Only Disconnect
September 20, 2016 5:35 AM   Subscribe

"If the internet killed you, I used to joke, then I would be the first to find out. Years later, the joke was running thin. In the last year of my blogging life, my health began to give out....My doctor, dispensing one more course of antibiotics, finally laid it on the line: “Did you really survive HIV to die of the web?” On the costs of the always-connected life: Andrew Sullivan, "I Used to Be a Human Being" (nymag.com).
posted by MonkeyToes (100 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
I thought this was a beautifully-written article. I don't think there's anything new or unexpected there, and I don't necessarily agree with all of its conclusions, but I found it a good piece of reflective writing nonetheless. This passage, in particular, struck me:
On a meditative walk through the forest on my second day, I began to notice not just the quality of the autumnal light through the leaves but the splotchy multicolors of the newly fallen, the texture of the lichen on the bark, the way in which tree roots had come to entangle and overcome old stone walls. The immediate impulse — to grab my phone and photograph it — was foiled by an empty pocket. So I simply looked. At one point, I got lost and had to rely on my sense of direction to find my way back. I heard birdsong for the first time in years. Well, of course, I had always heard it, but it had been so long since I listened.
posted by duffell at 5:58 AM on September 20, 2016 [12 favorites]


No one who has ever felt real physical withdrawal symptoms would ever use 'addiction' in this sense. It really bothers me when people say they're a 'political junkie' or a 'chocoholic'. Addiction is serious and you're not helping.
posted by adept256 at 6:00 AM on September 20, 2016 [32 favorites]


The bitter truth is that you cannot blog your internet habit away.
posted by Segundus at 6:04 AM on September 20, 2016 [26 favorites]


No one who has ever felt real physical withdrawal symptoms would ever use 'addiction' in this sense.

Yes, but if that's all there was to addiction, we could just detox people and they'd be ok forever, and, sadly, that is not how it works.
posted by thelonius at 6:09 AM on September 20, 2016 [15 favorites]


I tried to read this, but all I could see was multiple screens filled with privilegeprivilegeprivilege.

You can finally see the fnords.
posted by Strange Interlude at 6:11 AM on September 20, 2016 [14 favorites]


Hey! I, Andrew Sullivan, have what I perceive as a problem, so you, too, must also have a problem!

The internet's got all sorts of annoyances, but my life is better every day because it's here. Do I take and share a lot of pictures? Yep. I sure do. Can I sit on a patch of grass in the dappled shade of the old oak tree in my backyard and listen to the cicadas and katydids singing and watch the catbirds darting around in the trees and feel happy and sad and content and keyed-up while the drifting clouds seem to pick up speed as my consciousness slows down to meteorological timescales and the world turns heavily under me and I daydream about a handsome man I met and the fact that Pluto turns out to be more interesting than we'd ever suspected? Yep, I sure can.

HOW CAN THAT BE?

Or to put it another way, thank god for Andrew Sullivan, who, when I feel like I'm a little too self-focused, reminds me that I'm totally, utterly not by comparison to his shining example.

[See also: that time Andrew Sullivan single-handedly discovered bears]
posted by sonascope at 6:14 AM on September 20, 2016 [70 favorites]


Well, someone could be compulsively doing a behaviour in a way that mimics chemical addiction- eg cutting, nail biting or obsessively following a topic to the extent that cessation causes physiological anxiety symptoms.

Addiction is both a chemical dependency but also there seems to be a ritual or self soothing component. We also know that in the scope of animals including humans, external psychological factors or quirks of genetics both contribute to whether or not someone (or some creature) can handle cessation even when a chemical dependency is present.
posted by Phalene at 6:15 AM on September 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


This is probably a bit concern-trollish but I mean it sincerely: reading his blog sporadically over the years, it really doesn't surprise me that being online was bad for his mental health. He seemed to lack an emotional distance or perspective and that was probably attractive to his readers but is not healthy. He often worked out his ideas in public posts rather than in his head beforehand and in today's environment that just makes you an endless target.

I hope he stays in a healthy place and in the spirit of that, I'm not going to read the article.
posted by selfnoise at 6:17 AM on September 20, 2016 [9 favorites]


I mean, I understand his point--and it really can be jarring to realize that we are all on our phones, all the time--but this is the same guy who's said some pretty reprehensible things about people of colour, so I'm wishing this article came from nearly anyone but him.
posted by Kitteh at 6:23 AM on September 20, 2016 [8 favorites]


Andrew Sullivan being online less has been better for my mental health too.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 6:25 AM on September 20, 2016 [59 favorites]


I try not to use "addiction" casually and wouldn't apply it here. I think Sullivan does people who suffer from addiction a disservice with that language. It's hurtful.

It's not addiction, and it's not in the same ballpark. But I do think the ceaseless distractions offered up by the web, and the mobile web in particular, create great difficulty for some people. I don't think it's the case for everyone, and I don't think that counters all the good that the internet can and does provide, but I think this is a real thing and I think it gets in the way of some people's happiness, and that's really unfortunate. I appreciate the post, MonkeyToes, thanks.
posted by duffell at 6:26 AM on September 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


I liked this piece. Eons ago I dealt with becoming a young adult with trauma in her past by obsessively playing PernMUSH, dreaming of typing. That experience handed me a lot, including my husband of 22 years, my other significant other, and a background that boosted my career.

But there came a point where I had to choose between the adrenaline shot of the good role playing scene and the controlled, always-on atmosphere, and the relative frustration of being with my thoughts while I gardened, or sat with the dog, and it was hard, all the feelings that come up when you're not conducting four conversations in different windows.

I'm glad there weren't smartphones then, not because I don't love mine...I do, I kind of love that the world came to me and I can be going into a 4:30 meeting and send my kid an emoji he'll see when his homework is done. But I do also need silence and mental space. I think this is a thoughtful account of how that works for some people.

I'm typing this on the subway en route to work of course...sigh.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:27 AM on September 20, 2016 [15 favorites]


Some interesting things in the ideas here, but looky here: while I hate being online and on my phone whenever possible, I think the smartphone has single-handedly changed the way the brutal police of the USA have been seen by the rest of us. Smartphones and cameras have been intense tools of resistance by brown and black communities and thank God for that. Andrew of course need not worry about that...
posted by yonation at 6:33 AM on September 20, 2016 [30 favorites]


The root issue I see is that we are trying to engage socially over a network with protocols designed to serve scientists sharing data.

A "sentiment protocol" that operates along side the "information protocol" would go a long way toward humanizing the internet IMO.
posted by Annika Cicada at 6:42 AM on September 20, 2016 [7 favorites]


thank god for Andrew Sullivan, who, when I feel like I'm a little too self-focused, reminds me that I'm totally, utterly not by comparison to his shining example.

