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1984: The Sequel

I read George Orwell’s 1984 when I was a freshman in college taking an introductory Philosophy and Literature class. Needless to say, I was amazed at the amount of control society had over its citizens, what with the two minutes hate and the Thought Police constantly monitoring everyone. His tragic depiction of what the world would be like without the ability to think freely is disturbing, yet we see it all around us…we just don’t recognize it yet.

Fast forward to present day, and it seems like thought restriction and regulation could not possibly exist–we have the media after all, and don’t forget Google, which allows us to research whatever our pretty little hearts desire. With such a free and open society, one where you can question everything and speak your mind, how can we be monitored? How can we be guided like sheep?

The answer is easy, you watch it every day, scroll through endless amounts of posts and pictures, and feel like you have to constantly be a part of it or you’ll lose touch: social media.

Have you looked at your news feed lately? When was the last time you saw something positive on the news? When was the last time you saw something that didn’t instill some sort of fear, or malice, or envy, or anger in you? I’d say, since I started watching the news regularly and since I became a part of social media, there hasn’t been a single day when I wasn’t bombarded with a myriad of negativity.

We may not live in a world where we are not allowed to think period, but we do live in a world where the media dictates our moods, thoughts, and sometimes even actions. By constantly showing us fearful and sad images and news, the media is manipulating us to watch certain programs and think a certain way.

This only intensifies with all the fake news outlets that are out there. Because we are led to believe that almost everything we see on the internet is true, we fall into traps of falsehoods that often end up in pitting us against our loved ones, or following along with certain political agendas. Even real news from seemingly credible news sources are out to manipulate you with their own biases, and will neglect to give full details in stories if they do not coincide with the viewpoint of whoever owns the news station. (BREAKING NEWS: There’s only about five or six mega corporations that own the media, according to Business Insider).

We are in an era that may not have a “two minutes hate,” but we have a 24 hour a day hate perpetuated by the media blasting us with negative news, and people blasting us with negative posts. Add the fact that the media sources are constantly watching you to see what you are reading, watching, and sharing, all so that they can continue the manipulation, and you’ve got a bonafide 1984 sequel on your hands.

Be careful my friends, because Big Brother is always watching.

Death by Oversharing: Social Media and the Interpersonal Decline

It seems like every time I go on Facebook there’s a new post detailing a person’s life–sometimes explicitly, sometimes sadly, other times in down-right hilarious ways–but the fact of the matter is social media has become a place to complain, rejoice, celebrate, and mourn with hundreds (for some folks, thousands) of your most intimate friends.

Sure, sometimes you just have to vent, and when you’re feeling sad all you want to know is that you aren’t alone–social media provides this and more, it provides a sense of community. But at what cost?

Whenever I get notified that a friend has a birthday (because let’s be honest, I’ll never remember your birthday if Facebook doesn’t remind me) I roll my eyes, knowing that for the next 24 hours my feed will be ambushed with “OMG Happy Birthday Beautiful,” and “Hope your B-day is as awesome as you are,” along with a myriad of sappy posts from family members saying “you’re growing up so fast.” I often find myself wondering how often all these people actually pick up the phone to wish their friends a happy birthday, or (gasp) even go over to their houses to salute them in person.

The answer is probably very few.

While birthdays may be light-hearted business, many people post about serious things that should be more personal. Like grief. Recently, my fiance’s grandfather suffered a massive heart attack and passed away after a night out with his wife to their favorite restaurant. He took it well considering how close the two were, but when all of his family members started posting their R.I.P statuses he got angry.

His mother couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t post anything about it, but I got it. Sure, the things they wrote were beautiful and heart warming, but how many of those likes and kind comments came from the heart? How many of those Facebook friends would have been told about his death were it not for social media? Again, the answer is very few.

When my mother died last year, I didn’t post anything about it on social media. It was no one’s business but mine and my family’s, and those that mattered to her were told in person or over the phone, where we could grieve together and find comfort in something more substantial than likes and shares. I wanted to celebrate her memory, but only with those who mattered, and hated it when my sister would post these woe-is-me statuses about losing our mother. It just seemed like it was attention seeking.

