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Unreachable

A very rare thing happened: I spent most of yesterday with no internet and spotty cell service. My work day started normally, but in the late morning everything crapped out and I could barely get a text message (read: actual SMS, not even iMessage) out to tell people why I was suddenly unable to communicate.

I went into the office for a couple of hours to get essentials taken care of (with a well-fitted N95 mask and lots of social distancing), but eventually got hungry and returned home to the dark ages. I would occasionally get notifications of a message, but they wouldn’t load and I couldn’t send any replies. Thankfully I still had power and water, so it wasn’t full survival mode — just very, very disconnected.

As someone who has had a phone since they were 11 and a smartphone since late high school, it was a drastic change. I was suddenly in an information black hole; if it wasn’t downloaded on my phone or laptop or in a physical book on the shelves, I was out of luck. Social media may as well not have existed, I couldn’t check my email or track package deliveries.

Given that we’re also still in a pandemic and there isn’t much to go do, I was left with few options. I finished what work I could, texted a couple of coworkers that I didn’t know when I’d have internet again, and embraced a world (temporarily) without internet. I read more easily than I have in a long time because there wasn’t anything else hounding for my attention.

I should note that I’m well aware of the myriad ways to limit one’s attachment to tech, and already do a lot of them. I have screen time limits (that even sometimes work!), and turn my phone facedown anytime I want to focus on the thing in front of me. The only notifications I allow besides calls and a couple of messaging apps are personal email. But let’s be honest, all of that only does so much. I’m still on my phone or browsing the internet on my laptop for hours each day. It’s a way to procrastinate, learn, communicate — basically all of my favorite things.

This outage (as annoying as it was) forced me to slow down and to focus more clearly than I had in a long time. After work, I sat on the couch and read for an hour. When my spouse got home we talked for an extra long while, cooked a favorite recipe (this one!), and watched a movie on DVD like some old-fashioned weirdos. It was, well, awesome.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to ditch the internet or toss my smartphone. I both love and need them. But I am thinking about ways I can be more intentional with my time, and minimize distractions more often. I don’t need to know everything that’s happening, immediately, all the time. The world will keep skipping even if I’m not checking on it. It isn’t, in fact, always a bad thing to be unreachable.

How to you take time to focus or unplug? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo because it about sums up the level of communication I had yesterday.)

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Because Internet

This post is a smidge later than I’d hoped because once again the week has gotten away from me, but I’m really excited about it! After months of eager waiting, some pre-order funny business, and several weeks of stealing time to read, I finished Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch.

It is, seriously, my favorite nonfiction book I’ve read in a looooong time.* And I actually read a hearty helping of nonfiction. If you know me in real life and we’ve talked recently, you’ve probably heard me talk about this book. Funny enough, I considered writing a really similar book a couple years back, but am glad that McCulloch did because frankly she’s way more qualified.

Though this book doesn’t directly address adulting or emerging adulthood like when I discussed The Defining Decade, it breaks down a lot of the major topics of internet language. Because the internet has not only proliferated informal writing, but provided avenues to study it that didn’t previously exist, we can better understand — at least linguistically — how we make use of the tools at our digital disposal, and not just how we shape the tools, but how they influence us.

My favorite two themes from the book: 

Internet users, just like normal people, come in generations. However, I loved that McCulloch didn’t try to break it down by how we currently think about generations (Millennials, Gen X, and so on), but rather by when people came to the internet and what it was like when it first became a significant part of their lives.

I’m definitely a Post Internet person (as are most of my peers), but some of the differences that she highlighted in terms of trends between different generations of internet people illuminated behaviors and communication patterns that I’d previously found puzzling.

Written media doesn’t have to lack communication richness. This is my inner communication major coming out, but it used to drive me absolutely nuts when people would insist that text messages or other chat formats lacked media richness. In other words, that when you’re not here to see my gestures and hear my inflection, there’s no way for me to convey tone and other meaning beyond the literal words. I do that in text messages all the time!

