Updated: Feb 28, 2021
This is a weird video - particularly weird to start a blog post off with. But there's a point to it, I promise.
I know, I'm sorry, stay with me here.
As an eleventh grade English teacher, I just spent nearly an entire quarter teaching my students about the concept of "media literacy." I found this to be an odd subject at first, for a few reasons: A) I'm only five years out of high school myself, and we were never taught this. I'm not that damn old, am I? B) What is there to be literate about? Media literacy is the same thing as plain old literacy, as far as I was concerned. After all, one of the first things we talked about were different examples of media, and the list of their examples toppled fast: The news on TV, the news online, Twitter, blog posts, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube, the advertisement before your YouTube video, the ads in literally every crevasse of the Internet, movies, books, music, texts, overheard conversations, good God, I really could go on forever. They got pretty creative! The point is that media is absolutely everywhere; we cannot escape it, and frankly, this is old news. To me, though, there was no other definition to literacy than to, literally, know how to read. And if I can read a book, then I can read an Instagram post, and then I can obviously listen to and understand the news when it's being spoken to me through a screen. What's the difference?
Well, perhaps I've been thinking too literally. Media essentially takes up all our time and energy, and this is, of course, not an inherently bad thing. Advertisements, news, music, and the like have existed in some form right in step with the early forms of humanity. Fast-forward to today, we can listen to podcasts that give us wonderful new ways of thinking, hear news updates that are essential to getting to work on time, hell, we may even find a rare video shared on Facebook that actually makes us smile. None of these things are bad. But it seems so much more often, we scroll until we can't feel our brains turning anymore. We compulsively check from app to app to make sure nothing has been missed, that we are still getting likes, still gathering views, still, and constantly, garnering some form of attention. We search for answers to questions that we already know deep within ourselves. We ignore the basic, sacred needs of our bodies. When and where did we take that fatal step into the world of media?
Actually, I'm just going to pause here and apologize for using "we" statements. I don't know you and your relationship with media absorption; maybe it's not like this. Perhaps that "Television" video I started with made you feel tired, instead of filling your mind with a deep, tragic knowing of how true it is without saying what it actually is. Maybe you have a healthy sense of control over your intake. I'm going to switch over to "I" statements now, because I know myself, and I know that I don't fully have my shit together with this. That video haunts me because I know the feeling all too well - not just with TV, but with all of it.
I've been stewing on my relationship to media (particularly social media) for years now. The first time I realized I might have a problem was back in college, when I had a certain type of Android phone with a small light on the front screen; it would flash a different color depending on the type of notification I had, or, if I had none at all, it was dark. Yellow for a text, blue for an email, pink for Instagram, whatever. In an attempt to be responsible and studious, I would keep my phone out of sight while I sat at my desk to do homework. But once I got used to seeing those different colored flashing lights, it became an absolute compulsion to check. I couldn't look away. I would seriously sometimes stare my phone down as it was dark until something would happen. If I even thought I heard a vibration, I sprung up to reach for it. I started to become anxious when not a single person was talking to me for a significant amount of time, and I would spam message a handful of different people just waiting for the yellow flashing light to return again.
I don't know when it hit me that I was behaving like a full-blown addict, but whenever it did, it hit hard. It's nothing short of embarrassing to admit, but I didn't have the willpower to delete any social media accounts. I took the apps off my phone, but I could never even consider deleting them outright (except for Twitter when I knew I'd landed a teaching job...I talked about a lot of weird shit on there). Instagram was, and still is, the final boss for me. Sometimes I would manage to take that app down for a few days at a time, but I would always end up redownloading it. I tried an app timer, a website blocker, purposely changing and forgetting my password, ALL the tricks to get off. But Instagram makes it so incredibly easy to stay stuck on the site. Fun fact: If you press "Forgot My Password" and send a code to your phone, the app picks up on your message being received and logs you back in automatically. I don't know, I thought that was insane and kind of scary. But that's the enormous, subconscious power of social media - no matter what it can do or how it can manipulate, I stay pulled into it. Not to diminish the severity of addiction to substances, but Instagram is one hell of a drug.
