Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stupid by Luke Fernandez and Susan J. Matt (affiliate link), two researchers from Weber State University, is a fascinating look into living with technology, from the telegraph up through Twitter. Tik Tok wasn’t the crazy juggernaut it is now when the book was published, and that was just about a year ago. See how fast things change?
“We were drawn to all the internet had to offer, but found that sometimes it offered too much, or not the right thing. It was changing our emotions, our expectations, our behaviors.” The authors articulate and research what you and I felt–probably more and more as the pandemic took our entire lives online.
I read books like this because thinking about thinking matters, something I took away from Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows. Thinking about what we choose to use, engage with, and allow into our lives will define so much about our humanity. (I still don’t text, not because I can’t, but because I need to draw some boundaries for my sanity. Yes, texting is fast communication…but only if we allow others to interrupt our day when it’s good for them!)
Their findings are scholarly, but very readable. They launch from a historical fact, to a research study, to personal interviews that the authors conducted, and then to cycle back through the known data points once again. The authors cleverly build a thesis, and then give their supporting conclusion, but they don’t tell you what they think straight up. It doesn’t feel like they are judging our reliance on technology. This isn’t really a how-to book on using more or less, but it feels like there is at least a little practical guidance. Some of the data comes from studies and authors you’ll recognize, but there are many, many interviews and observations from regular people like you, including “retired librarian Allen Riedy…the University of Hawaii” and “Anna Chavez, the immigrant from Mexico who now was a college student.” This isn’t writing from an ivory tower.
They report that Anna Chavez made a habit of erasing her apps from her phone at the start of each school year, only adding them back as needed. I’m thinking about trying that. Even small hacks like that feel like taking back my life, the space on my phone and the space in my brain. Who’s in charge here?
Do you know about FOMO? One of my employees told me she learned about this “new” term otherwise known as the Fear Of Missing Out. I was diagnosed with FOMO about twenty years ago. Helpfully, the antidotes to FOMO are here in this book: JOBI (Joy of Being In the moment) and JOMO (the Joy Of Missing Out).
I was worried from the title that the book might be depressing, but I end up in a hopeful place. As they say, knowledge is power. We can let our technology rule us, or we can actively march toward the future, paying attention to what technology is doing to us, to our brains, and to our relationships. Those little black boxes are so much more than metal and glass. They are agents of change. They felt necessary before the COVID-19 pandemic, but now we see that they ARE, in fact, necessary in ways we couldn’t have imagined before 2020. But now we need to know what the rules are going forward.
In the twenty-first century…Americans feel they need to focus as well as to attend to multiple stimuli, multitask, and attract the attention of others. Today we are paying attention in order to take it all in — and we often believe we can and should be able to do so, because we have faith that our brains are infinite in their power and potential. And because there are now all sorts of cognitive enhancements — from brain games to iPhones, to the internet of things — both our sense of what intelligence is and can be and our hopes for what we can know and can do, have grown impossibly large.
This excerpt is both profound and, frankly, a relief. You are not alone in trying to keep up, trying to do it all. This pervasive feeling that we aren’t getting enough done is a hallmark of our time. You literally cannot do it all or know it all. You just can’t.
While I was writing this post, I took the cover picture with one camera, wrote a few paragraphs on a computer, and then accidentally hooked up an entirely different camera attempting to download the photos. Oops! Why? What caused this little misfire in my brain? Do other people make the same kind of small mistakes all the time, too? Does it make me stupid? Do I get angrier because of my own high expectations? In a simpler time, I wouldn’t have had the option of multiple tech components to wrangle. In a simpler time I wouldn’t have the chance to share my book review with tens of thousands of people. But isn’t it grand that it’s all possible???
Psychology is just fascinating. My clients often lament, “I can’t throw out this paper/keepsake/old sock. What if I forget????”
It’s a primal fear, that we will forget both the important and mundane.
Please remember, you know more than you think, even when you feel like you don’t know enough. As proof, just consider that you didn’t even know how to text just a few years ago. You couldn’t surf the web from a random parking lot until recently. You couldn’t find your way to an unfamiliar store in a new city in under a minute. Now you can do all of these things. Your capacity to learn is amazing.
Please know, you remember more than you think, even as you are terrified of pathological memory loss. You don’t suddenly forget that you have a car because you can’t see the driveway, right? You don’t forget your children’s middle names, even if you haven’t used them lately, right? Your ability to instantly remember, or perhaps recall with some work or memory aid (like a written note) is also amazing.
What comes next, and not just what platform comes next? What do we do to manage how we live inside this world that was becoming and has now become all-digital? What’s the new normal? The genie is out of the bottle, so we need to learn to live with it–on our terms. Learn more about a world where unconstrained communication changes us–possibly at a cellular level– by checking out Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stupid by Luke Fernandez and Susan J. Matt.
Pin for later.