The Universal Coping Mechanism

Commenting on other’s posts and ideas, it’s not hard to see that a lot of the reasons we use social media and technology is because we are using them as coping mechanisms.

When I am in the company of others, I try to always be mindful of how I am talking to them. Am I making enough eye contact? Am I supplying subtextual cues to let them know I’m listening? How can I contribute to the conversation? Do they want me to contribute to the conversation, or do they just need to be heard? 

I think about all if this when I am talking to them, but I am even more paranoid when I have my phone out. Sometimes, it’s unavoidable; you need to check your email, your notifications, your texts, etc. But you also need to be mindful that you are not simply playing with your phone because you are bored or disengaged in whst is happening around you. 

As an ADHD individual, it can often be quite hard to pay any attention to anything or anywhen, even when I am interested, so I need to have my phone in my hand or doing something with my hands, just so I can pay attention to what’s in front of me. It can look like I’ve checked out of the conversation, or like I’m being rude, but more often than not, I’m just trying to keep myself focused or centered.

More often than not though, I use my electronic devices when I am alone. Typically, as long as I am included in the conversation and my mind is being kept busy enough, I don’t touch my phone; or else I will lose track of the conversation. So I am typically a social media user when I am alone and I need to keep my mind busy, and the reason is pretty simple: I absolutely cannot allow myself to be alone with my own thoughts for too long.

Unless my mind is pointed in a specific direction (write this, think about this, look at this) I struggle a lot with depression and anxiety inducing thoughts. I’ve learned, like many, how to use technology as a coping mechanism to keep myself upbeat and situated within the correct headspace. It is, undoubtedly, an unhealthy coping mechanism, but it is one I and many other use, regardless. 

So it can be incredibly frustrating to find the line between healthy and normal online useage and where you stray into unhealthy online habits. It’s also frustrating when you can’t explain to people what you’re doing. I’ve gotten questionable looks from professors and teachers before when I had to mindlessly use my laptop to stay focussed o. Their lecture, or glares from people in public spaces when I’m trying to mind my own business on my phone, because I’ve had a bad mental health day and I can’t just relax and look out the window of the bus like I want to. 

Our obsession with social media has been, for me, an indicator not of poor communication or the decline of social skills, but where we are at from a mental health standpoint as a society. The amount of people that likely use their phones as coping mechanisms is, I’m sure, astonishing. If you went to one of the proclaimed “happiest countries” no doubt you would find that they use their phones and devices much less. Whether this is as a cause or effect of their evidently healthier mental status, is debatable, of course; but I would be inclined to believe that it is not because technology is unhealthy or bad, but because we are using that technology as a result of being mentally unhealthy.

Digital Activism is the Subtle Art of Inciting Change in the Modern World

In a time when we spend more time on the internet and social media sites than we watch television, digital activism is shaping our worlds in a significant way. In the most recent election even, a significant number of voters stated that the majority of their information on their candidate and the election came from facebook; so it’s no wonder that what many would deign ‘slacktivism’ is one of the most effective ways to affect others and shape opinion.

You can see the way this happens without any significant effort— you don’t have to collect stats, use control groups, isolate groups, or set up scenarios to go out and find an example of how digital activism (for any cause) shapes opinions and affects change. One of the ways we see this, as an example many celebrities and figureheads have pointed out, is how we began to see racism represented on social media when camera or smart phones were accessible and in the hands of nearly every American.

White America became appalled (and still are to a degree) whenever a video of blatant and violent racism was shown on video or in comment sections. The answer was just the same as when violence became more and more covered on news channels: these incidents are not increasing in frequency; you are only being exposed to them more through the power of social media.

The amount to which you began to hear, “Racism is dead!” or “We don’t see color!” dropped rapidly until they very nearly became dead phrases. With mainstream news sites unable or unwilling to cover this subject, it was taken to social media and quickly spread to reveal to people, who were either willfully ignorant or in a place with very low racial diversity, that racism was alive and well in the US.

Not only does digital activism allow widespread access to information that may not be readily available or known to many, but shows and keeps record of discussion and opinion that, in a stunning show of social psychology, very subtly affects opinion.

As a personal example, those in their twenties or under have been affected by opinion on social media; something I well know. I would not be the same person if I hadn’t been influenced by positive representation and opinion of queer individuals. I consumed fanfiction, books, videos, articles, and more that included gay men, lesbian women, bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals, transgender, and non-binary individuals so that it became a subject of normal, everyday life for me instead of a taboo or frightening topic.

It still allowed me to form my own opinions (don’t be alarmed, radical Christians) but it certainly exposed me to a positive representation instead of only being exposed to negative representation within my own community and what was in the news or on the TV. This sort of representation, even when I was not exposed or comfortable with the idea of positive queer opinion, also exposed me to a very fun social theory: If I see that I am in the minority, opinion-wise, I am less likely to continue to hold that opinion, share that opinion, or speak out against those who do not share my opinion.

So if you see an entire facebook feed full of nothing but Pro-Trump propaganda posted by your relatives and friends rolling on your phone’s screen, you are likely going to be swayed towards accepting the same opinion; this is how we incite change.

If I post something on intersection feminism on my facebook page (as I plan to) I am exposing those on my feed (teens, grandparents, parents, young, old, friends, boys, girls, non-binary, white, brown, etc.) and this gets shared by others, and spread to their feed, and so on and so forth, I am able to directly influence others with information. If they are unaware of intersectional feminism, or hold a negative idea of feminism, then what I post has the potential to change their opinion and inform them. And if continue to do this with intersectional feminism, and am joined by others, then slowly, but surely, I can affect them in a delightfully subtle way that protesting does not.