Now, I understand that for many social media is the easiest way for the important folks to get the information they need, but where’s the personal touch? Interpersonal relationships can never be complete through keystrokes and emojis. At what point do we completely lose what connects us as human beings? At what point do we cease in person contact all together?

I’m afraid to know the answer.

Anything you can do I can do better

For the past two weeks I’ve been pretty much off the grid, enjoying the beautiful scenery of western Ireland and relishing in their slower pace of life–but that doesn’t mean that on those very few occasions when I had wifi I spent my time idly scrolling through inconsequential Facebook posts. While news of American politics was heavily posted about and commented upon, there were some more light-hearted videos being shared, one of which was a parody of the now viral video depicting the hilarious intrusion of a man’s children upon a very important and serious BBC interview.

In the original video, Robert E. Kelly is talking about North Korea when his young daughter saunters into the room and approaches his desk, followed by his son in a roller. Soon after, his wife Kim Jung-A rockets into the room to collect their children, ushers them out, and lunges back in the room to close the door. The feedback was instantaneous.

People, especially news channels, thought it was cute and hilarious, but it wasn’t until comedians known as Jono and Ben made a parody of the video, depicting how a woman would have reacted in the same situation, that things blew out of proportion. The video has been viewed more than 34 million times, and continues to gain controversy.

Some viewers claim that the video in which the woman completes increasingly more ridiculous tasks (such as scrubbing a toilet and baking a dinner) borders on man-bashing, but in many ways it highlights the sexism that is still very pertinent in our society. Were it a woman this had happened to, perhaps the controversy would have been whether or not a woman could maintain her professionalism in addition to being a mother, something a man has no problem doing especially when he has a wonder-woman-wife like Kim Jung-A ready to swoop in and save the day.

Although it may not seem as prevalent as in past decades, men are still seen as the backbone of the family, and women are seen as the homemakers, even if they are a part of the professional world. But the fact that we can make a joke out of it and compare this problem directly, shows how far we are progressing. Fifty years ago women in a business setting would have been unthinkable, now women run companies and hold some of the most powerful positions in the world. In the past, we would not have even talked about the different roles men and women play in society, and now we are confident enough that things will and are changing, that we can comment on it without fear.

 

Practice the Pause

Being in a leadership position isn’t always easy, especially when you have two modes: fun, friendship mode, and get stuff done mode. As Editor of a campus newspaper, part of my job has been to keep people in line and on track, and at times that translates into harshness and an inability to let go of the reigns and have a good time. I admit, I’m very intense when it comes to writing, but that’s because I love it, and from an Editor’s standpoint I want the work we produce to be our best foot forward.

At a recent meeting, my leadership skills came under scrutiny. And while it was difficult to listen to all my faults flayed out on a table like a fish in a sushi bar, some of their comments hit home. Staff members complained that I was quick to shut down ideas and slow to let unseasoned reporters take on more responsibility. I didn’t deny it, and though I tried to explain the reasoning behind my often stark and snappy responses (we are working with deadlines, after all), they had a valid point.

I’m a spit-fire, always have been–quick to anger, slow to simmer down–and this can be a dangerous thing when put in a leadership position. But in this age of technology and social media, it’s not only leaders that have to be careful how they respond (though they definitely should put some brain power in before letting their fingers do the talking), it’s everyone.

It’s far too easy now-a-days to post something immediately as it comes to your mind. With the instantaneous nature of texts and tweets, it’s difficult to filter yourself before making a snap judgement to post something–especially with so many heated topics in the news right now. With this comes misunderstandings, and arguments, and losses of friendships. Although social media can be a beautiful outlet for public civic discourse, often it becomes a pissing contest between opinions, with folks posting their visceral reactions without taking into account how other people might interpret them.

We’ve all had those aw shit, I shouldn’t have said that moments, but it’s one thing when you say something you shouldn’t have (you can always pray it will be quickly forgotten or go unnoticed) and it’s an entire other thing to post something on social media. Once you let your thoughts out into cyber space, they don’t just disappear when you hit delete. Chances are a lot of people have seen it, been offended, and are now ready to draw swords and battle it out until one of you is left with bloody stubs for fingers, unable to post again for the shame of bringing dishonor to your family (and your cow).

