I can’t remember the last time I read a piece of writing through to the end without noticing a lapse in my concentration, or jumping ahead, skipping a sentence or a paragraph, or worse, but sadly, probably most commonly, losing interest in the thing all together.
I can’t remember the last time I was able to watch a TV show right the way from start to finish (ads and all), without finding myself absentmindedly scrolling through my phone.
I can’t remember the last time I was able to just sit, and be, without somehow, even subconsciously, absorbing information of some kind.
I’d like to think all of this happens because I’m really busy; a juggling millennial whose infectious and remarkable energy and lust for life means that I constantly need to be learning, processing, absorbing information so that I can always be at the top of not just my game but any and every game.
I’d like to think it’s because we live in a time where information is not just power, but a gift, and a blessing; one that we have access to in abundance and one that any good, decent, admirable human being would never dream of taking for granted.
I’d like to think that it’s doing me good.
The reality though, is different. The reality doesn’t look like any of that.
I read an article in Glamour last week. I say I read it. I opened it, I started it, I decided that I’d gathered the general gist of it so I began skimming and skipping the large chunks of writing between my eye-line and the end of the article, until my brain deemed enough information enveloped and let me close down the tab.
What an interesting article, I thought. And that was that. Nothing new. Nothing noteworthy.
It was only when I got in the car later that night with Alex and began discussing the article that I had read (in a bid to sound… what… clever???), that I remembered that I remembered absolutely none of the key points and was unable to even describe to him the main components of this piece and why I had decided to read it in the first place. Least of all why I’d bothered bringing it up with him.
My half-hearted attempt at sounding cultured irritated him, I wasn’t making any sense and got defensive when he pushed me for the finer details (read: any details he could use as a means of having a two-way-conversation with me). This ended in an argument. I got defensive, not daring to admit that it was my shame at the fact I hadn’t learned anything, that I was sounding more ignorant and moronic than if I would have done if I hadn’t even tried with any of this in the first place, that lead me to starting such a boring and mundane conversation in the first place.
I promised I’d send him the article so we could have a proper conversation about it.
By the time I remembered to to send it to him, I’d forgotten what it was called.
The truth is, I don’t think my constant need to process information is doing me much good at all.
In the days between my ridiculous quibble with Alex and the writing of this post, I found myself noticing the extraordinary habits I have begun passing off as normal; day to day it is not uncommon to find me sitting at my laptop, my open and unlocked iPad next to me, my iPhone in my hand as I scroll through my phone with the telly on in the background.
Ever since Apple introduced the new iPhone function that enables people to see how much ‘screen time’ they are getting, I have become even more hyper aware of the time that I am spending online. Not so much for the ‘social media does nothing for your self esteem’ side of things (although that very much is a factor), but as an acknowledgement of the sheer amount of time I spend as an open target for whatever pieces of information that will inevitably come my way.
Thanks to my job I am able to pass most of it off as work; I’m able to excuse my behaviour under the pretence of being a journalist and a blogger, both jobs requiring me to be a fairly consistent absorber of information and then generous with my reactions to it.
But just because I can ‘get away with it’, it doesn’t mean that my constant exposure to social media is healthy. On the contrary, I think it’s fucking me up. Numbing me, maybe. I’m not sure, but it’s not good. I think I have reached saturation point with it all.
How does that saying about the frog go?
If you put a frog into boiling water, it will jump out. But if you put a frog into cold water, and heat it up, the frog will boil.
I am the frog. The internet is the water. And it’s burning.
I think I have absorbed too much information. I think I know too much. Or am able to know too much… or something.
Beyond the realisation that came with the Glamor article incident, and then with the subsequent shame that washed over my body when I checked the Screen Time feature for the first time and realised I had spent FOUR HOURS in one day using my phone for something or other, was the acknowledgement of the weighted sense of apprehension that I have become all-too-aware of. The sense of apprehension that sits in my stomach, that is with me as often as my phone is.
Maybe it’s this time of year.