This. The piece is written in the manner of the confessional thinkpiece: the meditation center, the bits about his childhood and his parents, walks in the autumnal woods, and so on. But there's still a lot of blaming the internet and easy access to it via technology, and, since this is Andrew Sullivan, policing of others' behavior: "Visit an airport and see the sea of craned necks and dead eyes." Andy, it's a fucking airport. Before smartphones, we had the airport novel. The real problem, I think, is that he burned out on doing The Dish, which oddly is not mentioned once.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:47 AM on September 20, 2016 [28 favorites]


Based on: Hotel Room, by Edward Hopper (1931)

Daaaamn, that is one hell of an astute illustration! She is using a phone where there used to be no phone!
posted by Greg Nog at 6:50 AM on September 20, 2016 [9 favorites]


I think this essay raises excellent and uncomfortable points, and I do wonder if the generally smarmy responses to it I've seen so far reflect various degrees of denial, projection, and disavowal. As though attacking Sullivan as messenger on unrelated, ad hominem moral grounds voids the quality of his critique and the value of his observations. We'll all have to face up to the epochal cultural, emotional, and psychological consequences of the mobile (and indeed the wearable or embedded web) sooner rather than later. To dismiss the very cogent arguments made here simply because they're coming from Sullivan seems to me to be a very lazy, irresponsible (and yes, privileged) response to a pressing and complex set of issues.
posted by Sonny Jim at 6:52 AM on September 20, 2016 [35 favorites]


We became who we are as a species by mastering tools, making them a living, evolving extension of our whole bodies and minds.

I would imagine a number of paleoanthropologists would claim that we became who we are as a species by forming social communities based on empathy and information-sharing, which online allows us to do, but then probably a lot of them don't look back to fucking Australopithecines as role models
posted by Greg Nog at 6:53 AM on September 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


Daaaamn, that is one hell of an astute illustration! She is using a phone where there used to be no phone!

I'm toying with the idea that the phone makes Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe make more sense than the original. I think it might.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:54 AM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


The real problem, I think, is that he burned out on doing The Dish, which oddly is not mentioned once.

Yeah, I wonder if what was killing Sullivan was that he was operating on a Gawker-style always-be-posting schedule long after most other Web publishers (including Gawker) had slowed down or staffed up so that they produce content at a sustainable pace.
posted by Cash4Lead at 6:57 AM on September 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


I really have to laugh when I see this latter-day moral panic in play, because I am a 48-year-old man who's surrounded by a physical diaspora of distributing computing, and I use my phone an awful lot, but as an enhancement and extension of my basic humanity, not some sort of malevolent glowing eye of doom.

I was out on my Vespa a couple years back, just roaming the winding back roads and taking in the autumn air and the wonderful cut and sweep of buzzing around like a happy maniac on a motorbike designed in the forties for Italian housewives. The trees were gold and grey and brown and red and glorious, and I rounded a long bend and noticed a particular flubbiness in my manner on the asphalt that had me quickly pull off and investigate.

Had a flat rear tire, but it's an old-school Vespa (by way of India), so it's just a matter of swapping the spare for the flubby tire at the roadside, and I am nothing if not mechanical, so I pulled my left-side cowl and got started.

—Except, it wasn't quite going the way I wanted to, so I pulled up the manual that I keep as a PDF on my phone, got a little farther in, but was still stuck. So I jumped onto an online forum to ask what I was doing wrong, and as I sat there, enjoying the day in the woods, a few fellow scooticians asked questions. I used the camera on my phone to take ten seconds of video, posted it, and got a swift response of the best practice in the procedure, and was on my way again in less than ten minutes.

Phones and tablets may be a disease to Sullivan, but to me, they're an unsticking device. While aligning my radial arm saw with some difficulty, I can pick up a pad, do a search, and find a better way. On a road trip with a friend, I can dial up my location and look for the little secret place I found once on a satellite map, then share that hidden wonder with my friend. When I'm sad, I can message a friend who's 2776 miles away and say "I'm feeling cross and lonesome and I need a hug," and she can force me into a video call so we can be face-to-face in a workable simulcrum of direct company that's not available to me just then because everyone else is at work. When I want to make things, or build things, or explore places, or fix my shambling old machines, I can access more scholarship on these various subjects than ever existed in all of human history.

I meet people, too. I can write exhaustingly long comments on Metafilter posts and cultivate new friends in faraway places, who do amazing things to help me sort out problems, or promote my work as an artist, or who just drop me a line, saying "Hey, I'll be in DC this week. Wanna get coffee?"

Hell, I've met the first, and a very promising prospect of another of my great romances, through Livejournal and next, amusingly, through OKCupid, and our paths would never have crossed without the "distraction" of constant digital connection. I have a tendency to be a solitary creature, a bear in the deep dark woods, but instead of having to play out that program as thousands have before me, I have this distraction that is, in fact, a distraction from the possibility of too much self-focus and too much avoidance of the world around me, and it is glorious.

Yet, when I'm hanging with my nine-year-old nephew, when he says "Uncle Joe, I'm stir crazy. Let's ride bikes," I've no qualms about holstering my phone and climbing on my brother's stupid lightweight superfancy bike with the suspension that makes me feel like I'm always about to be hurled into a ditch to chase a little kid's fizzing, mercurial energy down the pathways and side roads in secret suburbia, looking for the elusive secret place that no one else knows. In my pocket, as we bump through root-rough trails, there's the whole human world, and in the woods, there's nothing but four billion years of the product of happy accidents, but they are all the same thing. It's just about refusing to let yourself arrive at a state in which you are so bored that you fall into the spiral of aimless consumption of nothingness, wherever you are.

But maybe that's just me. My nephew informs me that I'm a very weird uncle indeed.

"But you're the best one," he adds, for qualification, and the bicycles sing us onward to who knows where.
posted by sonascope at 6:58 AM on September 20, 2016 [140 favorites]


Hat tip to MCMikeNamara: Sullivan being on the internet a lot less is addition by subtraction, and everybody wins.
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 7:08 AM on September 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


this article is like a Greatest Hits of facile "what if phones, but too much" talking points shared by a wealthy extremely-online guy pretending at insight because he read a dash of Professional Panicker sherry turkle

in conclusion i hate it with all my heart
posted by Greg Nog at 7:11 AM on September 20, 2016 [27 favorites]


As usual, Sullivan finds a way to make it all about him. And no, it's not "privileged" to say so. What a laugh to describe attacking as "privileged" the usual diatribe of Sullivan -- of all people, he of the endless paeans to the sumptuous sanctity of DC suburban life and invectives against the hellhole of NYC! ("I loved New York City with a passion until I tried to live here") -- dressed up as soulful concern for the mental health of the hoi polloi.

No, there are much better summations of this same argument -- that don't involve smarmy wallowing in one's own midlife crisis and performing that crisis publicly in 7000 words of name-dropping and celebrity-status preening that would make Norman Mailer blush. After all, how is it not "privileged" to spend paragraphs prattling on about your attending a meditation retreat that likely more than half of your fellow citizens could never afford, even if they had time for it?
posted by blucevalo at 7:13 AM on September 20, 2016 [11 favorites]


I'm 47 and my brother is 44, so we come from a time when this wasn't a problem. Yes, we had books and D&D and arcade games, but in general the level of engagement with surroundings seemed higher. Later we both married younger people - him much younger. Even though I'm a computer professional, I came late to the smartphone world and he was dragged kicking and screaming into it. We are pretty much used to texting and the occasional social media update, and for sure texts within a household can help with getting everyone here and there on time. And I suppose I play too many tablet games.

