect us from distraction.”

He challenges us to reevaluate the goals behind our technology and the applications in which we use because the goals we have helped determine how the technology affects our culture.

There is great power in technology when we harness the power of its connectedness effectively and with taking into account the deep desires of our heart.

Social What?

Find and use a new social media.

That is one of the first assignments of Dr. Kinghorn’s Psychology of Social Media honors seminar class.

This was a daunting task for me. I struggle to use the ones I already have. With Facebook, I am lucky to post birthday greetings and check in on distant friends and relatives. Rarely do I have anything witty or short enough to deem worthy to tweet. My Instagram is updated usually only once a month when I change my bulletin board for my RA job. At least once a week, I open Snapchat to find one saying streak because I tend to open them without sending one back. And if I open Pinterest, I get lost for hours so I tend to avoid that one altogether during school.

On top of my lack of consistency with my current social media, I was supposed to add another one to the mix. This left me with a bit of a puzzle. Wasn’t I already using most of the common social media?

So, I opened up the app store and began my search. Luckily for me, there was a social networking category. I started scrolling. Surprisingly, a number of the options were items I had never even heard of.

A few apps stood out to me from the beginning of my search.

  • Litsy – an app dedicated to sharing books and connecting with others over literature. “Where books make friends.”
  • REX – an app to get recommendations about anything from the people you trust most, your friends.
  • Steller – an app that combines text, pictures, and videos to create impressive stories
  • Slack  – a communication app that helps teams effectively communicate
  • Learnist – an app where people compile articles into lessons to help one another learn about a wide range of subjects

In the end, I decided to indulge my inner nerd and commit to using Learnist for the semester. Who knows what I will have learned about by the end of the semester.

However, I realized that this assignment had sparked a big question for me. What exactly is social media?

I always thought that I innately understood what it constituted something as social media. However, as I tried to distinguish which apps were social media, I realized maybe I wasn’t quite so sure.

How much back and forth did there have to be for it to be social? Did you have to be interacting with new people?

After class discussion about the history of social media, I realized that there are no real strict rules to social media. That’s the beauty of it. The only real stipulation is that there be a dialogue using an electronic means. The rest is left to our creativity and the innovation of our technology.