Tag Archives: technology

Are You Walking or Talking? – The Pitfalls of Nature Walks in Modern Times

I am very lucky to have a small group of friends who appreciate nature. They enjoy it, take it in, listen to it, look at it, say very little, and are comfortable with long pauses to admire the outdoors. Now, I am no expert, but I imagine not everyone is so patient with the countryside. Some walking partners really only want an excuse to exercise, talk, a lot, or take pictures for their new Instagram account. Please do not misconstrue me, I am not saying that, in order to appreciate nature, you should not do these things at all, walking around like some hermetical sage wizard who has transcended the responsibilities of trivial human affairs, but many people do too much else when they’re out walking.

When you’re taking pictures, talking too much, or focusing on the steps, you’re not getting the benefits of the countryside that really make you feel alive. By this I mean, the sound of dead twigs under foot, the soft rustling of low bushes, batted gently by swirling gusts, and the pale-gold sunshine warming your cheeks after the cold wind whips them rosy red. In these winter months, you relish the scarcity of bird song, and the sounds of streams, their notes richer, deeper, and more viscous in the icy temperatures. You see animals and plants that are different dependent on the seasons, and you see skies that vary greatly and elicit as many emotions as there are colours in them.

When you can tune into this, you’re communing with nature and it speak to us, in whispers at first. With other people, sometimes loud, well-meaning though I am sure, the chances of you being able to hear it, to see it and appreciate it fully reduce.

I propose that, even if you’ve never tried it before, or you think it odd, that to go out into nature alone is worth doing. If you’ve never done it before, consider it a challenge from me to you. Take a public footpath, or venture further out to a landmark with your car. Just go by yourself. Or, if you really can’t face it, take someone with you that you know you can be comfortably silent with for stretches of time. This is important. The more that you listen to nature in the quiet, the louder it speaks. I believe this can be very healing if you suffer from any mental health issues or physical illnesses. I often find myself feeling much better following a walk, more optimistic, focussed and alive. I credit this with taking in the landscape, which feeds my vitality, while talking too much or using technology, drains it.

Nature walking is a very special activity. Many of us enjoy it with others, which is no bad thing. Just remember, the sounds, sights and sensations of the outdoors are quiet, require patience and attention, and are worth a more thoughtful, tacit and pensive approach. Nature heals, if you listen. Sadly, the social responsibilities and technological commodities of the modern era can wildly distract us and decrease our ability to enjoy and benefit from nature. So, are you walking or are you talking? Choose your friends and smart tech wisely.

Follow me on Heathen (top right by my face) for more mental health tips. Be sure to share these articles with friends and loved ones who you want to look out for in these difficult times. Walking outdoors can be a very rewarding experience if you are able to tune into the landscape thoughtfully. Even if you have never tried this before, I encourage you to take a walk by yourself. See what you discover with nothing but the trees and wind for company. I wish you happiness and health in the New Year.

Facebook – The New Opiate for the Masses That’s Making You Sick.

A week ago I announced I’d be leaving Facebook for a month to see how things changed in my life. This was after I did some research on how Facebook algorithms transform the way you behave online. Jaron Lanier’s ‘Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now’ inspired me to take the plunge. In his book, Lanier outlines that algorithms used on these platforms are constantly analysing your online behaviours, processing this information, and adapting your feed of information to maximise your engagement. Constantly evolving, these data-grabbing parasites find new ways to seize your attention and keep you locked in. It really works! And it’s especially effective against those of us who are compromised by our real life experiences. Let me illustrate by sharing a little of my own journey with the platform.

My Experience with Internet Addiction

Nearing a year prior to my decision to leave, Facebook had taken over my life. I was so invested in the platform that I spent most of my day getting attention, good and bad alike, as a mini kick to supplement my pathetic natural dopamine reserves. Thank you, brain, you’re so good to me. During this time, several significant life events had happened to me that knocked me off my feet. I had slipped a disk in the second year  of my degree which was causing a huge amount of pain and numbness in my legs. All the while I was working part time, hiding the fact from my boss and managing dicey personal relationships. I was cutting more and more real people out of my life as I slowly disconnected from reality. I had panic attacks, dissociation, health anxiety, and serious depression. I wanted to die, but I was also terrified of the idea of death. An unpleasant oscillation of negative emotions gripped me every day. As my real life started to implode inwards, my activities became deeply withdrawn and passive. I started to construct an alternative online persona, a confident, happy, egotistical version of myself that said whatever was on his mind. In short, a charming asshole. The feeling of having lost my voice in the real world translated to a booming, but meaningless online presence. I was clinging to control in the only corner of my life that I believed I had any left.

Little did I know at that time, Facebook, my little haven of safety, fantasy and control, was actually taking advantage of my vulnerability to keep me trapped in a cycle of depression, gasping for a breath of attention, but starved of real human connection. And these algorithms are designed to keep a person’s attention at the expense of the vulnerable. They learn the best ways to keep you online, and those most susceptible to addiction suffer the worst. How can we allow a platform that seems so innocuous and practically useful to systematically prey on the most compromised individuals in society? It’s simple, people just don’t know yet, and they really need to wake up from the stupor. Facebook has the chloroformed cloth to our face, and we’ve been under for long enough for us to forget who kidnapped us.

Would You Let an Organisation Build a Palace of Opiates in the Midst of Deprivation?