People can look at protesting (as they did with the women’s protest) and be entirely unaffected. They can even be affronted and have conversation with others (on the internet or otherwise) about how offended and upset they are about the protest because while the protest included millions of women, it was one day and they probably weren’t exposed to it very much beyond the negative media that likely flashed by on their Facebook or Twitter pages. However, if I take it to digital activism and directly challenge opinion as well as post several articles on the positive effects of the women’s march and why it was important that we had a women’s march, then, I feel, we are affecting opinion even more than we would with a standard protest.

What we are doing is not poorly executed or lazy; it is calculated and should not be underestimated. This needs to be remembered so that you are able to do your own digital activism, as well as understand when activism you do not want to spread comes across, how to shut it down, and how companies can use similar tactics to influence you. You can’t stick your head in the sand and say “I don’t like it!” Digital activism is here, it’s affecting you, and you need to understand it.

Digital activism is here, it’s affecting you, and you need to understand it.

Digital Citizenship

Like anything, there is a right, and a wrong way to be a digital citizen.

For me, I try not to separate myself too much from my digital life. Yes, I can take on a different personality, I can feel a little less self-conscious, and I have the freedom to just have fun when I am on social media; but I never act in a way that I absolutely wouldn’t in real life, and, to me, this is how you start on the path of a good digital citizen.

If I wouldn’t bully someone in real life, I certainly wouldn’t go to the comment section on facebook to bully someone I don’t even know. If I would shut someone down for their rude, hurtful, or ignorant statements if I heard it out in the real world, then I will do the same on the internet. You can’t allow yourself to live two separate lives; this is not only unhealthy but damaging to yourself and to others.

I often try to consider the future, and I don’t think enough people really think about the future in terms of consequence. Yes, I can allow myself to be 23, young, and dumb, but not at the risk of my future. I will always strive to live myself in a way that will make my future-self proud. I don’t want to look back in five or ten years and be completely mortified or regretful of my actions. I don’t want to be unable to get a job or make friends because I made a stupid post on facebook just to get a few laughs.

People can be incredibly short-sited in terms of consequences, but I think the biggest issue is a lack of empathy. And yes, I understand that it can be difficult to empathize with a person when you don’t know them or don’t have to look them in the eye when you say something to them; you don’t have to wait for a response, but I think the main problem is that we tend to highlight a culture that revels in angering others for fun.

To some degree, yes, it can be so satisfying to see someone who does not agree with you, or is a terrible person, become enraged; but I am so much more interested in having a conversation with them. I want to engage them in conversation because that’s what kept me from joining in on stupid, hateful language. Listening to others and talking with others is what kept me from being a jerk on the internet and a jerk in real life! There is a small satisfaction in angering someone, but a much larger satisfaction in gaining understanding.

And don’t be mistaken— this is not isolated to ‘millennials’. If anything, I would say that since older generations have not learned about online bullying, about digital ethics, that they are the biggest bullies you will see on the web. They stay inside facebook and do not engage with communities outside that platform or their circle of friends who agree with them. Because younger generations use multiple platforms, they are more likely to encounter people who will call them out on their language and are more likely to receive an understanding that their behavior is not acceptable.

Still, I think the overwhelming message that needs to be heard is to life your online life the same way as your real life, because the two can no longer be separate.

 

Go Google Yourself

No, really.

Searching for myself on Google, thankfully, doesn’t turn up anything unsavory. My twitter is at the top of the list, with a few pictures that I’ve tweeted or retweeted, there’s some stuff from Wall still hanging around, a few articles I wrote for the Record, and some of my blog posts.

My Facebook doesn’t really turn up, but I don’t think it would take a genius to find my profile. Thankfully, I believe most of my stuff is hidden to friends only, though I’ve made sure to keep my Facebook pretty clear of anything offensive. So, it’s not there, but if it was I don’t think I would need to worry!

My Pinterest page also turns up, and I think that’s something I may have to delete or put to private, just because it can be a little personal and the site is meant to be a fun place. I also don’t really use it much anymore.

Overall, most of what turns up for me is good! “Ermish” is a surprisingly unique surname, so I’ve been pretty careful to keep my full name off of my social media history if I know I am using the platform for fun. I don’t post anything awful or hateful, of course, but I tend to have a ‘potty mouth’ when I am excited or just having fun with something. I don’t think future employers would be too thrilled to see that sort of thing!

And, naturally, everyone is dumb when they’re in their teen and pre-teen years, so most of what I posted during those years, even the stupid stuff, isn’t easily accessible or discoverable under my name. It’s only really been my college years that I’ve used my full name on anything, and it’s typically been for classes, or because I wasn’t worried about the site I was using.

So, thankfully, the late 90’s and early 2000’s paranoia of ‘never use your full name’ has paid off! I didn’t get abducted, and now my internet history is pretty clean as a result. Perhaps an unintended side-effect, but I think it would still be a great thing to preach to younger kids today. Information is already easily found and accessible, but I can imagine that it will become even more easily found in the future. There will also, no doubt, be even more social media sites for people to use and collect data on as well, so it wouldn’t hurt to be careful.

I take care to google myself regularly, especially before applying for a job, and I would certainly recommend that others do as well. If something pops up that you can delete or explain, that you wouldn’t want an employer to see, then at least you can catch it first! And for the future, I think I will continue to make sure to watch where I choose to post my full name.