But the "internet junkie" thing I just don't have in my blood. I am not antisocial, but I just don't care if people know whether I went to the beach, or what restaurant I ate at, or any of that. If I go to a concert I am there to listen to the music and I don't see why'd I'd want to "prove" I was there by filming it or taking pictures beyond one or two in between songs. I read the recent FPP on "memes of the summer" and I had never heard of any of them somehow. I have a lot of great jokes and terrible puns that only like 3 people will know about, and that's ok. Sometimes I'm tempted to share all that, but really the stuff I like to talk about is more heavy-duty and less small talk. So I gravitate to the few places online that reward that (Metafilter). But I really struggle to get the allure of the constant check-ins, FOMO, and all that. I'm sorry it becomes an addiction for people.
posted by freecellwizard at 7:13 AM on September 20, 2016 [8 favorites]


To dismiss the very cogent arguments made here simply because they're coming from Sullivan seems to me to be a very lazy, irresponsible (and yes, privileged) response to a pressing and complex set of issues.

I can understand the rest of your comment but how on earth is it "privileged" to dismiss Sullivan? This seems to be an example of using the word "privileged" as a generic negative adjective, without any concern for its actual meaning. People are dismissing Sullivan as "privileged" because he's a very wealthy white guy who once put an article about how black people are genetically inferior to white people on the cover of his magazine. How is it an example of privilege to disagree with him?
posted by armadillo1224 at 7:16 AM on September 20, 2016 [12 favorites]


Pieces like this - over-written, myopic and preachy personal anecdotes composed by second-rate pseudo-journalists trying to convey Something Important - is why I have muted many of my journo friends on FB.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:17 AM on September 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


Came for the snark on Sullivan; was not disappointed. Christ, what an asshole.

I'm 44, have been living a "connected life" since I saved my bicycle route money at age 12 for my first acoustic modem. Absolutely love regular Internet access. Also don't feel like it's particularly detrimental. A key thing for me is to have specific planned time without media devices, like at the dinner table. (WTF is wrong with people putting their phones on the table? Savages.)

The thing I don't like is the shattered attention span. I'm at the point where a 5 minute video feels like too long an imposition on my time. I still read books but only as an explicit checking-out from the Internet. (And doing so on an iPad presents distraction perils.) For me it seems tied explicitly to windowed multi-tasking user interfaces, I do better when I simplify my UI to a single task.
posted by Nelson at 7:17 AM on September 20, 2016 [15 favorites]


If you'd really like to unplug from distractions, Sullivan is doing a Twitter Q&A.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:21 AM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


really have to laugh when I see this latter-day moral panic in play, because I am a 48-year-old man who's surrounded by a physical diaspora of distributing computing, and I use my phone an awful lot, but as an enhancement and extension of my basic humanity, not some sort of malevolent glowing eye of doom.

I hate to see this kind of take on the topic, too, because the more interesting questions when it comes to technological "addiction" or compulsivity aren't moral issues at all, but have to do with the interplay of stimulus and response you get from interacting with electronic devices. Computers and phones really aren't much different than very elaborate Skinner boxes, giving little stimulus rewards for tapping and browsing behaviors.

There's definitely a plausible physical mechanism for bona fide addiction there. I'm not fond of the moral panic going the other way that comes with acknowledging that honestly, either.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:22 AM on September 20, 2016 [11 favorites]


Gosh, that was a really beautiful comment Sonascope.

I decided to walk the long way to work through the park one December morning. Just as the sun was coming over the horizon I happened to be standing in the perfect spot to take this photo. Now that perfect festive moment goes on my customised Amazon gift cards I send out. I think things like that make the connected life a net positive.
posted by adept256 at 7:23 AM on September 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


(That said, real physical dependency on a chemical substance really is a completely different thing than what I and most other people might experience as compulsive media habits, and it is a little uncomfortable that the same language gets applied to both.)
posted by saulgoodman at 7:24 AM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


I love having a smartphone, aside from having to avoid people walking down the street with their heads buried in their own phones. I captured this last night and was able to share it immediately with friends and family all over the world on Facebook and Insta. That's pretty great.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:25 AM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Internet can be very awesome but also very bad if you overdo it!
See also: the internal combustion engine, alcohol, weed, love, money, airplanes, sports, TV, walkmans (walkmen?), dungeons and dragons, video games, pokemon go, soda pop, gelato, and chicken wings
posted by bitteroldman at 7:27 AM on September 20, 2016 [18 favorites]


Sullivan has always been an essayist, not a journalist -- his writing is very much rooted in his personal milieu and perspective, and is mostly a record of him discovering his own opinions. If you don't have much in common with him--and especially if you're expecting a more journalistic approach--then he's probably going to rub you the wrong way.

That said, I feel like he's talking around the edges of a very real phenomenon. I don't have the money or time or inclination to go on a meditation retreat, but I do love camping--and a big reason why is that my phone does not get reception out in the woods. After a day or two out there, my thoughts seem to slow down. I can concentrate long enough to read books again; I notice thoughts and feelings that I'd been putting off; I take a lot more joy in stillness and silence and just sitting and watching loons floating on the lake. And then when I drive back into reach of the internet, I can absolutely feel the fog descending on me again. I wish I had better ways to resist the worst of my own urges--I mean, theoretically, I could be using the internet to read books and talk to my friends and family who live in other countries and get access to all the knowledge and beauty the world has to offer. And I do some of that, and I am grateful to have access to it! But I also feel powerless to resist the pull & empty satisfaction of all the other stuff that's easily available on the web--there's that sense of low-level anxiety when I haven't checked my phone in a couple of minutes, and then that feeling of relaxation and relief when I finally do, followed almost instantly by the anxiety again. It does feel like it has a compulsive quality to it, and I don't know how to resist--but I know my brain works better when I am away from it.
posted by ourobouros at 7:34 AM on September 20, 2016 [29 favorites]


gelato

from my cold, diabetic fingers
posted by aihal at 7:41 AM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


All right, guys, time to dish. What did you do, twenty years ago, during those 30-second blocks of time where you had no fixed task to which you could turn your eye, and nothing with which to entertain yourself? Me, I used to idly muse about divergent Riemann sums, sometimes doodling a sigma in the dust of the tabletop. Three or four more years of it, I'm sure I would have pinned down the distribution of prime numbers. Alas, I now have a smart phone, and am thus an insufferable millennial doomed to spend the remainder of my life frittering away those idle moments playing Flappy Bird. Truly the world has suffered a great loss, and I for one am glad Andrew Sullivan is there to eulogize my erstwhile humanity, in a pithy seven thousand words.
posted by Mayor West at 7:47 AM on September 20, 2016 [19 favorites]


My wife & I were apartment-hunting in a new town this past week. Thanks to my smartphone, I was able to:

- give my wife internet via PDANet so she could work remotely when our friends' home internet was inaccessible
- give my own laptop internet while on the train so we could start hunting for apartments
- search for & apply to apartments whenever there was downtime, no matter where we were
- map out and favorite locations we were planning to visit
- put appointments in my calendar and get notifications
- communicate with agents and landlords over email
- find places to eat in an unfamiliar city when we were on the brink of uncontrollable hanger
- tweet about the woeful state of affairs re: the regional rail website

In conclusion, internet-enabled smartphones are amazing.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:49 AM on September 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


All right, guys, time to dish. What did you do, twenty years ago, during those 30-second blocks of time where you had no fixed task to which you could turn your eye, and nothing with which to entertain yourself?

Bus ticket origami. I'd use a gum wrapper or even a cigarette paper, the smaller the more challenging. Great way to kill time, but I haven't done it in years. Now I just play 2048.
posted by adept256 at 7:54 AM on September 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


(That said, real physical dependency on a chemical substance really is a completely different thing than what I and most other people might experience as compulsive media habits, and it is a little uncomfortable that the same language gets applied to both.)