Do you know why a heroin addict takes heroin, even at the expense of his health, both physical and mental? He’s not lazy or a cockroach, he’s escaping his reality, and people who experience internet addiction on platforms like Facebook are doing the same. Groups and pages like ‘BPD meme Queen’ (BPD stands for Borderline Personality Disorder, a serious personality disorder that requires real world intervention) with over 120k likes, actively invites mental illness onto the platform, trapping more and more vulnerable people in the molasses of hollow experience.  Glorifying mental illness in the shape of memes and signposting it on Facebook is not healthy, yet it’s absolutely allowed on the platform.  I ask you, would you allow an organisation to hand out free opiates to vulnerable, struggling people who need help figuring out their reality? Would you let a giant corporation build a gleaming white tower in the centre of the most deprived area of a city, offering out free syringes for the people’s unbridled attention? I don’t think so. Yet we happily turn on our computers and let algorithms fuck with us all day long. Algorithms which become exponentially more effective, the more unwell we are.

The reality is this, you don’t need Facebook to stay in touch with people. Sure, it might be easier to use social media, it has all of your information in one place and it’s keeping it warm for you, but you do have a phone, you have messenger services, you can still send a text and ring people, even write letters (yes, we should do more of that especially). If we don’t put pressure on the networks to change, we’ll continue to experience all of these issues going forward. Facebook is making ill people worse over time, and in the best case, keeping people chronically not better.

Mark Zuckerberg – Building a Disease Free World on the Bodies of the Addicted

Mark Zuckerberg previously announced that, along with his partner Priscilla Chan, he would be donating 99% of Facebook’s shares to eradicate all human disease, founding the Chan Zuckerberg initiative in 2015. A lofty goal, but more importantly, one at odds with the very product used to fund this research. Addiction is a chronic brain disorder. It’s partly genetic, partly environmental, but according to the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is a human disease. Many will argue that there are more serious and debilitating disorders, but that’s another debate and beyond this article. In its own right, addiction is a serious, debilitating brain disease that is being actively abused by Facebook’s algorithms, monitoring user behaviour, analysing the most visceral impulses of addiction, and using them against its users.

Addiction disconnects. Not only does Facebook help us unplug from reality, it does it under the guise of connecting the world. Why is this a problem? Facebook is funding its research against human disease with a technology that makes a serious human disease worse in the population. The very system that sells itself as making the world more social, more connected, is actually doing the opposite. Now, there are smarter people than me working at Facebook, of that I’m sure. Moreover, these people understand the technologies inside and out. So, given that the odds of Facebook engineers knowing everything I do and more, and yet not even advertising to the public better methods of networking, methods that are less manipulative and damaging to vulnerable people and the social fabric of society at large, what is the gig? Why isn’t this big news? Why isn’t this issue even on the radar at all? One can only imagine they have their very good, very legitimate reasons.

I’m sure.

Students! You are Prime Targets for Manipulation!

At this point many of you are probably wondering ‘what has this got to do with me? I’m not addicted. I’m just a student.’. And it’s a perfectly acceptable question to ask, but here’s the thing: As a student, you’re extremely vulnerable to Facebook’s manipulation. Students deal with higher levels of mental illness, depression and social anxiety, those being some of the most debilitating aspects for our social group. More than this, students are trying desperately to form social connections, especially when they first start out at university. Facebook and other social media platforms thrive on the insecurity of students trying to make their way on the social scene. We’re also chronically bored. Bored people find themselves spending inordinate amounts of time on these platforms because there’s nothing better to do. Procrastination, too, adds to student stress and burnout. Perhaps if we weren’t constantly having our essence sucked by horny virtual-dementor-algorithms, we’d have time to get some of our work done (I’m sure the least popular argument on this list). All of these factors make students prime targets for algorithms which want to keep you trapped in Zuckerberg’s Wonderland for as long as possible.

I’m not saying go cold turkey like I did but think very carefully about how you use social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Communication, after all, is a two-way street. When we look out of the window, the things on the other side look back. The real question when using social media is who’s using who?

This article is also available at Slain Media.

Write a letter, start a revolution.

Dear reader,

I was talking with a friend I met through a poetry group on Facebook the other day. I was deciding to leave the platform and, as always, he had a novel suggestion. I had asked for his details because I wanted to stay in touch with people off the platform. If you look at my previous post Facebook, what have you done to us?, I decided to leave Facebook for various reasons, ethical, behavioural and psychological. His idea was this: ‘Let’s write a letter to each other’.

I thought to myself how peculiar that was and was meditating on the idea a bit. Why have we stopped writing letters? Well, the clear answer is that the internet does it faster. Sure, the internet has revolutionised communication but is that a good thing?

We used to take time to think and reflect on all the amazing things that happen to us in the weeks and months. Carefully, we’d curate a picture of our lives that showed all the most meaningful experiences we’d had lately in the two-fold process of consolidating and processing it for ourselves, and sharing with others.

I thought about what it would be like to receive a letter that was not about doctors appointments or bills, written in an individual font, addressed to me, the person, not me, the body, number or consumer. I came to the conclusion that writing letters to close ones is probably the most counter cultural, revolutionary thing young people can do in an age saturated by technology, and so coked up on its own sophistication, it’s losing any meaning or value it might once have had.

So here’s my challenge to you. Write three letters this month. Really think about your life and what has happened. Share it with those you care about but don’t see often enough. Tell me in the comments below that you posted it and that you’re taking up this counter revolution against technology. Heck, if you want, post a selfie with your letters! It’s nice to get feedback that we’re making changes! We need to slow down and think at the speed of a letter.

Share this article with friends and family. We’re re-writing the future, one hand-written letter at a time.

Yours sincerely,

Julian

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