Caught a brief excerpt from Conan O’Brien’s speech/routine at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.  He said something to the effect of:

for those of you live-tweeting this event, don’t forget to use the hashtag “#incapableoflivinginthemoment.”

Like so much of comedy, it’s only funny because it’s true.

Don’t we see that?  People so eager to tweet about some exciting experience they are having that they cut the full experiencing of it short?  Like “OMG, I just met the President,” while the Commander-in-Chief is still standing right there in front of you?  Or interrupting their kids at play to force a “candid” photo of all the casual fun they are having, using threats and screams and physical violence, if necessary?  Rather than genuinely enjoying that experience, and then taking at least a few moments to ponder its impact on you?  Why is that?

It would be easy to blame the internet, social networking, or technology.  And I think that’s part of it.  For some reason, we seem to live our lives with how it will play out on Twitter or Facebook in the forefront of our minds.  We read books so we can look smart saying we’ve read those books on Goodreads (which live updates to Facebook, of course).  We take pictures of everything in anticipation of posting it somewhere and soliciting casual “so cute” comments from remote acquaintances, or the even more meaningless “likes” we seem to crave.  If my third-grade teacher and my second cousin and a former co-worker I barely knew all “like” what I am having for dinner, is that what passes for meaningful human interaction these days?

Is it a form of bragging?  Are we hoping to elicit jealousy when we show pictures of our toes dangling over a pool as we sip something delicious, a sunset viewed romantically from some distant and exotic beach, or a beautiful sight-seen vista in Rome, or Rio, or New Zealand?  And if we are having as much fun as we seem to be trying to express that we are having, shouldn’t interrupting that moment to take a picture with our smart phone and then tweet, post, and share it with everyone we have ever known be the furthest thing from our mind?

Is technology driving this behavior, or have we always done some form of this?  Do smart phones and the internet just provide a different medium for doing something we’ve done all along?  Or is this different?

And am I being too cynical?  Is this genuine “sharing”?  And are these all just the ramblings of a hyper-romantic, prematurely-curmudgeony,  change-fearing technophobe with smart-phone envy?

14 thoughts on “#incapableoflivinginthemoment

  1. I am definitely of the “older generation” in this article, but I think it discusses what you are asking. Basically, our society is one where everything is made for public consumption. Maybe to you or I this seems forced; but then, we didn’t have a world where “everybody” had a Facebook page. Perceptions have changed. It’s now extraordinary to NOT have a Facebook page, and what I think of as private events in my life are systematically tossed out to the cyber-verse for all the world to see. I think it’s just changed over the years. And I don’t have many pictures, EVER, really, because I seldom stop what I am doing to think that it needs to be documented. So maybe I’m not a lot of help. I have very few pictures from my adolescence, which is probably a good thing since I had (slightly) worse hair than I do now; my students all grow up with pictures of every blanking moment captured.

    Of course, then if you look at the Steubenville case, what results is a society so desensitized to posting things publicly that they wind up documenting some really horrible things. Which is both horrific, and also potentially relieving; without those photos, without the youtube video of a kid laughing about the “dead girl being raped” in the next room, would that girl have had any idea what had happened?

    Maybe I’m taking this all too seriously. Maybe your question was coming more from the perspective of someone who is really tired of having to stop on a walk to get the candid shots of the kids ripping through the leaves adorably, which is about as candid as the “reality shows” that infest every TV channel.


    • One of my favorite portions of that article:

      They talk in illiterate instant messages. They are interested only in attention—and yet they have zero attention span, flitting like hummingbirds from one virtual stage to another.

      Also, appearing soon thereafter:

      “When it is more important to be seen than to be talented, it is hardly surprising that the less gifted among us are willing to fart our way into the spotlight,” sneers Lakshmi Chaudhry in the current issue of The Nation. “Without any meaningful standard by which to measure our worth, we turn to the public eye for affirmation.”

      I don’t think it makes me (us?) old or out of touch to simply recognize, I think objectively, that there is no longer necessarily any connection between talent and success. Or to disapprove of the fact that no-talent fame whores are idealized and celebritized, not because they are exceptionally creative or bright, but because they are more willing than someone else to be crazy and/or naked on camera.

      It is the mass desensitization/”video-game-inization” of a generation.