Hear, hear. Coincidentally, when I was thinking of the activities that I participate in which are not online, but which are aided by online and/or mobile technology, I thought of AA meetings, which are still usually conducted in the same way that they were eighty years ago: people talking about "what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now," face-to-face, usually (although there are online meetings), and these days usually with an exhortation to turn off or silence our phones. But I can and have used my phone to find a meeting in an unfamiliar town, or to read the Big Book, or to call another member when I need to or take a call from a member in their time of need.

It also aids my meatspace hobbies, as well; even though having a tablet for RPGs eliminates the need to carry around a backbreaking number of rulebooks, it's still about people roleplaying around a table and pushing their little miniatures around the map. Similarly, on RAGBRAI, I'll put my phone on a little holder on my bicycle handlebars and track my speed, mileage, and route, and receive messages from the charter that I'm traveling with about the campsite and whatnot, but most of the hours spent on the bike are spent looking at the countryside and my fellow riders, occasionally taking a picture to post on Facebook, and thinking.

Finally, the article reminds me quite a bit of when I was first on the internet a couple of years before Eternal September, and someone on alt.peeves was complaining about people walking around with Walkmen, listening to their own personal soundtracks rather than the world or whatever. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:54 AM on September 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


this is just so generational. boomers who've straddled the analog and digital of which I'm one. it's jarring but workable. the hs kids where I work would just giggle at this essay and have little sympathy. andrew is uncomfortable, the kids aren't and it's their world not ours...
posted by judson at 7:56 AM on September 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


If you're skeptical about some of the claims people make about feeling an unpleasant compulsion to use the internet/devices, just consider that if there is an effect similar to behavioral conditioning at work for some, it may be that those individuals have a genetic legacy that makes them more prone to developing compulsive behaviors. People are very different in reality, not just as a political position. "What might be right for you, might not be right for some..." Etc. But there's no doubt the science does support the suggestion that the technology itself could encourage the development of compulsive behaviors (see also, dark patterns; maybe you don't believe it, but software developers do).
posted by saulgoodman at 7:59 AM on September 20, 2016 [15 favorites]


All right, guys, time to dish. What did you do, twenty years ago, during those 30-second blocks of time where you had no fixed task to which you could turn your eye, and nothing with which to entertain yourself?

think about guurls
posted by bitteroldman at 8:03 AM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Man if only this included some authoritarian bootlicking or implication non-whites where genetically inferior we'd have a full Sullivan BINGO.
posted by The Whelk at 8:06 AM on September 20, 2016 [12 favorites]


This is not a new, fresh concern for society. Maybe 'new' in the last 120 years. But I feel like similar arguments have been made about instant messaging, video games, television, radio, and silent films...heck, even reading novels or the telegraph had people wringing their hands about people detaching from reality or society moving too fast.

I remember a time before smartphones [leans back in chair, adjusts glasses]. It was filled with awkward waiting, missed rides, hearing a beautiful song that you couldn't find the title of and would never hear again, and getting lost (not in the fun magical adventure way, but in the 'oh shit we're going to be late to the wedding' way). I like the current future we're in.
posted by castlebravo at 8:07 AM on September 20, 2016 [15 favorites]


As though attacking Sullivan as messenger on unrelated, ad hominem moral grounds voids the quality of his critique and the value of his observations.

A brief derail: attacking Sullivan for being terrible is pretty clearly snark, and that Gawker essay does a terrible job of drawing a line between the two. Sullivan has made his bed, and now he gets to be snaked at in it.
posted by Going To Maine at 8:12 AM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


I tried meditation, but my mind bucked and bridled as I tried to still it.

Believe it or not, this is not the fault of the internet or one's response to it. Meditation is hard. Sitting quietly and observing one's thoughts instead of poking at them or reacting to them is so hard that people practice for decades in order to be able to do it for any appreciable length of time. Don't feel so bad, Andrew.

Every minute I was engrossed in a virtual interaction I was not involved in a human encounter.

This, though, you can feel bad about. Even when you are typing, you are a person. The person or people who will read your words are also people. It is on you to remember this. Those encounters - you with your audience, them with your words - are not magically not human encounters just because they don't happen in your physical presence. It is on you to remember this.
posted by rtha at 8:16 AM on September 20, 2016 [25 favorites]


Sullivan has made his bed, and now he gets to be snaked at in it.
This does seem harsh. And potentially a bit bitey.
posted by Sonny Jim at 8:24 AM on September 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


All right, guys, time to dish. What did you do, twenty years ago, during those 30-second blocks of time where you had no fixed task to which you could turn your eye, and nothing with which to entertain yourself?

Smoke
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:26 AM on September 20, 2016 [10 favorites]


Today I went to my pain clinic appointment and there was no one at the check-in window for 15+ minutes. I resisted the urge to text my wife about the delay and instead made a comment to some old guy who was also waiting. We had a nice chat about the local (NC) gas shortage and whatever else. Pleasantly diverting, and a nice moment. Small victories. Also I still carry a book everywhere in case I have to wait for something or someone, but I think I'm the only one.
posted by freecellwizard at 8:27 AM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


it's easy to conflate addiction with dependence.
posted by j_curiouser at 8:28 AM on September 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


Sullivan has made his bed, and now he gets to be snaked at in it.
This does seem harsh. And potentially a bit bitey.


Like the classic metaphor says: If you can't lay down with snakes, stay out of the snake kitchen; forget it, Snake, it's chinatown.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:35 AM on September 20, 2016 [20 favorites]


Also I still carry a book everywhere in case I have to wait for something or someone, but I think I'm the only one.

You are most assuredly not.
posted by adamgreenfield at 8:36 AM on September 20, 2016 [11 favorites]


Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes?
posted by Sonny Jim at 8:36 AM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


All right, guys, time to dish. What did you do, twenty years ago, during those 30-second blocks of time where you had no fixed task to which you could turn your eye, and nothing with which to entertain yourself?

Writing journal; working out a song in my head; thinking about stuff; gazing dreamily into the distance with some secret crush on my mind...
posted by saulgoodman at 8:36 AM on September 20, 2016


sick and tired of these motherfucking snakes on my motherfucking bed.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 8:37 AM on September 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


Plissken: Call me "Snake."
posted by SPrintF at 8:38 AM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


The opposition between "really looking" and taking a photograph is also...just really odd. Sure, you can snap a photo mindlessly or reflexively, just as you can let your eyes wander without paying attention to what you're seeing. And cameras can be mediating or distancing in a way I don't always prefer to invoke when I'm in a completely new place. But learning to recognize in the world around you and then capture a memorable image: that is, in fact, an intensely engaged and creative form of seeing. Which is now open to infinitely more people to try, thanks to smartphones.
posted by praemunire at 8:39 AM on September 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


All right, guys, time to dish. What did you do, twenty years ago, during those 30-second blocks of time where you had no fixed task to which you could turn your eye, and nothing with which to entertain yourself?

Lurid sexual fantasies.


Then again, I was 13 years old . . .
posted by chainsofreedom at 8:41 AM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


I had a dorm-master who would wake up the dorm by yelling 'wakey wakey hands off snakey'. If only I had a real life cobra in bed to throw at him.
posted by adept256 at 8:42 AM on September 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


I think the smartphone has single-handedly changed the way the brutal police of the USA have been seen by the rest of us. Smartphones and cameras have been intense tools of resistance by brown and black communities and thank God for that. Andrew of course need not worry about that...

