Saturday, March 7, 2009

EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION 2.0 – THE GREAT OFFLINE ESCAPE

This is a very special morning for me. I have been visualizing this morning for several weeks now – I have pictured what it would feel like to get up, leisurely sip coffee and mindlessly do something like, I don't know, page through an old Self magazine, without a care in the world.

Specifically, I am describing what it feels like to relinquish the cares that have been on my shoulders for the past month – The stress, excitement, procrastination, and mental exhaustion of putting together a comprehensive presentation on Social Networking and online life. I finally completed this project yesterday afternoon for the Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA). For an hour and a half I presented a mixed bag of findings, opinions, quotes, and future predictions in the form of a PowerPoint and a film that I created by interviewing five unique online users. The result was some fascinating discussion and thought-provoking questions about how our lives are changing through the use of online Social Networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.  

"What's Your Status? Perspectives on Social Networking and New Media" was the name of the presentation. This has been the subject of the past five weeks of my quiet rumination and, what I am now jokingly referring to as my "late night online creepin." I have spent countless hours in the middle of the night just "creepin" through sites that were somewhat new to me, such as Twitter, Digg, De.licio.us and, of course, Blogger.

Analyzing the social implications of Web 2.0 and Social Media truly turned my life upside-down. Whereas in the past I was only guilty of spending too much time and effort on my facebook profile pictures, now I was obsessing about anything that came across my screen that was new and innovative to an online rookie like me. Well, I can hold my own in Cyberspace, so maybe I should not say rookie, but let's just say that I am not an 'early adopter.'

I also read a lot of books on this topic, and to do that, not only did I go through several highlighter pens, but I also had to break up with my boy Tolstoy and tell Buddha that I could no longer sit under the tree and learn from him. I had to devote 100% of my reading time to this topic. I said goodbye to the gym and told my bed that I wanted to see other people in the middle of the night, like Couch, Kitchen Table, and even Living Room Floor.

You must know what it's like – that experience of tying a knot and hanging on, just etching a date in your mind (for me, it was March 6th), and imagining your life in an improved state of peace and harmony beyond that date. Now, I don't mean to make this sound so dramatic – this was just a presentation to my research colleagues! – No, what I am trying to explain is the fact that my life has taken on a dull and degraded quality as I have bathed myself in the two-dimensional glow of my computer screen for large portions of every single day. I have suffered from my detachment from the three-dimensional world.

I am very grateful for all that I have learned in the process of getting myself up to speed with the online world, but, at the same time, I now find myself eager to somehow unlearn it. I want to detach from Web 2.0 long enough to remember how I defined myself before saturating my daily life with all of the Web's colorful beeps and buttons.

I am left feeling perplexed at what I actually do with my time and, in general, how I should move forward in living my daily life.

  • How did I reassure myself of my worth in the eyes of my friends before I had the opportunity to log onto Facebook multiple times a day?
  • How did I feel connected to current events before Huffingtonpost.com?
  • What made me laugh before Fark, LOL Cats, and The Onion?

I have to be honest with you and say that I am having a hard time answering these questions. I seem to remember that at some point in my past, I called my friends on the phone more often and we would literally just talk. No text messaging, no comparative studies of our friends' jealousy-inducing wedding photos on Facebook... just talk.

Instead of haphazardly watching Instant movies stacked up in my Netflix queue, I used to go to the movie theater more often and I would anticipate the ritual of sipping Coke and munching on salty butter popcorn. I loved the suspense of watching the previews. When is the last time I actually opened the newspaper and got my index finger black with ink while tracing the small print to look up movie times? It's been a while, I'll tell you that.

I like to look at nature photos on Flickr and even sites like Getty Images. It is a nice form of visual escapism. Well, I am ashamed to admit that the $25 MN State Parks sticker on the windshield of my car has been used once, which was the time when I bought it in the early fall. I guess I should have just paid the $5 day pass. I suppose I had aspirations of visiting lots of State Parks in the area, spending my weekends getting salty with sweat while inhaling fresh air and hiking through forrest paths. 

Have I awoken early on a sunny Saturday morning, hopped in my car, and traveled to one of our luscious state parks to take in the beauty and awe-inducing splendor of Nature? Have I soaked up the smell of dirt, icy snow, dark river water, or crusty rocks? Nope. No, I've skipped out on that whole 'Nature thing' as I've been too busy updating my status on Twitter and too involved in organizing my emails for work. 

Most important to note is what this overdose of technology has done to my sense of well-being. Edgy and getting fat, I have completely lost touch with my physical self. While I felt that my online persona was this up-and-coming witty chick with new and fresh ideas for blogs and status updates, my IRL self ("in real life" – I just learned that this month) was coming to this slow, psychological demise. I could not get up in the morning or go to bed at night without playing online. 

Even thought there is a small rush of excitement to see messages in my Inbox, find little white numbers in red boxes in my Notifications, acquire new followers on Twitter, or read comments on this blog, it still causes me to question how healthy it is to experience delight from what, in essence, are just stupid graphics on a computer screen. Yes, I know that each of those indicators (Inbox, Notifications, Comments) represent an actual person who is responding to my online presence, but, still... there are problems with all of this.

The problem is the negative effect when those indicators aren't there. I'll admit, I tend to feel a bit lonely and neglected if I sign onto Facebook and there is nothing new to indicate that someone was "creepin" on my profile and mentally connecting with me. This all sounds so ridiculous, but it's the truth. 

I have defined my worth through my online presence, and that is extremely effed up. I gotta fix this. I gotta get off the grid and reestablish what is real.

So, here is my game plan. I am making this up right now as I write, so bear with me. These shall be the new rules while I am spending time in Online Rehab:
  1. Stay off Facebook for an entire week. Starting today. "But? Events and updates? Friend's pictures from parties?!... Shut up. Just... shut... UP. Those are seriously pathetic excuses for why you need to check your Facebook every hour.
  2. After said week of Facebook break, be more mindful of times when logging on in the future (i.e. none of this logging on again 20 minutes after logging off sh**).
  3. Go Outside. I shouldn't have to explain this one. Just, put on a hat or whatever and get out there. Go find some cool looking pebbles or test if the ice is melting on Lake Calhoun. Well, do a safe test with a stick, don't walk on it.
  4. Avoid computer at night, at least until withdrawls have simmered down. Read a book instead. This will help cut down on computer dreams. Remeber how much you love cracking open a book and smelling the paper, binding, and glue? Yeah! Be weird like that again. Computers do not smell like anything.
  5. (This one is going to sting) STOP BLOGGING. Remember when you used to handwrite in journals? Remember how it used to not matter to you whether or not anyone read your writing? Yeah. You need that again. Just to re-center yourself. NOTE: You can blog again in one week, but in the future you should try to be more mindful about things like sleep and how that is infinitely more important than funny writing and cool looking photos.
OK, I think that about covers it. Yeah, I will throw in some yoga, meditation, almonds, Omega 3 and guitar playing, too. The goal is to recover my authentic offline self.

Who knows, maybe I will even send you some hand-written mail. How much do stamps cost these days?....

Logging Off,
Seesuze

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