Decisions are the worst

This is going to be a bold statement, but I need to say it anyways. Decisions are right up there with filing my taxes. Yes, I say this as an individual who bought and returned approximately 6 laptops when picking one and who nearly signed two leases when hunting for an apartment in Windsor. As a tangent, this was after seeing 21 apartments in 42 hours, as far as my father could tell the tour was approximately 24 hours too long and could have ended with the first apartment we saw that was livable, not 3 days after the lease was signed as I continued to peruse Kijiji for apartments. So maybe I am not qualified to make such a statement, perhaps I am just a poor decision maker and the fault is entirely my own. I swear the fault is not entirely my own though. I blame the internet and the culture we have created surrounding choices and their rude cousins, decisions.

I read Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance this summer and it really struck a chord with something I have been attempting to articulate for months – there are too many choices and because there are so many choices we are plagued by a belief that there has to be a better model. There’s always something better, so we are perpetually disappointed with what we have. Choices and decisions are a luxury, one we should be grateful for, but instead we have allowed them to become the bane of our existence.

We live in a world essentially without limits. If you are willing to search hard enough and/or pay enough, you can have anything. Our world is rapidly advancing, new technologies are being invented every day, and things exist today that my grandparents only dreamed of (and in some cases never dreamed of, but hey – progress is creating something people didn’t know they needed). The cellphone I hold in my hand is relatively new – it just came out this calendar year, and yet already there are phones with better cameras, faster processors, or a screen that drops off the edge so my icons don’t get in the way. With the knowledge that newer and better phones are constantly being released it’s probably a good thing my boyfriend bought mine for my birthday so that I didn’t have to face the sea of options and drive him nuts for 3 weeks trying to pick one.information_overload-2

This not so tiny device, which only properly fits in the pockets of two pairs of my pants, can tell me not only singles in my area, it tells me what my friends are up to, it tells me about the wedding that girl I like to stalk on Facebook went to (don’t lie we all have at least one of those). It can also tell me the reviews for the 20 nearest restaurants, what movies are playing at the 3 nearest theaters (and buy the tickets), and answer just about any question I throw at it with 2.4 million hits in 0.25 second or less. Surprisingly all this info doesn’t make anything easier. Even a restaurant review must be taken with a grain of salt (see what I did there? ;)). In psychology we talk about sampling bias, in this case, maybe only people who really like reviewing things or who REALLY hated the service (they may have been rude customers too) reviewed the restaurant. So we’re not getting a clear picture of reality. We’re just getting a lot more opinions involved in our decisions.

The internet makes me more aware of the world around me (you know, when I am not using it to look up cats and pigmy goat videos) and it makes me aware of the 2.4 million ways I could sort out whatever problem I brought to it; but it also makes me aware of how poorly my plan was and how fabulous some other people’s lives are. Hello, Facebook, I’m looking at you.

I got into grad school. Six years from now I should be walking out with a PhD in clinical psychology, but I mean there are other schools – what if this wasn’t the ideal option? Let’s be real – with my boyfriend now 8 hours away from me, ideal is not how I would describe Windsor. Really, “GRAD SCHOOL! Yay! With a supervisor available in my desired research area!! Double yay!” That’s where my head should have been. Instead it was wandering the halls of Queen’s libraries and gazing at the Ottawa skyline.

I hem and haw over a lot of “good decisions;” afraid there would be a better one just around the corner. This culture of comparison leads to a lot of progress to be sure, but it also breeds a lot of disappointment and a generally non-committal generation. We are all waiting on the next best thing so why would we settle on what’s best right now. Even worse is when we know there is a better choice out there but it is inaccessible to us. Like the newer, shinier faster, cell phone that we can’t have because we are locked into a contract. Or your best friend’s boyfriend, who is totally swoon worthy. Or the vacation spot you saw but in no way can afford.ursula tough choices

I am here to let you in on a little secret though. In social psychology we talked about the principles of decision making and one of the most fascinating things I learned (aside from how to make someone do what you want – but that’s classified information) is that people become polarized with their decisions. Once we make a decision we perceive to be final and irrevocable, we start to accept our decision, and then we start to become more confident that we made the right decision. For a cool TED talk on this topic click here.

So the lesson is simple. Accept that you can never have access to every option, be it due to time constraints, financial situation, geographic location, point in your career, or even point in your cup of coffee. So at the end of the day – pick something you like and accept that. Pick something you like and get off the internet.

The Future of Consciousness and Social Media

What about before Facebook and Twitter? Before we selected filters and shared every moment? When we took pictures to remember the moment not to share it? Can we still have these moments? Are we uploading thoughts or moments? Will there always be a difference that we choose?