A recent development. In his lifetime he has been a target for perfectly legal abuse by cops, and smartphones and cameras would not have helped one bit. I don't know his personal history but please don't discard the memory of a long and ugly struggle.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:10 AM on September 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


The opposition between "really looking" and taking a photograph is also...just really odd.

Obligatory xkcd.

I think that a lot of folks in this thread are missing the fact that things that are good for them, or good for most people, or a net benefit to the entire world can be bad for individual people, for their own reasons. Sullivan's "this is how the world is" writing style obviously doesn't help that.

Some folks are of the mindset that once they've got a picture of something, they don't need to "really look" at it any further. Sure, they can learn to take better and more mindful photos, but if its a symptom of a larger problem (as it seems like it was for Sullivan), addressing that one thing is kind of a bandaid.

I used to be very into World of Warcraft (social interaction! fighting! magic! dragons! cheesy lore! min maxing!). I consider myself lucky that a number of outside factors came together right when I was at the cusp of transitioning to a much more serious play style that helped me realize that WoW wasn't how I wanted to spend my time.

Now, there are a number of Internet things that I think I might enjoy, but I know that the enjoyment comes as a reward for active engagement at an unsustainable (for me) level so I stay back. Twitter, the 2016 Election threads, EVE Online etc. give me the same feeling that I got when I was stepping into WoW and I'm wary of letting anything pull me in to the same extent again. Other people can participate in any or all of those things and be happier and healthier for doing so, and I salute them. I'm also not going to rag on people who wake up to the realization that it isn't good for them and want to make sure that others realize that it's possible that it might not be good for them either.

I'm also lucky in that my career has never been reliant on the 24/7 always-on active engagement that Sullivan fell into. Admitting that a thing that you are good at AND pays the bills is also bad for you is a very hard thing to do.
posted by sparklemotion at 9:10 AM on September 20, 2016 [16 favorites]


I don't know that I buy this notion that "addiction" is first and originally a technical medical term, which may then be applied by non-experts only in those contexts where it exactly fits the specialist definition. (That's certainly not the history of the term, for one thing.) It makes just as much sense to think of it as a general colloquial term that is sometimes also used to mean something more specific.
posted by oliverburkeman at 9:28 AM on September 20, 2016 [9 favorites]


All right, guys, time to dish. What did you do, twenty years ago, during those 30-second blocks of time where you had no fixed task to which you could turn your eye, and nothing with which to entertain yourself?

Read a book, do the crossword. I still do those things; they're just on my phone now. I also used to have bookshelves and CD racks!
posted by lalex at 9:30 AM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


There's a lot of Sullivan projecting in this piece.

For instance:
The hidden God of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures spoke often by not speaking. And Jesus, like the Buddha, revealed as much by his silences as by his words. He was a preacher who yet wandered for 40 days in the desert; a prisoner who refused to defend himself at his trial. At the converted novitiate at the retreat, they had left two stained-glass windows depicting Jesus. In one, he is in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating blood in terror, alone before his execution. In the other, he is seated at the Last Supper, with the disciple John the Beloved resting his head on Jesus’s chest. He is speaking in neither.
But in fact, in neither of the incidents depicted in the windows is Jesus actually silent. Reading Mark's Gospel for instance, in the Last Supper, this is the moment where, "While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, 'Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me'" (Mark 14:18). To say that he is "saying" something here by his silence is odd.

Also so with the Agony in the Garden when Jesus sweats blood. Luke 22:39-45 recounts this incident. Jesus prays with words in dialogue with God while he is there in the garden. He reprimands the disciples who have fallen asleep while he prays saying that they too should have stayed awake and prayed.
posted by Jahaza at 9:41 AM on September 20, 2016 [6 favorites]


And so I decided, after 15 years, to live in reality.

Given that the article spends significant time that our society has been marked by a wholesale shift to experiencing great chunks of our lives online, it's odd to suggest that "reality" takes place somewhere else.
posted by layceepee at 9:43 AM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Admitting that a thing that you are good at AND pays the bills is also bad for you is a very hard thing to do.

God damn it, get out of my office...
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:50 AM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


And so I decided, after 15 years, to live in reality.

Given that the article spends significant time that our society has been marked by a wholesale shift to experiencing great chunks of our lives online, it's odd to suggest that "reality" takes place somewhere else.


HEY! You’ve retroactively stolen my article from 1990s-era WIRED!
posted by Going To Maine at 10:18 AM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


If you'd really like to unplug from distractions, Sullivan is doing a Twitter Q&A.


The #asksully tag currently being used is 50% people asking him about the Bell Curve racist bullshit he spread at The New Republic and 50% thinking (or pretending to think, more accurately) he's the bird-killing pilot that the new movie is about; it's glorious.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:35 AM on September 20, 2016 [10 favorites]


That said, I feel like he's talking around the edges of a very real phenomenon. I don't have the money or time or inclination to go on a meditation retreat, but I do love camping--and a big reason why is that my phone does not get reception out in the woods. After a day or two out there, my thoughts seem to slow down. I can concentrate long enough to read books again; I notice thoughts and feelings that I'd been putting off; I take a lot more joy in stillness and silence and just sitting and watching loons floating on the lake. And then when I drive back into reach of the internet, I can absolutely feel the fog descending on me again.

On the one hand, I get this. On the other hand, I think thinkpiecers like Sullivan are REALLY EAGER to blame this dynamic on devices and the internet rather than on, say, our deeply anti-human economy, the collapse of affordable housing, our dysfunctional car-centric culture, and the devaluation of expertise/institutional knowledge.

“What does any of that have to do with cell phones????” Andrew Sullivan might cry.

Well, for example: I commute about three hours a day. 35 minutes in a car give or take, 35 minutes on a train give or take, plus time for parking, walking to and from trains, waiting for trains. So for one eighth of my day, I am in transit. A 35 minute block surrounded by loud people and train noises is not a place where I can get into a reading headspace, most of the time, and I often don’t have a seat anyway, so I can’t use that time for reading or soothing contemplation. If I read Twitter instead, it isn’t because the internet has sapped me of my ability to focus. The need to be moving from one place to another, aware of people around me, listening to station announcements— those are the source of my distractedness.

Why do I have to commute three hours a day? Well, I have a job, which is no longer a given! But 90% of the housing that is near my work costs more than my monthly pay, because luxury lofts are all anyone cares about anymore. There is some affordable housing that would fit my salary, but, fun fact, I actually visited one of those places, and they said I could sign up for the waiting list, but that the wait would be up to 12 months.

Oh, and speaking of the job— between budget cuts and restructuring and whatever else, every person I know (not just in my org) is basically doing the work of 2-3 people, as best they can, and always scrambling to keep up. Because paying people to do things other than build apps is uncool, now, so anyone who has a job is likely going to have more to do than they can possibly hope to keep up with, and also their responsibilities are all so disparate that sitting down and working on a single task for a chunk of time is all but impossible. (Oh, also: open offices? I blame them A LOT MORE than the internet for how hard it is for any of us to focus.)