      Is this what Warhol had in mind when he predicted we’d all have our 15 minutes? He didn’t mention that the fame would be rendered instantly meaningless by the ability to click, click, click to someone doing it bigger and better and crazier instantly. It feels like we’re on a “progression” towards a point where we cannot stop until everyone is being recorded at all times doing all things, in real time, for anyone else to see with just the click of a button.

      They didn’t have Facebook or even really (gasp) the internet (at least not for mass public access anytime, anywhere) when I was a teen. But I don’t feel like this is a “parents just don’t understand”/rock ‘n roll-type divide. Just because we didn’t have it doesn’t mean we’re wrong in pointing out that kids no longer seem capable of engaging in real human interaction or paying attention to anything for more than about 15 seconds.

      Am I just completely, completely wrong and/or out of touch on this?

      • No, I think you’re accurate; it’s just at this point what can be done to change this private-life-for-public-consumption wheel? Pretending it isn’t happening does very little. Sure, you can live off the grid–which is funny because any more living off the grid basically equates with not leaving a cyber footprint instead of hiking off into the hills to forage in nature. But will your kids? Of course not. From their earliest memories there have never NOT been smart phones, DVD players for car trips, any music you want at the touch of a button. Twelve year olds have blogs and Facebook pages. They are raised with a glut of information about EVERYBODY, all the time. I think it spills over into adults, like you said, but you’re also failing to take into account those *adults* are, oh, let’s say, 25. And a 25-year-old was 16 years old when Facebook hit; a third of their lives has already been conducted via Facebook. Before that it was MySpace, so they have ALWAYS had this.

        Basically we are dinosaurs. Lie down and wait for death to come. No doubt it will be well-documented, if you do it in a public place where kids visit.

        • There is something utterly depressing about all of the above. The real mark of success seems to be whether your death appears as a “trending” blip on Yahoo. Already, the most famous and influential people in the world pass away, and if they’re lucky, their demise appears in passing between much more exciting “news” about Kardashian belly bumps and Teen Mom sex tapes. For exactly one day. And then their entire existence fades into cyber oblivion. You’re so right; unless I just so happen to die around some unbearably adorable kittens or someone shooting yet another Gangnam Style parody, I’m sure no one will even notice.

          Sometimes I want to both unplug and run screaming into the mountains. I’ll carve my novel on tree bark. Eat grasshoppers and berries. It doesn’t matter if no one else ever reads it. Pretty soon, kids won’t have any written language at all anyway. Their communication will consist entirely in the exchange of emoticons and GIFs. They will be nourished intravenously and used as batteries by the robots that should be taking over any day now. Hey, I may be old, but I’ve seen The Matrix.

  2. Sorry, the article referenced at the top of my post was linked at the bottom. This here newfangled modern technology will be the death of me yet. At least I figured out how to turn off the laptop’s webcam photo option, though not before it snapped a few extremely unflattering photos. And I have no idea where it stores them.

    Ain’t technology grand?

  3. …..BIG SIGH!!!!!!!!!!!! You are so right about all of this! I have been sucked in and as much as I fantasize about detaching from it all, I still want to hang on for some reason. What to do???

    • I don’t know what to do. You read these articles about people who “unplug” for a year, but they never give any definitive advice or insights. And they ALWAYS go back to the internet, usually only undertook the experiment in the first place so they could submit articles to tech magazines or blog about it afterwards. And they are usually in their early 20s. Why are we listening to these kids anyway. We went the first 20-some-odd years of our lives completely unplugged. We were happy, weren’t we? Why do we act like some punk kid who doesn’t know how to write a real letter, talk on the phone for more than five minutes, or interact face-to-face socially knows anything we don’t know? To the contrary….

      I know I slammed the “take a picture” scenario above, but that is a tough one. You do want to capture special moments, and stopping to take a picture does kind of interrupt that experience, but of necessity. Those pictures and the corresponding memories/feelings are priceless.

      Also, there is something really neat about being able to “interact” with people all over the world who, in reality, in the pre-plugged days, you never would have talked to again.

      I think we all have to draw our own lines. For me, true and meaningful interaction is the most important thing in the world. You can’t always live next-door to the people you care about the most, but that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t connect with them in whatever way you can. What I would like to cut out (and be cut out from) is the incessant sharing of meaningless drivel. If it is something someone would share with me in-person, then fine, that’s good. But if I’m one of 500 people you are telling some obscure detail that you would find too boring or irrelevant to tell me to my face, why does it need to be shared in the first place?