So I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about social media, and I think that it’s sort of a big thing in a lot of people’s worlds, I would argue that very few North Americans are without some social media account regardless of which platform. And as I’ve mentioned in past posts, I think it’s great; it connects us in ways like never before and allows us to create the story of our lives for the world to see. But there’s a future that I think social media moguls hope for and individuals with a yen for the good ol days and more traditional values fear. I’m talking the future where social media and digital connectivity has turned us into a bunch of hermits, isolated in our homes but infinitely connected in the digital world. I think that it is hypothetically possible, and many would argue we’re already on our way to it, but I think it is still just a little far fetched. 

I mean seriously... Kids these days... Go out for lunch and text people who AREN'T there/try to remember your password for an account you clearly rarely use...

I mean seriously… Kids these days… Go out for lunch and text people who AREN’T there/try to remember your password for an account you clearly rarely use…

Humans have evolved to be social creatures, yes social media facilitates a more constant connectivity, but I would not be content to never see my friends. Even though I Skype people, I still enjoy the fact that I can do things with them – and I’m not talking play digital games on computer screens – I mean going out to the movies or dinner, heck even cooking at home and a trip to Target. I think that social media can supplement these connections, and in some cases for many individuals is the sole basis of the friendship. We all have them, the friend that we somehow friended online back in the day when we worried less about privacy and online creepy people, but they turned out to be cool so we kept them. We follow people on Twitter and Instagram that we have never met. I personally am a member of a group on Facebook, where I have only ever met one of the members, and we met long before she joined the group. That’s the nature of the beast. Doesn’t mean that’s the only way I connect, or the way I prefer to connect. 

The other dark side of this coin is that we are putting our identities online, and all this got me thinking – what exactly are we putting online? I put a lot of my life online. Okay, you caught me, I put a lot of my cat and baking online with the odd multiple selfies. Same difference no? But I put a lot of what I do online, and occasionally what I think or feel. I share myself in a sense. But there is a lot I still hide. Or not even hide, but that the internet really doesn’t need to know about. A lot that I never tell anyone, whether online, by text, or in person. There are my private moments, my quiet moments watching TV or reading a book and sipping tea before bed, the moments where I snuggle on the sofa and have a cat nap (literally, my cat naps snuggled against me, but only when I am only napping). I don’t really broadcast my entire existence. My entire being. Just parts of it.

It has been argued that we are inherently social and this is simply expanding on social media platforms, and that we are moving towards total transparency. Some even argue that having multiple identities is inauthentic, that you lack a sense of integrity. But this line of reasoning really just doesn’t sit right with me.
Psychology has long acknowledged the presence of multiple selves, the desired self, actual self, the should self, the self we avoid being. We also have different aspects of our selves depending on the context – who we are with, why we are with them, what we hope to achieve with the interaction, how we are feeling that day. I am a very different person when I am with my grandparents than when I am with my parents, and even more different when I am with friends or in class. I have different mannerisms and ways of thinking in a sense depending on who I am with. Some may argue that that is the same self, different aspects of the self, but that sort of dual behaviour set seems to be what social media gurus are arguing is inauthentic, a split identity. And maybe it is dual identities, psychology certainly has room for that – my identity as a student, as an athlete, as a blogger, as a daughter, as a baker, as a Canadian. I have multiple identities that fit together, whether as a melting pot or a puzzle I’m not sure. 

Eesh. How's that for some first date material.

Eesh. How’s that for some first date material.

 And really this different selves, different roles with distinct mannerisms makes sense. Remember that movie, The Invention of Lying, where no one could lie until one day someone figured out how and a new kind of chaos erupted? While the concealment of emotions and thoughts can sometimes be a detriment, so was the interim when people would just walk up to each other and announce that they hated the other person or their tie. It was almost appalling.
Of course this was a hyperbolic scenario meant to show the bright and dark sides of the ability to lie. But just stop and think – if we were unable to conceal parts of our psychic experiences, there would be chaos, this dual identity, or only partially displayed self, protects society as well as our sense of selves. Yes we are becoming more transparent and I think next to nothing of posting my experiences and photos for the internet for others to observe and judge, but there are also private thoughts I protect, private bits of me that only I know, and that’s important too.

What the social media gurus and titans seem to be suggesting is that over time, as per the Zuckerberg Law, we will be sharing more and more of ourselves. Uploading our consciousness for the world to see. But this is next to impossible. I cannot type as fast as my thoughts. I cannot even always type in general. Yes I have my phone and I’m typically connected a fair chunk of my day, but I also disconnect from time to time; like when I run, or sleep. If I have to use an app instead of my Garmin I uncheck sharing options. That’s my time.