Of all the disparate tasks that need to be done, a lot of them take much longer than they need to, because our current employment paradigm means that people are always having to switch organizations to make a living wage, so we are always chasing down people in other departments who might remember something that happened four years ago, and how it was done then, and what was changed because of [mysterious event], and trying to make sure we don’t step on any important toes. The ability to go to [person who handles thing] and ask [how do we handle thing] and learn [here is how we do thing] and then [do thing] is almost entirely gone. It is almost always forensic reconstructions of the last time the thing was done, based on notes, files on a shared server (but check the timestamps, they might not be right anymore!), and email archives.

Oh, and when one member of your team is sick, or has a family emergency, or car trouble, your entire department can be affected, because one of the thing about eliminating redundancies is that you are also eliminating backup systems, so one person being out for a few days can bring everything screeching to a halt.

These elements impact almost everyone I know, in multiple professions. The internet is waaaaaaaaaaaaay down on the list of reasons why I feel overwhelmed. Twitter is a symptom, not the cause.

Being continually treated as disposable and fungible makes me feel scattered. Internet memes and hashtags, not so much.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 10:37 AM on September 20, 2016 [31 favorites]


I think all of that is why it's so important to think deliberately and consciously about the roles of our devices because, just like you say, there's a lot of other structural stuff already working away at people's focus now and if the devices synergistically feed into those systems and reinforce them, for some, the devices could be a force multiplier for those other structural pressures.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:55 AM on September 20, 2016 [8 favorites]


Reading this thread, I am left with the impression that my fellow metafites are much more mature and in control internet-users than I am.

I don't think anyone can deny that the internet/smartphones have brought us many wonderful things --- freedom to explore when you always have a map at hand, the ability to stay in touch with friends and family across long distances, a handheld documentation device to inform our fellow citizens.

I really related to the downsides Sullivan discussed --- my never ending access to stimuli does leave me feeling hyper, empty, and prone to ward off bad feelings through opening another browser/app, rather than deal with those feelings. I think that's worth examining.
posted by CMcG at 10:59 AM on September 20, 2016 [13 favorites]


the internet is killing you and you’re begging for more
Because you’re an idiot, like everyone else.
posted by and they trembled before her fury at 11:16 AM on September 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


One thing I think goes under-appreciated at pub trivia nights is the rule that you have to put your phones away for the duration of the rounds. It means you have to engage in old-fashioned arguing and figuring out answers from limited knowledge, a thing we used to have to do all the time but rarely need to do anymore. I think that kind of problem solving, and also just having time to talk to people without the distraction, is psychologically satisfying and maybe explains why the activity of going out to a bar to do something resembling homework is so popular these days.
posted by Space Coyote at 11:19 AM on September 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


No one who has ever felt real physical withdrawal symptoms would ever use 'addiction' in this sense.

I have, and I think I would - in the sense that "internet addiction" is a legitimate thing to describe, not the jokey "chocoholic" sense. Even though I think my one (fairly compulsive) use of online and print media has had a lot of positive results if a handful of negative.
posted by atoxyl at 11:33 AM on September 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


What did you do, twenty years ago, during those 30-second blocks of time where you had no fixed task to which you could turn your eye, and nothing with which to entertain yourself?
Twenty years ago? I was already a goner, running an internet connected BBS with two whole phone lines and spending my spare time doing unmentionable things to Motorola brick phones because they had certain useful features. I also had a command-line Netcom account, browsed the web with Lynx, and had an extremely complex pager code that could be used to communicate with all of my friends. I've been "connected" since I was a teenager, and I'm 41 now. So I can't really relate to this piece in any meaningful way. To me, connectedness is like having a car. I can live without it and I'd probably be in better physical shape if I walked everywhere, but it would drastically reduce my reach and exposure to the world around me.
posted by xyzzy at 11:48 AM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


Sullivan uses an expository Selfie to have his article turn up on the net, a place we now learn is off limits if we are to follow the advice of the author.
posted by Postroad at 12:01 PM on September 20, 2016


There has to be a word for stating the incredibly obvious, confessing that you were really really wrong the last time so really you must believe me this time, and stating it in a way that makes it clear you live in a completely foreign and detestable world that none of your readers share. Pity that such a word doesn't exist.

If it did, I'd say Andrew Sullivan just Thomas Friedman'd.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:12 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


The Lead Pencil Club called, they want their iconoclastic idea back. And then Clifford Stoll has a Klein bottle he wants to sell you.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 12:18 PM on September 20, 2016


“Did you really survive HIV to die of the web?”

Dulce et decorum est pro Webem mori
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:26 PM on September 20, 2016


Jumping off and they trembled before her fury's link: How Silence Works: Emailed Conversations With Four Trappist Monks (The Awl).
posted by MonkeyToes at 12:33 PM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


those 30-second blocks of time where you had no fixed task to which you could turn your eye, and nothing with which to entertain yourself?

Pick simple volumes and then intersect and rotate them in my mind's eye; recite poetry in my head; make doggerel of same; sometimes try to write new poetry. Look up above the frequently-replaced-marquee level of buildings for the elegant original structure. No sex fantasies -- wouldn't risk a telling expression on my face.
posted by clew at 12:51 PM on September 20, 2016


those 30-second blocks of time where you had no fixed task to which you could turn your eye, and nothing with which to entertain yourself?

I would chasten myself with thoughts of all the great novels I hadn't yet read
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:11 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


those 30-second blocks of time where you had no fixed task to which you could turn your eye, and nothing with which to entertain yourself?

I would chasten myself with thoughts of all the great novels I hadn’t yet read

You should probably install Chastenr.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:25 PM on September 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


After reading the beginning, the description of the meditation sounded familiar. He was mostly likely on a Vipassana retreat and if so, I'm deeply disappointed that he didn't bother mention that specific name.

I highly recommend the ten day course, here's a bit of info about the philosophy behind the teaching. It was an amazingly moving experience and really put me in touch with some peaceful centers in my mind.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:23 PM on September 20, 2016 [3 favorites]


I read the article twice and I didn't get the sense at all that he's saying to the rest of us to put away our smartphones and get a life. What he's writing about is his life -- which when he had his blog was a life most of us can't even imagine. Imagine spending every moment of every day hooked to the news in all its various media and responding to it all, always reacting to what's not really happening in your own life, but to society at large -- and to do this for years. No wonder it almost killed him, and no wonder he is now working to focus on his life and the present moment. Most of us use our technologies to enrich our lives, not to be constantly reacting to, writing about and publishing our thoughts about what's going on in the world at every single moment. And to those who think an addiction like that isn't legit compared to a drug or alcohol addiction, perhaps you need to talk to the families of those whose lives are affected by non-drug addictions like internet-addiction, gambling, etc. It's no less harrowing or hard to recover from than a drug. I also don't get the "privileged" personal attacks -- I always see people who don't agree with him use this pejorative (particularly those who don't like his religious writing) but never seen it used against sports figures, film celebrities, etc. who surely make a lot more money than he does. And going to a meditation retreat is hardly a privileged activity. The last two-day one I went to cost a whole $50. Overall, I appreciated what he wrote -- and still feel happy to use my smartphone, tablet or laptop whenever I want to.
posted by SA456 at 4:04 PM on September 20, 2016 [10 favorites]


A Vipassana retreat is free, though they do take donations.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:55 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


I believe that Internet addiction is real - it's an actual compulsion I have to fill every moment with bits of useless information and flood back with opinions and thoughts. It has utterly eroded my attention span - to the point where I can't finish an article once somebody starts talking about their experience with meditation. It's great for bored moments, airports and trains and such, but the constant dopemine drip of facts and opinions has severely impacted my working, personal, and school life. And it's been the same for 10 years.