There is, of course, room for misinterpretation. And it does require more effort to indicate sarcasm with punctuation or capitalization than it does to simply modulate my voice as I say a phrase, but it’s definitely possible. While I think this opportunity is one of the best offerings of modern technology, the book also points out that some of the communication mishaps (like whether a period at the end of a message indicates the sender is upset) are due to “generational” differences in both actual age and our relationship to the internet.

So if you are interested in linguistics, English, the internet, or even generational studies, I would enthusiastically recommend Because Internet. I am signing off this weekend to spend time with family, but will also be trying to squeeze in some more reading.

Book recommendations? Thoughts on how emerging adults can make use of the opportunities with internet language? Let me know in a comment below or on Twitter @ohgrowup! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

 

P.S. Please pardon the poor photo quality, my apartment is a bit dim and I didn’t want to wait for daylight haha.

*The usual disclaimer that, as always, I receive no compensation of any kind for discussing this book, and my opinions are entirely my own. Also a shoutout to Gretchen McCulloch for not only writing the book but dealing with all my excited tweets about it.

Not another notification

Sometimes social media is way too much. Let me preface this with the fact that I am (hopefully obviously) in no way against social media outright. I think it’s useful, I appreciate the benefits, and overall for me the pros outweigh the cons. But some days, the cons loom really, really large.

As emerging adults — and specifically Millennials/Gen Z — we’re young enough to be native to the latest technology, and old enough to be responsible for the ways we engage with them and allow them to affect us. That’s no small ask.

If I’m being completely honest, there are few things that get under my skin more than older generations bagging on younger generations for being plugged in to technology. I’m on my phone a lot. But most of the time I’m using it to stay in touch with people whom I otherwise wouldn’t be able to, whether it’s messaging a friend about a joke I heard or Facetiming my family across the country. Following that, I’m likely using it as a tool; my navigation, calculator, news, to-do list, and more are all contained in that one handy device. And sometimes, it’s pure entertainment. I’m looking at cute animal videos or playing the one game I have and am completely okay with that.

Of course, there are times to put the phone, or other tech, away. It’s never cool to be disruptive or impolite at a show or event. When you’re having more than the most casual of conversations with someone, they deserve your attention. Sometimes it’s just time to go to bed or go outside or read a book. But I want to be clear that the issues arise in when and how technology like phones and social media get used, not the fact that it’s used at all.

Including the ones for this blog, I consistently use six social media accounts on four platforms. I have limits set for all of them to keep any from becoming too much of a rabbit hole — or at least, from letting myself go too far down it. Some of them have time limits or a number of posts I’m allowed to scroll through before moving on, some of them I try to check a limited number of times per day. A couple of them are more of a self-contained “honor system” where I’m honest with myself about when it’s no longer serving a good purpose and I put it away.

But sometimes those don’t work. This morning I opened up my phone and within a few minutes just felt inundated and bogged down by the quantity and content of posts and ads and opinions and so on. I’m pretty introverted, and sometimes forget that even social media takes energy and a mental/emotional toll to engage with. When it starts to feel overwhelming like that, I walk away. Usually I’ll stay off of certain platforms for a while or set stricter limits on the time I do spend. There are no set rules to it, just an acknowledgment and response to knowing that the dopamine we get from scrolling isn’t worth the rest of what it’s costing me right now.

The lesson here is simple, but not always easy. It’s entirely up to us to know when it’s worthwhile to engage with such complicated beasts as social media. To know when it’s too much, when it benefits us or helps build relationships, when more important things are in front of us, and when we could just use a break.

It’s something most of us are still working on, and will hopefully strike a better balance of as time goes on. What are your favorite tips for not letting social media become overwhelming? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

P.S. If you’re looking for a song in this vein, I highly recommend “Look On Up” by Relient K.

(Photo is a free stock photo again because of the whole camera phone conundrum.)