This is why it is so important to practice thinking before you tweet–it will save you a lot of headache in the future. Personally, it’s not so much tweeting that I have to be worried about, it’s how quick I am to respond, often not in the most positive manner. But the reasoning is the same: do you want to come off as cool and collected and thoughtful? Or do you want to come off as an unreasonable hot head who thinks thier way is the only way?

That’s for you to decide–but do yourself a favor: the next time you get heated, put your phone down and talk a walk, pause and reflect on whether or not what you want to post is productive or whether it could be misinterpreted, but most importantly whether or not you actually feel that way, or whether or not it’s just an unjustified emotional reaction.

It’s kind of like that saying they have about tattoos: wait a year, and if you still want one go for it. Only I hope it doesn’t take you a year to figure out whether or not you want to post that political statement, or share that cute dog video. But if it does, hey, at least you thought it through.

The Multitasking Mirage

With social media taking up every free moment we have, from the moments we’re walking between classes to even those precious times when you are supposed to be truly alone, like going to the bathroom, human beings have fallen into the illusion that multitasking is the only way to live a productive life.

If you’re doing homework, you have to be constantly strolling through Twitter, or snapping your boredom on SnapChat; if you’re working on an assignment, you have to have the TV going, or have Facebook open in a separate tab; if you aren’t doing ten million things at once (excuse my hyperbole, but in this case it is entirely applicable), you aren’t satisfied with yourself–and neither is the rest of the world.

I’m a self proclaimed procrastinator and I often wait until the last minute to do anything, whether it be stuff for work, school, or making plans with friends. I wasn’t always this way, and it wasn’t really until I got introduced to the wonderful interwebs that I’ve found myself in an endless stream of cat videos on Youtube, two hours after I’ve begun working on a paper that’s due the next day. It’s a never ending cycle considering I do a lot of my writing on GoogleDocs because of its insta-saving capabilities, and the Facebook and the Pinterest are just a click away.

While we may think we’re being super productive when working on more than one thing at once, and browsing the web for entertainment at the same time, psychologists have made studies whose results have shown that when we are focusing on multiple things, we are actually reducing our productivity dramatically. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Have you ever noticed that your work isn’t as good when you were doing something else (say texting a friend) that was unrelated to the topic at hand? Have you ever re-read an essay the morning after you wrote it and thought what on Earth was I doing? Yah, so have I.

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Humans in Wall-E only live life through the screens in front of them; even when they are talking to someone who is sitting right next to them, they don’t turn their head (and physically can’t), they just use something like Skype to communicate.

It may seem like no big deal, but this fractioned stream of consciousness that we have come to “thrive” in, is seeping into other aspects of our lives, and making us tune out to what is really important. By living life through your fingertips, and staying constantly plugged in, you become more and more like those blimp-like humans in the world of Wall-Eunable to disconnect even to engage with real life human beings and real life situations.

I’d like to think of myself as a person who can rise above the distraction of the internet, but even I find myself mindlessly staring at a screen while eating breakfast or packing my lunch. This morning my fiance (who is constantly plugged in in some way or another) wanted to show me a funny meme, and we found ourselves scrolling through his feed, clicking on endless amounts of cute puppy videos. In

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Our puppy, Marcus.

December, we got our first puppy, a not so Chihuahua looking Chihuahua mix, and he is probably the most adorable thing I’ve seen to ever walk this planet (granted, I might be a little biased). I couldn’t understand why we were looking at all these videos of dogs when we had a live one sitting right in front of us, wagging his tail and ready to play.
It’s absurd, but as much as I’d like to disconnect sometimes, my schoolwork and job field requires me to be constantly plugged in and up to date on the happenings in the world. But there’s still hope. We all can practice a little self-restraint when it comes to basking in the illusion of multitasking; start with something small, like putting your phone away when walking outside so you can take in all the real world has to offer. You might just find it to be an amazing place.

To Tweet or Not To Tweet

Tweet tweet tweet. No, that’s not a bird sitting on a tree outside your window. That, my friends, is the sound of humanity’s heartbeat, thumping to the beat of The Twitter.

