Thought Catalog
March 11, 2015

5 Anxieties Unique To The Digital Age

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What is the issue?
Black Mirror
Black Mirror

I was never an anxious person, maybe up until a few years ago. Part of this, I think, has to do with increased adult responsibilities, growing up, and gaining an ever-growing understanding of the (sometimes horrifying) the world around us. A good amount of it, however, I’m pretty sure has to with the everyday realities of the digital age.

The notifications, the vibrates, the interconnectivity — or lack thereof — undoubtedly has an affect on all of our psyches. Here are five anxieties I’ve (and I’m guessing others) have developed, that are unique to the digital age:

1. Email/Social Media Notifications Upon Wake Up

I can’t remember where I heard this (I’ve been trying to figure it out for about an hour), but I either read or heard somewhere that checking your stuff upon wake up puts you in a consumption mindset. That your brain fundamentally shifts to this “gimme” sort of monster, that requires and craves a constant flow of information. That, if you start your day doing something that has a tangible output — exercising, journaling,  cooking — that beast is much more manageable.

I can’t tell if it’s a placebo (it probably is, to some extent), but I’ve been taking loose observations on this for the past week. The days I check email, I’ve got this sort of racing feeling in my head, which seems to be tempered — but never truly satisfied — by scrolling through Facebook, or replying to emails. The days I don’t, I feel like I’ve attained some sort of victory.

2. Less Than 20 Percent Phone Battery

The dying phone has been a pretty consistent joke premise for the past few years. I’ve seen countless friends post statuses and tweets along the lines of “I’m at 12%, I’m really living life on the edge,” or “4% left on my phone, here’s will my will…” — easy jokes, but they land because they’re rooted in something that’s, increasingly and pathetically, real.

Last week, I accidentally set off a security setting that prevented me from checking email on my phone. I didn’t realize this until I had left my house, which meant that the three hour excursion I was about to embark on was going to occur without me being able to check my email. Admittedly, I had half a mind to cancel the plan. While I didn’t end up being that sad of a human, I did spend that entire event worrying about my lack of access. When I got home, the only email I had received was from JetBlue. As of now I could only really afford a flight from the runway to like a few feet further down the runway, so certainly not pressing.

My real-life brain understood how sad and pathetic and worrisome this was, but my digital brain couldn’t help itself.

3. Where Things Are Going

About a year or two ago, I began to adopt a very negative mindset in regards to where things were heading digitally (my prediction is that the Black Mirror Episode, “The Entire History Of You” isn’t that far off from where we may be in a decade or two) and decided that I wanted to, at least, temper my participation in allowing my brain to be completely re-wired.

I stopped using instagram before I got too deep in it, when I started to realize that instagram has the potential to alter the intent of every experience. With something like instagram, it’s not so much about enjoying a drink with friends as it is manufacturing the experience to unintentionally stir comparative jealously. This is nothing groundbreaking, but I feel like a heavily involved instagram user has a higher potential to seek out experiences not for enjoyment of that particular moment, and are thus (potentially) unable to fully enjoy a moment for what it is. Obviously there are ways to use instagram reasonably and responsibly, but I’d argue that it’s also quite easy to get sucked in way more than one would like to, or perhaps intended to.

***

A few months ago, I stumbled across a new social network that paid you for posts — the more popular and influential your posts, the more money you (the user) makes. The network, largely, seemed to be a response to the fact that Facebook makes a ton of money, yet essentially profits immensely off of a user-base that isn’t rewarded whatsoever for their “work.”

My first thought was that this was a great idea — that it seemed to democratize social networking, and gave back to the people who made the whole thing possible. Then, I began to think about what that might turn into if the network ever got as popular as Facebook. Intent and authenticity would fly out the window 100x more than it already has, and the comparative anxiety that social networks give us now (i.e., how Facebook makes you feel like everyone has their life together except for you) would exacerbate exponentially, given that there would always be someone more profitable than you. Although probably not the intent of the creators, it’s the sort of futuristic medium that has the potential to make us, literally, feel worthless.

4.  Where Things Are Going, Part II

One of our favorite millennial past-times is to complain about how there are no jobs, that are earning potentials are increasingly low, and how we’re, for lack of a better word, screwed. But with all the digital innovations, I can’t imagine how “screwed” the next generation will truly be.

I’m about to embark on a trip that involves video production and filming. At a meeting the other day, we realized there was some equipment we needed (I think it was an extra tripod) — something one of the guys brushed aside by saying we could go to Home Depot and use “Maker Bot,” instead of having to purchase the needed equipment. Maker Bot is undeniably pretty cool, but I’m pretty sure he’s going to end up taking quite a bit of jobs.

5. Lack Of Spontaneity

I was reading about the Apple Watch (which I am definitely scared of), and out of all the ways it threatens to permanently fuse our minds to devices, the one that really got me, for some inexplicable reason, was an app that sends you a notification when it’s about to rain.

On the surface, this is an incredibly convenient app. But below the surface, my mind went to this weird version of hell where nothing ever surprises you anymore. You always know when it’s gonna rain, or how likely you are to get in relationship with the attractive person across the bar. Within a minute of matching with her, you’ll know that you’re currently 97% compatible, but that you’re both projected to change your worldview 47% over the next three years, and that your 10 year compatibility projection is only 46%. Therefore, the app concludes that you’ll achieve maximum happiness if you date for seven months.

Maybe that projection is a bit outrageous, but at least on some level, a version of that doesn’t feel terribly far off. I’d gulp, but using an emoticon is probably much more effective. TC mark

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