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BOOK REVIEW: Bored Lonely, Angry, Stupid

Bored Lonely, Angry, Stupid: Changing Feelings About Technology from the Telegraph to Twitter by Luke Fernandez and Susan J. Matt

For a long time, now, our entertainment has been reflecting our collective fear that technology will take over human beings, and in the non-science fiction realm, it’s been foretold that technology will replace human beings in the workforce. Weirdly, though, art is supposed to be a metaphor for the literal. But in the case of technology, our art and entertainment went literal, the real-world went metaphorical–and we’re missing it. See, we haven’t been replaced by technology, but we’ve allowed technology to remove vital, important parts of our humanity. Much of it, anyway, and not just online.

But we don’t get to blame it. We allowed it, and we gave ourselves permission to indulge our worst, first impulses, spraying the ether with potentially fatal word-bullets at family, friends, acquaintances, and total strangers. Tell me how that’s better than sitting in a watchtower with a semi-automatic? Just because the screams and blood happen offscreen doesn’t mean the damage isn’t being done and it’s time we, as a society, own that.

When I do visit Facebook, I see a lot of posts about resources for people who are in mental health crises.

While hotline numbers are important to have on hand, if calling a total stranger with rudimentary mental-health training in a moment of crisis is someone’s best option? Something’s wrong there, and it’s time we begin to care—not just about, but for—one another again.

Which brings me to connecting in the time of COVID and technology. First, a personal story.

Just recently, after an irritating bout with a troll who thought I was relevant enough to “cancel” (yes, he actually tagged the post #cancel culture), I wanted to just walk away from everything. The troll was only a tiny blip in a series of huge bumps but after he pulled his bullshit, I wanted to say, “You know what, Bright Eyes? Go ahead. Purposely misrepresent my words so no one will continue to not pay me for my time and energy in my work as a political and social activist for healthcare reform, helping inarguably the most marginalized group of people in the world today: people who have suffered permanent brain damage and other traumas (some of them, “bonus trauma,” to actual serious mental illness) due, in the main, to iatrogenic harm. So yeah, do your worst.”

And you know, I felt overwhelmed and tired. Just…tired. I was sinking down, deep, dark, hard. But…then a couple of friends reached out to me and…I gotta say. The timing felt like divine intervention. And while these friends likely have no idea their messages were lifelines for where I was emotionally, at the time, without technology, I don’t know I’d have arrived where I am, right now, without them.   

Even though it’s easier than ever to get into talk therapy, I can’t stress how vital friends and family are to us right now. Even if you don’t think so. It costs you literally nothing to reach out and say “I’m here. You’re not in this alone.”

And if it does “cost” you too much? You’re overspending in the wrong areas of your life, likely on shitty self-help books that give you permission to be self-absorbed. Just because it feels good doesn’t mean it’s good for you.

We’ve conflated and confused “self-care” and “self-indulgence” long enough in this writer’s opinion. It’s been tough to watch people continue to embrace the mentality of the ever-popular and “not-so-subtle art of not giving a f*ck” as if that’s true emotional “health” and not a perversion of the precepts behind the “caregiver” complex many people find themselves in when they don’t, or won’t, stand up for themselves.

So, I’d like to suggest to you that we maybe not-so-subtly STOP giving our f*cks to that solipsistic, dickish concept, and instead, regain some of our humanity. 

Real “self-care,” is not pedicures or indulging in a new _____. Actual self-care, on the mental and emotional level, is when you care about other people, who then care about you. If you doubt me, count how many real-world friends “liked” your last selfie and ask yourself how many of them would show up if you needed help moving. Oh, let’s be honest. This is “self-care” in my world:

The fanciest pedicure there is. Hey, let’s see YOU find a place where you’re allowed to be naked (except for underwear.)

Today, my daughter called me as she delivered home made chicken soup to a sick friend today because that is “self-care.” That is “self-love.”

So the new “virtue signaling” I see from people is “Oh, I’m never on (insert social media of choice—usually Facebook),” but funny how the Instagram stories are updated every 5 minutes. Look, I remember when I was on social media. Way too much.

And while I’ve been able to make and keep real-life connections on Facebook, and stay connected to other folks through it…at what cost?

Because it also had the net result of being, not just a time-waster, but incredibly depressing. For a long time, social scientists have been watching, carefully, the impact technology has had on human beings, and this book review is a long-time in coming.

While tempting to say this book’s title could pertain to many a memoir coming out of late,  Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stupid: Changing Feelings About Technology from the Telegraph to Twitter, written by Luke Fernandez and Susan Matt, has so much more to teach us about ourselves.

As someone with a brain injury, my ability to learn and retain information changes moment by moment and based on a too many variables to even count, let alone acknowledge. But I’m no different than someone without a brain injury in this way.  But we aren’t smarter, we aren’t less lonely, we’re angrier and yes, bored.

Technology not only hasn’t made us smarter, I’d posit it’s given most people a clinical case of the Dunning-Kruger effect. At best, it’s made us amateur experts on a whole lot of nothing,  and at worst, too much information—especially conflicting information has cemented fundamentalism, in all forms, across the board, not just religion, because when our certainty and faith are shaken, we need to stop them from shaking.

According to the statistics, although I’m guessing the span is even shorter now, “…contemporary Americans have shorter attention spans than goldfish.”

What’s the easiest way to stop the shuddering? Information. But only the information we want. See how cognitive bias works? No, you don’t, because by the very nature of our biases, we’re mostly unaware of them.

Image courtesy of Bulldog and Partners

The pro-innovation bias was immediately inserted into our collective unconsciousness so that when we were made the grand promise—do you recall?