      What I’m really curious about is motivations. Now that there is this medium for instant mass sharing, why is it that we feel compelled to share what we do? I include myself in that.

      I do fantasize about unplugging. It seems like life would be simpler and less exhausting. I do know how to use a map and a phone book, after all, and what else is the internet really good for? But I’m sure I would miss it. Without blogs and Facebook and Twitter, how would I spew my thoughts to the world? Newsletters? Post cards? (I do miss letters though, writing and receiving them). I’m sure I would miss some of my “friends.” But would any of them miss me, or even notice I was gone?

      (The irony of course, as always, that we wouldn’t be having this (I think) meaningful “conversation” about whether or not the internet facilitates meaningful interaction were it not for the internet. It’s like an episode of the Twilight Zone. Or a riddle).

      Basically, “BIG SIGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” is right!

  4. I really do agree with your thoughts on the topic, even though I get my fair share of internet interaction. It kind of has gotten to the point that we share so much on the internet, that when we get together it seems like we don’t know what to ask or talk about sometimes because we already know what’s been going on. There are people who I am “friends” with on facebook, who I really don’t know that well, but maybe I went to church with them for a half a year. They will comment on my posts, or blog posts, etc. but if I see them in person…it’s like we are total strangers or there is an awkwardness about running into each other. It’s very weird.

    Another spin on the “taking pictures”…I am constantly harassing my single sister for all the self photos. I always feel awkward looking at pictures people take of themselves, especially when you know they took it because they got all dolled up and they think they look really awesome. In particular, my favorites are the ones with major cleavage showing, or the serious/contemplative facial expressions.

    I think that you just need to keep writing about the ridiculousness of it all and then I can read it and be motivated to make a goal, such as…”I’m going to call one friend a week, on the phone, to talk and see how they are doing”. Or, “I’m going to write my childhood best friend a letter” (which I did after one of your earlier posts. She never wrote back, haha!)

    • OH! And then the hashtags. Oh…the hashtags. When I got on instagram (which was solely for the purpose of keeping it touch with ONE person from my past) I started using hastags because that was the thing to do it seemed. And now I’m annoyed by it. Especially when someone puts like 5 or 6 different ones on a singular picture.

    • I am fascinated by this concept, the “internet personality.” These wallflowers in real life who turn into social-network butterflies (this could be the topic of its own blog post) within the secure confines of cyber-anonymity. I don’t know if that’s all bad. I know several people who fit this category, and the more open and carefree interactions they have online seem to make them very happy. It may not be a better vs. worse analysis. For me, in-person interaction is more enjoyable/meaningful than online interaction. But then, I am not painfully shy. And even for me, online interaction is better than no interaction, which is often, realistically, at least with many of our friends, the reality.

      The convenience of the internet does make you wonder, though. Are we “friends” with people online because we’ve got some time and they just so happen to be online too? If we had a chance to hang out with them in person, would we, or would we prefer to do something else? Perhaps with someone else? What does it all mean?

      I think some of the “awkwardness” comes from the fact that online interaction is different. We say things we wouldn’t feel comfortable saying to that person’s face, because it is somehow easier to say it online, with no face-to-face interaction. Does that mean we are desensitized? Do computers and smart phones give us a sensation of detachment? Is the definition of “real” changing? Maybe we feel awkward when we see those people because we have shared something with them online that we would not have shared to their face. But then seeing them face to face, it reminds us that we have perhaps overshared, in a different setting, but of course they still remember.

      And yes, we should definitely do away with all self shots. If there is one thing I will not tolerate, it’s cleavage!

      I will probably continue to write about the ridiculousness of it all, despite the fact that I am just as involved and guilty as anyone else. It’s interesting to talk about, at least.

  5. I made my husband explain what the hell a “hashtag” was only a few days ago, because for some reason I was back on trying to understand Twitter because apparently this is what people do now and people are now #facebook thingie-ing.

    I still don’t understand Twitter.

    Let me redefine that.

    I understand Twitter in the sense that you are a food truck, say, and that you want your subscribers to know exactly where you are, and what delicacies you will be serving up for the rest of the afternoon. I understand Twitter in the sense that you want a ginormous amount of followers to log on to look at something *sensational*. I understand Twitter in that you just bought the most! Awesome! Item! Ever! and your friends ought to know so they can avail themselves of it, too.