Except for this moment which was too breath taking not to take a breather and capture in bit format.

Except for this moment which was too breath taking not to take a breather and capture in bit format.

And we don’t exactly walk around broadcasting when we had sex, what we thought while walking to the bus stop, and what groceries we bought. That friend that posts their every thought, meal, and poop, is still annoying as all Hell. In short, we still value turning off, and we still don’t want to share everything with everyone. Social media experts argue that one day we will want to, or perhaps more terrifying – that one day we will be so transparent that we will be unable to hide any part of us.
Rather than the polished and photoshopped version of ourselves we present today, we will move towards such an intense drive for authenticity and transparency that we will be completely unfiltered, live sharers. What confuses me about their suggestions is they claim our existence, or as I have discussed in the past as our consciousness will be online. But how can that be? 

Are these experts expecting our brains to be wired to the internet, an internal and biologically integrated version of Google glass? So that our ideas and thoughts are instantly uploaded without our consent so that there can be no secrets, PR surprises, no slow mulling over of new ideas? Every unkind thought exposed for the world to see what an awful person we are? Every dirty deed exposed?Every moment of every emotion, from the highest highs to the lowest lows?
I refuse to believe that would even get past an ethics board. We have issues with stem cells and gene modification, I can imagine they would allow such a blatant invasion of privacy. Nor can I really imagine anyone volunteering for that though I am sure there are a few narcissists out there who would.
I mean it would virtually eliminate crime of our every thought and action was broadcasted, but what benefit does this truly have for the individual? None that I can see. But it does open the door for the creepy Big Brother proposed by Orwell in 1984. A dystopian society eliminating crime through the overt theft of personal privacy.
Beyond this issue, I don’t understand how this could happen. I know that the media loves to act like we are already developing the technology to read people’s minds, but let me just clear that up – experts in the field readily acknowledge that we’re no where near being able to do this on any large scale. All they’ve done is matched brainwave patterns for a few select images to the viewing of those images. Nothing creepy and sci-fi going on. I don’t know if we will ever have the technology to be able to read emotions, they’re too complex. Yes we can know maybe where emotions are located, and what centers in the brain are associated with classes of emotions such as pleasure and pain, but we can’t know what thoughts necessarily accompany them, we can’t know the complexities, because we can’t read minds. And just as early psychologists such as Watson and Skinner realized – all we have is what people say they thought. And we know people can lie, or maybe just don’t know how to verbalize or explain their thoughts and emotions. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – we are too complicated to be completely understood.

I can accept that my online activities are horribly transparent, I think we gave up that channel of privacy a long time ago, but I reserve the right to a degree of privacy, the right to decide what parts of me I share without being accused of a lack of integrity. I reserve the right to protect my identity, not one that is observed online, the painted portrait of my not so glamorous life, but the one that turns out the light, that worries at night, and giddily jumps around the kitchen when no one is watching.
Sorry if that self being all mine bothers Silicon Valley.

Rocking the onesie since '92. But I'm still glad the internet wasn't a big thing until I was mostly through the awkward stage. Except I was a cute kid.

Rocking the onesie since ’92. But I’m still glad the internet wasn’t a big thing until I was mostly through the awkward stage. Except I was a cute kid.

Life 2.0: Online and Infinite Edition

I think I officially have a problem guys.

For my regular readers, you may remember how my attachment to my technology almost made me skip a run. This problem is spreading to other areas of my life.

So Tuesday night, it’s nearly midnight, I have managed to force myself to put down my phone after getting into bed,  and read a few pages of Pride and Prejudice before turning out the lights and snuggling into my sheets. I closed my eyes and prepared to drift peacefully off to sleep, content in my belief that I had finally broken the habit of compulsively checking all mail and social media before bed.

Nope.

See I was doing so well, and then an idea for a post struck. My hands got twitchy and after about a minute of trying to convince myself to just write it down in the morning, that yes I WOULD remember when I woke up, I caved. So yes, I wrote this from my bed when I should have been halfway to REM sleep.

I also get anxious when I don’t have my cell phone within a 30-second radius of my person. A few weeks ago, I got to the bus stop and realized I had forgotten my cellphone at home. This struck enough terror in my heart that I almost decided to miss the bus and be late for class to go back for it. Since the bus was pulling around the corner I went with the be on time option, determined to make do with playing Minesweeper on my iPod. Two minutes in to my 50 minute bus ride the unthinkable happened – I reached in my pocket and pulled out my dead iPod. To make matters worse I didn’t even have my tablet. Yes folks I was stuck on a bus for 48 minutes completely unplugged. Left alone to notice the world around me without any technological filters.

the horrorThe horror.