“Join MySpace, join Facebook, join, join., join and you will never feel lonely or disconnected again.”

Well, that last one might be true, but who knew how insidious and detrimental to our mental health that would be for too many of us.

So here we are, today and we are all in desperate need of one another—now more than ever. But unlike the past, when a collective tragedy hits a people, whether in the U.S. or abroad, this “perfect storm” of a year yanked us backwards in time by the tribal roots—a strangling mix 1950s McCarthyism and the Salem Witch trials—the difference is what’s being burned at the stake: livelihoods, reputations and the eradication of reliable information and unbiased facts.

And no, it isn’t the other side doing it. It’s all sides.

Not only have we been ripped apart as a nation, it’s exposed pre-existing cracks, weaknesses, and outright failures in all our systems, from the larger gestalt of our socio-cultural constructs, to our personal family and communal systems. Things we count on to NOT fail during times of crisis.

Once-reliable sources are being mimicked and we are finding new and ever-evolving ways to harm each other, rather than help. I got this in my inbox the other day:

Oh, I didn’t order a camera, and this isn’t from Amazon, but the logo looks just like the real thing, doesn’t it? So I know this, but I’m guessing if my mother-in-law got this email, she’d be terrifically upset. So what kind of humanity lurks behind scams like this?

That said, I finished this book, lovingly called BLAST, a long time ago and this review is long overdue and full disclosure, I consider the authors friends.

We met Luke and Susan, both instructors at the local university, on the neighborhood site/app. NextDoor. There’s a reason the link takes you to an article on why the app is not only my least favorite place to visit, it’s the last place I’d go to meet possible friends. Happily, Susan and Luke proved to be wonderful exceptions to the rule. (And also, I got put in NextDoor “time-out” for writing a post that was unpopular in its presentation…I wasn’t banned, pretty sure, but my level of interest begins and ends here in terms of finding out. We’ll leave it at that.)

When Susan and Luke posted a call for interview subjects for a book on the social impacts of technology, my husband and I jumped at the chance.  I’d just had a play produced locally that gave a fictional slice of some of the ways technology had slipped into our romantic lives, to it was of obvious interest to us.

Not surprisingly, most of the quotes used by the authors, said by me, are under the “angry” section of the book. And hey, that’s 100% fair. One quote is known around my household as the “I hate everyone” quote. Yes, I said it, and yes, context is everything. From the book:

See? Context is everything…ahem.

The point? Nothing’s changed since we spoke to Luke and Susan, and in fact, the world has gotten uglier, even more hostile, and incredibly lonely. This book was, and remains, a beacon of hope, however, and if you feel any of the titles’ emotions, ever—you must read it.

I don’t know that I’ve ever highlighted a book this much—and not just because I’m quoted in it, either.  It’s easily the most accessible, yet comprehensive overview of how technology is impacting us as a society and how our emotional reactions, selves, minds, and subconscious are undergoing huge—troubling—shifts.  

Most important, and as I hinted, above, the authors posit that technology has made a promise to us—the consumers—that we have infinite capacity, now, and we keep buying their ephemeral promises because technology has made our lives so much easier, hasn’t it?

And we’re so busy affirming and reaffirming this idea,  no one stops to consider the ways it’s interfered, clouded, muddied, and complicated our lives. It reminds me of a miracle drug with millions of side-effects, and when all is said and done, you’re on 20 different drugs to manage side effects so you can stay on the ONE miracle drug that proves to be less-than miraculous.

We’re so busy pushing the boundaries of what we can do, we’ve stopped questioning whether or not we should do what we’re doing and much like David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, which uses substance abuse and addiction as the vehicle to address the more nuanced and deadlier addictions to distraction and entertainment, Matt and Fernandez’s book addresses the infinite jest of hubris.

Technology promised  “…tens of millions of ordinary people that they could rely on individual experiences to bypass, temporarily forget, or transcend social, political, and economic difficulties.”

Has technology kept its end of the bargain, kept its promise to us, the consumers?

What is so stunning about this book is this:  the authors ask a question no one seems to be willing to ask of themselves, let alone ask ourselves as a society:  “…this leads to larger questions about who we are as a society, where we are going, and who or what is leading us there.”

Yes, who and what is leading? Well, we are.

And “…as they post selfies and wait anxiously for likes, many find that this culture ultimately offers neither a strong sense of self nor a rewarding sense of community.”

Now, lest you think Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stupid is as an anti-tech book, think again. The book only presents the facts in fascinating historical context. I simply chose which passages spoke to me, speak for my relationship with technology, which is as rocky and conflicted as any relationship.

The writing is completely engaging—the concepts, immensely satisfying and the understanding I feel I have about my own complex relationship with technology has been forever enriched.

Technology is neither evil nor good, it’s a tool. And true to form, humanity uses its tools for every extreme—from creating movements toward a better society to creating echo-chambers of violent contagion and hate.

And however you feel about technology, if you’re immersed in it, as so many of us are, then I can’t stress enough how vital this book is, how relevant, and it becomes more and more relevant as we march forward, spinning, bumping into each other from 6 feet or 6000 miles away.

Reciprocity, good vibes, and all that archaic stuff, yeah. It’s back to that. And in the time it takes me to saw off my foot-callouses, I can simultaneously reach out to someone who may be in despair, just like the friends who reached out to me this week. You know who you are. Thank you. More than you know.

Does it matter in the grand scheme of things? I don’t know. Ask someone you’ve reached out to in their moment of despair. See what they say.

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