And what does it? I don't know if it's so simple as getting a dopamine rush with the amount of "likes" that appear on a photo, and I don't think it can be boiled down to the typical "comparison game" that so many people my age, particularly women, fall victim to. Surely, these are both aspects of the problem, but I sense they're only a few small fragments of a much larger picture, the larger idea of what's going on here, which we cannot fully understand. Social media has, in a way, become bigger than us. It's like a flock of birds accidentally set free, and they don't want to come back to the cage. They're gone and we can't chase after them. Look up "The Social Dilemma" on Netflix - they do a great job explaining how this is happening so exponentially fast, and why.
I recognize, too, that we are at a breaking point with social media - something has absolutely got to give. There is a veil that must be pulled back. But before I get to that, I want to acknowledge the fierce power that technology and media has held on me from a very, very young age, and this is how I'm beginning to understand my personal troubles with the screens. I was a curious kid; as much as I liked to dig through dirt to look for bugs, I liked to explore on our big blue box computer from the mid-90's. I remember dial-up, I remember pacing around the kitchen while I waited for a computer game to install, or for Microsoft Windows to load so I could go on barbie.com or what have you. I loved the early days of YouTube and memes, particularly from I Can Has Cheezburger. But, like many kids, I also got a little too deep into things that likely weren't good for me at the time. Things I didn't understand how to use, powers I couldn't manipulate. I'll never forget when I looked to Yahoo Answers and thousands of internet strangers to ask and understand why my boobs hadn't grown in yet, when it seemed all the girls in my class were miles ahead of me and my growth. I was nine.
I just wanted to know the answers, and I still do, which is what I believe to be the biggest reason media has such a strong grip around my neck. It was never for the validation or for the comparison - at least not focally. It's that I've never, ever been okay with not knowing, and some weird whisper behind the screen always promises me that I will find out, but only if I stay plugged in. I can never truly delete Facebook, because then I'll never know if the high school "it couple" ever got married, or if that one couple who got married way too early ever got divorced. I'll never fully understand why I've felt depressed and anxious, I still haven't found the exact correct explanation for what the hell is wrong with me. I can't delete Instagram because if I do, I'll never be truly caught up with my friends. I'll never be close to them again.
And here's where I just want to laugh and shout into the wind at the absurdity of it all. Here's where the breaking point comes in. It feels as though so many of us have fallen to this false promise of total understanding and control of our surroundings, under the guise of beautiful curated photos, advertisements that follow your every move, a space to flock to when real-life gets too hard, a place that holds all your interests and friends together in maniacally happy harmony and perfection. Reality is this: we have no control, and our friends aren't that happy. Read that a few times, if you need to.
I have no control in these realms.
I have to redeem myself just a bit here: I deleted Instagram for five months, and only just got back on again to try and promote this whole blog idea. I cannot explain how hesitant I was to do so, or how many times I have already thought about just deleting it all - Lead to Gold included. Have I already spent at least one hour-long session scrolling through the Explore page in bed when I first wake up? I really don't want to tell you the answer. But, just as every other post here, I vow to be honest with myself and with you. I have, at the very least, pulled back the veil of social media. I get it now: Instagram isn't going to give me the deep soul comfort that I crave in my roaring, wild 20's any more than strangers on Yahoo Answers were going to validate the body of an insecure nine-year-old. Only the real world can do those things. I still don't completely know how, but at least now I know, and not a moment too late, that no interaction behind a screen is going to.
So, dear reader, I want to ask a few things of you, if you don't mind. First: I want you to consider your relationship to social media. Are you comfortable there, or are you being smothered, maybe even unconsciously? Don't overthink that. Second: what is it about the real world that keeps us stuck in here? What are you, or we, so afraid of out there? (Am I getting too existential?)
Third: What answers are you looking for, and are you finding them?
Four: I need some advice. How do I (how do you) avoid getting so sucked into the void of the Explore page, beautiful, slender bodies, advertisements, things that don't add to your purpose of being online? For real, I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Returning back to this realm after a tranquil, unreal-quiet fall and winter feels so intensely scary - as if I'm toeing the edge of a cliff, and it's getting windy. I seek your wisdom, here. I want Lead to Gold to be authentic and gently powerful, with your voices elevating it as it grows from this little teeny sprout of inspiration, currently waiting for some spring sunlight.
Thank you for holding me through this return. Thank you for returning as you do. May we walk together in learning to soberly look for truth, come back to the real world, and clean up some of the mess we've made.