Perhaps, since I am not skipping into the Christmas party season with the enthusiasm that I normally do, I have more time to acknowledge the mental fatigue that creeps up on many at this time of year. Perhaps it’s due to the overwhelming combination of Donald Trump being given free reign over his own Twitter account and the word “Brexit” being used in every other article published in the British media. Who knows.
But something has got to me.
I feel full.
Like I’ve given all my energy and the last five years of my life into finishing an all you can eat buffet; the last trey of vol-au-vents winking at me for months as the finish line drew ever closer, only for me to realise, after the last cocktail sausage made it’s way into my stomach, that there was a corner after the vol-au-vents stand and around is there was just as much food again, and then again, and again and I was destined to spend the rest of my life eating it.
God you know I must be fatigued if I can somehow make a future of doing nothing but eating canapés sound hard. That surely, is the dream.
In the same way, I suppose, that having access to information, all the time, is someone’s dream.
Hell, it’s everyone’s dream.
Having the answer to everything at the tip of your fingers IS the dream. So too is access to everybody in the world. And the chance to be or do whatever you want, so long as you have access to wifi and a phone charger.
There’s every chance I have had too much of a good thing.
If you give Alex the remote and tell him to choose what we are going to watch for dinner, he will spend the next thirty minutes scrolling through every single channel to ensure that we have opted for the very best that the telly gods have to offer.
When we first got together, coming on six years ago, that was a quick haul through the Sky channels before we sat down for a night of Location, Location, Location. Now when I ask him to choose what we’re going to watch, I hand him the Sky remote. And then the Netflix remote. And then the FireStick. And I settle in for a night of watching him scrolling.
Everybody has a television recommendation and everything is fantastic.
I have a ‘reading list’ as long as my legs.
My podcast app often freezes when I open it as it tries to download so many of my new subscriptions at once,
I need an extra weekend day just to ensure I have time to make it through the Sunday supplements before the fresh newsprint appears on Monday morning, ready to be absorbed and commented on.
The irony is, I have become so interested in everything, at some point I am pretty sure I stopped being interesting.
There was a time when I would have dragged my big mouth into a debate, set it down and let it get to work. I had a fiery feeling in my stomach, I was passionate and excited and ballsy and opinionated and as a result, I think I was pretty interesting.
These days, if we’re going to stick with cheesy metaphors, I think I’m so busy collecting firewood that I’ve forgotten to fan the flames.
In my bid to avoid sounding ignorant, I spend all of my time absorbing what is normally nothing more than other people’s ignorance. Opinion pieces on politics. A review of a product that probably doesn’t work. Sexist bullshit seeping from the Daily Mail’s sidebar of shame onto my Twitter timeline.
Oh and that’s before we even talk about social media.
The constant stream of other people, invited into my house at all hours of the day.
Sparkly tights and doughnuts and Christmas trees and candy-canes and coffee cups and fluffy coats and glittery lipstick and new earrings and comfy shoes and and and and and.
I know SO much about everybody else.
I spend so much of my time accidentally and inadvertently learning about other people.
And… for what?
So that when I meet the people I follow online in real life I can be very careful not to say anything too creepy so that they don’t know that I watch every one of their Instagram stories and know what their dog is called and what colour their toothbrush is and where their bedsheets are from?
No one saw THIS much information becoming available did they?
Once again, I get to the end of a chunk of writing with no obvious solution.
I’m not one of these people that adheres to the idea of a social media detox (although god knows I need one), I don’t particularly want to stop reading and learning and listening and pushing.
But something has got to give.
Walking without headphones, will help. Watching the TV without scrolling through Twitter will be good. Not checking Instagram until at least after I’ve done my teeth sounds healthy. Spending the time commuting or travelling to SEE the world rather than talk about it is vital.
There are little things I can do, and they will, I’m sure, arise naturally from the acknowledgement that I am full to the brim of things. Things that I don’t need and won’t miss. But that I cram in because, for some reason, I feel like I ought to.
Can’t live with it, can’t live without it eh?!