So, yet another return to the blog after a long while on inactivity… I think mainly it’s because if I try and commit to regularly blogging I find myself just finding myself sitting down and thinking “meh” some days because I can’t think of anything constructive to write about. I could go back to political blogging, manifesting synthetic partisan fury at every single little bit of twattery the government engages in, but that sucks. I could enlighten the internet as to my daily schedule, but my regular journeys to Swansea for mundane tasks are not the stuff of legend, merely mundane.
But I really should get into blogging again. Why? Well, I like writing and occasionally I feel like I’ve got something to say to the world, and this place is the closest thing I have to a soapbox. I don’t think modern soapboxes could actually support my weight, though, being made of cardboard but this is my digital soapbox made of mighty ones and zeroes, and those can support my words and convey them to a global audience! (I may have gotten a bit arrogant there…).
I now have something to say so turn your heads attentively and pay attention to my magnificence. Alternatively just sit down, pour yourself a coffee and just relax. I’d prefer the former of course, but the latter is just as good… in fact it’s all cool.
Today, I read a wonderful post on Tumblr by a comedian I’d admittedly never heard of called Chris Gethard. Someone had asked him a question talking about their suicidal feelings, and he stopped what he was doing and wrote a long response trying to talk them out of it and sharing some of his own stuff that he’d been going through. I enjoyed reading it – it was a touch of humanity in what is mostly a pile of people posting stupid-ass pictures of cats and shouting “FAGGOT” at each other.
It got me thinking about a recent trend I’ve seen in newspapers all over the place – articles worrying about the mental health situation of the UK (and indeed Western society) and wondering why so many people are suffering from mental illness. I’d say it’s actually one of the great unspoken killers in Western society today – even if it’s seemingly something else such as obesity, chances are the reason that person ended up like that was because something snapped in their head to make them stop caring enough about themselves to get into that state.
Why? Well, there’s many explanations, but it’s my blog so here’s my take on it: it seems that as society has become more technologically advanced, that same advancement has made life a lot more narcissistic and a lot more lonely. We now have technology that allows us to communicate across international boundaries far more effectively than at any time in history, reach far more people in far less time than it used to take, and something resembling a group consciousness is emerging where the thoughts of many people on things such as news and popular culture are transmitted to nearly everyone. It seems like a sci-fi fantasy come true – never be alone again.
And yet in actual practice it’s quite the opposite. Life is feeling increasingly lonely, and I think everyone is paying the price for it. Where once we talked face to face about things, now we Facebook and Tweet and tumblr about them. We post Youtube videos with long rants about things we like to an audience of potentially millions and yet it feels strangely inauthentic, more one-sided transmission than a conversation. Digital communication has increasingly atomised our society from being a community into a collection of individuals transmitting information to each other through an antiseptic digital medium rather than just talking. And yes, I am aware of the irony of me communicating these feelings through a blog.
When people communicate face to face, there’s something far superior to just clicking “like” or typing “LOL”. There’s something special about it that I think technology will never, ever be able to capture and that’s what’s missing from our society now. We no longer talk to each other, we only transmit digital information through computers and just as computers are free of human feeling and emotion, so on a large scale has become human communication and that’s the great downside of the modern technological revolution.
The response to this phenomenon, however, has been very human indeed and not necessarily in a good way. If we feel completely alone, we feel completely on our own with our own problems and feel that it’s up to us to sort them out ourselves and that it’s selfish of us to think we may need the help of others from time to time. That can push someone who’s already hurting into an even worse place, and lead to tragedy when the pain they feel gets too much. You can have all the fact-finding committees and commission all the reports you want, but the simple truth is that perhaps the drive towards greater technological advancement has made our lives worse in quite a few ways as well as better.
Why did that post on suicide resonate with me? Well, I can personally say that as much as I enjoy technology, it has had some rather undesirable side-effects for me. For starters, I’ve noticed how the internet has made me sometimes quite lazy when it comes to communicating: the temptation just to sit back and watch it all go back and forth on Twitter and Facebook rather than just making the effort to say “hi” face to face or on the phone. It’s not a nice feeling whatsoever, and it’s something I’ve decided to work on from now on. Facebook is meant to be a tool for your social life, after all, not a replacement.
I’ve also noticed that I feel a continuous drive to be “on” all the time as well. The computer can do many different things, and so I feel a pressure to do many things as well. As I’ve been writing this post, I’ve felt an urgent pull to go and write a program, browse several webpages and do several other things rather than just sticking with this post and trying to see it through. I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog post, and afterwards some stupid little thought inside my head will most likely nag at me and call me lazy because I’ve devoted attention to this one thing rather than just “skimming” through everything. I get a feeling that I’ve wasted my time even though I’ve gone and spent a significant amount of time and resources trying to write a mini-article about something.
If we want to sort out some of the problems of our society, I think we could do worse than trying to figure out what the mental price of using all these shiny new gadgets we’ve got is and try to do something to treat it. As much as computers have helped us, they’re also hurting us as well and it’s time that we started to face up to it.