What’s funny is that despite the fact that I use social media, as I think most people do, to feel less alone and more connected, sometimes all the social media just makes me feel more alone. Because that’s what happens when you see the most exciting moments and witty thoughts of those around you highlighted in one compact source. It’s a thing. Researchers are calling it the Fear of Missing Out (there’s a book here on the topic). Basically, we all think we’re sucking at life because we judge the snapshots posted to social media as indicative of people’s everyday lives. So you see people posting photos from the bar having fun while you’re home doing readings or something equally boring and you assume that they are out partying and having fun all the time. Like their work just does itself or you’re too inefficient to have time for such frivolity. Except that’s not the case. Like ever. Even if it is, doesn’t mean your life sucks.

But at this point at least three problems have become evident:

Problem One: I have lost all ability to just sit and only sit.

Problem Two: I am more attached to my phone than I am to some of my friends. This is what we call in psychology a pathological attachment.

Problem Three: Social media, you know that thing that’s supposed to bring us together has created an artificial closeness that looks a lot like separation.

But Wait there's more!

Come on, who wouldn't want to give that face a good ol' snuggle?!  Source. (If you go to uOttawa this will also take you to the page where you can find out more on when/where)

Come on, who wouldn’t want to give that face a good ol’ snuggle?!
Source. (If you go to uOttawa this will also take you to the page where you can find out more on when/where)

I realized laying in bed, that I don’t really live my life to live it, to enjoy, and simply be in every moment. I live my life so I can immortalize it on the internet. I thought about going to pet therapy on campus yesterday, managed to do the people thing and thought to invite a friend, and then thought about how to best ask for a photo there and what the perfect caption would be. Don’t judge. I honestly can’t be the only one that does this.

I’m all for sharing yourself with the world, connecting with a bigger world than the one you can connect to on a day-to-day basis.  What I am saying though is that life shouldn’t be lived for the digital world, with the idea of proving to Internetland that our lives are exciting as the primary goal. It should complement rather than supplant your experience with the other, connect you to others in a real way, which sometimes means disconnecting a bit.

taken from someecards.com

taken from someecards.com

But what I find interesting, is the digital trail we leave behind, clues for people who didn’t even know us about who we were as a human being*. And it’s sort of a new thing for our generation, certainly even more for people born AFB (After Facebook, this WILL BE the way we divide time in the future, AD and BC are going out the window, mark my words!), but we are living and leaving our entire lives online. With new moms frequently posting baby pictures and statuses about their babies’ activities online, baby books are slowly being digitalized, every moment immortalized for all the world to see. But it’s interesting how this almost appears to be a step in evolution.

Evolving or devolving

I was talking with a good friend of mine Tuesday night and he was telling me about how scientists are saying that it appears that homo sapiens are not evolving. That unlike all our hominid ancestors, we are not advancing or changing, which some may argue is because we have already reached perfection. I argue instead that while it is true that we are no longer developing new structures or changing the size and shape of our brain and body, we are evolving at a much more micro level which cannot yet be seen by the technology we have developed. I believe that rather than creating new structures, we are simply modifying the connections in our brain, and while we cannot necessarily scientifically measure these shifts yet, the cognitive and behavioural processes and the advancements of our technology are a manifest of these developments. Our culture and behaviours have shifted in major ways since the explosion of technology, particularly in terms of the internet and mobile devices such as the cell phone, tablet, and laptop. Thus, this invention of the online social network, this digital diary of sorts, can be conceived of as a modification of our cognitive processes, our psychic reality. To avoid the terror of our mortality, we have figured out this incredible system that now makes us Gods in a sense. We live forever. For many of us we live our lives so completely online, that people truly could get a perfect picture of our lives, but for most, it almost becomes debatable how we actually lived our lives when all that is available are the most exciting snapshots of our lives. And it’s sort of incredible. And really terrifying. Because 100 years from now when I’m worm food, what kind of person will I appear to have been to whoever happens to find my digital thumbprint? Will I leave an authentic image, or a sort of airbrushed version of my existence? Will they understand me when I can no longer explain myself?

taken from here.

taken from here.

This seems to come at a pretty heavy price when you realize that all this immortality means living half your life, because the other half must attend to your online memoriam that is always under construction. So we live half our life constructing what we will leave behind.

So was the whole point of this to make you swear off the internet (except for reading this blog, of course)? No, just that maybe we should be aware of how technology impacts our lives, and how sometimes we need to just disconnect from Internetland and live in the moment, not so we can post about it later. Really just a restless thought of a sleepless mind.

P.S. Tune in next week – there will be a follow-up to this post based on one of the most interesting things that has ever been said to me…. “And then death gets interesting…”