Imagine spending every moment of every day hooked to the news in all its various media and responding to it all, always reacting to what's not really happening in your own life, but to society at large -- and to do this for years. No wonder it almost killed him, and no wonder he is now working to focus on his life and the present moment. Most of us use our technologies to enrich our lives, not to be constantly reacting to, writing about and publishing our thoughts about what's going on in the world at every single moment.

I can't imagine NOT living life this way. Before the Internet became popular I had a dream as a child of a book that would record every minute of my life, so nothing would be lost. The Internet lets me realize that dream.

But the Internet doesn't kill you - it lets you constantly distract yourself from death.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:38 PM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


And yes, the disconnect between 'real' and 'virtual' is an illusion: Digital Dualism versus Augmented Reality
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:41 PM on September 20, 2016


Am I the only one that immediately wanted to post this article on Facebook?
posted by gt2 at 7:34 PM on September 20, 2016


I also don't get the "privileged" personal attacks -- I always see people who don't agree with him use this pejorative (particularly those who don't like his religious writing) but never seen it used against sports figures, film celebrities, etc. who surely make a lot more money than he does.

I think several people have already explained that what they most objected to was how he published lengthy excerpts from The Bell Curve in the New Republic when he was editor. Not his religious writing. Rather, the fact that he chose to give a far louder voice to pseudoscientists who believe white people to be genetically superior to non-white people. I think that this choice of his did a lot of concrete harm to many people and he has never expressed regret for it. So I find it hard to take anything Andrew Sullivan says seriously because he either is a very racist person or is someone who finds nothing objectionable about magnifying the voices of very racist people.

I'm always surprised to see people wave this away or act like it was just a one-off mistake and we shouldn't hold it against him anymore. Actively propagating the idea that black people are inferior by nature does untold harm to actual people.
posted by armadillo1224 at 7:41 PM on September 20, 2016 [4 favorites]


Okay. I agree with many of the points about Sullivan.

But I still think the article had some very nice passages and ideas that speak to me a lot about my own life. Maybe I'm just slower than the rest of you and this is always super-obvious and something you all can remember to remember more than I do. But I liked this:

But of course, as I had discovered in my blogging years, the family that is eating together while simultaneously on their phones is not actually together. They are, in Turkle’s formulation, “alone together.” You are where your attention is. If you’re watching a football game with your son while also texting a friend, you’re not fully with your child — and he knows it. Truly being with another person means being experientially with them, picking up countless tiny signals from the eyes and voice and body language and context, and reacting, often unconsciously, to every nuance. These are our deepest social skills, which have been honed through the aeons. They are what make us distinctively human.

By rapidly substituting virtual reality for reality, we are diminishing the scope of this interaction even as we multiply the number of people with whom we interact. We remove or drastically filter all the information we might get by being with another person. We reduce them to some outlines — a Facebook “friend,” an Instagram photo, a text message — in a controlled and sequestered world that exists largely free of the sudden eruptions or encumbrances of actual human interaction. We become each other’s “contacts,” efficient shadows of ourselves.


This feels very right to me. I live across the world from my family and most of my friends. Almost all of our contact is via Skype and email. I thank god for those things because without it, we would have nothing. But my interactions with them ARE shadows of what they were when we were in the same place. And I've not been able to make any kind of relationships of nearly the same depth since, perhaps in part because we all spend so much of our energy on these shadow relationships.

And this, I think, is both very true and very worrying:

Just look around you — at the people crouched over their phones as they walk the streets, or drive their cars, or walk their dogs, or play with their children. Observe yourself in line for coffee, or in a quick work break, or driving, or even just going to the bathroom. Visit an airport and see the sea of craned necks and dead eyes. We have gone from looking up and around to constantly looking down.

I'm writing this while working (on my computer, natch) in a McDonald's. McDonald's. But other than the family next to me with a toddler, EVERYONE here -- even the many people who are eating with friends or in groups -- are looking at smartphones, not talking to each other. And even the family with the toddler has one person looking at his smartphone. This is not at all abnormal.

I don't have a smartphone, and this is one of the reasons. I recognise that this makes my life much more difficult in many ways, and it is a privilege that I can do this. But the very point that it is a privilege underscores that there are huge costs to spending so much time online. Even though it may be necessary and useful, the costs are there.

I have a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. I find them exhausting and I love them dearly. One of the things that I love most about them is that when I'm with them, I'm with them. I am nothing other than in the moment. I am very, very glad I don't have a smartphone to distract me from those moments -- because if I did have one, I know I would be distracted. I wouldn't be able to stop myself from checking it and using it all the time. Because a lot of the time with my kids, it's also boring. What not boring is the internet and the dopamine hit of social media (and the endless election threads which I am spending too much time on as it is!). But my life would be much, much poorer if I didn't experience the boredom and the day-to-day moments and textured physicality with my kids.

Maybe I'm uniquely bad at not being able to turn off the internet. But looking at the people around me, all of whom are looking at their phones instead of talking to the people they are eating with... I doubt it.
posted by forza at 8:00 PM on September 20, 2016 [5 favorites]


long live the new flesh
posted by philip-random at 9:44 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


If you don't have much in common with him--and especially if you're expecting a more journalistic approach--then he's probably going to rub you the wrong way.

No, it's really more that he called all liberals traitors in the week after 9/11.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:51 AM on September 21, 2016


One of the things that seems to stick in a lot of craws is the idea of mediated reality, as if that's a new and terrifying thing that's distancing us from some magical realist's view of some essential original being we were supposed to be, and it's silly, because the mediation that we claim is novel and threatening happened the moment we found language, if not before.

In the past, we pointed out people seeing the world through a camera's viewfinder as victims of something, and I'm sure many people either took a long time getting that balance right or never quite managed to, and yet, we managed to have rich, complex lives even as we sometimes prioritized the preservation of a moment over the moment itself, usually because the moment was glorious and delightful and we naturally want to hang onto pleasure as long as we can.

I am absurdly prolific with selfies, because my social media presence has become, for me, a protracted road trip conversation with the several hundred people that I actually know and love, as well as with acquaintances I've made along the way who find me interesting enough to follow, but it's my face on those posts because I work in a mostly solitary profession, I live on my own, and recent developments in my search for longtime companionship still require discretion and private cultivation. It's a mediated existence, to be sure, and yet, I am not "addicted," even if I earn a few eye rolls from the friend I'm shopping with for giddily posting my glee in selfie form at finding a package of sassy cotton-spandex drawers with lurid yellow accent stripes in my seldom-stocked size at Target while I'm shopping for amusing novelty flannel loungewear to don for my first season curling with a new league. It's not far removed from just talking with friends, except some are in Indonesia at the time instead of slouching down the aisles in Laurel, Maryland, and I treasure that back and forth, even if it does involve a little handlooking here and there.

Of course, I have been mediated for almost my whole life.

I grew up largely without television, which my parents controlled with an iron hand because of their belief that television is soul-rotting nothing (I largely concur, "golden" age of television notwithstanding), and so I listened to the two nightly hours of radio drama of old and new varieties that my then-just-local university NPR station used to play six nights a week instead of the endless news/talk/reheated-podcast feed that we get now. Radio drama was, for me, the perfect training for a kind of always-on augmentation, in that I'd listen while I was doodling and building dangerous electrical devices in my room near bedtime, and I could simultaneously work or play, take in stories, and let my brain spin the visuals out of my optic database, and even when that nightly indoctrination was over, I could always access that away-place with little more than intention and focus.