Now a days it seems like everyone is on Twitter, aimlessly competing for re-tweets, and not-so-subtly sub-tweeting both friends and enemies. Especially with this past election and the induction of Donald Trump as President, people are taking to the twitterverse more than ever. More than 1 billion tweets were about the campaigns in 2016, and our President himself used Twitter to gain free advertisements and sway the American public. People followed him because of his hilarious, sometimes frighteningly offensive statements.

Now, most people use Twitter as a random outlet for entertainment, tweeting about their days, their likes and dislikes, and using it as a medium through which to air their dirty laundry. I made myself a Twitter account for a very different reason, however: future employment. I wanted to make a profile so it would look like I was well adapted to the ever-changing media world–even though that might be an #alternativefact.

I rarely use it, instead electing to use the tried and true Facebook, and even then I post only the occasional cute puppy video. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for Twitter, and the numerous folks who say that its limited amount of characters is ruining the English language, there is some validity to Twitter as a writing platform.

No, I’m not crazy. One of the most important lessons to learn for the craft of writing is that sometimes less is more. I’ll never forget the first time I read Hemmingway’s six word story: “For sale: baby shoes never worn;” it brought an image so impactful that tears almost came to my eyes. The implications of the story are deep, but the composition is so deceivingly simple that it seems like it would be easy to write. Well, let me tell you something, it’s not.  In one of my advanced short story workshops we were given this very same assignment, and none of us could come up with anything remotely close to Hemmingway.

What Hemmingway did is a skill all writers desire: the ability to evoke emotion in one simple sentence–it shows both skill and discipline. The limited characters on Twitter cause even the most unsuspecting users to challenge themselves with the art of brevity. And although that limit causes the uncensored use of abbreviations (to the point where it makes me want to tear my hair out), it still requires people to use only  the most necessary words to get their point across.

So when in doubt, tweet it out–your inner writer will thank you later.

Social Media: Paving the Way for Peaceful Protest

If you haven’t heard about the marches that occurred January 21 worldwide supporting women’s rights and equality across the board, you’re seriously out of the loop. If not out of the loop, than definitely off the grid.

It was all over media–but not only the traditional media–people, both supporters and non-supporters, took to the pixelated pavement to voice their opinions about the protests. Even President Trump signed on to give his two Pence–sorry, cents…damn auto-correct–tweeting “Why didn’t these people vote?” and implying that this was the first time the protesters had expressed their opposition for what he stood for, and that they obviously couldn’t have voted considering he had just been sworn in the day before.

There were over 1 million protesters in D.C. and 5 million worldwide that marched, and it makes you wonder just how that could have happened without the phenomena of social media. Because of platforms like Facebook and Twitter, people were able to get the word out much quicker, especially to engage other countries in the cause. This constant correspondence with the virtual world and community showed how united people can be when they share a common cause.

Even those who could not physically be at the protests were able to show their support in uniting against inequality of all types–they could tweet, watch live videos, view pictures as they were posted, and share the events of the day instantaneously, allowing an unlimited amount of people to share the experience.

While some would say that nothing beats putting foot to pavement to break down social constructs, social media allows more people to get involved, potentially allowing more change to occur. The sheer number of supporters not only in America but in other countries as well shows that using social media to spread the word is not only popular, but effective.

I know a man who actually attended the march in D.C. to show his support, not only as a gay man fighting for equal rights, but as a citizen concerned with the future of this country. He hopes that with such a positive turnout, the movement “will turn into a political force in years to come and many new, younger progressive politicians will start running for office.”

When I asked him about how he feels social media will play in future peaceful protests, he said he thinks it will enable the movement and others like it to reach rural communities in other countries that also want justice, therefore inciting change.

Social media didn’t just allow those who agreed with the march to participate, though–it also allowed opponents to critique not only the movement but the stances behind it. One such critique was captured on Facebook along with a picture of a woman wearing a “pussy hat”. The argument was that there are women in other countries who suffer much more than our own citizens, and that those who protested were essentially whining about non-issues. While many were outraged by this post, it demonstrated the beauty of social media when it comes to social protests: a place for civil discourse, where all sides can express their opinions and be heard.

Whether of not you agree with the news expressed on social media, there is no doubt it is bringing people together in a way our founding fathers would have never thought possible. How’s that for exercising the first amendment?