    I do not, and I what I will NEVER understand, is Twitter in general. Instagram less so. You want to talk about scary up-to-the-minute updating? Let’s talk Instagram.

    The same with status updates. I do them; I’m totally guilty. Usually because I am finding myself or the situation and hilarious/envy inspiring, and want others to find it the same. When I post them, I am *hoping* to provoke a response. I *want* someone to look at what I am recommending, scan my recipe, lust after my photo.

    But the recent survey showing the “hate Tweets” demographics? Really, people? REALLY?

    ABSOLUTELY there is anonymity carried with whatever online area to which you subscribe. I can find anyone saying absolutely anything in the world with which I disagree, and launch into them. I can insult their mother, their race, their religion, their weight, their diet, and their car. I don’t *know* them. It leaves one with a sense of exhilaration, bullying in some form or another; except we don’t call it “bullying” anymore, it’s just ‘comment’. Which just leads to further vitriol spewed out, in theory consequence-free.

    It is an extreme example, but let’s look at killing someone.

    (Not calling the cops, killing someone. Just an example.)

    You decide to kill someone.

    A) You sneak in, lay the blade across their throat, and End It.
    B) You infiltrate their circle of friends, get invited to tea, poison the Earl Grey, and watch them fall writhing to your feet.
    C) You push a button.

    We all know what the easiest answer is.

    The current media situation is what it is. Pseudo-celebrities reign. As it has been cited, “farting to the spotlight” is pretty much the norm. Those who *wish* to be celebrities post neverending updates on Facebook; am I every bit as guilty? I suppose so. Maybe part of it is acknowledging what you are doing. “You know what? I got to go to Disneyland for my honeymoon as a surprise. Suck it, y’all!” may sound horrible to say, but what about if I post the honeymoon photos? (Which I did, yeah, that’s right.) And people complimented the trip, my hair, our cuteness, ALL of it.

    I totally ate it up.

    I have a…what do you define as a friend, anymore? Is it someone you talk to regularly? Someone you talked to, occasionally? Like DeAnne said, someone with whom you occasionally interacted and now feel awkward if you do so in the “real world”? Many of my friends, I haven’t actually interacted with (that I remember) since grade school. You remember them as awesome. They made your whole life; they were your protectors, being older than you, and wow. You might–just might–have some interest in common with them that you used to.

    Lots of them don’t have self shots. We can be grateful. Minus my self-shots, which clearly are the kind of things EVERYONE should pay homage to, even when they include cleavage, dunce two.

    • I didn’t “do” Twitter until very, very recently. I think I may have had an account starting about a year ago, but I had never really done anything with it because I didn’t “get” it. I said as much to a neighbor of mine, a “tech” guy by trade, and he said “you just have to watch it. Just for a day. Just watch it.” “Watch what?” was the question I thought, but did not ask. At that point I think I was “following” one “friend” who I also knew did Twitter. So I “watched.” There wasn’t much happening. I knew celebrities did Twitter, so thought about following some of them. But then I realized I don’t care what Justin Bieber is having for breakfast, so passed. But then I started looking at some of the people other people were following, and it started to make sense. Because I may not care what new tattoo Kat Von D is thinking about getting, but I am interested in what contemporary authors are thinking and writing and doing. And then I realized you can follow publishing companies, and book agents, and literary publications. And they post articles and interesting links. And eventually you start to find other people that are liking and following and commenting on things that interest you. So, I still don’t do much, and do feel like many people treat Twitter like the status update section on Facebook, minus everything else. I may never “get” it in the sense that I hope never to get to the point where I feel the impulse to post inane thoughts 30+ times a day, or to check it obsessively at least once every five minutes, but in the pure sense of understanding what it is for, that is, to post brief thoughts and links to things I found interesting, I understand it in at least that sense.

  6. If you are serious about off-the-grid living, I was sent this fascinating and comprehensive article on what those details would look like: http://ammo.com/articles/off-grid-living-guide. It was written by a man named Jake Beaty who spent 6 years living off-grid in a log cabin in Eastern Washington with his family. Walking miles for water and enduring temperatures as low as -15 Fahrenheit they learned a great deal about what it takes to thrive away from the amenities that many of us take for granted. An interesting read and good information to have. It sounds challenging, but probably the only true way to escape.

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