When people ask me how I write so quickly, and with a certain degree of facility, I have to explain that it's because I'm always writing. It's a subroutine in my head that, once installed, runs as a part of every process, and I can be both fully invested in being in a moment and still letting reality and chance processes feed that system without skipping a beat. I am caught up in a reality augmented by decades of reading poetry, of having seen great and wonderful things in films and on television, and of songs that have dissected my heart time and time again, each time stitching it up again into something stronger and more detailed.

Can I look at a sunset without my internal monologue joining in to make note of the colors I see, or without the forty-five years of poetry that's come through my ears since I learned to talk? Sometimes. Mostly not, though, and that's a gift, not a curse, because a sheet of billowing orange and purple flame framed by the treeline only gets better when I can see it with more than just eyes registering the electromagnetic spectrum, and when I round a corner and the sky opens up from a closed-in stretch of road that I sometimes have to coast to a stop, flip open my visor, and just bask in an oh my that's enriched by having read William Blake and a personal history of watching the sun clear the limb of the earth, I am the beneficiary of a life of augmentation, writing and rewriting my own software daily.

So I augment with pleasure, waking at 4:30 in the morning to don my headphones and dance wildly in my dark apartment, lit by just the dim light of a string of Christmas lights with stars that slowly change color, to Lily Allen played with the volume so high that it drowns out my internal monologue and then my ability to process the room the clumsy tools of symbolic interpretation until everything goes psychedelic. So I augment without resistance when I'm driving home in my beat-up old farm truck from an oddly charged night at a rock and roll show with my gentleman caller, who, out of the blue, sidles up to me across the bench seat, tucks himself under my arm, and brings on an interior bout of James Joyce by way of Kate Bush by way of a thousand hours plugged into a Walkman, and my heart is going like mad, too, as I draw him down to me.

So I augment with memory, and with devices that can access these things, and with language that stands a chance of breaking the divide between the profane and the divine, and these are all such very human things despite how new they seem, or how sudden the appearance is of a new manifestation of the carrier signal that we modulate to sing ourselves into being. We have always done this and we always will.

And yet, I can disconnect. Stepping on stage with three other musicians, I can surrender so completely to sound that all I know about what I'm doing is that something is happening in the moment that is so deep and chemical and raw that I just want to cry, and sometimes do, and it is only because of the digital echo of video recording that I can go back after the fact as a whole person instead of a knot of fizzing energetic flow and see what I've done, because language had all just...left me behind. We're supposed to be forgetting this in what the critics would call a headlong rush into a life distorted by "distraction," but I have these moments because of technological intrusion, always-on connections, and the sort of jittery ties to ties to ties that happen in a complex of modern coding rather than from Vishnu's nest of blurry blue arms at the cosmic switchboard.

The tools come to hand and we take them up, start fires, build architecture, stitch up wounds, and make more than a few mistakes in the process, gaining a few nicks and scars in the process, but we have always been a species of tool-wielding poetry apes and this is our gift, not our curse.
posted by sonascope at 4:29 AM on September 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


Imagine spending every moment of every day hooked to the news in all its various media and responding to it all, always reacting to what's not really happening in your own life, but to society at large -- and to do this for years. No wonder it almost killed him

Which makes it sound as if Sully was just a passive consumer, somebody reacting to all the godawful things that happened day in day during the Bush regime, rather than an active participant in making things worse, somebody actively making the world a shittier place through propaganda, lies and incitements to violence against anybody who disagreed with him (all liberals are traitors).

If Sully really nearly died of the interwebs, it's not because being online is an inherent threat to health, it's because being a spiteful bully and first rate asshat is an inherent health threat.
posted by MartinWisse at 5:35 AM on September 21, 2016 [3 favorites]


forza, I'm in a similar position in that I don't have a smartphone--a personal choice, one that I am fortunate to be able to make freely--because I don't care for the effect that constant access to all the world's information (and distractions!) has on me personally. I used to have one, actually, and I did not care for the person it was turning me into (ignoring people in front of me for my screen, that kind of thing). That's completely on me. I wanted not to be a rude asshole and I decided getting rid of my smartphone was the solution. I feel better about the person I am as a result of that decision. I recognize that not everyone has this issue. Some people are able to just put their smartphone in their pocket and not think about it, or they're somehow able to fiddle with it constantly but not in a way that turns them into insensitive assholes in the company of others. I definitely think the majority of smartphone users fall into the "completely able to not be a jerk with their smartphone" category. My wife does. She has a smartphone and it doesn't get in the way of her being present and thoughtful.

A lot of this article resonated with me, obviously, because I've experienced some of the same things Sullivan has with regard to device distraction. So I appreciated his personal reflection on that score. But... I think where Sullivan really fails in this article is in projecting those assholish behaviors onto every smartphone user ever. It's a failure of imagination, self-awareness, and empathy.

The comments in this thread are really interesting to me. For one, obviously nobody likes being generalized and demonized, and people are understandably bristling at the notion that they're somehow zombies (rude zombies!) just for having and using a smartphone. But for anyone who's having a hard time imagining that there are people who struggle with being good and kind and healthy and undistracted when they're holding a magic rectangle of all human knowledge: hi, we're here, we're real!
posted by duffell at 5:47 AM on September 21, 2016 [5 favorites]


Also, wow, while I knew Andrew Sullivan had a reputation as a blowhard, I didn't know about all that bell curve bullshit, or the other stuff people are mentioning in this thread. That's totally fucked.
posted by duffell at 5:48 AM on September 21, 2016


I don't have a smartphone, and this is one of the reasons. I recognise that this makes my life much more difficult in many ways, and it is a privilege that I can do this. But the very point that it is a privilege underscores that there are huge costs to spending so much time online. Even though it may be necessary and useful, the costs are there.
I have a smartphone and don't spend much time at all staring at it. But when I'm in a different town and need to figure out how to get from A to B, or I want a reminder to put the bin out when I get home on a Wednesday night, or I want to listen to a radio station that's not one of the dreadful local ones, or any number of other random little tasks that it's useful for.

What I don't do is spend any time at all scrolling through Facebook or random news sites or anything else. I don't even have a Facebook or Twitter account. If you can't stop yourself from doing that, it's kind of on you, really. The technology itself is useful and helpful even if I sometimes have misgivings about its pervasiveness. But it's just a tool - there's nothing stopping people just using it for useful things.
posted by winterhill at 5:49 AM on September 21, 2016


If Sully really nearly died of the interwebs, it's not because being online is an inherent threat to health, it's because being a spiteful bully and first rate asshat is an inherent health threat.

Repeated for emphasis. I read Sullivan's blog when he was at The Atlantic and then we he took off on his own. There were a lot of good parts to it, but there was also a lot of emotional reacting mixed with half assed thoughts as he worked out what he was actually thinking, combined with tooting his own horn about how awesome his blog was. It's not surprising that it didn't him emotional and mental damage, I felt the same way just reading it and eventually just stopped, because no one needs that every day.

You have to have some sort of filter if you're be consuming news. Humans aren't really capable of engaging in everything that comes across their screen, it's impossible.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:05 AM on September 21, 2016


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